seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Irish Sculptor Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard RHA, Irish sculptor most famous for his 1911 bronze statue of the mythical Cuchulain dying in battle, dies at Knockranny, County Cavan, on September 14, 1941. His work was also part of the art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris and the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.

Sheppard is born at Old Town, Cookstown, County Tyrone, on April 10, 1865, to Simpson Sheppard, a sculptor, and Ellen White, of Ormond Quay, Dublin. His main influence is the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who teaches him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art (DMSA) in Dublin, now the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), where he later becomes a lecturer.

Sheppard is based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having traveled widely across Europe. His wife Rosie dies in 1931, with whom he has several children. They live at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin.

From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard teaches sculpture at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. His annual stipend is £250 but for this he only has to lecture three mornings a week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects. One of his most famous students is the sculptor Kathleen Cox.

The Dying Cuchulain is considered Sheppard’s masterpiece and an important work of Irish art. It is a bronze figure of the mythological warrior-hero Cuchulain, who continued to fight against his enemies while gravely wounded and tied to a tree. It is created in 1911 and later chosen by Éamon de Valera in 1935 as the national memorial to the 1916 Easter Rising. It can still be viewed today in the General Post Office (GPO), O’Connell Street, Dublin.

As a prominent sculptor Sheppard is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and is made a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1925–41. He also exhibits works at European exhibitions during his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.

Sheppard is generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland: “For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions … was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect.”

Sheppard is in the minority of Irish Protestants who support independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he is an art student.

In 1890–1910 Sheppard is a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, is admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he meets his brother Patrick Pearse who later helps launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival’s artists are writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard can claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.

After the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) Sheppard says, “They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country.” His opinions are not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.

In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage is planned, and is finally launched in 1928. Sheppard is one of the designers short-listed but his designs are not accepted.

After his retirement in 1937 from the National College of Art, the now renamed Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, he is appointed in 1938 by the Minister for Education to the College’s standing committee. He is also made a judge in the Royal Dublin Society art competition in 1939 and 1940.

Sheppard dies on September 14, 1941, in Dublin and is buried at Old St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin. There is a small retrospective exhibition of fourteen of his works at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1942. There are portraits of Sheppard by George William Russell (Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane) and Sir William Orpen (NGI), and photographic portraits in the Sheppard collection, National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL) at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, where his papers are located.


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Birth of Dana Rosemary Scallon, Singer & Former European Parliament Member

Dana Rosemary Scallon, Irish singer, pantomime performer, and a former Member of the European Parliament known as Dana, is born on August 30, 1951 in Islington, London, England, where her Northern Irish family had relocated to find work. She wins the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest with “All Kinds of Everything,” a subsequent worldwide million-seller. She resides in Birmingham, Alabama, for much of the 1990s, hosting a Christian music and interview series on the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

Scallon is born Rosemary Brown, the fifth of seven children of a King’s Cross railway station porter and trumpet player originally from Derry, Northern Ireland. When she is five, the family moves back to Derry where she grows up in the Creggan housing estate and Bogside. She attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and then enrolls at Thornhill College. A singing talent from childhood, she wins several local contests while also participating in local choirs and taking piano, violin and ballet lessons.

In the early 1960s Scallon forms a trio with two of her sisters, often performing at charity concerts organized by their father. When one sister leaves, the remaining duo lands a summer-long booking at the Palladium and a recording contract with Decca Records. Her other sister, however, leaves to join her new husband, a United States airman, in America. Stricken with stage fright, Scallon the solo singer manages to win a folk competition at the Embassy Ballroom with her eyes shut. The contest’s sponsor, teacher and music promoter Tony Johnston, helps her complete her equivalency degree and records a demo that convinces Decca Records to sign her on as a solo artist. She releases a single in 1967 that brings some attention from local TV and radio.

Performing under her school nickname “Dana,” Scallon becomes a fixture in Dublin‘s cabaret and folk clubs. She is crowned “Queen of Cabaret” and feted with a parade and a reception at Clontarf Castle on the Saturday before Easter 1968.

At the suggestion of Decca Record’s local agent, Phil Mitton, Scallon auditions for the Irish National Song Contest, a preliminary for the 1969 Eurovision competition. She reaches the finals in Dublin, but comes in second.

RTÉ Television chief Tom McGrath invites Scallon back to compete the following year. She accepts even though she is preparing to retire from active performing to pursue teaching. The song, “All Kinds of Everything” by Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith, is picked for her by McGrath and propels her to victory. She goes on to represent Ireland in the 1970 Eurovision contest, held in Amsterdam. She performs perched on a stool on stage and defeats England’s Mary Hopkin and Spain‘s Julio Iglesias to secure Ireland’s victory.

Scallon is given a hero’s welcome upon her return to Ireland, especially in Northern Ireland. “All Kinds of Everything” shoots to #1 on the Irish Singles Chart, as well as the UK Singles Chart. It is also successful in Australia, Austria, Germany, Israel, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland and Yugoslavia, on its way to passing 1 million sales. She quickly records an album, with orchestral accompaniment. Her follow-up single, “I Will Follow You,” fails to make much of a splash. Given the choice of giving up, she decides to fight for her recording career, and succeeds with Paul Ryan‘s “Who Put the Lights Out,” which spends eleven weeks on the UK charts.

In 1974 Scallon switches to GTO Records. Her first single on that label, “Please Tell Him That I Said Hello,” returns her to the top 10. Her 1975 holiday single “It’s Gonna be a Cold Cold Christmas” by Roger Greenaway and Geoff Stephens, reaches #4 and remains a classic. Now an established Irish singing star she appears in films and festivals and sells out a week of concerts at the London Palladium. She also maintains her “Queen of the Cabaret” reputation with regular appearances in top London clubs. The BBC gives her two shows of her own: a series called A Day with Dana in 1974 and four-part series of Wake Up Sunday in 1979. BBC Radio follows suit with a series of I Believe in Music in 1977.

Meanwhile, Scallon begins performing stage pantomime in a blockbuster production of Cinderella in Oxford. In September 1976, however, she is hospitalized with a non-malignant growth on her left vocal cord, requiring surgery. The single “Fairytale” is sustained in the charts with the publicity from her dire medical prognosis. The experience strengthens her religious faith. On October 5, 1978 she marries Damien Scallon, a hotel-owner from Newry, at St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry.

In 1979, recovered from her surgery, Scallon records a new album entitled The Girl is Back, which has modest success. Pope John Paul II‘s visit to Ireland that year inspires her to write a song based on his personal motto, “Totus Tuus,” which tops the Irish charts. Long associated with Christian causes and Sunday-morning programs, she and her husband look for opportunities to reach a broader market for Christian music, and find one in the United States. They attend the National Religious Broadcasters conference in Washington, D.C. in 1980 and secure a contract with Word Records.

Scallon’s first album of Christian songs, Totally Yours, is released on Word Records in 1981. She continues to record pop music, including the 1982 album Magic and the official 1982 FIFA World Cup song for the Northern Ireland team, “Yer Man.” She also continues her stage career, starring in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Hull and later in London’s West End and Wolverhampton. She tours the United States in 1984, including appearances at Billy Graham‘s Boston crusades. She pens an autobiography in 1985. She performs “Totus Tuus” before a packed Superdome crowd during John Paul II’s visit to New Orleans in 1987.

Also in 1987, after one of her husband’s hotels is damaged for the seventh time by a terrorist bomb, he takes a job managing retreats for EWTN and moves the family to Alabama. They rent a house in the Cherokee Bend area of Mountain Brook and enroll their children at Saint Rose Academy. Scallon is welcomed to the network as well, hosting the Say Yes and We Are One Body programs. She leaves Word Records and signs with Heart Beat Records for her later Catholic albums. In 1993 she again performs for the Pope at a World Youth Day event in Denver, Colorado.

Scallon is naturalized as a dual citizen of the United States and Northern Ireland in 1997, and moves back there a year later because she has been drafted as an independent candidate for President of Ireland. She garners 15% of the popular vote, finishing third in the race won by Mary McAleese, ahead of the Labour Party candidate. Most of her votes come from rural districts where conservative values are more strongly held.

In 1999 Scallon wins a seat on the European Parliament, representing Connacht-Ulster on a family values and anti-abortion platform. During her five-year term she opposes the development of a European constitution. She also speaks out against a 2001 proposal to amend the Irish constitution to legalize the “morning-after pill” and intrauterine contraceptive devices. With the support of the mainstream parties, the amendment is put to a popular referendum, which fails in 2002. That same year she is defeated in a campaign to represent Galway West in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament. In 2004 she fails to hold her seat in the European Parliament and also does not secure a nomination for President.

Leaving politics behind, Scallon joins a weight-loss challenge on RTÉ’s The Afternoon Show in 2005. In 2006 she competes with Ronan McCormack on Celebrity Jigs ‘n’ Reels, finishing second on the popular dance contest.

That same year, Scallon and her husband launch their own music label, DS Music Productions, and release a compilation of songs deidcated to John Paul II’s memory. That is followed by Good Morning Jesus: Prayers and Songs for Children of All Ages, which is featured in a special series on EWTN. Heart Beat Records files a lawsuit against DS Music Productions for alleged copyright violations.

In 2007 Scallon appears as a guest judge for Young Star Search, a Belfast CityBeat radio contest. In 2009 she is brought on as a judge for The All Ireland Talent Show. That same year she returns to EWTN as host of Dana and Friends.


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Birth of Thomas Traynor, Member of “The Forgotten Ten”

Thomas Traynor, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Tullow, County Carlow, on May 27, 1882.

Traynor is an experienced soldier having been a member of the Boland’s Mill garrison during the 1916 Easter Rising. After the Rising he is interned in Frongoch internment camp, Wakefield Prison and Mountjoy Prison where he shares a cell with Seán Mac Eoin.

Traynor works as a boot maker and is married with ten children. At the time of his death the eldest is 18 years and the youngest 5 months. The eldest son, Frank, represents Ireland at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, competing as a bantamweight boxer.

Traynor is captured during an ambush on Auxiliaries in Brunswick Street, Dublin, on March 14, 1921, and is tried on April 5 at City Hall. He is part of a party of IRA volunteers keeping watch outside a meeting at 144 Brunswick Street that includes Seán MacBride. During the fight an IRA volunteer, Leo Fitzgerald, is killed, as are Constable James O’Farrell and Cadet Bernard Beard of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Traynor is reportedly badly beaten by members of the Igoe Gang.

Traynor is hanged in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin on April 25, 1921, one of a group of men, commonly referred to as the Forgotten Ten, hanged in Mountjoy Prison from 1920–21, during the Irish War of Independence. He is 38 years old at the time of his death.

Mark Sturgis, assistant to the Under-Secretary for Ireland, writes, “Traynor, captured red handed with an attacking party when Auxiliaries were killed in Brunswick Street, was executed this morning. I don’t think they will make much fuss as there is no sort of ‘alibi’ business this time – nor is he the usual ‘youth’, dear to ‘The Freeman‘, as he is over 40 and has a pack of children, the poor deluded idiot.”

On the day following Traynor’s death, Gilbert Potter, a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector based in Cahir, County Tipperary, and being held for Traynor’s safe treatment is executed in reprisal by members of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the IRA. Another IRA volunteer, Jack Donnelly, captured with Traynor, is sentenced to death but is reprieved by the declaration of an impending truce in June 1921.

In 1965 a statue is erected to honor Traynor in his native town of Tullow. The Ballad of Thomas Traynor is written in his memory.

In 2001 Traynor and the other nine, including Kevin Barry, are exhumed from their graves in the prison and given a full state funeral. He is now buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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Death of Painter William Dermod O’Brien

William Dermod O’Brien, Irish painter commonly known as Dermod O’Brien, dies in Dublin on October 3, 1945. Most of his paintings are landscapes and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

O’Brien is born on June 10, 1865 at Mount Trenchard House near Foynes in County Limerick, the son of Edward William O’Brien and Hon. Mary Spring Rice, granddaughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. For a time after his mother’s death, he is raised by his aunt Charlotte Grace O’Brien, along with his sisters, Nelly and Lucy. His father subsequently remarries in 1880. He is educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

O’Brien marries Mabel Emmeline Smyly, daughter of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, on March 8, 1902. Together they have five children. His son Brendan, a surgeon in Dublin, marries artist Kitty Wilmer O’Brien. His daughter Rosaleen Brigid becomes an artist, also known as Brigid Ganly after her marriage to Andrew Ganly. Another artistic relative is Geraldine O’Brien.

Unlike many of his Irish contemporaries, after graduating from Cambridge O’Brien does not study art in Dublin, opting instead to travel to Paris, where he studies the paintings at the Louvre. In 1887, he visits galleries in Italy and then enrolls at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. At the Academy he is a fellow student of Walter Osborne. He leaves Antwerp in 1891 and returns to Paris, where he studies at Académie Julian. He relocates to London in 1893 and then Dublin in 1901.

O’Brien is designated an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1906, a member in 1907, and is later president between 1910 and 1945. He is made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1912.

O’Brien holds the office of High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1916 and serves as Deputy Lieutenant of County Limerick. He serves in the Artists Rifles during World War I.

(Pictured: Dermod O’Brien by Howard Coster, print, late 1930s, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London by the estate of Howard Coster, 1978)


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Birth of Composer Gerald Barry

Gerald Barry, Irish composer, is born in Clarehill, Clarecastle, County Clare, on April 28, 1952.

Growing up in rural County Clare, Barry has little exposure to music except through the radio: “The thing that was the lightning flash for me, in terms of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, would have been an aria from a Handel opera, from Xerxes maybe, that I heard on the radio. I heard this woman singing this, and bang – my head went. And that was how I discovered music.” He is educated at St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, County Clare. He goes on to study music at University College Dublin, in Amsterdam with Peter Schat, in Cologne with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel, and in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha. He teaches at University College Cork from 1982 to 1986.

“Barry’s is a world of sharp edges, of precisely defined yet utterly unpredictable musical objects. His music sounds like no one else’s in its diamond-like hardness, its humour, and sometimes, its violence.” He often conceives of material independently of its instrumental medium, recycling ideas from piece to piece, as in the reworking of Triorchic Blues from a violin to a piano piece to an aria for countertenor in his television opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit:

“It seemed to me unprecedented: the combination of the ferociously objective treatment of the material and the intense passion of the working-out, and both at an extreme of brilliance. And the harmony – that there was harmony at all, and that it was so beautiful and lapidary. It functions, again, irrationally, but powerfully, to build tension and to create structure. It wasn’t just repetitive. It builds. And the virtuosity, the display of it, that combination of things seemed, to me, to be new, and a major way forward.”

Barry’s most recent opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, has become a huge success after its world premiere at Los Angeles and European premiere at the Barbican, London. A critic comments:

“He writes ‘what he likes’ in the way Strindberg does, not trying to characterise his characters, but letting them perform his own specialties, a kind of platform for his own musical specialties. As in Strindberg where you feel every sentence stands for itself and the characters are sort of borrowed for the use of saying them (borrowed to flesh out the text, rather than the other way round), that they’ve been out for the day. In Gerald’s opera the whole apparatus – for that’s what it is – takes on a kind of surrealistic shape, like one person’s torso on someone else’s legs being forced to walk, half the characters in the opera and half the composer.”

It is written in The Irish Times that “no other Irish composer springs to mind who carries the same aura of excitement and originality or whose music means so much to such a wide range of listeners. Certainly, there has been no Irish premiere that has made the impression of The Conquest of Ireland since Barry’s opera The Intelligence Park was seen at the Gate Theatre in 1990.”

In a 2013 guide to Barry’s musical output, Tom Service of The Guardian praises Chevaux-de-frise (1988), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (2005), Lisbon (2006), Beethoven (2008), and The Importance of Being Earnest (2012).


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Death of Artist Harry Aaron Kernoff

Harry Aaron Kernoff, Irish artist in oils and woodcuts, dies in Dublin on December 25, 1974. Of London/Russian extraction, he is primarily remembered for his sympathetic interest in Dublin and its people. He depicts street and pub scenes, as well as Dublin landmarks with sympathy and understanding. This is particularly evident in his woodcuts.

Born in London on January 10, 1900 to a Russian Jewish father and Spanish mother, Kernoff moves to Dublin in 1914 and becomes a leading figure in Irish modernism. While working as an apprentice in his father’s furniture business, which leads to his woodcuts, he takes night classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. There, in 1923, he wins the Taylor scholarship and goes on to exhibit at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) every year from 1926. He is elected RHA in 1936.

Influenced by Seán Keating, he paints the Irish landscape, genre scenes, and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. In 1930, he visits the Soviet Union as part of an Irish delegation from the friends of Soviet Russia led by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. While visiting, he is influenced by the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia.

Kernoff is famously associated with Davy Byrne’s pub. His paintings and woodcuts of Davy Byrne’s pub are documents of his friendship with the original owner. While living in his adopted Dublin Jewish community he produces picture illustrations of his local scenes for a neighbourhood writer and friend, Nick Harris, for his book called Dublin’s Little Jerusalem.

Outside Kernoff’s home in Dublin, where he lives with two unmarried sisters, there is a long-standing sign in the front garden which says “Descendants of the Abravanels.” The Abravanel (or Abrabanel) family is one of the most famous Sephardic Jewish families in history, noted for their large quotas of rabbis, scholars, and members of a variety of scientific and artistic fields, dating from about the 13th century in Lisbon. The emergence of the famous philosopher and scholar Don Isaac Abravanel in the middle of the 16th century brings his works to greater universal recognition.

Kernoff spends the vast majority of his life unappreciated and makes little or nothing from his paintings until a few years before his death, when he begins to be appreciated by contemporary critics. He never marries.


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Death of Paul Funge, Painter & Arts Enthusiast

paul-fungePaul Funge, internationally respected painter and arts enthusiast, dies at Loughlinstown Hospital in the south Dublin suburb of Loughlinstown on February 21, 2011 after a short illness.

A native of Gorey, County Wexford, Funge is a founder of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin and the founder of Gorey Arts Centre in 1970. He is also a founder of the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick while the regional arts officer for the midwest. In addition he establishes the Gorey Arts Festival, a three-week summer arts festival, and runs it for more than fifteen years. He is remembered as the man who brought U2 to play at the Gorey Arts Festival in the days before they became an international success.

A painter of portraits and landscapes, Funge teaches art in many schools including Clongowes Wood College and Newbridge College. He also lectures at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), the University of California, and Kunsthistorisch Instituut in Amsterdam. He is also an inspector for art in the Department of Education for a number of years.

As a portrait artist Funge’s sitters included U2’s Adam Clayton, Frank McGuinness and Colm Tóibín as well as many ministers and academics.

Funge suffers a fall before Christmas 2010, badly fracturing his leg and he is admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital. On January 6, he transfers from Vincent’s to recuperate at a nursing home in Bray. In early February he takes a turn and develops chest problems. His condition deteriorates and he is admitted to the ICU in Loughlinstown Hospital. Initially he appears to be making a reasonable recovery, but his condition deteriorates again in the days prior to his death.

Following Funge’s death, Eamon Carter, director of Gorey School of Art, pays tribute to him as a visionary who felt passionate about decentralising the arts to areas outside of Dublin.

Carter adds that it had just been announced that the Gorey School of Art is linking up with NCAD to provide a masters in fine arts and it is sad that in the week it receives such good news it also receives the sad news of Funge’s death. “I’m saddened that he wasn’t here to see that because he would have been chuffed obviously,” he said.


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Death of Admiral Sir Peter Warren

peter-warren

Admiral Sir Peter Warren, KB, British naval officer from Ireland who commands the naval forces in the attack on the French Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1745, dies on July 29, 1752. He also sits as MP for Westminster.

Warren is born on March 10, 1703 in Warrenstown, County Meath, the youngest son of Michael Warren and Catherine Plunkett, née Aylmer, who was the first wife of Sir Nicholas Plunkett.

In 1716, when he is 13 years old, Warren signs on as an ordinary seaman in Dublin and he and his brother initially serve together. He rapidly rises in the ranks, becoming a Captain in 1727. His ship patrols American colonial waters to provide protection from French forces. He becomes involved in colonial politics and land speculation.

In 1744, Warren is made commodore and commands a 16-ship squadron off the Leeward Islands, capturing 24 ships in four months. In 1745, he commands a group of ships that support the Massachusetts forces in the capture of the Fortress of Louisbourg. The prize system of the time allows naval officers to profit from the capture of enemy ships, and this expedition earns Warren a fortune, a promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue, and a knighthood.

From July 1747 to August 3, 1747 Warren is appointed to the command of the Western Squadron. He is second in command of the British fleet on the HMS Devonshire at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre. His conduct in the battle wins him further fame, a promotion to Vice Admiral of the Red and much prize-money.

Warren’s lands include several thousand acres on the south side of the Mohawk River west of Schenectady, New York, now known as Florida, Montgomery County, New York, roughly across from present day Amsterdam. He brings two nephews, William Johnson, eventually Sir William Johnson, and Michael Tyrrell to clear and manage the land. Tyrrell soon leaves, asking his uncle for support with a naval appointment. Tyrrell has a very distinguished naval career, rising to Admiral. He becomes sick while headed to London from the West Indies and is buried at sea. In 1741, Warren builds Warren House, a mansion overlooking the Hudson River on his 300-acre estate in Greenwich Village. He also owns property on Long Island, the van Cortland Estate in Westchester County, New York and South Carolina.

While on a visit to Ireland in 1752, Peter Warren dies suddenly in Dublin on July 29, 1752 “of a most violent fever.” The towns of Warren, Rhode Island and Warren, New Hampshire are named after him, as well as Warren Street in Lower Manhattan.


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The Crash of KLM Flight 633

klm-flight-633KLM Flight 633, a Lockheed Constellation Triton passenger flight from Amsterdam to New York City, ditches on a mudbank in the River Shannon immediately after takeoff from Shannon Airport on September 5, 1954. Twenty-eight people are killed in the accident which is caused by an unexpected re-extension of the landing gear, possibly compounded by pilot error.

The Lockheed Super Constellation Triton is piloted by Adriaan Viruly, one of the airline’s most senior pilots. After a refueling stop at Shannon, the plane takes off for the transatlantic leg of the flight at 2:40 AM. There are 46 passengers and ten crew on board. Shortly after takeoff the pilot reduces power from maximum to METO (Maximum Except Take Off). The pilot is unaware that the landing gear is not retracted, and as result the aircraft descends to land in the Shannon. It turns around on impact and breaks into two sections.

The aircraft is partially submerged and at least one of the fuel tanks ruptures during the crash. The fuel fumes render many passengers and crew unconscious, who then drown in the rising tide. In the end, three members of the cabin crew and 25 passengers perish.

Even though the crash occurs less than one minute after the plane takes off from Shannon Airport, airport authorities remain unaware of the disaster until the mud-caked navigator of the craft, Johan Tieman, stumbles into the airport two and a half hours after the crash and reports, “We’ve crashed!” Tieman had swum ashore and floundered painfully across the marshes to the airport, whose lights are clearly visible from the scene of the crash. It is not until 7:00 in the morning that the first launch reaches the survivors, who are huddled on a muddy flat in the river.

The official investigation concludes that the accident is caused by an unexpected re-extension of the landing gear and the captain’s incorrect behaviour in this situation. Viruly, who is only one year from retirement, rejects the responsibility for the crash and is bitter about his subsequent treatment by KLM. In an interview he later states that there simply had not been enough time to react.