seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of John Mitchel, Nationalist Activist & Journalist

John Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, is born in Camnish, near Dungiven, County Derry on November 3, 1815.

Mitchel is the son of a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he is sent to a classical school, run by an old minister named Moor, nicknamed “Gospel Moor” by the students. He reads books from a very early age. When a little over five years old, he is introduced to Latin grammar by his teacher and makes quick progress. In 1830, not yet 15 years old, he enters Trinity College, Dublin and obtains a law degree in 1834.

In the spring of 1836 Mitchel meets Jane Verner, the only daughter of Captain James Verner. Though both families are opposed to the relationship, they become engaged in the autumn and are married on February 3, 1837 by the Rev. David Babington in Drumcree Church, the parish church of Drumcree.

Mitchel works in a law office in Banbridge, County Down, where he eventually comes into conflict with the local Orange Order. He meets Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy during visits to Dublin. He joins the Young Ireland movement and begins to write for The Nation. Deeply affected by the misery and death caused by the Great Famine, he becomes convinced that nothing will ever come of the constitutional efforts to gain Irish freedom. He then forms his own paper, United Irishmen, to advocate passive resistance by Ireland’s starving masses.

In May 1848, the British tire of Mitchel’s open defiance. Ever the legal innovators in Ireland, they invent a crime especially for the Young Irelanders – felony-treason. They arrest him for violating this new law and close down his paper. A rigged jury convicts him, and he is deported first to Bermuda and then to Australia. However, in June 1853, he escapes to the United States.

Mitchel works as a journalist in New York City and then moves to the South. When the American Civil War erupts, he is a strong supporter of the Southern cause, seeing parallels with the position of the Irish. His family fully backs his commitment to the Southern cause. He loses two sons in the war, one at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and another at the Battle of Fort Sumter in 1864, and another son loses an arm. His outspoken support of the Confederacy causes him to be jailed for a time at Fort Monroe, where one of his fellow prisoners is Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 1874, the British allow Mitchel to return to Ireland and in 1875 he is elected in a by-election to be a member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom representing the Tipperary constituency. However his election is invalidated on the grounds that he is a convicted felon. He contests the seat again in the resulting by-election and is again elected, this time with an increased vote.

Unfortunately, Mitchel, one of the staunchest enemies to English rule of Ireland in history, dies in Newry on March 20, 1875, and is buried there. Thirty-eight years later, his grandson, John Purroy Mitchel, is elected Mayor of New York City.


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Birth of Brendan Bowyer, Royal Showband Frontman

Brendan Bowyer, Irish singer best known for fronting the Royal Showband and The Big Eight and who had five number one hits in Ireland, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on October 12, 1938.

Bowyer is also renowned for having The Beatles open for the Royal Showband at a concert on April 2, 1962 at the Pavilion Theatre, Liverpool, England, some six months before the release of The Beatles debut single “Love Me Do” in October 1962. He is regarded as one of the first headlining Elvis impersonators. Elvis Presley himself is a big fan of Bowyer’s performances and often attends his concerts in the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada during the 1970s.

Bowyer begins his career with the Royal Showband in 1957. His ability to tailor American rock and roll music to the tastes of Irish audiences, and his athletic, spirited on-stage performances make him a popular vocalist of the 1960s Irish showband era. On September 6, 1963, he and the Royal Showband become the first Irish artists to top the Irish Singles Chart, with the hit “Kiss Me Quick,” which stays at the number one position for seven weeks. They return to the top position later that year with “No More,” and repeat the feat in 1964 with “Bless You.”

Bowyer takes part in the 1965 Irish National Song Contest for a chance to represent Ireland at the Eurovision Song Contest in Naples with the song “Suddenly in Love,” but can only manage fifth place. The Royal Showband’s greatest success is to come in 1965 with “The Hucklebuck,” which spends a further seven weeks at the top of the Irish Singles Chart, and is a hit in Australia, but fails to appear in the UK Singles Chart. “Don’t Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes” returns the band to the number one position later in 1965.

In the summer of 1971 Bowyer, along with singer Tom Dunphy, leave the Royal Showband and form the Big Eight Showband. The band spends the summers playing the ballroom circuit in Ireland but also spends six months of the year in Las Vegas. Within a short time, the band makes the decision to relocate to Las Vegas permanently. He is based in Las Vegas from then on, though he makes frequent trips back to Ireland. In 1977 he makes a brief return to the Irish charts with his tribute, “Thank You Elvis.”

Having enjoyed a semi-retirement phase, Bowyer returns to the spotlight, touring Ireland each year, some for months on end, with his daughter Aisling Bowyer, and a six piece band. They perform his showband era hits, dance numbers, nationalist songs, modern contemporary songs and concert hits.

A covers album, Follow On, is released in 2001, where Bowyer performs some of the most popular Irish songs, such as “Summer in Dublin,” “What’s Another Year,” “Past the Point of Rescue,” and “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

In 2005, Bowyer and Aisling headline the entertainment list for the Tall Ships Festival in Waterford, performing in the open air to an estimated crowd of 12,000. In 2015, Bowyer is the star of the “Ireland’s Showbands – Do You Come Here Often?” concert series.

Bowyer dies at the age of 81 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 28, 2020.


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Sinking of the RMS Leinster

RMS Leinster, a ship operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company and serving as the KingstownHolyhead mailboat, is torpedoed and sunk by the Imperial German Navy submarine SM UB-123, which is under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, just outside Dublin Bay on October 10, 1918, while bound for Holyhead. The exact number of dead is unknown but researchers from the National Maritime Museum of Ireland believe it to be at least 564, making it the largest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

In 1895, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company orders four steamers for Royal Mail service, named for four provinces of Ireland: RMS Leinster, RMS Connaught, RMS Munster, and RMS Ulster. The RMS Leinster is a 3,069-ton packet steamship with a service speed of 23 knots. The vessel, which is built at Cammell Laird‘s in Birkenhead, England, is driven by two independent four-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines. During World War I, the twin-propellered ship is armed with one 12-pounder and two signal guns.

The ship’s log states that she carries 77 crew and 694 passengers on her final voyage under the command of Captain William Birch. The ship had previously been attacked in the Irish Sea but the torpedoes missed their target. Those on board include more than 100 British civilians, 22 postal sorters and almost 500 military personnel from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Also aboard are nurses from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Just before 10:00 AM as it is sailing east of the Kish Bank in a heavy swell, passengers see a torpedo approach from the port side and pass in front of the bow. A second torpedo follows shortly afterwards, and strikes the ship forward on the port side in the vicinity of the mail room. Captain Birch orders the ship to make a U-turn in an attempt to return to Kingstown as it begins to settle slowly by the bow. It sinks rapidly, however, after a third torpedo strikes her, causing a huge explosion.

Despite the heavy seas, the crew manages to launch several lifeboats and some passengers cling to life-rafts. The survivors are rescued by HMS Lively, HMS Mallard and HMS Seal. Among the civilian passengers lost in the sinking are socially prominent people such as Lady Alexandra Phyllis Hamilton, daughter of James Hamilton, 2nd Duke of Abercorn, Robert Jocelyn Alexander, son of Irish composer Cecil Frances Alexander, Thomas Foley and his wife Charlotte Foley (née Barrett) who was the brother-in-law of the world-famous Irish tenor John McCormack. The first member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service to die on active duty, Josephine Carr, is among the dead, as are two prominent officials of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, James McCarron and Patrick Lynch.

Captain Birch who is wounded in the initial attack, drowns when his lifeboat is swamped in heavy seas and capsizes while attempting to transfer survivors to HMS Lively. Several of the military personnel who die are buried in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.

Survivors are brought to Kingstown harbour. Among them are Michael Joyce, an Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Limerick City, and Captain Hutchinson Ingham Cone of the United States Navy, the former commander of the USS Dale (DD-4).

One of the rescue ships is the armed yacht and former fishery protection vessel HMY Helga. Stationed in Kingstown harbour at the time of the sinking, she had shelled Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin two years earlier. She was later bought and renamed the Muirchú by the Irish Free State government as one of its first fishery protection vessels.

At October 18, 1918 at 9:10 AM SM UB-125, outbound from Germany, picks up a radio message requesting advice on the best way to get through the North Sea minefield. The sender is Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm aboard SM UB-123. Extra mines have been added to the minefield since SM UB-123 had made her outward voyage from Germany. As SM UB-125 had just come through the minefield, Vater radios back with a suggested route. SM UB-123 acknowledges the message and is never heard from again.

The following day, ten days after the sinking of the RMS Leinster, SM UB-123 accidentally detonates a mine while trying to cross the North Sea and return to base in Imperial Germany. It is October 19, 1918. Oberleutnant zur See Robert Ramm, who has a wife and children, never returns to them. Thirty-five other German families are similarly bereaved. No bodies are ever found.

In 1991, the anchor of the RMS Leinster is raised by local divers. It is placed near Carlisle Pier and officially dedicated on January, 28, 1996.


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Birth of Bridie Gallagher, the “Girl from Donegal”

bridie-gallagherBridget “Bridie” Gallagher, Irish singer affectionately known as “The Girl from Donegal,” is born on September 7, 1924 in Creeslough, County Donegal. She is widely regarded as “Ireland’s first international pop star.”

Gallagher starts her singing in the Creeslough Hall with a local Céilí band started by Bill Gallagher. The Creeslough Hall is owned by Jim McCaffrey and Bridie makes many more visits to the Creeslough Hall in her home town throughout her long and successful career. Her talent is soon spotted in the 1950s by Billy Livingstone who is a talent scout for Decca Records. She goes to Belfast, which becomes her base, where she marries Robert (Bob) Livingstone (no relation to Billy Livingstone) and has two boys, Jim and Peter. Peter dies in a motor accident in 1976 and Jim later goes on to tour with her.

Gallagher shoots to fame in 1956 with her recording of “A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing” and achieves international acclaim with her legendary rendition of “The Boys From County Armagh.” During her career, which spans over six decades, she appears in many leading venues across the globe. She also makes songs such as “The Homes of Donegal” famous.

Gallagher holds the record for the largest number of people in attendance in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with over 7,500 people, a record that is never equaled as it goes on to become an all-seater venue. She becomes world-famous and travels all over the world, United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and is known as “The Girl from Donegal.” She plays in many of the world’s best known theatres, including London’s Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall in New York City. She sings mainly ballads or as they later became known as Country and Irish. One of her best known songs is “The Boys From The County Armagh,” which sells over 250,000 copies, the biggest-selling Irish single at that time.

Bridie also records “Cottage by the Lee,” written by Irish songwriter, Dick Farrelly. Farrelly achieved worldwide fame with his classic song “The Isle of Innisfree“, which is originally a worldwide hit for Bing Crosby and is chosen by movie director John Ford as the main theme music for his film The Quiet Man.

Gallagher lives in Belfast for most of her life. She is honoured by the people of Creeslough on July 10, 2000 with an event to celebrate her career. Members of her family from Creeslough and Donegal attend the event along with her two sisters and their families who travel from Glasgow to be there along with an estimated crowd of 2,500 fans. A plaque paying tribute to her is unveiled. The following day she is honoured by Donegal County Council when they hold a Civic Reception for her. “Bridie blazed the trail for many artists who followed after her and I’m sure that many of them looked upon her as a role model as they started their careers in the music world,” council chairman Charlie Bennett says at the ceremony.

Gallagher dies at her home in Belfast on January 9, 2012 at the age of 87. Her burial takes place in her native Creeslough.


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The Dromcollogher Burning

drumcollogher-cinema-fireForty-eight people die when a fire breaks out in a make-shift cinema on the upper floor of the village hall in Dromcollagher, County Limerick, on September 5, 1926.

The conversion of village halls into makeshift cinemas is a common practice in many rural villages in Ireland, right up to the 1940s. Prints are often borrowed from cinemas in larger towns or in Cork city, and then bicycled over to smaller venues (sometimes surreptitiously).

During the Irish Free State period (1922-1937), the exhibition of films is still governed by legislation put in place by the British government in 1909. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stipulates that cinema owners must apply for a license to screen films, and that venues must observe strict safety standards. Such standards include encasing projectors in fireproof booths, ensuring that the highly-unstable nitrate film, then the industry standard, be properly stored and handled, and fitting out venues with several fire exits. The regulations are generally observed by established cinemas but they are often ignored by operators of ad hoc venues/makeshift conversions.

The consequences of such indifference to patron safety are tragically realized in the small town of Dromcollogher in West Limerick in 1926. Situated a few miles from the County Cork border, its population is around 500 at the time, hardly enough to sustain a full-time cinema. However, local hackney driver, William Forde, identifies a business opportunity that seems too good to pass up. Through a contact, Patrick Downey, who works as a projectionist in Cork city’s Assembly Rooms cinema, he arranges for a print of Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments to be bicycled over for an unofficial one-off screening.

Forde rents the upstairs room of a venue on Church Street, later described by the Leinster Express as a wooden two-story structure, and advertises his evening’s entertainment. He finds a readymade audience among the churchgoers that come out of the service in the adjacent Catholic Church and straight into the hall, many with their rosary beads still entwined in their hands. It is estimated that 150 people crowd into the room and ascend the ladder to the upstairs room. Though Forde has been informed by one local Garda that he cannot run a screening unless the venue is equipped with fire blankets and exits, he and Downey disregard the advice and, in a bid to reduce the weight for the cyclist bringing the reels from Cork, instruct that the fireproof metal cases be left behind in the city.

A generator hooked up to a lorry is used to power the borrowed projector, and candles to illuminate the makeshift box-office. It is one of those candles, placed in close proximity to an exposed film reel, which sparks off a series of small fires that quickly developed into an inferno. Some of those seated closest to the main exit manage to escape, but those nearer the screen find themselves trapped and iron bars that had been placed on the few windows in the hall windows seal their fate. Whole families are wiped out and the final death toll comes to 48. As newspapers of the time report, 1/10th of the town’s population is lost.

Newspapers around the world carry reports of the tragedy and a relief fund is set up for the survivors with Hollywood star Will Rogers being one of the contributors. President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State William T. Cosgrave later travels to the town to attend the mass funeral service held for the victims.

As for Forde and Downey, they are later charged with manslaughter but the State chooses not to pursue the prosecutions. Forde apparently later immigrates to Australia and possibly accidentally poisons himself, and two others, while working as a cook in the Outback.

The “Dromcollogher Burning”, as it becomes known, holds the dubious honour of Ireland’s worst cinema fire. Sadly, it is not the last time safety regulations are disregarded in an entertainment venue: 75 years later the devastating Stardust Nightclub fire in Dublin also claims the lives of 48 patrons.

(From: “The Dromcollogher Cinema Fire,” http://www.corkmoviememories.com | Image Source: National Library of Ireland)


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Birth of Samuel McCaughey, Politician & Philanthropist

samuel-mccaugheySir Samuel McCaughey, Irish-born pastoralist, politician and philanthropist in Australia, is born on July 1, 1835 at Tullynewey, near Ballymena, County Antrim, the son of Francis McCaughey, farmer and merchant, and his wife Eliza, née Wilson.

McCaughey comes to Australia with an uncle, Charles Wilson, a brother of Sir Samuel Wilson, and lands at Melbourne in April 1856. He immediately goes to the country and begins working as a jackaroo. Within three months he is appointed an overseer and two years later becomes manager of Kewell station while his uncle is on a visit to England.

In 1860, after his uncle’s return, McCaughey acquires an interest in Coonong station near Urana with two partners. His brother John who comes out later becomes a partner in other stations.

During the early days of Coonong station McCaughey suffers greatly from drought conditions, but overcomes these by sinking wells for artesian water and constructing large tanks, making him a pioneer of water conservation in Australia.

In 1871 McCaughey is away from Australia for two years on holiday, and on his return does much experimenting in sheep farming. At first he seeks the strains that can produce the best wool in the Riverina district. Afterwards, when the mutton trade develops, he considers the question from that angle.

In 1880 Sir Samuel Wilson goes to England and McCaughey purchases two of his stations, Toorale and Dunlop Stations, during his absence. He then owns about 3,000,000 acres. In 1886 he again visits the old world and imports a considerable number of Vermont sheep from the United States and also introduces fresh strains from Tasmania. He ultimately owns several million sheep, earning the nickname of “The Sheep King.”

In 1900 McCaughey purchases North Yanco and, at great cost, constructs about 200 miles of channels and irrigates 40,000 acres. The success of this scheme is believed to have encouraged the New South Wales government to proceed with the dam at Burrinjuck.

McCaughey becomes a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1899, and in 1905 he is made a Knight Bachelor. He suffers from nephritis and dies from heart failure at Yanco on July 25, 1919 and is buried in the grounds of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Narrandera. He never marries.

 


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The Launch of the SS Canberra

ss-canberraThe SS Canberra, an ocean liner in the P&O fleet which later operates on cruises, is launched in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 16, 1960. She is built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast at a cost of £17,000,000.

The ship is named on March 17, 1958, after the federal capital of Australia, Canberra. Her launch is sponsored by Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE, wife of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies. She enters service in May 1961 and begins her maiden voyage in June.

At the end of 1972 she is withdrawn and refitted to carry 1,500 single class passengers on cruises. Unusually, this transition from an early life as a purpose built ocean liner to a long and successful career in cruising, occurs without any major external alterations, and with only minimal internal and mechanical changes over the years.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invades the Falkland Islands, which initiates the Falklands War. At the time, SS Canberra is cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. The next day, her captain, Dennis Scott-Masson, receives a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar, which is not on his itinerary. When he calls at Gibraltar, he learns that the Ministry of Defence had requisitioned SS Canberra for use as a troopship. SS Canberra sails to Southampton, Hampshire where she is quickly refitted, sailing on April 9 for the South Atlantic.

SS Canberra anchors in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour make her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the liner is not badly hit in the landings as the Argentine pilots tend to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claim they were told not to hit SS Canberra, as they mistook her for a hospital ship.

SS Canberra then sails to South Georgia Island, where 3,000 troops are transferred from Queen Elizabeth 2. They are landed at San Carlos on June 2. When the war ends, SS Canberra is used as a cartel to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, landing them at Puerto Madryn, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome on July 11.

After a lengthy refit, SS Canberra returns to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War makes her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return are elevated for many years as a result. Age and high running costs eventually catch up with her though, as she has much higher fuel consumption than most modern cruise ships. Although Premier Cruise Line makes a bid for the old ship, P&O had already decided that they do not want SS Canberra to operate under a different flag.

SS Canberra is withdrawn from P&O service in September 1997 and sold to ship breakers for scrapping on October 10, 1997, leaving for Gadani ship-breaking yard in Pakistan on October 31, 1997. Her deep draft means that she cannot be beached as far as most ships, and due to her solid construction the scrapping process takes nearly a year instead of the estimated three months, being totally scrapped by the end of 1998.

The SS Canberra appears in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever as the liner where Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd try to kill Bond. In 1997, singer/songwriter Gerard Kenny releases the single “Farewell Canberra” which is specially composed for the final voyage.


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Birth of William Vincent Wallace, Composer & Musician

william-vincent-wallaceWilliam Vincent Wallace, Irish composer and musician, is born at Colbeck Street, Waterford, County Waterford on March 11, 1812. In his day, he is famous on three continents as a double virtuoso on violin and piano. Nowadays, he is mainly remembered as an opera composer of note, with key works such as Maritana (1845) and Lurline (1847/60), but he also writes a large amount of piano music that is much in vogue in the 19th century.

Wallace’s father, Spencer Wallace of County Mayo, becomes a regimental bandmaster with the North Mayo Militia based in Ballina. William is born while the regiment is stationed for one year in Waterford. The family returns to Ballina in 1816 and he spends his formative years there, taking an active part in his father’s band and already composing pieces by the age of nine for the band recitals.

Under the tuition of his father and uncle, Wallace writes pieces for the bands and orchestras of his native area. He becomes accomplished in playing various band instruments before the family leaves the Army in 1826, moving from Waterford to Dublin, and becoming active in music in the capital. He learns to play several instruments as a boy, including the violin, clarinet, organ, and piano. In 1830, at the age of 18, he becomes organist of the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Thurles, County Tipperary, and teaches music at the Ursuline Convent there. He falls in love with a pupil, Isabella Kelly, whose father consents to their marriage in 1832 on condition that Wallace become a Roman Catholic. The couple soon moves to Dublin where he is employed as a violinist at the Theatre Royal.

Economic conditions in Dublin deteriorate after the Acts of Union 1800 and the whole Wallace family decides to emigrate to Australia in 1835. Wallace’s party first lands at Hobart, Tasmania in late October, where they stay several months before moving on to Sydney in January 1836. The Wallaces open the first Australian music academy in April. Wallace has already given many celebrity concerts in Sydney, and, being the first virtuoso to visit the Colony, becomes known as the “Australian Paganini.” He is also active in the business of importing pianos from London, but his main activity involves many recitals in and around Sydney under the patronage of the Governor, General Sir Richard Bourke. The most significant musical events of this period are two large oratorio concerts on behalf of the organ fund at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1836 and 1838, which he directs, and which utilize all the available musical talent of the Colony, including the recently formed Philharmonic [Choral] Society.

In 1838, Wallace separates from his wife, and begins a roving career that takes him around the globe. In 1841, he conducts a season of Italian opera in Mexico City. Moving on to the United States, he stays in New Orleans for some years, where he is feted as a virtuoso on violin and piano, before reaching New York City, where he is equally celebrated, and publishes his first compositions (1843–44).

Wallace arrives in London in 1845 and makes various appearances as a pianist. In November of that year, his opera Maritana is performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with great success, and is later presented internationally. Maritana is followed by Matilda of Hungary (1847), Lurline (1847/60), The Amber Witch (1861), Love’s Triumph (1862) and The Desert Flower (1863). He also publishes numerous compositions for the piano.

In New York in 1843–1844, Wallace is associated with the early concert seasons of the New York Philharmonic Society, and in 1853 is elected an Honorary (Life) Member of the Society. In 1854, he becomes an American citizen after a marriage in New York to German-born pianist Hélène Stoepel, sister of composer Robert Stoepel. In later years, having returned to Europe for the premieres of his later operas, he develops a heart condition for which he receives treatment in Paris in 1864. He dies in poor circumstances at the Château de Bagen, Sauveterre-de-Comminges, in the Haute Garonne on October 12, 1865. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

(Pictured: William Vincent Wallace. Undated portrait by Mathew Brady, New York City, Library of Congress)