seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Richard Sankey, Officer in the Madras Engineer Group

Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Hieram Sankey KCB, officer in the Madras Engineer Group in the East India Company‘s army in British India, is born on March 22, 1829 at Rockwell Castle, County Tipperary.

Sankey is the fourth son of Eleanor and Matthew Sankey. His mother is herself from a family of military men, her father being Colonel Henry O’Hara, J.P of O’Hara Broom, County Antrim. His father is a barrister at Bawnmore, County Cork and Modeshil, County Tipperary. He does his schooling at Rev. Flynn’s School on Harcourt Street in Dublin and enters the East India Company’s Addiscombe Military Seminary at Addiscombe, Surrey in 1845. At Addiscombe he is awarded for his excellence at painting.

Sankey is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Madras Engineer Group in November 1846, and is then trained in military engineering with the Royal Engineers at Chatham, Kent from January 1, 1847, holding temporary rank as an ensign in the British Army. He then arrives in India in November 1848. After two years of service at Mercatur, he officiates in 1850 as Superintending Engineer at Nagpur. During this time he makes a small collection of fossils of Glossopteris from the Nagpur district and writes a paper on the geology of the region in 1854. The collection is moved from the Museum of Practical Geology to the British Museum in 1880.

In 1856, Sankey is promoted as the Superintendent of the East Coast Canal at Madras. In May 1857, he is promoted Under-Secretary of the Public Works Department under Col. William Erskine Baker in Calcutta. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, he is commissioned as the Captain of the Calcutta Cavalry Volunteers, but is soon despatched to Allahabad where he leads the construction of several embankments and bridges across the Yamuna and Ganges. He is involved in the construction of shelters to advancing troops along the Grand Trunk Road to aid the quelling of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He arrives in course of this work at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) a day before the Second Battle of Cawnpore. He also is involved in crucial civil works that aid the quelling of the rebellion by bridging the Ghaghara and Gomti rivers at Gorakhpur and Phulpur that enable the Gurkha regiment to cross these rivers.

Sankey receives several commendations from his commanders here and later in the taking of the fort at Jumalpur, Khandua nalla and Qaisar Bagh, vital actions in the breaking of the Siege of Lucknow. For his actions at Jumalpur he is recommended for the Victoria Cross, although he does not receive this honour. He receives a medal for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and is promoted to second captain on August 27, 1858, and given brevet promotion to major the following day for his services in the quelling of the rebellion. He is sent to the Nilgiris due to ill-health during this time.

Sankey spends a year in Burma as the executive engineer and Superintendent of the jail at Moulmein. On June 29, 1861, he is promoted to substantive captain and is posted as the Garrison Engineer at Fort William, Calcutta and later as the assistant to Chief Engineer, Mysore until 1864, when he is made the Chief Engineer. During this period he creates a system within the irrigation department to deal with old Indian water catchment systems, surveying the catchment area and determining the area drained and the flows involved. Due to the reorganisation of the armed forces following the assumption of Crown rule in India he is transferred to the Royal Engineers on April 29, 1862.

In 1870, at the request of the Victorian Colonial Government in Australia, in view of his experience with hydrological studies in Mysore, Sankey is invited to be Chairman of the Board of Enquiry on Victorian Water Supply. During this visit, he also gives evidence to the Victorian Select Committee on Railways, as well as reports on the Yarra River Floods, and the Coliban Water Supply, and later contributes to the report on the North West Canal. While in Australia, he is also invited to the colony of South Australia to report on the water supply of Adelaide.

Sankey is appointed as an under-secretary to the Government of India in 1877, which earns him the Afghanistan Medal. In 1878, he is promoted as the Secretary in the public works department at Madras, and is promoted substantive colonel on December 30. He is appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath on July 25, 1879, and also commands the Royal Engineers on the advance from Kandahar to Kabul during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. For about five years he is in Madras where he becomes a member of the legislative council in Madras and is elected as a Fellow of the University of Madras. He also helps in the creation and improvements of the Marina, the gardens and the Government House grounds. He is promoted major general on June 4, 1883, and retires from the army on January 11, 1884 with the honorary rank of lieutenant general. He also receives the distinguished service award in India.

After retirement, Sankey returns to Ireland, where he becomes the Chairman of the Board of Works. He is promoted Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on May 25, 1892 for his work in Ireland. He also undertakes projects in Mexico. Later he settles in London where he dies at St. George’s Hospital on November 11, 1908 and is interred at Hove, East Sussex.

Sankey is memorialised in Phoenix Park, Dublin. A circle of trees bears the name Sankey’s Wood. A plaque dated 1894 lies half-hidden in the undergrowth there.


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Birth of Fergus Slattery, Rugby Union Player

John Fergus Slattery, former rugby union player who represented Ireland, is born in Dún Laoghaire, the county town of Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, on February 12, 1949.

Slattery plays club rugby for Blackrock College and University College Dublin before embarking on an international career that takes in 61 caps for Ireland, 18 as captain, and four for the British and Irish Lions. He makes his international debut in a draw against South Africa at Lansdowne Road in 1970.

In 1971, Slattery first tours with the British and Irish Lions squad that toured New Zealand, missing out on a start in the third Test due to illness. With the back-row berths claimed by John Taylor, Peter Dixon and Mervyn Davies and still being a newcomer at international level he has to wait until 1974 for his shot at a Lions Test jersey. In the meantime, he plays for the Barbarian F.C. in the famous 1973 game against the All Blacks in Cardiff.

Slattery tours with the Lions again in 1974, playing in all four Tests and captaining the side for two provincial matches. In South Africa he is an invaluable member of the touring party that comes to be known as “the invincibles.” He starts all four Tests as the Lions win the series 3-0 and skippers the side twice during midweek tour matches.

For Ireland, Slattery captains their hugely successful touring side in Australia in 1979 when they win seven of the eight matches including the two Tests in Brisbane and Sydney. In 1982 he starts all four games of Ireland’s Triple Crown season, being denied the Grand Slam by France in the final game of the Five Nations Championship.

Slattery is inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007.


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Founding of the Ladies’ Land League

Anna Parnell, younger sister of Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, founds the Committee of the Ladies’ Land League, an auxiliary of the Irish National Land League, in Dublin on January 31, 1881. The organisation grows rapidly. By May 1881 there are 321 branches in Ireland, with branches also in Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The organization is set up to take over the work of the Irish National Land League after its leadership is imprisoned. They raise money for the Land League prisoners and their dependants. They encourage women to resist eviction from their cottages. If families are evicted, the Ladies’ Land League provides wooden huts to the evicted families.

The ladies find themselves with additional work late in 1881. The Land League has started its own paper, United Ireland, in August 1881, but towards the end of the year the government tries to close it down. William O’Brien, the editor, continues to smuggle out copy from Kilmainham Gaol, but it falls to the ladies to get it printed. This is done first in London and then for a while in Paris. Eventually the ladies print and circulate it themselves from an office at 32 Lower Abbey Street.

On Sunday, March 12, 1881, just more than a month after the formation of the league, a pastoral letter of Archbishop of Dublin Edward McCabe is read out in all the churches of the diocese. It condemns the league in the strongest terms, deploring that “our Catholic daughters, be they matrons or virgins, are called forth, under the flimsy pretext of charity, to take their stand in the noisy street of life.” McCabe is not representative of all bishops, particularly Archbishop of Cashel Thomas Croke, a strong supporter of the original league. Croke publishes a letter in the Freeman’s Journal challenging the “monstrous imputations” in McCabe’s pastoral.

The dissension is revived somewhat in the summer of 1882. McCabe, now a Cardinal, and another bishop try to have a public condemnation of the Ladies’ Land League inserted into an address by the Catholic Bishops of Ireland in June. The other bishops resist on the basis that it would probably do more harm than good. They content themselves with expressing their hope that “the women of Ireland will continue to be the glory of their sex and the noble angels of stainless modesty.” When newspapers interpret this as a condemnation of the league, Croke writes again to the Freeman’s Journal to deny that this had been the intention of the bishops.

The order banning the Irish National Land League makes no direct reference to the Ladies’ Land League but many police officers try to insist that the ban includes the women’s group. Eventually, on December 16, 1881, Inspector General Hillier of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) orders the police to stop the women’s meetings. Anna Parnell defiantly issues a notice to all Ladies’ Land League branches in the country calling on them all to hold a meeting on January 1, 1882.

The prominent resident magistrate, Major Clifford Lloyd, claims that the huts built for evicted tenants are being used as posts from which the evicted tenants can intimidate anyone who attempts to take over their vacated holdings. In April 1882, he threatens that anyone attempting to erect huts will be imprisoned. That month, Anne Kirke is sent down from Dublin to Tulla, County Clare, to oversee the erection of huts for a large number of evicted tenants. Lloyd has her arrested and imprisoned for three months.

The government does not wish to be seen to use the Coercion Act to imprison women, but another stratagem is used. In December 1881 21-year old Hannah Reynolds is imprisoned under an ancient statute from the reign of Edward III, the original purpose of which was to keep prostitutes off the streets. The statute empowers magistrates to imprison “persons not of good fame” if they do not post bail as a guarantee of their good behavior. Since Reynolds claims her behavior is good, she refuses to pay bail and spends a month in Cork gaol. In all, thirteen women serve jail sentences under this statute.

On May 3, 1882 Parnell and other leaders are released from jail after agreeing to the Kilmainham Treaty. This includes some improvement in the 1881 Land Act. He now wishes to turn his attention more to the Home Rule question. The Irish National Land League is replaced by the Irish National League. Parnell also wants to see an end to the Ladies’ Land League. There had been increased violence while he was in jail and he sees Anna as too radical. The organization has an overdraft of £5,000 which Parnell agrees to clear from central funds only if the organization is dissolved. At a meeting of the Central Committee on August 10, 1882 the Ladies’ Land League votes to dissolve itself. Anna Parnell herself is not in attendance at that meeting having suffered a physical and mental collapse after the sudden death of her sister Fanny the previous month.

The records of the Ladies’ Land League are lost to history in 1916. Jennie Wyse Power, who had served on the Central Committee, had kept them in her house in Henry Street, Dublin. When fire spreads from Sackville Street during the 1916 Easter Rising, her house is destroyed and the records perish in the blaze.

(Pictured: Lady Land Leaguers at work at the Dublin office)


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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)