seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup

gordon-bennett-cup-1903The Gordon Bennett Cup takes place on July 2, 1903, becoming the first international motor race to be held in Ireland. The race is sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the New York Herald. Under the rules, the races are hosted in the country of the previous year’s winner. Selwyn Edge had won the 1902 event in the ParisVienna race driving a car manufactured by D. Napier & Son.

The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland want the race to be hosted in the British Isles, and their secretary, Claude Johnson, suggests Ireland as the venue because racing is illegal on British public roads. The editor of the Dublin Motor News, Richard J. Mecredy, suggests an area in County Kildare, and letters are sent to 102 Irish MPs, 90 Irish peers, 300 newspapers, 34 chairmen of county and local councils, 34 County secretaries, 26 mayors, 41 railway companies, 460 hoteliers, 13 PPs, plus the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Patrick Foley, who pronounces himself in favour.

Local laws have to be adjusted, ergo the ‘Light Locomotives (Ireland) Bill’ is passed on March 27, 1903. Kildare and other local councils draw attention to their areas, while Queen’s County (now County Laois) declares that every facility will be given and the roads placed at the disposal of motorists during the proposed race. Eventually Kildare is chosen, partly on the grounds that the straightness of the roads will be a safety benefit. As a compliment to Ireland the British team chooses to race in Shamrock green which thus becomes known as British racing green, although the winning Napier of 1902 had been painted Olive green.

There is considerable public concern about safety after the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux Rally, in which at least eight people had been killed, and severe crashes during the May 24, 1903 Paris-Madrid race where more than 200 cars competed over a distance of 800 miles but which had to be halted at Bordeaux because there had been so many fatalities. To allay these fears, the 1903 race is held over a closed course which is carefully prepared for the event, and is marshaled by 7,000 police officers assisted by troops and club stewards, with strict instructions to keep spectators off the roads and away from corners. The route consists of two loops that comprise a figure of eight, the first being a 52-mile loop that includes Kilcullen, the Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevin, Ballydavis (Port Laoise), Stradbally and Athy, followed by a 40-mile loop through Castledermot, Carlow, and Athy again. The race starts at the Ballyshannon cross-roads near Calverstown.

The official timekeeper of the race is T. H. Woolen of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. Ninety one chronographs for timing the race are supplied by the Anglo-Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co. of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. Competitors are started at seven-minute intervals and have to follow bicycles through the “control zones” in each town. The 328-mile race is won by the famous Belgian Camille Jenatzy, driving a Mercedes in German colours.

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Death of Rory Gallagher, Irish Blues & Rock Guitarist

rory-gallagherWilliam Rory Gallagher, Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader, dies at the age of 47, in London on June 14, 1995 of complications following a liver transplant.

Gallagher is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on March 2, 1948. Both he and his brother Dónal are musically inclined and encouraged by their parents. At age nine, Gallagher receives his first guitar from them. After winning a talent contest when he is twelve, he begins performing with both his acoustic guitar and an electric guitar that he purchases with his prize money. It is, however, his purchase three years later of a 1961 Fender Stratocaster for £100 that becomes his primary instrument and most associated with him for the span of his lifetime.

Gallagher is initially attracted to skiffle after hearing Lonnie Donegan on the radio. While still in school, playing songs by Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, he discovers his greatest influence in Muddy Waters. He begins experimenting with folk, blues, and rock music.

While still a young teenager, Gallagher begins playing after school with Irish showbands. In 1963, he joins one named Fontana, a sextet playing the popular hit songs of the day. The band tours Ireland and the United Kingdom, earning enough money for Gallagher to make the payments on his Stratocaster guitar. Gallagher begins to influence the band’s repertoire and successfully moulds Fontana into The Impact, changing the line-up into a rhythm and blues group. The band plays gigs in Ireland and Spain until it disbands in London, with Gallagher and the bassist and drummer continuing to perform as a trio in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1966, Gallagher returns to Ireland and forms Taste, a blues rock and R&B power trio. Initially, the band is composed of Gallagher and Cork musicians Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham. However, by 1968, Damery and Kitteringham are replaced by Belfast musicians John Wilson on drums and Richard McCracken on bass. Performing extensively in the UK, the group supports both Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell concert and the blues supergroup Blind Faith on a tour of North America.

After the break-up of Taste in 1970, Gallagher tours under his own name. He hires former Deep Joy bass player Gerry McAvoy to play on his self-titled debut album, Rory Gallagher. This is the beginning of a twenty-year musical relationship between Gallagher and McAvoy. The 1970s are Gallagher’s most prolific period, producing ten albums in the decade. In 1971 he is voted Melody Maker‘s International Top Guitarist of the Year, ahead of Eric Clapton. However, despite a number of his albums reaching the UK Albums Chart, Gallagher does not attain major star status. Though he sells over thirty million albums worldwide, it is his marathon live performances that win him the greatest acclaim.

In the 1980s Gallagher continues recording and embarks on a tour of the United States. In addition, he plays with Box of Frogs, a band formed in 1983 by former members of The Yardbirds.

In the later years of his life, Gallagher develops a phobia of flying. To overcome this he receives a prescription for a powerful sedative. This medication, combined with his alcohol use, results in severe liver damage. Despite his condition he continues touring. By his final performance on January 10, 1995 in the Netherlands, he is visibly ill and the remainder of the tour is cancelled. He is admitted to King’s College Hospital in London in March 1995. His liver is failing and the doctors determine that a liver transplant is the only possible course of action. After 13 weeks in intensive care, his health suddenly worsens when he contracts a Staphylococcal infection. Gallagher dies on June 14, 1995, and is buried in St. Oliver’s Cemetery just outside Ballincollig near Cork.


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Birth of Margo, Irish Country Music Singer

margaret-catherine-o-donnellIrish singer Margo, born Margeret Catherine O’Donnell, is born on February 6, 1951 in County Donegal. She rises to prominence during the 1960s in the Irish country music scene and has had an extensive career since.

Margo is brought up in the small village of Kincasslagh, in The Rosses area of County Donegal. She grows up in a Catholic family, with her parents Francis and Julia (née McGonagle) O’Donnell, and her siblings: John, Kathleen, James, and Daniel, who is also a singer. Her father dies of a heart attack when she is a young woman.

Margo starts performing country music at a very young age in 1964 with a local showband, The Keynotes. She records her first single in 1968, Bonny Irish Boy/Dear God, which is a success as is her second single, If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child/Road By the River, released in 1969. She has been a successful singer for five decades and has sold more than 1,000,000 records to date. She has performed with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. She presents numerous TV shows for RTÉ in the 1970s and has collected many awards during her career.

Margo is sister to Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell, who got his start with Margo’s band in the early 1980s while attending college in Galway. Margo is named “2007 Donegal Person Of The Year” and spends most of 2007 traveling Ireland acting as an ambassador to her native county. She makes her home in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, where she has lived for several decades along with her partner.

Since 1977, Margo has been active in the search for Mary Boyle, a distant relative from Kincasslagh, who went missing at age six near Ballyshannon, County Donegal.


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Death of Poet William Allingham

william-allinghamWilliam Allingham, Irish poet, diarist and editor, dies in Hampstead, London, England on November 18, 1889. He writes several volumes of lyric verse, and his poem “The Faeries” is much anthologised. However, he is better known for his posthumously published Diary, in which he records his lively encounters with Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle and other writers and artists. His wife, Helen Allingham, is a well-known watercolourist and illustrator.

Allingham is born on March 19, 1824 in the small town of Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and is the son of the manager of a local bank who is of English descent. During his childhood his parents move twice within the town, where he enjoys the country sights and gardens, learns to paint and listens to his mother’s piano-playing. When he is nine, his mother dies.

Allingham obtains a post in the custom house of his native town, and holds several similar posts in Ireland and England until 1870. During this period he publishes Poems (1850), which includes his well-known poem “The Fairies,” and Day and Night Songs (1855). Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland, his most ambitious, though not his most successful work, a narrative poem illustrative of Irish social questions, appears in 1864. He also edits The Ballad Book for the Golden Treasury series in 1864, and Fifty Modern Poems in 1865.

In April 1870 Allingham retires from the customs service, moves to London and becomes sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine, eventually becoming editor in succession to James Anthony Froude in June 1874, a post he holds until 1879. On August 22, 1874 he marries the illustrator, Helen Paterson, who is twenty-four years younger than he. His wife gives up her work as an illustrator and becomes well known under her married name as a water-colour painter. At first the couple lives in London, at 12 Trafalgar Square, Chelsea, near Allingham’s friend, Thomas Carlyle, and it is there that they have their first two children – Gerald Carlyle (b. 1875 November) and Eva Margaret (b. 1877 February).

Allingham’s Songs, Poems and Ballads appears in 1877. In 1881, after the death of Carlyle, the Allinghams move to Sandhills near Witley in Surrey, where their third child, Henry William, is born in 1882. At this period Allingham publishes Evil May Day (1883), Blackberries (1884) and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

In 1888, due to Allingham’s declining health, they move back to the capital, to the heights of Hampstead village. However, on November 18, 1889, he dies at Hampstead. According to his wishes he is cremated. His ashes are interred at St. Anne’s church in his native Ballyshannon.

Posthumously Allingham’s Varieties in Prose is published in 1893. William Allingham A Diary, edited by Mrs. Helen Allingham and D. Radford, is published in 1907. It contains Allingham’s reminiscences of Tennyson, Carlyle and other writers and artists.


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The Completion of the “Annals of the Four Masters”

annals-of-the-four-mastersThe Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland or the Annals of the Four Masters, chronicles of medieval Irish history, are completed on August 10, 1636. The entries span from the Deluge, dated as 2,242 years after creation to 1616 AD.

The annals are mainly a compilation of earlier annals, although there is some original work, and are one of the principal Irish language sources for Irish history up to 1616. They are compiled between 1632 and 1636 at a Franciscan friary near the Drowes River in County Leitrim, on the border with County Donegal and County Sligo. The patron of the project is Fearghal Ó Gadhra, MP, a Gaelic lord in Coolavin, County Sligo. While many of the early chapters are essentially lists of names and dates, the later chapters, dealing with events of which the authors have first-hand accounts, are much more detailed.

The chief compiler of the annals is Brother Mícheál Ó Cléirigh from Ballyshannon, who is assisted by, among others, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh, Fearfeasa Ó Maol Chonaire and Peregrine Ó Duibhgeannain. Although only one of the authors, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, is a Franciscan friar, they become known as “The Four Friars” or in the original Irish, Na Ceithre Máistrí. The Anglicized version of this is “The Four Masters,” the name that has become associated with the annals themselves.

Due to the criticisms by Irish historian Tuileagna Ó Maol Chonaire, the text is not published during the lifetime of any of the participants. The first substantial English translation (starting at 1171 AD) is published by Owen Connellan in 1846. The Connellan translation includes the annals from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries. The only version to have a four-colour frontispiece, it includes a large folding map showing the location of families in Ireland. This edition, neglected for over 150 years, is republished in the early twenty-first century. The original Connellan translation is followed several years later by a full translation by the historian John O’Donovan. The translation is funded by a government grant of £1,000 obtained by the notable mathematician Sir William Rowan Hamilton while he is president of the Royal Irish Academy.

The reliability and usefulness of the Annals as a historical source has sometimes been questioned on the grounds that they are limited to accounts of the births, deaths and activities of the Gaelic nobility of Ireland and often ignore wider social trends or events. On the other hand, the Annals, as one of the few prose sources in Irish from this period, also provide a valuable insight into events such as the Desmond Rebellions and the Nine Years’ War from a Gaelic Irish perspective.

The early part of this work is based upon the Lebor Gabála Érenn. Today, most scholars regard the Lebor Gabála Érenn as primarily myth rather than history. It appears to be mostly based on medieval Christian pseudo-histories, but it also incorporates some of Ireland’s native pagan mythology. Scholars believe the goal of its writers was to provide an epic history for Ireland that could compare to that of the Israelites or the Romans, and which reconciled native myth with the Christian view of history.

The several manuscript copies are held at Trinity College, Dublin, the Royal Irish Academy, University College Dublin and the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: Illustration of “the four masters” by B. H. Holbrooke, 1846)


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.


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Birth of William Allingham, Poet, Diarist, & Editor

William Allingham, Irish poet, diarist, and editor, is born on March 19, 1824 in the little port of Ballyshannon, County Donegal. He writes several volumes of lyric verse, and his poem “The Faeries” is much anthologised. However, he is better known for his posthumously published Diary, in which he records his lively encounters with Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists. His wife, Helen Allingham, is a well-known water-colorist and illustrator.

Allingham is the son of the manager of a local bank who is of English descent. His younger brothers and sisters are Catherine (b. 1826), John (b. 1827), Jane (b. 1829), Edward (b. 1831; who lived only a few months), and a still-born brother (b. 1833). During his childhood his parents move twice within the town, where the boy enjoys the country sights and gardens, learns to paint, and listens to his mother’s piano-playing. His mother dies when he is nine years old.

Allingham obtains a post in the custom house of his native town, and holds several similar posts in Ireland and England until 1870. It is during this period that Poems (1850), which includes his well-known poem “The Fairies,” and Day and Night Songs (1855) are published.  Lawrence Bloomfield in Ireland, his most ambitious though not his most successful work, a narrative poem illustrative of Irish social questions, appears in 1864. He also edits The Ballad Book for the Golden Treasury series in 1864, and Fifty Modern Poems in 1865.

In April 1870, Allingham retires from the customs service, moves to London and becomes sub-editor of Fraser’s Magazine, eventually becoming editor in succession to James Anthony Froude in June 1874, a post he holds until 1879. On August 22, 1874 he marries the illustrator, Helen Paterson, who is twenty-four years younger than him. His wife gives up her work as an illustrator and becomes well known under her married name as a water-colour painter. At first the couple lives in London, at 12 Trafalgar Square, Chelsea, near Allingham’s friend, Thomas Carlyle, and it is there that they have their first two children – Gerald Carlyle (b. November 1875) and Eva Margaret (b. February 1877). Allingham’s Songs, Poems and Ballads is published in 1877. In 1881, after the death of Carlyle, the Allinghams move to Sandhills near Witley in Surrey, where their third child, Henry William, is born in 1882. At this period Allingham publishes Evil May Day (1883), Blackberries (1884), and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

In 1888, because of William’s declining health, they move back to the capital, to the heights of Hampstead village. However, on November 18, 1889, William Allingham dies at Hampstead. According to his wishes he is cremated. His ashes are interred at St. Anne’s church in his native Ballyshannon.

Posthumously Allingham’s Varieties in Prose is published in 1893. William Allingham A Diary, edited by Mrs. Helen Allingham and D. Radford, is published in 1907. It contains Allingham’s reminiscences of Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other writers and artists.