seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Irish Blues & Rock Guitarist Rory Gallagher

rory-gallagherWilliam Rory Gallagher, Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader, is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, on March 2, 1948.

Both Rory 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, Gallagher 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 an R&B 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 was his marathon live performances that win him the greatest acclaim.

In the 1980s he 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. Gallagher 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 City, Ireland.