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


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The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


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Birth of Máirín Cregan, Nationalist, Playwright, & Novelist

Máirín Cregan, Irish nationalist who is involved in the 1916 Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence, is born in Killorglin, County Kerry, on March 27, 1891. She later makes her name writing for children, as well as writing plays and novels for adults.

Mary Ellen Cregan is born to Morgan Cregan and Ellen O’Shea. Her father is a stonemason from Limerick. The family are strong believers in the Gaelic revival movement and Cregan herself learns the Irish language and performs songs at Gaelic League concerts. Although she goes to primary school locally, she goes away to secondary school to St. Louis Convent in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. After finishing school, she becomes a teacher, working in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny from 1911 to 1914.

In September 1914 Cregan goes to Dublin to study music in the Leinster School of Music, under Madame Coslett Heller. It is while she is in Dublin that she becomes friends with the Ryan family, who are strong nationalists as well as interested in the Gaelic League and Sinn Féin. She begins to sing for concerts which are fundraisers for the Irish Volunteers. The last concert is just two weeks before the Easter Rising.

During Easter week Cregan is sent to Tralee with “automatics and ammunition” by Seán Mac Diarmada. While she is carrying a violin case of munitions, she is also carrying details for the wireless technology needed for communicating with the SS Aud, the boat which is carrying more weapons for the rebellion. The communications with the SS Aud goes wrong when the car carrying the Volunteers goes off a pier and the occupants are drowned. She is still in the area to assist with the surviving Volunteer, who unfortunately knows nothing of the details for the SS Aud. She is not easily able to get back to Dublin, because owing to the Rising the city is cut off. By the time she gets back, her friends have been arrested.

When Cregan is going to school in Dublin she is also working in a school in Rathmines. Like many of the teachers, she loses her job after the rising because of her connection to the rebels. However, she is able to get new positions over the next few years in both Ballyshannon and Portstewart until she marries. In Ballyshannon she experiences the early expressions of support and sympathy, but Portstewart is a Unionist enclave with many houses flying union flags on polling day in 1918.

Cregan is a member of Cumann na mBan and with them is active during the Irish War of Independence. She is given a medal for her participation. On July 23, 1919 she marries Dr. James Ryan in Athenry, County Galway. His entire family had been deeply involved in the Easter Rising, as well as the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. They have three children, Eoin, who becomes a Senator, Nuala (Colgan) and Seamus.

The family is initially based in Wexford during the War. The house is often raided when the British soldiers are looking for her husband and Cregan herself is arrested in February 1921 for refusing to put up martial law posters. Later the family sells the house and remains mobile while she works for the Sinn Féin government and her husband is in prison. It is during this time that she works as a courier to the continent and to London. After the war, they purchase Kindlestown House in Delgany, County Wicklow, where they remain for the rest of their lives.

Cregan works as a journalist for The Irish Press and The Sunday Press. Her political awareness and involvement means that her work there is on political articles.

Cregan’s first book for children is Old John and gains her considerable international success and attention. Sean Eoin is also published in Irish, and is illustrated by Jack Butler Yeats. Her work is also aired on the BBC and RTÉ. Rathina wins the Downey Award in the United States in 1943. She also writes two plays: Hunger strike (1933), based on experience of her husband’s involvement in such a strike, which is broadcast on Radio Éireann on May 5, 1936, and Curlew’s call (1940).

Cregan dies on November 9, 1975 in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and is buried in Redford cemetery near her home in County Wicklow.

(Pictured: Máirín Cregan and her husband, Dr. James Ryan)


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The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.


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Death of Edward Daly, Catholic Bishop of Derry

The retired Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, whose photograph becomes the iconic image of Bloody Sunday in 1972, dies at the age of 82 on August 8, 2016.

Daly is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, but raised in Belleek, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. He attends and boards at St. Columb’s College in Derry on a scholarship, after which he spends six years studying towards ordination to the priesthood at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. He is ordained a priest of the Diocese of Derry in Belleek on March 16, 1957. His first appointment is as a Curate in Castlederg, County Tyrone. In 1962, he is appointed a Curate in St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, with responsibility for the Bogside area of the city. He leaves briefly in the 1970s to serve as a religious advisor to RTÉ in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland but spends the majority of his career in Derry.

During his time in Derry, Daly takes part in the civil rights marches. He has first-hand experience of the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, the early years of the Troubles, internment, and the events of Bloody Sunday, in which British soldiers fire on unarmed protesters on January 30, 1972, killing 14 people. He becomes a public figure after he is witnessed using a blood-stained handkerchief as a white flag in an attempt to escort 17-year-old Jackie Duddy, a wounded protester, to safety. Duddy dies of his injuries soon after and Daly administers the last rites. He later describes the events as “a young fella who was posing no threat to anybody being shot dead unjustifiably.”

Daly gives an interview to the BBC in which he insists, contrary to official reports, that the protesters were unarmed. He testifies as such to the Widgery Tribunal, though he also testifies that he had seen a man with a gun on the day, to the anger of some of those involved. The Widgery Report largely exonerates the British Army, perpetuating the controversy. Years later, he says that the events of Bloody Sunday were a significant catalyst to the violence in Northern Ireland, and that the shootings served to greatly increase recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Prior to Bloody Sunday, Daly is sympathetic to the “old” IRA, of which his father was a member, but the events of Bloody Sunday leave him of the opinion that “violence is completely unacceptable as a means to a political end,” which leads to tension with the Provisional Irish Republican Army throughout his career.

Daly is appointed Bishop of Derry in 1974, a position he holds until he is forced to retire in October 1993 after suffering a stroke. He continues in the role of chaplain to Derry’s Foyle Hospice until February 2016.

Daly makes headlines in 2011 when he says there needs to be a place in the modern Catholic Church for married priests. He addresses the controversial issue in his book about his life in the Church, A Troubled See. Allowing clergymen to marry would ease the church’s problems, he says.

Daly is awarded the Freedom of the City by Derry City Council in 2015 in a joint ceremony with Bishop James Mehaffey, with whom he had worked closely while the two were in office. He is “hugely pleased to accept [the award], particularly when it is being shared with my friend and brother, Bishop James.” The city’s mayor, Brenda Stevenson, announces that the joint award is in recognition of the two bishops’ efforts towards peace and community cohesion.

Daly dies on August 8, 2016 at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, having been admitted after a fall several weeks previously. He had also been diagnosed with cancer. He is surrounded by family and local priests.

Daly’s remains are taken to St. Eugene’s Cathedral, where he lay in state with mourners able to file past. His coffin is sealed at midday on August 11, 2016 and buried after Requiem Mass in the grounds of St. Eugene’s Cathedral alongside his predecessor as Bishop of Derry, Neil Farren. The bells of the cathedral toll for one hour on the morning of Daly’s death while many local people arrived to pay tribute. The mayor of Derry, Hilary McClintock, opens a book of condolence in the city’s guildhall for members of the public to sign. The funeral, conducted by the incumbent Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, is attended by multiple religious and political leaders from across Ireland and retired leaders from throughout his career. A message from Pope Francis is read aloud at the beginning of the service. Hundreds of members of the public also attend the funeral, some lining the route from the cathedral to the gravesite. His coffin is greeted with applause as it is carried out of the cathedral for burial.

(Pictured: Father Edward Daly, waving a blood-stained white handkerchief as he escorts a mortally-wounded protester to safety during the events of Bloody Sunday (1972) in Derry, Northern Ireland, an image which becomes one of the most recognisable moments of the Troubles)


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The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup

gordon-bennett-cup-1903

The 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.