seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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The Ebrington Barracks Bombing

On April 6, 2000, the Real Irish Republican Army lowers a device consisting of 5 lbs. of homemade explosives over the perimeter fence of Ebrington Barracks at Browning Drive in the Waterside area of Derry, County Derry, Northern Ireland, using ropes, and the bomb subsequently explodes damaging the fence and the guardhouse. The explosion takes place around 6:30 a.m.

There are no reports of any casualties and army technical experts are at the scene shortly after the blast.

Gregory Campbell, security spokesman for the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, visits the scene and says the blast bears similarities to an incident at Ballykelly, twelve miles away, in February 2000. He adds, “In Ballykelly there was a breach of the security fence, with the bomb planted near sleeping quarters. Here it was beside a former guardhouse. It appears to have been outside the perimeter.”

Campbell also claims that in recent months the base’s watchtowers had not been manned. “I get the impression that security has become a bit lax since the ceasefire,” he says. “This is confirmation of what we all knew was coming, a determined effort by paramilitary groups.”

Campbell continues, “When you look at the past few months it is very obvious that these groups – if they are splinter groups, if they are people who are leaving the Provisional IRA to join these dissidents or if the Provisional IRA is giving a wink and a nod to these dissidents – it is as plain as the nose on your face these people are developing terrorist capabilities.”

“When there is a device at a security cordon and another device inside another camp 12 miles down the road from here it is very obvious they are working towards a major attack with loss of life. Within a few months we are going to be faced with a major onslaught,” Campbell adds.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble, speaking in advance of a House of Commons debate warning of damaging consequences if the government presses on with moves to rename the Royal Ulster Constabulary, says it appears that the blast at the barracks in Derry is part of a wider campaign of low level terrorist activity by dissident republicans. Speaking on BBC Radio Trimble says, “There have been a number of incidents recently which have been attributed to dissident republicans. This may be another one. And there is reason to believe that dissident republicans are trying to launch a sustained campaign.”

(From: “Explosion at army camp,” BBC News, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/, Thursday, April 6, 2000)


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Birth of Roy McFadden, Poet, Editor & Lawyer

Roy McFadden, Northern Irish poet, editor, and lawyer, is born in Downpatrick, County Down, on November 14, 1921.

McFadden is born to Roland Victor MCFadden and his wife Maud Steele. A short time after his birth the family relocates to Belfast. He is educated at Knock Grammar School, Regent House School in Newtownards, and later graduates in Law from Queen’s University Belfast in 1944. He becomes a prominent lawyer and an influential figure in the Belfast literary scene.

McFadden’s first poem is published before he is thirteen. His earliest influences are from magazines and journals that his father brings home, and by Francis Turner Palgrave‘s Golden Treasury. He first comes to prominence as a promoter of Ulster literature in the 1940s when he edits two anthologies of poetry, Ulster Voices and Irish Voices in 1943. In 1948, he co-founds with Barbara Edwards (née Hunter) the Northern Irish poetry magazine Rann and, then, co-edits it with her during its whole run, until 1953. Like its predecessor Lagan, it is unapologetically regionalist.

McFadden is the author of nine volumes of poetry, from Swords and Ploughshares (1943) to the posthumously published Last Poems (2002). Among his poems are “Saint Francis and the Birds” and “Independence”. His book, The Garryowen, is published by Chatto & Windus in the Phoenix Living Poets series. Most recently, his poem “Post-War” has been anthologised in Armistice: A Laureate’s Choice of Poems of War and Peace (Faber Poetry) (2018). There is a long gap between 1947 and 1971 when he publishes no collections of his work, however he continues to write and publishes in periodicals and newspapers such as The Irish Times where in that time he has sixty poems printed. His voice is well known on local BBC Radio through the Poetry Notebooks series and he also has several verse-plays broadcast.

In 1952 McFadden marries Margaret Ferguson. Together they produce three sons and two daughters. He lives for a number of years in Lisburn, County Antrim. Inspired by Herbert Read and Alex Comfort, he describes himself as a pacifist and an anarchist in 1999. McFadden dies at his Belfast home on September 15, 1999.

The Roy McFadden Papers, comprising the poet’s personal manuscripts and papers, are lodged at Queen’s University Belfast. The Roy McFadden Library at Trinity College Dublin comprises books and journals on Irish and world literature from his collection. A comprehensive collection of his published work is held at the National Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London.


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Birth of Cavan O’Connor, “The Singing Vagabond”

Clarence Patrick O’Connor, British singer of Irish heritage known professionally as Cavan O’Connor, is born on July 1, 1899 in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, England. He is most popular in the 1930s and 1940s, when he is billed as “The Singing Vagabond” or “The Vagabond Lover.”

O’Connor is born to parents of Irish origin. His father dies when he is young, and he leaves school at an early age to work in the printing trade. He serves in World War I as a gunner and signaler in the Royal Artillery, after first being rejected by the Royal Navy when it is discovered that he had pretended to be three years older than his real age. He is wounded in the war, aged 16, while serving with the Royal Artillery. After the war he returns to Nottingham where he works in a music shop. He starts singing in clubs and at concerts, before deciding to turn professional in the early 1920s.

O’Connor wins a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, where he meets his wife, Rita Tate (real name Margherita Odoli), a niece of the opera singer Maggie Teyte. He makes his first recordings, as Cavan O’Connor, for the Vocalion label in 1925, including “I’m Only a Strolling Vagabond” from the operetta The Cousin from Nowhere, which becomes his signature song. Noted for his fine tenor voice, well suited for recording, he appears on many British dance band recordings in the 1920s and 1930s, and uses a wide variety of pseudonyms, including Harry Carlton, Terence O’Brien, and Allan O’Sullivan. He also joins Nigel Playfair‘s revue company at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, before moving on to playing lead roles in opera productions at The Old Vic, often performing in French, Italian and Spanish.

O’Connor turns increasingly toward light entertainment, largely for financial reasons. He starts appearing in variety shows around the country, often performing Irish folk songs. Having made his first radio broadcasts for BBC Radio in 1926, he continues to feature occasionally, but makes his breakthrough when he is billed, initially anonymously, as “The Strolling Vagabond” and “The Vagabond Lover” on a series of radio programmes produced by Eric Maschwitz in 1935. This is the first British radio series based around a solo singer, and when it becomes known that he is the performer, makes him a star, “one of Britain’s highest paid radio personalities.” The series continues for over ten years. From 1946, his Sunday lunchtime radio series, The Strolling Vagabond, is heard by up to 14 million listeners.

O’Connor consistently tours and continues to broadcast regularly. During World War II he settles in Bangor, Gwynedd, north Wales, and regularly appears on the Irish Half Hour radio programmes. His most popular songs include “The World Is Mine Tonight,” written for O’Connor by Maschwitz and George Posford, “Danny Boy” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” an American song widely assumed to be Irish. He records frequently for at least 15 record labels over his career, including Decca Records, at one point recording 40 songs in five days. He makes over 800 recordings in total, both under his own name and pseudonyms, and also appears in two films, Ourselves Alone (1936) and Under New Management (known in the U.S. as Honeymoon Hotel, 1946).

After the war, O’Connor returns to live in London, and tours in Australia and South Africa as well as in Don Ross‘s Thanks for the Memory tours. He retires at one point to set up an electrical goods business, but then resumes his music career in the Avonmore Trio with his wife and son, to give occasional performances and make recordings, the last in 1984.

O’Connor dies at the age of 97 in London on January 11, 1997.


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Launch of Irish Language Radio Station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, abbreviated RnaG, an Irish language radio station owned and operated by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), goes on the air for the first time on April 2, 1972, launched by President Éamon de Valera. The station is available on FM in Ireland and via satellite and on the Internet. The station’s main-headquarters are in Casla, County Galway with major studios also in Gweedore, County Donegal and Dingle, County Kerry.

After the Irish Free State is formed and the Irish Civil War is concluded, the new state sets up a single radio channel named 2RN in 1926, launched by Douglas Hyde. The channel, operating out of Dublin, largely serves the Anglosphere population and at best reaches as far as County Tipperary, a situation that does not change until more powerful transmitters are adopted in the 1930s at Athlone.

In 1943, de Valera, at the time serving as Taoiseach and whose wife Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin is a keen Conradh na Gaeilge activist, promotes the idea of a Gaeltacht station, but there is no breakthrough. By this time, 2RN has become Radio Éireann and still only has one channel, with limited broadcasting hours, often in competition for listeners with BBC Radio and Radio Luxembourg.

In the 1950s, a general liberalisation and commercialisation, indeed Americanisation begins to occur in Ireland, as a push is made to move Ireland from a rural-agrarian society with a protectionist cultural policy towards a market economy basis, with supply and demand the primarily basis of public communications. In 1960, RTÉ is established and direct control of communications moves from a government ministry position to a non-governmental RTÉ Director-General position, first filled by Edward Roth

In the late 1960s, a civil rights movement in the Gaeltacht emerges, seeking development and services for Irish speakers, including a radio service. Out of the Gluaiseacht Chearta Siabhialta na Gaeltachta‘s advocacy comes the pirate radio station Saor Raidió Chonamara in 1970. This sets the subsequent discourse for Irish language and Gaeltacht issues as a civil rights and minority rights imperative.

Gerry Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, announces in Dáil Éireann in February 1971 that a new radio station for the Gaeltacht will be created. Raidió na Gaeltachta begins broadcasting at 3:00 PM on April 2, 1972 as part of an Easter Sunday programming. During the very first broadcast, the main station at Casla, County Galway is not yet finished and the studios in County Kerry and County Donegal are still under construction, so the broadcast originates from Galway. The first Ceannaire (Controller) Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh opens the show, which is followed by a recording from President Éamon de Valera. A recording of Seán Ó Riada‘s Irish language Mass, Ceol an Aifrinn, from the Seipéal Mhic Dara at Carraroe is also played.

At foundation, the station begins with a staff of seven, including six former teachers and a businessman, and broadcasts for only two hours a day and is only available in or near the three largest Gaeltacht districts. The local studio at Derrybeg in Gweedore, County Donegal aids the native Irish music scene there. In the 1970s, Raidió na Gaeltachta gives early coverage to Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, later the singer for Altan. These groups gain popularity not only in Ireland, but on the international stage, selling millions of records during the 1980s especially. The station is dedicated to bringing the listener general news, both national and international, as well as Gaelic sports coverage and more localised affairs of significance to the community in the Gaeltacht.

For many years RnaG is the only Irish language broadcaster in the country. In recent years it has been joined by a television service, Telefís na Gaeilge (TG4), and by regional community radio stations Raidió na Life in Dublin, Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, and Raidió Rí-Rá.


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Birth of Val Doonican, Pop & Easy Listening Singer

Michael Valentine Doonican, singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who is noted for his warm and relaxed style, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on February 3, 1927.

Doonican is the youngest of eight children of Agnes (née Kavanagh) and John Doonican. He is from a musical family and plays in his school band from the age of six. His father dies in 1941, so he has to leave De La Salle College Waterford to get factory jobs fabricating steel and making orange and grapefruit boxes. He begins to perform in his hometown, often with his friend Bruce Clarke, and they have their first professional engagement as a duo in 1947. He appears in a summer season at Courtown, County Wexford. He is soon featured on Irish radio, sometimes with Clarke, and appears in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast.

In 1951 Doonican moves to England to join the Four Ramblers, who tour and perform on BBC Radio shows broadcast from factories, and on the Riders of the Range serials. He also begins performing at United States Air Force bases. The Ramblers support Anthony Newley on tour and, recognising Doonican’s talent and potential as a solo act, persuades him to leave the singing group and go solo. He is auditioned for radio as a solo act, and appears on the radio show Variety Bandbox. Soon he has his own radio show and is performing in concerts and cabaret. In the late 1950s, he becomes one of the artists managed by Eve Taylor, the self-described “Queen Bee of Show Business,” who remains his manager until her death.

After seeing Doonican in cabaret in London in 1963, impresario Val Parnell books him to appear on Sunday Night at the Palladium. As a result of his performance, Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Television, offers Doonican his own regular show. The TV shows are produced by Yvonne Littlewood and run for over 20 years. The shows feature his relaxed crooner style, sitting in a rocking chair wearing cardigans or jumpers, sometimes performing comedic Irish songs as well as easy listening and country material on which he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Being variety shows, his TV programmes give a number of other performers, such as Dave Allen, early exposure. Regular guests include Bernard Cribbins, Bob Todd, the Norman Maen Dancers, the Mike Sammes Singers, and the Kenny Woodman Orchestra. At its height The Val Doonican Show, which features both American and British acts, has 20 million viewers. In the United States, The Val Doonican Show airs on ABC on Saturday evenings from June 5 to August 14, 1971.

The Palladium performance also kick-starts Doonican’s recording career. Between 1964 and 1973 he is rarely out of the UK Singles Chart. The album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently reaches Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in December 1967 and knocks The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top of the chart. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reaches a UK chart peak of #5 and #3 in Ireland. In all, he records over 50 albums. After a time with Philips Records in the 1970s he also records for RCA Records. He also sings the theme song to the film Ring of Bright Water.

Behind the scenes, Doonican is described as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” He is sometimes compared to American singer Perry Como, though he claims his main influence is Bing Crosby. He appears on Royal Variety Performance three times. On December 31, 1976, he performs his hit song “What Would I Be” on BBC One‘s A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II‘s impending Silver Jubilee.

Doonican wins the BBC Television Personality of the Year award in 1966. He is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970. Eamonn Andrews meets him at the 18th green of the South Herts Golf Club as Doonican plays a round of golf. He writes two volumes of autobiography, The Special Years (1980) and Walking Tall (1985).

Doonican officially retires in 1990 but is still performing in 2009. He has a second home in Spain and is a keen golfer and a talented watercolour painter. Another hobby he enjoys is cooking. In June 2011, he is recognised by the Mayor of Waterford bestowing on him “The Freedom of the City.”

Doonican dies at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire at the age of 88 on July 1, 2015.


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Birth of Sarah Makem, Traditional Irish Singer

Sarah Makem, traditional Irish singer, is born in Keady, County Armagh on October 18, 1900. She is the wife of fiddler Peter Makem, mother of musicians Tommy Makem and Jack Makem, and grandmother of musicians Tom Sweeney, Jimmy Sweeney (of Northern Irish Canadian group Barley Bree), Shane Makem, Conor Makem and Rory Makem. Makem and her cousin, Annie Jane Kelly, are members of the Singing Greenes of Keady.

Makem lives in Keady her entire life. Living in the border region of Ulster and in a market town, she is influenced by Irish, Scottish, and English traditions. She learns songs from her mother while she is doing household chores such as cooking, often picking up these songs while sitting with her mother after just one repetition. She also learns some of her repertoire from songs the children sing in school.

Makem leaves school early to work as a factory weaver as many of the girls do in her town. She works from 7:00 AM until 6:30 PM and then comes home to have sessions with many of the other musicians living in the same area. She marries Peter Makem in 1919.

Makem does not consider herself a musician, however, she has a vast musical career. She is a ballad singer who has over five hundred songs in memory. These songs she describes as life stories of murder and love and emigration songs. She records many of her songs, mostly for collection purposes.

In the 1950s, song collectors from the United States tour Ireland recording its musical heritage. Makem is visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. Her rendition of “As I Roved Out” is used to open the BBC Radio folk music programme of the same name in the 1950s. She does not intend to use this recording as such and is very embarrassed to know her voice will be heard every day across Ireland.

Makem dies in Keady, County Armagh on April 20, 1983. She is buried in St. Patrick’s RC Graveyard in Keady.


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Birth of Patrick Magee, Actor & Director

patrick-mageePatrick George McGee, Northern Irish actor and director of stage and screen known professionally as Patrick Magee, is born on March 31, 1922 in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He is known for his collaborations with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, as well as creating the role of the Marquis de Sade in the original stage and screen productions of Marat/Sade. He also appears in numerous horror films and in two Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.

McGee is born into a middle-class family at 2 Edward Street in Armagh. The eldest of five children, he is educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh. He changes the spelling of his surname to Magee when he begins performing, most likely to avoid confusion with another actor.

Magee’s first stage experience in Ireland is with Anew McMaster’s touring company, performing the works of William Shakespeare. It is here that he first works with Pinter. He is then brought to London by Tyrone Guthrie for a series of Irish plays. He meets Beckett in 1957 and soon records passages from the novel Molloy and the short story From an Abandoned Work for BBC Radio. Impressed by “the cracked quality of Magee’s distinctly Irish voice,” Beckett requests copies of the tapes and writes Krapp’s Last Tape especially for the actor. First produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London on October 28, 1958, the play stars Magee and is directed by Donald McWhinnie. A televised version is later broadcast by BBC Two on November 29, 1972.

In 1964, Magee joins the Royal Shakespeare Company, after Pinter, directing his own play, The Birthday Party, specifically requests him for the role of McCann. In 1965 he appears in Peter Weiss‘s Marat/Sade, and when the play transfers to Broadway he wins a Tony Award. He also appears in the 1966 RSC production of Staircase opposite Paul Scofield.

Magee’s early film roles include Joseph Losey‘s The Criminal (1960) and The Servant (1963), the latter an adaptation scripted by Pinter. He also appears as Surgeon-Major James Henry Reynolds in Zulu (1964), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), Anzio (1968), and in the film versions of Marat/Sade (1967) and The Birthday Party (1968). He is perhaps best known for his role as the victimised writer Frank Alexander, who tortures Alex DeLarge with Ludwig van Beethoven‘s music, in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange (1971). His other role for Kubrick is as Redmond Barry’s mentor, the Chevalier de Balibari, in Barry Lyndon (1975).

McGee also appears in Young Winston (1972), The Final Programme (1973), Galileo (1975), Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980), The Monster Club and Chariots of Fire (1981), but is most often seen in horror films. These include Roger Corman‘s The Masque of Red Death (1964), and the Boris Karloff vehicle Die, Monster, Die! (1965) for AIP; The Skull (1965), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), and And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) for Amicus Productions; Demons of the Mind (1972) for Hammer Film Productions; and Walerian Borowczyk‘s Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981).

Patrick McGee dies of a heart attack at his flat in Fulham, London on August 14, 1982 at the age of 60, according to obituaries in The Herald and The New York Times. On July 29, 2017 a blue plaque is unveiled in Edward Street, Armagh to mark Patrick McGee’s birthplace.


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Birth of Alistair Cooke, Journalist & Broadcaster

alistair-cookeAlistair Cooke, British journalist, television personality, and broadcaster, who describes himself as a “Lancastrian Irishman,” is born in Salford, Lancashire, England on November 20, 1908. He is best known for his lively and insightful interpretations of American history and culture.

The son of Samuel Cooke, a Wesleyan Methodist lay preacher, and Mary Elizabeth (Byrne) from County Sligo, He is educated at Blackpool Grammar School, Blackpool and wins a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he gains an honours degree in English. Later he wins a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study in the United States, first at Yale University (1932–33), then at Harvard University (1933–34). His cross-country travels during the summers of these years have a profound influence on his professional life.

Following a brief period as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Cooke returns to England to become a film critic for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and later serves as London correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) of the United States. In 1937 he returns to the United States, settles in New York City, and becomes an American citizen in 1941.

From the late 1930s, Cooke reports and comments on American affairs for BBC Radio and several major British newspapers. His weekly 15-minute program, Letter from America, broadcast from 1946 to 2004, is one of the longest-running series on radio. The texts of many broadcasts are collected in One Man’s America (1952) and Talk About America (1968). From 1956 to 1961 he hosts and narrates the weekly television “magazine” Omnibus, which wins numerous broadcasting awards.

Cooke’s interpretation of the American experience culminates in his BBC-produced television series America: A Personal History of the United States (1972–1973). In thirteen installments, filmed on location throughout the United States, he surveys some 500 years of American history in an eclectic and personal but highly coherent narrative. Alistair Cooke’s America (1973), the book based on the award-winning program, is a best-seller in the United States. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, as host of Masterpiece Theatre, he serves as an interpreter of British culture through the presentation of BBC dramatic television programming to American audiences.

Cooke’s other works include the critical biography Douglas Fairbanks: The Making of a Screen Actor (1940), Generation on Trial: The USA v. Alger Hiss (1950), based on his coverage of a celebrated Congressional investigation, The Vintage Mencken (1955), The Patient Has the Floor (1986), America Observed (1988), Memories of the Great and the Good (2000) and, with Robert Cameron, The Americans (1977).

On March 2, 2004, at the age of 95, following advice from his doctors, Cooke announces his retirement from Letter from America—after 58 years, the longest-running speech radio show in the world.

Alistair Cooke dies at midnight on March 30, 2004 at his home in New York City. He had been ill with heart disease, but dies of lung cancer, which had spread to his bones. He is cremated and his ashes are clandestinely scattered by his family in New York’s Central Park.