seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sir James Comyn, Irish-born English High Court Judge

Sir James Peter Comyn, Irish-born barrister and English High Court judge, is born at Beaufield House, Stillorgan, County Dublin on March 8, 1921. Considered by many to be “the finest all-round advocate at the English bar”, he is appointed to the High Court of Justice in 1978, serving on the bench until his retirement in 1985.

Comyn is the son of Nationalist barrister James Comyn KC and of Mary Comyn. Through his father he is the nephew of the barrister Michael Comyn KC. Both his father and uncle had been political and legal advisers to Éamon de Valera, who at one point uses Beaufield House as a safe house. However, the Comyn brothers have a falling out with de Valera shortly before he comes to power in 1932, and Michael Comyn is passed over as Attorney General of the Irish Free State. As a result, James Comyn, who is then attending Belvedere College in Dublin, is sent by his father to attend The Oratory School in England. He spends six months as a trainee at The Irish Times under the editor R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, but abandons journalism after a joke he added to an obituary is printed in the paper, leading to his demotion to the racing department.

Comyn then matriculates at New College, Oxford, where he reads law, graduating with Second Class Honours. In 1940, he defeats Roy Jenkins for the presidency of the Oxford Union, winning by four votes. After suffering the first of several breakdowns through his life, he briefly works for the BBC‘s Empire Service during World War II.

Comyn is called to the English bar by the Inner Temple in 1942, the Irish bar in 1947, and the Hong Kong bar in 1969. In 1944, he begins his pupillage with Edward Holroyd Pearce KC, later a law lord, and joins his chambers at Fountain Court. He practises in London and on the Western circuit, supplementing his earnings by teaching banking, a subject of which he knows nothing. On one occasion, he rises in Lambeth County court to cross-examine a female defendant in an eviction case. Just as he begins by saying “Madam,” the defendant opens her bag, takes out a dead cat, and throws it at him. The judge’s reaction is to tell the defendant, “Madam, if you do that again, I’ll commit you.” Comyn wins the case.

Comyn takes silk in 1961, and acquires a large practice as a senior, appearing in many high-profile cases. In 1964, he wins damages for libel for the former safe-breaker Alfred George Hinds against a Scotland Yard inspector by convincing the jury that Hinds is in fact innocent. In 1970, he successfully defends the Labour MP Will Owen, who is accused of providing information to the Czechoslovak intelligence services. In 1975, he defeats the government’s attempt to obtain an injunction against the publication of the diaries of former minister Richard Crossman.

Comyn is Recorder of Andover between 1964 and 1971 (honorary life recorder from 1972), commissioner of assize for the Western Circuit in 1971, and a Recorder of the Crown Court between 1972 and 1977. He is elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1968, and serves as chairman of the Bar council from 1973 to 1974.

Having refused a previous invitation by Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone to join the bench, Comyn is again nominated by Elwyn Jones, Baron Elwyn-Jones, in 1977, and is appointed a High Court judge in 1978, receiving the customary knighthood upon his appointment. Initially assigned to the Family Division, he does not take to the work and is reassigned to the Queen’s Bench Division in 1979. He has a reputation for leniency in sentencing, first acquired as Recorder of Andover. In 1980–81, he presides over an unsuccessful libel action by a member of the Unification Church, colloquially known as the Moonies, against the Daily Mail, the longest libel trial in England up to that time. His Irish background makes him the target of Irish Republican Army (IRA) action, and in 1981 the Provisional IRA burns his house in Tara.

Recurring bouts of depression lead to Comyn’s early retirement, on grounds of ill health, in 1985. In retirement, he divides his time between England and Ireland, whose citizenship he has retained. He writes a number of books, including memoirs, light verse, and books on famous trials. He also breeds Friesian cattle. He dies in Navan, County Meath on January 5, 1997 at age 75.


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Birth of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Horse Racing Commentator

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a correspondent for the Press Association, the Daily Express, and Today, is born Newcastle, County Down on March 3, 1918. He is the BBC’s leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he describes some of the greatest moments in the history of the Grand National.

O’Sullevan is the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry). As an infant, the family returns to his parents’ home at Kenmare, County Kerry and he is raised in Surrey, England. He is educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

In the late 1940s O’Sullevan is involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport, and makes many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it is televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentates on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retires in 1997. During his career, he commentates on around 30 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.

During his 50 years of commentating on the Grand National, O’Sullevan commentates on numerous historic victories. These include Bob Champion‘s run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon‘s win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentates on the 1993 Grand National, which is declared void after 30 of the 39 runners fail to realise there had been a false start, and seven go on to complete the course. As the runners approach the second-last fence in the so-called “race that never was,” O’Sullevan declares it “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”

O’Sullevan becomes known as the “Voice of Racing.” In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997, he reveals that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He is knighted the same year – the only sports broadcaster at the time to have been bestowed that honour. He is also a racehorse owner, including of Be Friendly, who wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. He is twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another horse he owns is Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is described by O’Sullevan as the most difficult race to call.

Attivo also wins the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O’Sullevan’s final race commentary comes at Newbury Racecourse for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visits the winners’ enclosure as a winning owner in the race which follows courtesy of Sounds Fyne’s victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He is succeeded as the BBC’s lead commentator by Jim McGrath.

After his retirement, O’Sullevan is actively involved in charity work, fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming. The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (run at the Cheltenham Festival) is named after him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2010, Aintree Racecourse names O’Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends.” His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.

O’Sullevan meets his wife Patricia, daughter of Frank Duckworth of Manitoba, Canada, at a ball in Manchester in 1947. She dies of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

O’Sullevan dies of cancer at his home in London on July 29, 2015.


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Birth of Dennis Taylor, Northern Irish Snooker Player

Dennis Taylor, former professional snooker player and commentator, is born on January 19, 1949 in Coalisland, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He is most well known for winning the 1985 World Snooker Championship, where he defeats Steve Davis with the final ball of the 35th frame in the final to seal an 18-17 win. During his playing career he wears distinctive specially designed glasses manufactured for snooker, often described as looking upside-down, giving him a unique look on the circuit.

Taylor is the son of a lorry driver and has six siblings. As an amateur, he wins the 1968 British Junior Billiards Championship. He turns professional in 1972. That season he makes his debut in the World Snooker Championship debut in the 1973 event, losing 8–9 to Cliff Thorburn in the first round. Over the next few years, he reaches the semi-finals at the event in 1975 and 1977. Two years later he reaches the 1979 final, but loses 16–24 to qualifier Terry Griffiths. He reaches his highest world ranking for the following season, second behind Steve Davis.

Taylor reaches the semi-final for a third time in 1984, losing to Davis. His mother dies as he is beginning the new season at the 1984 Jameson International Open. He retires from the event before his quarter-final match against Silvino Francisco. However, he wins the first ranking event of his career at the 1984 Rothmans Grand Prix later that year defeating Thorburn 10–2 in the final.

Following his first ranking tournament victory, Taylor, seeded 11th, plays in the 1985 World Championship and reaches the final. In the final, he plays three-time winner and world number one Steve Davis. Never being ahead, he takes the match to a deciding frame with the scores tied at 17–17. Trailing 62–44 in the deciding frame with five coloured balls remaining, he pots a long brown ball, which he says is one of his best ever shots under pressure. He also pots the blue and pink to bring the score to 62–59 with one ball, worth seven points, remaining. Both players miss a shot on the black, but it is finally potted by Taylor to win the championship.

The final is considered by many to be the greatest snooker match in history and is broadcast to a peak audience of 18 million viewers in the United Kingdom. As of 2020 this is the highest viewership of any broadcast after midnight in the country, and a record for any programme shown on BBC Two. On his return to Northern Ireland, he is awarded the key to the city of Coalisland and receives a victory parade that 10,000 attend.

After the World Championship success, Taylor wins the invitational 1987 Benson & Hedges Masters defeating Alex Higgins 9–8 in the final. He makes the highest break of his career, a 141, at the 1987 Carling Challenge, which he wins defeating Joe Johnson in the final.

At the 1990 Snooker World Cup, Taylor teams with Alex Higgins and Tommy Murphy to form a Northern Irish team. After failing to win the tournament, Higgins threatens Taylor saying, “if you ever come back to Northern Ireland I’ll have you shot.” Shortly afterwards they meet in the quarter-finals of the 1990 Irish Masters, and a determined Taylor wins 5–2. In the next decade, his form drops and he falls out of the top 16 in the world rankings in 1995. He retires as a professional in 2000.

Following the end of his professional career, Taylor plays on the WPBSA World Seniors Tour and is featured as a commentator on BBC snooker broadcasts. He appears on the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, finishing eighth alongside dance partner Izabela Hannah. He currently lives in Llay near Wrexham, Wales.


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Death of Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, dies of a heart attack in Grytviken, South Georgia on January 5, 1922. He is one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Born in Kilkea, County Kildare, Shackleton and his Anglo-Irish family move to Sydenham, London when he is ten. His first experience of the polar regions is as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s Discovery Expedition of 1901–04, from which he is sent home early on health grounds, after he and his companions Scott and Edward Adrian Wilson set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S. During the Nimrod Expedition of 1907–09, he and three companions establish a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 97 geographical miles from the South Pole, the largest advance to the pole in exploration history. Also, members of his team climb Mount Erebus, the most active Antarctic volcano. For these achievements, he is knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.

After the race to the South Pole ends in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen‘s conquest, Shackleton turns his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end, he makes preparations for what becomes the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. Disaster strikes this expedition when its ship, Endurance, becomes trapped in pack ice and is slowly crushed before the shore parties can be landed. The crew escapes by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrates, then by launching the lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately South Georgia Island, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles and Shackleton’s most famous exploit.

In 1921, Shackleton returns to the Antarctic with the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition on a 125-ton Norwegian sealer, named Foca I, which he renames Quest. When the party arrives in Rio de Janeiro, he suffers a suspected heart attack. He refuses a proper medical examination, so Quest continues south, and on January 4, 1922, arrives at South Georgia. In the early hours of the next morning, Shackleton summons the expedition’s physician, Alexander Macklin, to his cabin, complaining of back pains and other discomfort. According to Macklin’s own account,he tells Shackleton he has been overdoing things and should try to “lead a more regular life,” to which Shackleton answers, “You are always wanting me to give up things, what is it I ought to give up?” “Chiefly alcohol, Boss,” replies Macklin. A few moments later, at 2:50 AM on January 5, 1922, he suffers a fatal heart attack. At his wife’s request, he is buried there.

Away from his expeditions, Shackleton’s life is generally restless and unfulfilled. In his search for rapid pathways to wealth and security, he launches business ventures which fail to prosper, and he dies heavily in debt. Upon his death, he is lauded in the press but is thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott is sustained for many decades. Later in the 20th century, Shackleton is “rediscovered”. He rapidly becomes a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together in a survival story described by cultural historian Stephanie Barczewski as “incredible.”

In his 1956 address to the British Science Association, Sir Raymond Priestley, one of his contemporaries, says “Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton,” paraphrasing what Apsley Cherry-Garrard had written in a preface to his 1922 memoir The Worst Journey in the World. In 2002, Shackleton is voted eleventh in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.


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Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.


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The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)


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Thomas McMahon Sentenced to Life for Mountbatten’s Assassination

Thomas McMahon, former volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and one of the IRA’s most experienced bomb-makers, is sentenced to life in prison on November 23, 1979 for the assassination of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and three others (two children and an elderly lady) at Mullaghmore, County Sligo.

McMahon plants a bomb in Shadow V, a 27-foot fishing boat belonging to Mountbatten at Mullaghmore, near Donegal Bay. Lord Mountbatten and the others are killed on August 27, 1979 when the bomb detonates. The other victims are Doreen Knatchbull, Baroness Brabourne, Mountbatten’s elder daughter’s mother-in-law, his grandson Nicholas Knatchbull and 15-year-old crewmember Paul Maxwell.

McMahon is arrested by the Garda, the Republic of Ireland‘s police force, two hours before the bomb detonates at a Garda checkpoint between Longford and Granard on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.

The IRA claims responsibility for the act in a statement released immediately afterwards. In the statement from the organisation they say, “This operation is one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country.”

McMahon is tried for the assassinations in the Republic of Ireland, and convicted by forensic evidence supplied by Dr. James O’Donovan that shows flecks of paint from the boat and traces of nitroglycerine on his clothes. He is sentenced to life imprisonment for murder on November 23, 1979, but is released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Following his release, Toby Harnden in Bandit Country: The IRA & South Armagh (1999) reports that McMahon is holding a tricolour in the first rank of the IRA colour party at a 1998 IRA meeting in Cullyhanna. However, according to a BBC report, McMahon says that he left the IRA in 1990.

McMahon twice refuses to meet John Maxwell, the father of Paul Maxwell, who seeks him out to explain the reasons for his son’s death. In a May 2011 interview for The Telegraph, Maxwell states that he had “made two approaches to McMahon, the first through a priest, who warned me in advance that he thought there wouldn’t be any positive response. And there wasn’t. I have some reservations about meeting him, obviously – it might work out in such a way that I would regret having made the contact. On the other hand, if we met and I could even begin to understand his motivation. If we could meet on some kind of a human level, a man to man level, it could help me come to terms with it. But that might be very optimistic. McMahon knows the door is open at this end.”

McMahon likewise refuses requests from Nicholas Knatchbull’s twin brother, who lost an eye in the same explosion. The latter, however, has forgiven McMahon and other members of the IRA who committed the act.

McMahon’s wife has stated, “Tommy never talks about Mountbatten, only the boys who died. He does have genuine remorse. Oh God yes.”

McMahon lives with his wife Rose in Lisanisk, Carrickmacross, County Monaghan. He has two grown sons. He helps with Martin McGuinness‘s presidential campaign in 2011, erecting posters for McGuinness around Carrickmacross.


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Birth of Gerry Robinson, Businessman & Television Presenter

Sir Gerrard Jude “Gerry” Robinson, Irish-born British business executive and television presenter, is born in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal on October 23, 1948. He is the former non-executive Chairman of Allied Domecq and the ex-Chairman/chief executive of Granada.

The ninth of ten children born to Anthony and Elizabeth Robinson, Robinson moves with his family to England in his early teens. He briefly trains to become a Catholic priest at St. Mary’s Missionary College of the Holy Ghost Fathers at Castlehead, Grange-over-Sands, Lancashire. He begins a career in accounting in 1965 as a clerk with the Matchbox toy company. While with the firm, he progresses through various accounting roles to become Chief Management Accountant in 1974. During that time he also qualifies as an Associate Chartered Management Accountant.

In 1974, Robinson leaves Matchbox to work for Lex Vehicle Leasing as a management accountant. He rises through the company and is ultimately appointed finance director. In 1980, he joins the UK franchise of Coca-Cola, owned at the time by Grand Metropolitan. In 1983 he is appointed managing director of Grand Metropolitan’s international services division. In 1987 he leads the successful £163m management buyout of the loss-making contract services and catering division of Compass Group, known as Compass Caterers. He joins Granada as CEO in 1991 and ousts Granada’s chairman, David Plowright, in 1992, which leads John Cleese to call Robinson “an upstart caterer.”

Robinson steers the company through various mergers, and hostile takeovers including London Weekend Television (1993) and Forte Group (1996). In 1999 he is the subject of a biography, Lord of the Dance, written by business journalist William Kay, and published by Orion Business Books. In 2005 he makes an unsuccessful attempt to oust Doug Flynn as CEO of Rentokil Initial and install himself as Executive chairman for a 5% stake in the company, then valued at £56M.

Robinson’s first foray into broadcasting is a revival of the BBC‘s Troubleshooter series, originally fronted by Sir John Harvey-Jones in the early 1990s. Titled I’ll Show Them Who’s Boss and co-produced by the Open University, in 2004 he goes into struggling businesses to try to turn them round by advice and mentoring.

In January 2007 following a similar format, he presents a three-part series, Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? as he attempts to reduce waiting lists at Rotherham General Hospital. He returns a year later for a sequel, Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS? One Year On. In December 2009, he presents a programme in a similar format entitled Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?.

In June 2009 Robinson presents a special edition of The Money Programme entitled Gerry Robinson’s Car Crash investigating the history and future of the British motor industry. He regularly appears on British TV as a celebrity businessman. In July 2009 he starts a TV series called Gerry’s Big Decision, in which he reviews struggling companies and decides whether it is worth investing his own money to save them. From January 14 through February 18, 2011 he presents BBC Two show Can’t Take It with You, which helps people to write their wills.

Robinson also serves as chairman of the Arts Council England for six years from 1998, in which capacity he is one of the many victims of a spoof by British comedian Ali G. He has divorced and remarried and has four children. He lives in Raphoe, County Donegal and has established a botanical garden with a narrow-gauge railway – the Difflin Lake Railway – which is open to the public. He was knighted in the 2004 New Year Honours list.


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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The Tullyvallen Massacre

tullyvallen-orange-hallThe Tullyvallen massacre takes place on September 1, 1975, when Irish republican gunmen attack an Orange Order meeting hall at Tullyvallen, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Orange Order is an Ulster Protestant and unionist brotherhood. Five Orangemen are killed and seven wounded in the shooting. The “South Armagh Republican Action Force” claims responsibility, saying it is retaliation for a string of attacks on Catholic civilians by Loyalists. It is believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the attack, despite the organisation being on ceasefire.

On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. The IRA agrees to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly end their raids and searches. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/nationalists. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

On August 22, loyalists kill three Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Armagh. Two days later, loyalists shoot dead two Catholic civilians after stopping their car at a fake British Army checkpoint in the Tullyvallen area. Both of these attacks are linked to the Glenanne gang. On August 30, loyalists kill two more Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Belfast.

On the night of September 1, a group of Orangemen are holding a meeting in their isolated Orange hall in the rural area of Tullyvallen. At about 10:00 PM, two masked gunmen burst into the hall armed with assault rifles and spray it with bullets while others stand outside and fire through the windows. The Orangemen scramble for cover. One of them is an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returns fire with a pistol and believes he hit one of the attackers. Five of the Orangemen, all Protestant civilians, are killed while seven others are wounded. Before leaving, the attackers also plant a two-pound bomb outside the hall, but it fails to detonate.

The victims are John Johnston (80), James McKee (73) and his son William McKee (40), Nevin McConnell (48), and William Herron (68) who dies two days later. They all belong to Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge. Three of the dead are former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

A caller to the BBC claims responsibility for the attack on behalf of the “South Armagh Republican Action Force” or “South Armagh Reaction Force,” saying it is retaliation for “the assassinations of fellow Catholics.” The Irish Times reports on September 10: “The Provisional IRA has told the British government that dissident members of its organisation were responsible” and “stressed that the shooting did not have the consent of the organisation’s leadership.”

In response to the attack, the Orange Order calls for the creation of a legal militia, or “Home Guard,” to deal with republican paramilitaries.

Some of the rifles used in the attack are later used in the Kingsmill massacre in January 1976, when ten Protestant workmen are killed. Like the Tullyvallen massacre, it is claimed by the “South Armagh Reaction Force” as retaliation for the killing of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1977, 22-year-old Cullyhanna man John Anthony McCooey is convicted of driving the gunmen to and from the scene and of IRA membership. He is also convicted of involvement in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Joseph McCullough, chaplain of Tullyvallen Orange lodge, in February 1976, and UDR soldier Robert McConnell in April 1976.