seamus dubhghaill

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


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The First Dungannon Convention

bank-of-ireland-college-greenThe first Dungannon Convention of the Ulster Volunteers on February 15, 1782 calls for an independent Irish parliament. This is the parliament that Henry Grattan also campaigns for and later becomes known as “Grattan’s parliament.”

The Irish Volunteers are a part-time military force whose original purpose is to guard against invasion and to preserve law and order when regular troops are being sent to America during the American Revolutionary War. Members are mainly drawn from the Protestant urban and rural middle classes and the movement soon begins to take on a political importance.

The first corps of Volunteers is formed in Belfast and the movement spreads rapidly across Ireland. By 1782 there are 40,000 enlisted in the Volunteers, half of them in Ulster. Strongly influenced by American ideas, though loyal to the Crown, the Volunteers demand greater legislative freedom for the Dublin Parliament.

The Dungannon Convention is a key moment in the eventual granting of legislative independence to Ireland.

At the time, all proposed Irish legislation has to be submitted to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom for its approval under the great seal of England before being passed by the Parliament of Ireland. English Acts emphasise the complete dependence of the Irish parliament on its English counterpart and English Houses claim and exercise the power to legislate directly for Ireland, even without the agreement of the parliament in Dublin.

The Ulster Volunteers, who assemble in Dungannon, County Tyrone, demand change. Prior to this, the Volunteers received the thanks of the Irish parliament for their stance but in the House of Commons, the British had ‘won over’ a majority of that assembly, which led to a resistance of further concessions. Thus, the 315 volunteers in Ulster at the Dungannon convention promised “to root out corruption and court influence from the legislative body,” and “to deliberate on the present alarming situation of public affairs.”

The Convention is held in a church and is conducted in a very civil manner. The Volunteers agree, almost unanimously, to resolutions declaring the right of Ireland to legislative and judicial independence, as well as free trade. A week later, Grattan, in a great speech, moves an address of the Commons to His Majesty, asserting the same principles but his motion is defeated. So too is another motion by Henry Flood, declaring the legislative independence of the Irish Parliament.

However the British soon realise they can resist the agitation no longer. It is through ranks of Volunteers drawn up outside the parliament house in Dublin that Grattan passes on April 16, 1782, amidst unparalleled popular enthusiasm, to move a declaration of the independence of the Irish parliament. After a month of negotiations, legislative independence is granted to Ireland.

(Pictured: The original Irish Parliament Building which now houses the Bank of Ireland, College Green, opposite the main entrance to Trinity College, Dublin)

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Murder of Patrick Finucane, Human Rights Lawyer

patrick-finucanePatrick Finucane, Irish human rights lawyer, is killed on February 12, 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries acting in collusion with the British government intelligence service MI5. His killing is one of the most controversial during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Finucane is born into a Roman Catholic family on the Falls Road, Belfast on March 21, 1949. At the start of the Troubles, his family is forced out of their home. He graduates from Trinity College, Dublin in 1973. He comes to prominence due to successfully challenging the British government in several important human rights cases during the 1980s.

Finucane is shot fourteen times and killed at his home in Fortwilliam Drive, north Belfast, by Ken Barrett and another masked man using a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol and a .38 revolver respectively. The two gunmen knock down the front door with a sledgehammer and enter the kitchen where Finucane has been having a Sunday meal with his family. They immediately open fire and shoot him twice, knocking him to the floor. Then while standing over him, the leading gunman fires twelve bullets into his face at close range. Finucane’s wife Geraldine is slightly wounded in the shooting attack which their three children witness as they hide underneath the table.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) immediately launches an investigation into the killing. The investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson, runs for six weeks and he later states that from the beginning, there had been a noticeable lack of intelligence coming from the other agencies regarding the killing. Finucane’s killing is widely suspected by human rights groups to have been perpetrated in collusion with officers of the RUC and, in 2003, the British Government Stevens Report states that the killing is indeed carried out with the collusion of police in Northern Ireland.

In September 2004, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, and at the time of the murder a paid informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ken Barrett, pleads guilty to Finucane’s murder.

The Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) claim they killed Finucane because he was a high-ranking officer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Police at his inquest say they have no evidence to support this claim. Finucane had represented republicans in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented loyalists. Several members of his family have republican links, but the family strongly denies Finucane is a member of the IRA. Informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that he attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However both Finucane and Adams have consistently denied being IRA members.

In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report find that he is not a member of the IRA. Republicans strongly criticise the claims made by O’Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. One Republican source says O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”

In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Finucane’s family and admits the collusion, although no member of the British security services has yet been prosecuted.


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Crash of Manx2 Flight 7100 at Cork Airport

manx2-flight-7100Manx2 Flight 7100 (NM7100/FLT400C), a scheduled commercial flight from George Best Belfast City Airport in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Cork Airport in Cork, County Cork, crashes on February 10, 2011 on its third attempt to land at Cork Airport, which is experiencing dense fog at the time. The aircraft is carrying ten passengers and two crew. Six people, including both pilots, perish in the crash. Six passengers survive, four receiving serious injuries, while two are described as walking wounded.

After two aborted landing attempts, the flight crew enters a holding pattern and maintains an altitude of 3,000 feet. During the hold the flight crew requests weather conditions for Waterford Airport which are below minima. The flight crew nominates Shannon Airport as their alternate and requests the latest weather. Again the weather there is below minima. Weather for Dublin Airport is passed on to the flight crew and is also below minima. Cork Approach informs the flight crew about weather conditions at Kerry Airport which are “good” with 10 km visibility. The decision is made to make a third attempt at Cork Airport.

The approach is continued beyond the Outer Marker (OM), the commander takes over operation of the Power Levers. Descent is continued below the Decision Height (DH). A significant reduction in power and significant roll to the left follows, just below 100 feet, a third go-around is called by the commander which the co-pilot acknowledges. Coincident with the application of go-around power by the commander, control of the aircraft is lost. The aircraft rolls rapidly to the right beyond the vertical which brings the right wingtip into contact with the runway surface. The aircraft continues to roll and impacts the runway inverted. The stall warning sounds continuously during the final seven seconds of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) recording.

At 09:50:34 following both initial impacts the aircraft continues inverted for an additional 207 yards and comes to a rest in soft ground to the right of the runway. During this time the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) begins to sound in the control tower at Cork Airport. Post impact fires ensue in both engines and from fuel leaking from the outboard right fuel tank. The fires are put out by the Airfield Fire Service (AFS) before they reach the fuselage. A witness inside the airport terminal building states that the fog is so thick that the crashed aircraft could not be seen. The Airport Fire Service extinguish both post impact fires within ten minutes of the accident and begin to remove the casualties from the wreckage. The injured are taken to Cork University Hospital for treatment. As a result of the accident, Cork Airport is closed until the evening of February 11 and all flights are diverted.

The final report on the incident is sent to the bereaved families and the six survivors over a week in advance of its official release on January 28, 2014, almost three years after the crash. The report states that the probable cause of the accident is loss of control during an attempted go-around below decision height in instrument meteorological conditions. It notes that there is an inappropriate pairing of flight crews, inadequate command training and checking and inadequate oversight of the chartered operation by the operator and the operator’s state as contributory factors in the accident.


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Irish Republican Army Bombings in Central London

regent-street-london-1977At least seven bombs explode in Central London on January 29, 1977. One person is injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) later claims responsibility.

Hundreds of police seal off the Oxford Street area as Selfridges department store is set ablaze and one man is injured. The explosions occur over a two-mile area within 50 minutes. The bombs wreck buildings in Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Wardour Street, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and burying a taxi under the rubble, injuring the driver. Another man is trapped in a basement in Selfridges after the blast.

The attacks come less than 72 hours before the IRA commemoration of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry and, according to the police, bear all the hallmarks of the IRA. The bombs, left in doorways of shops and offices, are similar to those used in fire bomb attacks on the centre of Belfast and Londonderry over the previous four years.

Hundreds of police are drafted into the Oxford Street area within minutes of the first blast, shortly after midnight. Police using sniffer dogs examine hundreds of cars stretched along Oxford Street and residents are warned to evacuate by police and fire officers using bullhorns. Dozens of fire engines respond to the resulting blaze in the huge department store.

A two-mile area around Oxford Street is cordoned off by police road-blocks shortly after the first explosions. Scotland Yard and the Fire Brigade are unable to keep pace with the bombs and fires as news reports flood in.

The first explosions occur in Wardour Street where two bombs blow out the front of a publishing office and a travel agency, hurling glass and furniture into the street. Within 20 minutes, three other bombs explode in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Poland Street and in the side-streets of Soho. The fire brigade simultaneously fights two major fires within a mile of each other, in Selfridges and in a building in Berwick Street, Soho. Debris from the bombs is littered around as bomb squad officers and police patrols begin examining all suspicious cars and packages in the area. Several bomb squad officers are standing within yards of a building when the fourth bomb, fortunately a small one, goes off.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Jock Wilson, joins Bomb Squad officers in a special mobile control unit. A senior police officer says that many of the bombs are crammed through letter-boxes in the business premises. However, the bomb at Selfridges is placed in the basement, police believe, on previous afternoon.

(Pictured: Police cordon off Regent Street following IRA bombs in the West End, London, January 1977. Photograph: ANL/REX/Shutterstock)


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Birth of Máiread Maguire, Northern Irish Peace Activist

mairead-maguireMáiread Maguire, née Máiread Corrigan, also called Máiread Corrigan Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on January 27, 1944. Along with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, she founds the Peace People, a grassroots movement of both Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens dedicated to ending the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. For their work, Maguire and Williams share the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Maguire from a young age earns her living as a secretary, she also is from her youth a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic welfare organization, and through it she becomes deeply involved in voluntary social work among children and teenagers in various Catholic neighbourhoods of Belfast. She is stirred to act against the growing violence in Northern Ireland after witnessing in August 1976 an incident in which a car being driven by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist goes out of control when the IRA man is shot by British troops. The car strikes and kills three children of Maguire’s sister.

Within days each woman publicly denounces the violence and calls for mass opposition to it. Marches of Catholic and Protestant women, numbering in the thousands, are organized, and shortly afterward the Peace People is founded based on the conviction that genuine reconciliation and prevention of future violence are possible, primarily through the integration of schools, residential areas, and athletic clubs. The organization publishes a biweekly paper, Peace by Peace, and provides a bus service to and from Belfast’s jails for families of prisoners.

Although Williams breaks away from the Peace People in 1980, Maguire remains an active member and later serves as the group’s honorary president. In 2006 she joins Williams and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Wangari Maathai, and Rigoberta Menchú to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She is also active in various Palestinian causes, notably efforts to end the Israeli government’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and she is deported from Israel on several occasions.

In October 2012, Maguire travels to New York City to serve on the Russell Tribunal on Israel/Palestine alongside writer Alice Walker, activist Angela Davis, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The Russell Tribunal’s findings and conclusions challenge governments and civil society to have courage and act by implementing sanctions, thereby refusing to be silent and complicit in the face of Israel ’s violation of International Laws.

In March 2018, Maguire and two Nobel peace laureates, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman, visit rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and share opinion on the crisis. After returning to Dhaka they discuss the Rohingya crisis with members of the civil society of Bangladesh.

Maguire is a proponent of the belief that violence is a disease that humans develop but are not born with. She believes humankind is moving away from a mindset of violence and war and evolving to a higher consciousness of nonviolence and love. Among the figures she considers spiritual prophets in this regard are Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Fr. John L. McKenzie, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She professes to reject violence in all its forms.


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Birth of Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.