seamus dubhghaill

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


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Formation of the Sinn Féin League

The nationalist groups, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs, combine to form the Sinn Féin League on April 21, 1907.

The ideas that lead to Sinn Féin are first propounded by the United Irishman newspaper and its editor, Arthur Griffith. An article by Griffith in that paper in March 1900 calls for the creation of an association to bring together the disparate Irish nationalist groups of the time and, as a result, Cumann na nGaedheal is formed at the end of 1900. Griffith first puts forward his proposal for the abstention of Irish members of parliament (MP) from the Parliament of the United Kingdom at the 1902 Cumann na nGaedheal convention. A second organisation, the National Council, is formed in 1903 by Maud Gonne and others, including Griffith, on the occasion of the visit of King Edward VII to Dublin. Its purpose is to lobby Dublin Corporation to refrain from presenting an address to the king. The motion to present an address is duly defeated, but the National Council remains in existence as a pressure group with the aim of increasing nationalist representation on local councils.

Griffith elaborates his policy in a series of articles in the United Irishman in 1904, which outline how the policy of withdrawing from the imperial parliament and passive resistance had been successfully followed in Hungary, leading to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 and the creation of a dual monarchy, and proposes that Irish MPs should follow the same course. These are published later that year in a booklet entitled The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. Also in 1904, Mary Ellen Butler, a friend of Griffith and cousin of Ulster Unionist Party leader Edward Carson, remarks in a conversation that his ideas are “the policy of Sinn Féin, in fact” and Griffith enthusiastically adopts the term. The phrase Sinn Féin (‘Ourselves’ or ‘We Ourselves’) had been in use since the 1880s as an expression of separatist thinking, and was used as a slogan by the Gaelic League in the 1890s.

The first annual convention of the National Council on November 28, 1905 is notable for two things: the decision, by a majority vote (with Griffith dissenting), to open branches and organise on a national basis; and the presentation by Griffith of his ‘Hungarian’ policy, which is now called the Sinn Féin policy. This meeting is usually taken as the date of the foundation of the Sinn Féin party. In the meantime, a third organisation, the Dungannon Clubs, named after the Dungannon Convention of 1782, has been formed in Belfast by Bulmer Hobson, and it also considers itself to be part of ‘the Sinn Féin movement.’

By 1907, there is pressure on the three organisations to unite — especially from the United States, where John Devoy offers funding, but only to a unified party. The pressure increases when Charles Dolan, the Irish Parliamentary Party MP for North Leitrim, announces his intention to resign his seat and contest it on a Sinn Féin platform. On April 21, 1907, Cumann na nGaedheal and the Dungannon Clubs merge as the ‘Sinn Féin League.’ Negotiations continue until August when, at the National Council annual convention, the League and the National Council merge on terms favourable to Griffith. The resulting party is named Sinn Féin, and its foundation is backdated to the National Council convention of November 1905.

In the 1908 North Leitrim by-election, Sinn Féin secures 27% of the vote. Thereafter, both support and membership fall. Attendance is poor at the 1910 Ard Fheis, and there is difficulty finding members willing to take seats on the executive. While some local councillors are elected running under the party banner in the 1911 local elections, by 1915 the party is, in the words of one of Griffith’s colleagues, “on the rocks,” and so insolvent financially that it cannot pay the rent on its headquarters in Harcourt Street in Dublin.

Following the Easter Rising in 1916, Sinn Féin grows in membership, with a reorganisation at its Ard Fheis in 1917. Its split in 1922 in response to the Anglo-Irish Treaty which leads to the Irish Civil War leads to the origins of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two parties which have since dominated Irish politics. Another split in the remaining Sinn Féin organisation in the early years of the Troubles in 1970 leads to the Sinn Féin of today, which is a republican, left-wing nationalist and secular party.

(Pictured: Arthur Griffith, founder (1905) and third president (1911-17) of Sinn Féin)


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Death of Chaim Herzog, Irish-born 6th President of Israel

Chaim Herzog, Israeli politician, general, lawyer, and author who serves as the sixth President of Israel between 1983 and 1993, dies in Tel Aviv, Israel on April 17, 1997.

Herzog is born in Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast on September 17, 1918. He is raised predominantly in Dublin, the son of Ireland’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog and his wife Sara. Herzog’s father, a fluent speaker of the Irish language, is known as “the Sinn Féin Rabbi” for his support of the First Dáil and the Irish Republican cause during the Irish War of Independence. Herzog studies at Wesley College, Dublin, and is involved with the Federation of Zionist Youth and Habonim Dror, the Labour-Zionist movement, during his teenage years.

The family emigrates to Mandatory Palestine in 1935 and Herzog serves in the Jewish paramilitary group Haganah during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt. He goes on to earn a degree in law at University College London, and then qualifies as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn.

Herzog joins the British Army during World War II, operating primarily in Germany as a tank commander in the Armoured Corps. There, he is given his lifelong nickname of “Vivian” because the British could not pronounce the name, “Chaim.” A Jewish soldier had volunteered that “Vivian” is the English equivalent of “Chaim.”

Herzog returns to Palestine after the war and, following the end of the British Mandate and Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, operates in the Battles of Latrun during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. He retires from the Israel Defence Forces in 1962 with the rank of Major-General.

After leaving the army, Herzog opens a private law practice. He returns to public life when the Six-Day War breaks out in 1967, serving as a military commentator for Kol Yisrael radio news. Following the capture of the West Bank, he is appointed Military Governor of East Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria.

In 1972 Herzog is a co-founder of Herzog, Fox & Ne’eman, which becomes one of Israel’s largest law firms. Between 1975 and 1978 he serves as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in which capacity he repudiates UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, the “Zionism is Racism” resolution, and symbolically tears it up before the assembly.

Herzog enters politics in the 1981 elections, winning a Knesset seat as a member of the Alignment. Two years later, in March 1983, he is elected to the largely ceremonial role of President. He serves two five-year terms before retiring in 1993. He dies on April 17, 1997, and is buried on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. His son, Isaac Herzog, leads the Israeli Labour Party and the parliamentary Opposition in the Knesset from 2013 to 2018.


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Introduction of the Special Powers Act 1922

The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is an Act introduced by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. The much larger group (nationalists) are mostly Roman Catholic, identified primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. The smaller group (unionists), concentrated primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identified primarily as British and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom. In the years before World War I, both groups establish armed militias intended to enforce their aims and protect their communities from the other side’s militias. The British government resolves to partition Ireland in an effort to alleviate unionists and nationalists, with the six most Protestant counties of Ulster forming Northern Ireland while the rest of Ireland achieves self-rule. This is accepted by most unionists as the best deal they are likely to get, but bitterly disappoints many nationalists, especially those who live in the six counties which become Northern Ireland. Many nationalists on both sides of the border feel that their country has been unjustly divided, and for many decades the Irish government claims that Northern Ireland is rightfully its territory.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Special Powers Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enable the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. The Minister of Home Affairs is empowered to make any regulation felt necessary to preserve law and order in Northern Ireland. Anyone who breaks these regulations can be sentenced to up to a year in prison with hard labour, and in the case of some crimes, whipping. A special summary jurisdiction is enabled to hear cases involving such crimes. The Minister of Home Affairs is also permitted to forbid the holding of inquests if he feels this is required to preserve order and peace.

The Schedule to the Act specifies actions which the government can take in order to preserve peace, although the body of the Act enables the government to take any steps at all which it thinks necessary. Actions specified in the Schedule include the closing of licensed premises, the banning in any area of meetings and parades in public places, the closing of roads, the taking of any land or property, and the destruction of any building. The Schedule also forbids the spreading by word of mouth or text any “reports or…statements intended or likely to cause disaffection to subjects of His Majesty.”

Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Special Powers Act is initially current for only one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent. According to John Whyte, this happens because, from 1925, nationalist MPs begin sitting in the Stormont parliament which they had initially boycotted. Unsurprisingly, they object strenuously to the renewal of the Act, and it is felt by the Ulster Unionist Party Minister of Home Affairs that it would be better to make the Act permanent than for Parliament annually to “wrangle” over it.

Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial, outlined in Paragraph 23 of the Schedule. In the period from May 1922 to December 1924, 700 republicans are interned under the Act.

Political violence declines dramatically by 1925, and the government gradually shifts its emphasis from broad measures designed to return civil order to the province to more preventative regulations aimed at suppressing the threat posed by republican aspirations. Regulations banning meetings and parades and restrictions on the flying of the Irish tricolour become more common. Between 1922 and 1950, the government bans nearly 100 parades and meetings, the vast majority of which are nationalist or republican. No loyalist gathering is ever directly banned under the Act, although a few are caught in blanket bans against parades or meetings in a particular area. From 1922 until 1972, 140 publications are banned, the vast majority of which express republican viewpoints.

After the troubles of the early 1920s has died down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s border campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of the Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the Provisional Irish Republican Army amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.

The Act encounters further controversy in the 1970s due to the deployment of the British Army in Northern Ireland and its role in maintaining order and similar policing-style duties. In 1972, the government is forced to amend the Act in order to legalise the detention of internees arrested by soldiers. Martin Meehan had been arrested after escaping from Crumlin Road Gaol and charged with escaping from lawful custody. At his trial he successfully argues that under the Special Powers Act a soldier has no power of arrest and, as such, he has the legal right to escape. He is awarded £800 in compensation for being illegally detained for twenty-three days.


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Parades Commission Approves Apprentice Boys’ March

On April 6, 2001, the Northern Ireland Parades Commission agrees to allow an Apprentice Boys march along Belfast’s flashpoint Ormeau Road on Easter Monday. The Belfast Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys is being allowed to march along the mainly nationalist lower Ormeau Road for the first time in nearly two years. The parade, which is opposed by nationalist residents, kicks off the loyalist marching season.

Fifty members and one band take part in the parade but the Commission forbids any music to be played between the two bridges on the Ormeau Road. In its ruling, the Commission says that since the last parade in August 1999, there has been “clear evidence of considerable efforts” by the Apprentice Boys to reach agreement with the residents’ group, the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC). It says the LOCC has, in turn, engaged in dialogue with them which has been “sustained and meaningful, notwithstanding spasmodic breaks.” The Commission adds, “It is regrettable that it has not produced agreement or acquiescence. With regard to this decision, the Commission stresses that it provides no guarantees for the future. The Commission will continue to look for evidence of ongoing commitment by LOCC and the Apprentice Boys to find their own resolution to the local issues on the Ormeau Road.”

Apprentice Boys’ spokesman Tommy Cheevers says they are disappointed that agreement has not been reached with the residents. “This is the second time in five years that we will have managed to parade along our traditional route on the Ormeau Road,” he tells BBC Radio Ulster. “We would just ask that everybody accepts the rule of law, as we have had to do in the past when it went against us, and make sure it is peaceful.”

However, the ruling is criticised by LOCC spokesman Gerard Rice. He says he is “absolutely shocked” by the decision, adding he had already asked the Parades Commission for it to be reviewed. “We believe this was the wrong decision. We will ask the Parades Commission to overturn this decision. Failing that, we may go to the courts and ask for a judicial review.” The residents’ group meets with the Commission in the evening to discuss the ruling.

In 2000, the chairman of the Parades Commission praised the behaviour of the Apprentice Boys, after they abided by the decision barring their parade from the lower Ormeau Road. However, there have been violent confrontations at previous parades.

The Parades Commission is established in 1997 to determine whether conditions should be placed on contentious parades in Northern Ireland.

(From: “Green light for contentious parade,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, April 6, 2001)


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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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Ireland Awarded the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

On March 31, 1999, Ireland is selected as the location for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. It is the first time the event has been staged outside the United States. The organising committee, which is formed in 1999 following the success of the bid, is chaired by entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. The chief executive is Mary Davis.

The Games are hosted in Dublin, with participants staying in 177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands in the lead up to the Games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events are held from June 21-29, 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park serves as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions take place there. Belfast is the venue for roller skating events at the King’s Hall, as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium held on June 19-20.

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries compete in the Games in 18 official disciplines and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo are the region’s first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq receives special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation. This is the largest sporting event held in 2003.

The opening ceremony is held in Croke Park and features an array of stars and is hosted by Patrick Kielty. The ceremony is officially opened by President of Ireland Mary McAleese and attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Performances include U2, The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. There are 75,000 athletes and spectators in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walk with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians. Nelson Mandela officially opens the Games.

The Games Flame is lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland participate. This is a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the “Flame of Hope,” from Europe to the Games’ official opening.

The 2003 Games are the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann provides extensive coverage of the events through their ‘Voice of the Games’ radio station which replaces RTÉ Radio 1 on medium wave for the duration of the event. There is also a nightly television highlight programme. A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette, was published for each day of the Games.

Among the activities carried out during the Games are thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom have previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes come from countries with limited medical facilities or have difficulty communicating their symptoms.

Among the contributors to the Games is the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners from Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison construct podiums and make flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.


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Paisley & Adams Commit to Forming Powersharing Executive

On March 26, 2007, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams commit themselves to forming a powersharing executive by May 8, 2007 after engaging directly for the first time at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair hail this first meeting and agreement as a historic, reconciliatory, and transforming moment in British-Irish history.

The government had set this date as a final deadline for a restoration of power-sharing before direct rule from London is restored permanently and now has to rush emergency legislation through the House of Commons to prevent this.

“After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province,” Paisley tells reporters, as he sits at a conference table next to Adams. The agreement “marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island,” Adams agrees, but adds that he finds it “disappointing” that Northern Ireland‘s political institution cannot be restored immediately.

British prime minister Tony Blair hails the agreement, saying “This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland but also for the people and the history of these islands.” After talking by phone with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he tells reporters, “In a sense, everything we have done over the last ten years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election. They have said we want peace and power-sharing and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said we will deliver what people want.”

In Ireland, Ahern calls the day’s developments “unprecedented and very positive,” and says both governments will cooperate with the new May 8 date for devolution.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, says a one clause emergency bill will be put through parliament with the agreement of opposition parties, and will need royal assent before midnight the following evening to prevent the dissolution of the Stormont assembly. He describes the day’s events as “really, really momentous.”

“Today the clouds have lifted and the people can see the future,” Hain tells BBC Radio 4‘s The World at One. “These pictures of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams will resonate around the world. They are a graphic manifestation of the power of politics over bigotry and conflict, bitterness and horror.”

The crucial meeting sees delegations from the DUP and Sinn Féin spend an hour together inside a room at Stormont to hammer out the final agreement for a return to power-sharing. Afterwards, both leaders talk about the work still needing to be done, including regular meetings between Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as the de facto first and deputy first ministers.

Clearly conscious of the historical significance of their talks, Paisley and Adams speak of the suffering caused by the decades of inter-community violence and their responsibility to ensure permanent peace and reconciliation. Northern Ireland’s politicians must “never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging,” Paisley says. “I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people of Northern Ireland. We must not allow our justified loathing for the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children,” he adds.

Adams says there is now new hope for the future, following the previous “sad history of orange and green.” He adds, “There are still many challenges, many difficulties, to be faced. But let us be clear: the basis of the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP follows Ian Paisley’s unequivocal and welcome commitment to support and participate fully in the political institutions on May 8. We’ve all come a very long way in the process of peace making and national reconciliation. We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best future possible.”

The proposal for the historic meeting comes after a frantic weekend of consultation in Belfast and Berlin, where Blair and Ahern are attending a ceremony to mark 50 years of the European Union. Both prime ministers had repeatedly insisted the assembly would be dissolved if no agreement on an executive had been reached by today’s legal deadline. Britain is forced into a last-minute change of strategy after Paisley’s DUP agrees in principle on March 24 to share power with Sinn Féin, but demands an extension of the deadline for the formation of the executive until May.

The DUP, which is badly split, says they need the additional time to see if Sinn Féin will comply with its commitment to cooperate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Until now Paisley’s DUP has always refused to meet Sinn Féin. Each represents what used to be seen as the two extremes of Northern Ireland sectarian politics.

(From: “Paisley and Adams agree deal” by Peter Walker and Owen Bowcott, The Guardian (www.theguardian.com), March 26, 2007 | Pictured: Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams hold their first face-to-face talks. Photograph: Paul Faith/ PA)


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Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.

McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.

McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.

McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.

Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”

When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.

In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.

In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.

Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.


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Birth of Robert Simms, Founding Member of the Society of United Irishmen

Robert Simms, Irish radical, a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen (Cumann na nÉireannach Aontaithe) in Belfast, and proprietor of the Northern Star newspaper, is born into a Presbyterian family in Belfast on March 20, 1761.

Simms is the owner of a paper mill in Ballyclare with his brother William Simms, one of twelve proprietors of the Northern Star. A close friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, he is one of the founders of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791 and the author of “Declaration and Resolutions of the Society of United Irishmen of Belfast.” He serves as the first Secretary of the Society, drafting many of its early letters, pamphlets and papers.

Following the French declaration of war on Britain in February 1793, the movement is outlawed and goes underground from 1794 as they become more determined to force a revolt against British rule. Simms, along with his brother William and Thomas Addis Emmet are arrested, but swiftly acquitted. The leadership is divided into those who wish to wait for French aid before rising and the more radical elements that wish to press ahead regardless. However, the suppression of a bloody preemptive rebellion, which breaks out in Leitrim in 1793, leads to the former faction prevailing and links are forged with the revolutionary French government with instructions to wait sent to all of the United Irish membership.

In 1795, along with Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson and Thomas Russell meet atop the summit of McArt’s Fort, overlooking Belfast, and, in Wolfe Tone’s words, “took a solemn obligation…never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence.” The Simms brothers are again arrested in 1797 and held in Newgate Prison. From there he is transported along with Russell and Emmett to Fort George, Scotland. In his absence, the printing press and building housing the Northern Star is burned.

Upon his release, Simms is appointed as Commander of the United Army in Antrim. The appointment is met reluctantly however, as he feels his lack of military experience counts against him being an effective leader. In addition, many leaders are beginning to agitate for a rising without French aid. He is unwavering in his rejection of this idea. He resigns his position on June 1, 1798 after falling out with the leadership on this issue when most had changed their minds. He is replaced by Henry Joy McCracken who leads the Society in the Battle of Antrim. Simms is accused by many of cowardice and indecision for his refusal to launch an insurrection in Antrim.

Simms is nonetheless arrested and again imprisoned in Fort George with Emmet and William James MacNeven and is released in 1802. When Robert Emmet‘s failed coup is launched in 1803, the Simms brothers do not participate. He dies at the age of 82 in 1843.

Simms is a friend of the naturalist John Templeton and his son, also Robert Simms, is one of the founders of the Belfast Natural History Society.


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)