seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.


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Birth of Poet Michael Longley

Michael Longley, one of Northern Ireland’s foremost contemporary poets, is born in Belfast on July 27, 1939. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and subsequently reads Classics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he edits the student literary magazine Icarus.

Longley is renowned for the quiet beauty of his compact, meditative lyrics. Known for using classical allusions to cast provocative light on contemporary concerns, including Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” his poetry is also marked by sharp observation of the natural world, deft use of technique, and deeply felt emotion. His debut volume, No Continuing City (1969), heralds the arrival of a new talent from a region which has already produced recognized talents like Seamus Heaney and Derek Mahon. However his early influences are English poets like Philip Larkin, Louis MacNeice, and the First World War poets, as well as masters from the classical tradition. The critic Langdon Hammer describes Longley’s poems as masterpieces of “lucidity, economy, sincerity…by means of meticulous, unpretentious technique.”

Longley’s work engages diverse subjects, including Homeric literature, the landscape of Carrigskeewaun, jazz, Walter Mitty, and the politics of Northern Ireland. On the public and political responsibilities of being a Northern Irish poet, he says, “Though the poet’s first duty must be to his imagination, he has other obligations, and not just as a citizen. He would be inhuman if he did not respond to tragic events in his own community, and a poor artist if he did not seek to endorse that response imaginatively.” Reviewing his Selected Poems (1993), critic Fran Brearton praises in particular Longley’s more political poems, noting his “use of a compassionate yet unsentimental voice, and an attention to detail which restores specificity at a point in history when it is most in danger of being lost in abstraction – numbers, dates, death-tolls counted beyond comprehension.”

After a 12-year publishing silence, Longley’s 1991 return, Gorse Fires, wins the Whitbread Poetry Prize. Subsequently, The Weather in Japan (2000) wins The Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry, the Hawthornden Prize, and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Other publications include Snow Water (2004) and Collected Poems (2006). In 2001 Longley is awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Longley is Professor of Poetry for Ireland from 2007 to 2010, a cross-border academic post set up in 1998, previously held by John Montague, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, and Paul Durcan. He is succeeded in 2010 by Harry Clifton.


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Belfast’s Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday or Belfast’s Bloody Sunday is a day of violence in Belfast, Ireland (present-day Northern Ireland) on July 10, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Belfast sees almost 500 people die in political violence between 1920 and 1922. Violence in the city breaks out in the summer of 1920 in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Detective Oswald Swanzy after Sunday services outside a Protestant church in nearby Lisburn. Seven thousand Catholics and some Protestant trade unionists are driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people are killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.

Violence in Belfast wanes until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish republican and British authorities are negotiating a truce to end the war, but fighting flares up in Belfast. On June 10, an IRA gunman, Jack Donaghy, ambushes three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one, Thomas Conlon, a Roman Catholic from County Roscommon, who, ironically, is viewed as “sympathetic” to the local nationalists. Over the following three days, at least 14 people lose their lives and 14 are wounded in fighting in the city, including three Catholics who are taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.

Low-level attacks continue in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that leads to “Bloody Sunday.” On July 8, the RIC attempt to carry out searches in the mainly Catholic and republican enclave around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they are confronted by about fifteen IRA volunteers in an hour-long firefight.

On July 9, a truce to suspend the war is agreed in Dublin between representatives of the Irish Republic and the British government, to come into effect at noon on July 11. Many Protestants/unionists condemn the truce as a “sell-out” to republicans.

On the night of July 9/10, hours after the truce is announced, the RIC attempt to launch a raid in the Lower Falls district of west Belfast. Scouts alert the IRA of the raid by blowing whistles, banging dustbin lids and flashing a red light. On Raglan Street, a unit of about fourteen IRA volunteers ambush an armoured police truck, killing one officer and wounding at least two others.

This sparks an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast the following day, Sunday July 10, in which 16 civilians lose their lives and up to 200 houses are destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 are owned by Catholics. Most of the dead are civilians and at least four of the Catholic victims are ex-World War I servicemen.

Protestants, fearful of absorption into a Catholic Ireland and blindly angered by the presence of heresy and treason in their midst, strike at the Catholic community while vengeful Catholics strike back with counter-terror. Gun battles rage all day along the sectarian “boundary” between the Catholic Falls and Protestant Shankill districts and rival gunmen use rifles, machine guns and grenades in the clashes. Gunmen are seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A loyalist mob, several thousand strong, attempt to storm the Falls district, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.

A tram travelling from the Falls into the city centre is struck by snipers’ bullets, and the service has to be suspended. Catholics and republicans claim that police, mostly from the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), drive through Catholic enclaves in armoured cars firing indiscriminately at houses and bystanders. The police return to their barracks late on Sunday night, allegedly after a ceasefire has been agreed by telephone between a senior RIC officer and the commander of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, Roger McCorley.

The truce is due to come into effect at midday on Monday, July 11, but violence resumes that morning. Three people are shot dead that day, including an IRA volunteer who is shot minutes before midday. In the north the official truce does not end the fighting. While the IRA is involved in the violence, it does not control the actions of the Catholic community. Tuesday July 12 sees the Orange Order‘s annual Twelfth marches pass off peacefully and there are no serious disturbances in the city. However, sporadic violence resumes on Wednesday, and by the end of the week 28 people in all have been killed or fatally wounded in Belfast.

The violence of the period in Belfast is cyclical, and the events of July 1921 are followed by a lull until a three-day period beginning on August 29, when another 20 lives are lost in the west and north of the city. The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continues until the following summer, when the northern IRA is left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.

At the time the day is referred to as “Belfast’s Bloody Sunday.” However the title of “Bloody Sunday” is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.


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Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.


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The Battle of Ballynahinch

The Battle of Ballynahinch is fought outside Ballynahinch, County Down, on June 12, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 between British forces led by Major-General George Nugent and the local United Irishmen led by Henry Munro.

Munro is a Lisburn linen merchant and Presbyterian United Irishman who has no military experience but has taken over command of the Down organisation following the arrest on June 5 of the designated leader, Rev. William Steel Dickson. Upon hearing of the victory at Saintfield on June 9, Munro joins the rebel camp there and then moves to Ednavady Hill, Ballynahinch to join the thousands who have gathered in support of the rebellion. The response of the British garrisons is to converge on Ballynahinch from Belfast and Downpatrick in two columns accompanied by several pieces of cannon.

The battle begins on the night of June 12 when two hills to the left and right of Ballynahinch are occupied by the British who pound the town with their cannon. During a pause when night falls, some rebel officers are said to have pressed Munro for a night attack but he refuses on the grounds that it is unchivalrous. As a consequence many disillusioned rebels slip away during the night.

As dawn breaks the battle recommences with the rebels attacked from two sides and although achieving some initial success, confusion in the rebel army sees the United Irishmen retreat in chaos, pursued by regrouping British forces who quickly take advantage by turning retreat into massacre. Initial reports claim four hundred rebels are killed, while British losses are around forty.

Munro escapes the field of battle but is betrayed by a farmer who he has paid to conceal him and is hanged in front of his own house in Lisburn on June 16. Ballynahinch is sacked by the victorious military after the battle with sixty-three houses being burned down. Cavalry scours the surrounding countryside for rebels, raiding homes and killing indiscriminately, the 22nd Dragoons being guilty of some of the worst atrocities. The most famous victim is Betsy Gray, a young female rebel who, with her two brothers, is slaughtered in the post-battle massacre, ensuring her place in legend to this day.

Because of his family’s involvement in this event, Robert Stewart, the future Lord Castlereagh, is made Chief Secretary for Ireland.


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Birth of Actor Liam Neeson

Actor Liam John Neeson is born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Neeson is named Liam after the local priest. He says growing up as a Catholic in a predominately Protestant town made him cautious. At age nine, he begins boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later becomes Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.

Neeson first steps on stage at age eleven after his English teacher offers him the lead role in a school play, which he accepts because the girl he is attracted to is starring in it. He continues to act in school productions over the following years.

Neeson’s interest in acting and decision to become an actor is also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak. Neeson says of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”

In 1971, Neeson is enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovers a talent for football and is spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There is a club trial in Dublin and Neeson plays one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C., but is not offered a contract.

In 1976, Neeson joins the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acts in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981), alongside Helen Mirren. Between 1982 and 1987, he stars in five films, most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He lands a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).

Neeson rises to prominence when he stars in the title role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–2014), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus, the fantasy films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–2010) as Aslan, and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011). In 2016 he narrates the RTÉ One three-part documentary on the Easter Rising, 1916.

Neeson has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranks Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.”