seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams

Gerard “Gerry” Adams, Irish republican politician who is the president of the Sinn Féin political party and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth since the 2011 general election, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 6, 1948.

Adams attends St. Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, where he is taught by La Salle brothers. Having passed the eleven-plus exam in 1960, he attends St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. He leaves St. Mary’s with six O-levels and becomes a barman. He is increasingly involved in the Irish republican movement, joining Sinn Féin and Fianna Éireann in 1964, after being radicalised by the Divis Street riots during that year’s general election campaign.

In the late 1960s, a civil rights campaign develops in Northern Ireland. Adams is an active supporter and joins the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. However, the civil rights movement is met with violence from loyalist counter-demonstrations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In August 1969, Northern Ireland cities like Belfast and Derry erupt in major rioting.

During the 1981 hunger strike, which sees the emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force, Adams plays an important policy-making role. In 1983, he is elected president of Sinn Féin and becomes the first Sinn Féin MP elected to the British House of Commons since Philip Clarke and Tom Mitchell in the mid-1950s. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament (MP) of the British Parliament for the Belfast West constituency.

Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983. Since that time the party has become the third-largest party in the Republic of Ireland, the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland and the largest Irish nationalist party in that region. In 1984, Adams is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by several gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), including John Gregg. From the late 1980s onwards, Adams is an important figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, initially following contact by the then-Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume and then subsequently with the Irish and British governments.

In 1986, Sinn Féin, under Adams, changes its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, and later takes seats in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) states that its armed campaign is over and that it is exclusively committed to democratic politics.

In 2014, Adams is held for four days by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He is freed without charge and a file is sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, which later states there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

In September 2017, Adams says Sinn Féin will begin a “planned process of generational change” after its November ardfheis and will allow his name to go forward for a one year term as Uachtaran Shinn Fein (President Sinn Fein).

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Long Kesh Prison Hunger Strike Ends

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strike is called off at Long Kesh prison – later known as HM Prison Maze –  on October 3, 1981. While the IRA does not win immediate concessions, in some ways it is a Pyrrhic victory for Margaret Thatcher’s government. It galvanises support and membership for the IRA and generates huge sympathy for the strikers in the United States where fund-raising is a major priority. The death of the first hunger striker, Bobby Sands, creates a martyr and an iconic figure.

In January 1981, prison authorities begin to supply the prisoners with officially issued civilian clothing, whereas the prisoners demand the right to wear their own clothing. On February 4, the prisoners issue a statement saying that the British government has failed to resolve the crisis and declares their intention of a hunger strike. The hunger strike begins on March 1, when Bobby Sands, the IRA’s former officer commanding (OC) in the prison, refuses food. Unlike the first hunger strike the previous year, the prisoners join one at a time and at staggered intervals, which they believe would arouse maximum public support and exert maximum pressure on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The republican movement initially struggles to generate public support for the second hunger strike. The Sunday before Sands begins his strike, 3,500 people march through west Belfast. During the first hunger strike four months earlier the marchers had numbered 10,000. Five days into the strike, Independent Republican MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Frank Maguire dies, resulting in a by-election. There is debate among nationalists and republicans regarding who should contest the election. After negotiations they agree not to split the nationalist vote by contesting the election and Sands stands as an Anti H-Block candidate against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Harry West. Following a high-profile campaign, the election takes place on April 9, and Sands is elected to the British House of Commons with 30,492 votes to West’s 29,046.

Sands’ election victory raises hopes that a settlement can be negotiated, but Thatcher stands firm in refusing to give concessions to the hunger strikers. The world’s media descends on Belfast, and several intermediaries visit Sands in an attempt to negotiate an end to the hunger strike, including Síle de Valera, granddaughter of Éamon de Valera, Pope John Paul II‘s personal envoy John Magee, and European Commission of Human Rights officials. With Sands close to death, the government’s position remains unchanged.

On 5 May, Sands dies in the prison hospital on the 66th day of his hunger strike, prompting rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. More than 100,000 people line the route of his funeral, which is conducted with full IRA military honours. Margaret Thatcher shows no sympathy for his death.

In the two weeks following Sands’ death, hunger strikers Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara die. Following the deaths of Joe McDonnell and Martin Hurson, the families of some of the hunger strikers attend a meeting on July 28 with Catholic priest Father Denis Faul. The families express concern at the lack of a settlement to the priest, and a decision is made to meet with Gerry Adams later that day. The following day Adams holds a meeting with six of the hunger strikers to outline a proposed settlement on offer from the British government should the strike be brought to an end. The six men reject the settlement, believing that accepting anything less than the “Five Demands” would be a betrayal of the sacrifice made by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers who had died.

The hunger strike begins to break on July 31, when the mother of Paddy Quinn insists on medical intervention to save his life. The following day Kevin Lynch dies, followed by Kieran Doherty on August 2, Thomas McElwee on August 8 and Michael Devine on August 20. On September 6, the family of Laurence McKeown becomes the fourth family to intervene and asks for medical treatment to save his life, and Cahal Daly issues a statement calling on republican prisoners to end the hunger strike.

The strike is called off at 3:15 PM on October 3, 1981. Three days later, James Prior, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, announces partial concessions to the prisoners including the right to wear their own clothes at all times. The only one of the “Five Demands” still outstanding is the right not to do prison work. Following sabotage by the prisoners and the Maze Prison escape in 1983, the prison workshops are closed, effectively granting all of the “Five Demands” but without any formal recognition of political status from the government.

(Pictured: A Belfast mural of the Long Kesh hunger strikers)


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Birth of Artist Thomas James Carr

Thomas James Carr, British artist who is associated with the Euston Road School in the 1930s and has a long career as a painter of domestic scenes and landscapes, is born in Belfast to a well-to-do family on September 21, 1909.

Carr attends Oundle School where his art masters include E.M.O’R. Dickey and Christopher Perkins. In 1927 Carr moves to London where he studies at the Slade School of Fine Art. After two years at the Slade, he moves to Italy and spends six months in Florence. Upon returning to London, he establishes himself as a well-regarded painter of domestic scenes.

Although essentially a realist painter, Carr is included in the 1934 Objective Abstractionists exhibition at Zwemmer’s Gallery. In 1937, he shares an exhibition with Victor Pasmore and Claude Rogers at the Storran Gallery and subsequently becomes associated with the representational style of the Euston Road School. Starting in 1940, at Georges Wildenstein‘s gallery, he holds a series of one-man exhibitions at various galleries including at the Leicester Galleries, The Redfern Gallery and also at Thomas Agnew & Sons.

In 1939, Carr returns to Northern Ireland and settles in Newcastle, County Down. During the World War II, he receives a small number of commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to depict parachute manufacture and the Short Sunderland flying-boats being built at the Short Brothers factory in Belfast.

After the war, Carr teaches at the Belfast College of Art and moves to Belfast in 1955. After the death of his wife in 1995, he moves to Norfolk, England to be nearer one of his three daughters and her family. He continues to paint into old age, and tends to concentrate on landscape painting.

Carr is a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts and is a member of the Royal Ulster Academy, the New English Art Club, the Royal Watercolour Society and is an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Queen’s University awards him an honorary doctorate in 1991. For his services to art in Northern Ireland, he is awarded the MBE in 1974 and receives an OBE in 1993.

Thomas Carr dies at the age of 89 in Norwich, England on February 17, 1999.

(Pictured: “Making Coloured Parachutes” by Thomas James Carr (http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/4674) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)


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Death of Poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Recipient

Seamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, dies in Dublin on August 30, 2013. He is the 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney is born near Castledawson, County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. The family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. After attending Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in the early 1960s and begins to publish poetry. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. Heaney is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and, in 2012, a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky has stated that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he enters the hospital for a medical procedure, but dies at 7:30 the following morning before it takes place. His funeral is held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of September 2, 2013, and he is buried in the evening in the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael reveals at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died. Shortly after Heaney’s death, graffiti artist Maser paints a mural in Dublin referencing this message.

On September 1, the day after his death, a crowd of 81,553 spectators applaud Heaney for three minutes at a semi-final match of the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. His funeral is broadcast live the following day on RTÉ television and radio and is streamed internationally at RTÉ’s website. RTÉ Radio 1 Extra transmits a continuous broadcast, from 8:00 AM until 9:15 PM on the day of the funeral, of his Collected Poems album, recorded in 2009. His poetry collections sell out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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Launch of the RMS Oceanic

RMS Oceanic, the White Star Line‘s first liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, is launched on August 27, 1870, arriving in Liverpool, England for her maiden voyage on February 26, 1871.

Three sister ships are constructed in rapid succession: RMS Atlantic, SS Baltic, and SS Republic. All are of the same approximate dimensions with differences in tonnage.

Powered by a combination of steam and sail, RMS Oceanic has twelve boilers generating steam for a single four-cylinder compound steam engine. A single funnel exhausts smoke and four masts carry sails. The hull is constructed of iron and divided into eleven watertight compartments. Passenger accommodations are located on the two decks concealed within the hull. RMS Oceanic can carry 166 First Class passengers, referred to as Saloon Passengers in the day and 1,000 Steerage Passengers, along with a 143-man crew. White Star spares no expense in her construction, and the contemporary press describes the ship as an “imperial yacht.”

RMS Oceanic leaves Liverpool for her maiden voyage on March 2, 1871 carrying only 64 passengers, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Not long after departing, she has to return because of overheated bearings. Her voyage restarts on March 16. From that point onward, RMS Oceanic is a success for The White Star Line.

In January, 1872, RMS Oceanic undergoes a refit, during which a large forecastle is added to help prevent the bow being inundated during high seas. Two new boilers are added to increase steam pressure and thus engine power, and the four masts are shortened.

RMS Oceanic continues sailing with the White Star line on the Liverpool to New York City route until March 11, 1875, when she is chartered to the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, for service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. White Star provides the officers, while the crew is Chinese. The ship itself remains in White Star colours, but flies the O&O flag. During the repositioning voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong, RMS Oceanic sets a speed record for that route. Later, she also sets a speed record for Yokohama to San Francisco in December 1876, and then breaks her own record over that route in November, 1889, with a time of 13 days, 14 hours and 5 minutes.

On August 22, 1888, RMS Oceanic collides with the coastal liner SS City of Chester just outside the Golden Gate. The SS City of Chester sinks, killing 16 on board.

On January 7, 1890, Nellie Bly boards RMS Oceanic in Yokohama to cross the Pacific as part of her voyage Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. She arrives in San Francisco on January 21, 1890, which is a day behind schedule as a result of rough weather.

In 1895, RMS Oceanic is returned to White Star, which plans to put her back into service. She is sent back to Harland and Wolff for re-engining, but when the ship is inspected closely, it is found to be uneconomical to perform all the work needed. Instead, RMS Oceanic is sold for scrap, leaving Belfast for the last time on February 10, 1896, under tow, for a scrapyard on the River Thames.