seamus dubhghaill

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


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Establishment of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake

The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is established in the Irish Free State on November 17, 1920. The lottery is established to finance hospitals.

The Sweepstake is generally referred to as the Irish Sweepstake or Irish Sweepstakes, frequently abbreviated to Irish Sweep or Irish Sweeps. The Public Charitable Hospitals (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1930 is the act that establishes the lottery. This act expires in 1934, in accordance with its terms, and the Public Hospitals Acts are the legislative basis for the scheme thereafter. The main organisers are Richard Duggan, Captain Spencer Freeman and Joseph McGrath. Duggan is a well known Dublin bookmaker who has organised a number of sweepstakes in the decade prior to setting up the Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Captain Freeman is a Welsh-born engineer and former captain in the British Army. After the Constitution of Ireland is enacted in 1937, the name Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake is adopted.

The sweepstake is established because there is a need for investment in hospitals and medical services and the public finances are unable to meet this expense at the time. As the people of Ireland are unable to raise sufficient funds, because of the low population, a significant amount of the funds are raised in the United Kingdom and United States, often among the emigrant Irish. Potentially winning tickets are drawn from rotating drums, usually by nurses in uniform. Each such ticket is assigned to a horse expected to run in one of several horse races, including the Cambridgeshire Handicap, Epsom Derby and the Grand National. Tickets that draw the favourite horses thus stand a higher likelihood of winning and a series of winning horses have to be chosen on the accumulator system, allowing for enormous prizes.

The original sweepstake draws are held at the Mansion House, Dublin on May 19, 1939 under the supervision of the Chief Commissioner of Police, and are moved to a more permanent fixture at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in Ballsbridge later in 1940.

The Adelaide Hospital in Dublin is the only hospital at the time to not accept money from the Hospitals Trust, as the governors disapprove of sweepstakes.

From the 1960s onwards, revenues decline. The offices are moved to Lotamore House in County Cork. Although giving the appearance of a public charitable lottery, with nurses featured prominently in the advertising and drawings, the Sweepstake is in fact a private for-profit lottery company, and the owners are paid substantial dividends from the profits. Fortune magazine describes it as “a private company run for profit and its handful of stockholders have used their earnings from the sweepstakes to build a group of industrial enterprises that loom quite large in the modest Irish economy. Waterford Glassworks, Irish Glass Bottle Company and many other new Irish companies are financed by money from this enterprise and up to 5,000 people are given jobs.” At the time of his death in 1966, Joe McGrath has interests in the racing industry, and holds the Renault dealership for Ireland in addition to large financial and property assets. He is notorious throughout Ireland for his ruthless business attitude and his actions during the Irish Civil War.

In 1986, the Irish government creates a new public lottery, the National Lottery, and the company fails to secure the new contract to manage it. The final sweepstake is held in January 1986 and the company is unsuccessful for a licence bid for the National Lottery, which is won by An Post later that year. The company goes into voluntary liquidation in March 1987. The majority of workers do not have a pension scheme but the sweepstake has fed many families during lean times and is regarded as a safe job. The Public Hospitals (Amendment) Act, 1990 is enacted for the orderly winding up of the scheme, which has by then almost £500,000 in unclaimed prizes and accrued interest.

A collection of advertising material relating to the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes is among the Special Collections of National Irish Visual Arts Library.


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The Long Count Fight

In a battle of Irish Americans, the Long Count Fight, or the Battle of the Long Count, a ten-round professional boxing rematch between world heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey takes place at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 22, 1927.

“Long Count” is applied to the fight because when Tunney is knocked down in the seventh round the count is delayed due to Dempsey’s failure to go to and remain in a neutral corner. Whether this “long count” actually affects the outcome remains a subject of debate. Tunney ultimately wins the bout in a unanimous decision.

Just 364 days earlier, on September 23, 1926 at Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tunney beats Dempsey in a ten-round unanimous decision to claim the world heavyweight title. This first fight between Tunney and Dempsey is moved out of Chicago because Dempsey learned that Al Capone is a big fan of his, and he does not want Capone to be involved in the fight. Capone reportedly bets $50,000 on Dempsey for the rematch, which fuels false rumors of a fix. Dempsey is favored by odds makers in both fights, largely because of public betting which heavily tilts towards Dempsey.

The rematch held at Chicago’s Soldier Field draws a gate of $2,658,660 (approximately $22 million in today’s dollars). It is the first $2 million gate in entertainment history.

Despite the fact that Tunney had won the first fight by a wide margin on the scorecards, the prospect of a second bout creates tremendous public interest. Dempsey is one of the so-called “big five” sports legends of the 1920s and it is widely rumored that he had refused to participate in the military during World War I. He actually had attempted to enlist in the Army, but had been turned down. A jury later exonerates Dempsey of draft evasion. Tunney, who enjoys literature and the arts, is a former member of the United States Marine Corps. His nickname is The Fighting Marine.

The fight takes place under new rules regarding knockdowns: the fallen fighter has ten seconds to rise to his feet under his own power, after his opponent moves to a neutral corner (i.e., one with no trainers). The new rule, which is not yet universal, is asked to be put into use during the fight by the Dempsey camp, who had requested it during negotiations. Dempsey, in the final days of training prior to the rematch, apparently ignores the setting of these new rules. Also, the fight is staged inside a 20-foot ring, which favors the boxer with superior footwork, in this case Tunney. Dempsey likes to crowd his opponents, and normally fights in a 16-foot ring that offers less space to maneuver.

To this day boxing fans argue over whether Dempsey could or should have won the fight. What is not in dispute is that the public’s affection for Dempsey grew in the wake of his two losses to Tunney. “In defeat, he gained more stature,” wrote The Washington Post‘s Shirley Povich. “He was the loser in the battle of the long count, yet the hero.”

Tunney said that he had picked up the referee’s count at “two,” and could have gotten up at any point after that, preferring to wait until “nine” for obvious tactical reasons. Dempsey said, “I have no reason not to believe him. Gene’s a great guy.”

Dempsey later joins the United States Coast Guard, and he and Tunney become good friends who visit each other frequently. Tunney and Dempsey are both members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

In March 2011, the family of Gene Tunney donates the gloves he wore in the fight to the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Museum of American History.


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Sean Graham Bookmaker’s Shop Shooting

sean-graham-bookmakers-shopA mass shooting takes place at the Sean Graham bookmaker‘s shop on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 5, 1992. Members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a loyalist paramilitary group, open fire on the customers, killing five civilians and wounding another nine. The shop is in an Irish nationalist area, and all of the victims are local Catholic civilians. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters”, and says the shooting is retaliation for the Teebane bombing, which had been carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) less than three weeks earlier.

The start of 1992 witnesses an intensification in the campaign of violence being carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) under their UFF covername. However, the Inner Council of the UDA, which contains the six brigadiers that control the organisation, feel that one-off killings are not sending a strong enough message to republicans and so it sanctions a higher-profile attack in which a number of people will be killed at once. On this basis the go-ahead is given to attack Sean Graham bookmaker’s shop on the Irish nationalist Lower Ormeau Road, which is near the UDA stronghold of Annadale Flats. The bookmaker’s shop is chosen by West Belfast Brigadier and Inner Council member Johnny Adair because he has strong personal ties with the commanders of the Annadale UDA. A 1993 report commissioned by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Special Branch also claims that Adair is the driving force behind the attack.

The attack occurs at 2:20 in the afternoon. A car parks on University Avenue facing the bookmakers and two men, wearing boilersuits and balaclavas, leave the car and cross the Ormeau Road to the shop. One is armed with a vz.58 Czechoslovak assault rifle and the other with a 9mm pistol. They enter the shop and unleash a total of 44 shots on the fifteen customers. Five Catholic men and boys are killed and nine others are wounded, one critically.

In a separate incident, a unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) travels to the area at the time of the attack with the intention of killing a local Sinn Féin activist based on intelligence they had received that he returns home about that time every day. The attack is abandoned, however, when the car carrying the UVF members is passed by speeding RUC vehicles and ambulances. The UVF members, who had already retrieved their weapons for the attack, are said to be livid with the UDA for not coordinating with them beforehand and effectively spoiling their chance to kill a leading local republican.

A UDA statement in the aftermath of the attack claims that the killings are justified as the Lower Ormeau is “one of the IRA’s most active areas.” The statement also includes the phrase “remember Teebane”, suggesting that the killings are in retaliation for the Teebane bombing in County Tyrone less than three weeks earlier. In that attack, the IRA had killed eight Protestant men who were repairing a British Army base. The same statement had also been yelled by the gunmen as they ran from the betting shop.

On February 5, 2002 a plaque is erected on the side of the bookmaker’s shop in Hatfield Street carrying the names of the five victims and the Irish language inscription Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a n-anamacha (“May God have mercy on their souls”). A small memorial garden is later added. The unveiling ceremony, which takes place on the tenth anniversary of the attack, is accompanied by a two-minute silence and is attended by relatives of the dead and survivors of the attack. A new memorial stone is laid on February 5, 2012 to coincide with the publication of a booklet calling for justice for the killings.