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


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Birth of Charles Lever, Novelist & Raconteur

Charles James Lever, Irish novelist and raconteur, is born in Amiens Street, Dublin, on August 31, 1806. According to Anthony Trollope, his novels were just like his conversation.

Lever is the second son of James Lever, an architect and builder, and is educated in private schools. His escapades at Trinity College, Dublin (1823–1828), where he earns a degree in medicine in 1831, are drawn on for the plots of some of his novels. The character Frank Webber in the novel Charles O’Malley is based on a college friend, Robert Boyle, who later becomes a clergyman. He and Boyle earn pocket-money singing ballads of their own composing in the streets of Dublin and play many other pranks which he embellishes in the novels Charles O’Malley, Con Cregan and Lord Kilgobbin.

Before seriously embarking upon his medical studies, Lever visits Canada as an unqualified surgeon on an emigrant ship. Arriving in Canada, he journeys into the backwoods, where he is affiliated to a tribe of Native Americans but has to flee because his life is in danger, as later his character Bagenal Daly does in his novel The Knight of Gwynne.

Back in Europe, Lever pretends he is a student from the University of Göttingen and travels to the University of Jena and then to Vienna. He loves German student life and several of his songs, such as “The Pope He Loved a Merry Life,” are based on student-song models. His medical degree earns him an appointment to the Board of Health in County Clare and then as a dispensary doctor in Portstewart, County Londonderry, but his conduct as a country doctor earns him the censure of the authorities.

In 1833 Lever marries his first love, Catherine Baker, and in February 1837, after varied experiences, he begins publishing The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer in the recently established Dublin University Magazine. Before Harry Lorrequer appears in volume form (1839), he has settled on the strength of a slight diplomatic connection as a fashionable physician in Brussels.

In 1842 Lever returns to Dublin to edit the Dublin University Magazine, and gathers round him a typical coterie of Irish wits. In June 1842 he welcomes William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of The Snob Papers, to Templeogue, four miles southwest of Dublin, on his Irish tour. The O’Donoghue and Arthur O’Leary (1845) make his native land an impossible place for Lever to continue in. Thackeray suggests London, but Lever requires a new field of literary observation and anecdote. His creative inspiration exhausted, he decides to renew it on the continent. In 1845 he resigns his editorship and goes back to Brussels, whence he starts upon an unlimited tour of central Europe in a family coach. Now and again he halts for a few months, and entertains to the limit of his resources in some ducal castle or other which he hires for an off season.

Depressed in spirit as Lever is, his wit is unextinguished. He is still the delight of the salons with his stories, and in 1867, after a few years’ experience of a similar kind at La Spezia, he is cheered by a letter from Lord Derby offering him the more lucrative consulship of Trieste. The $600 annual salary does not atone to Lever for the lassitude of prolonged exile. Trieste, at first “all that I could desire,” became with characteristic abruptness “detestable and damnable.”

Lever’s depression, partly due to incipient heart disease, partly to the growing conviction that he is the victim of literary and critical conspiracy, is confirmed by the death of his wife on April 23, 1870, to whom he is tenderly attached. He visits Ireland in the following year and seems alternately in high and low spirits. Death had already given him one or two runaway knocks, and, after his return to Trieste, he fails gradually, dying suddenly, however, and almost painlessly, from heart failure on June 1, 1872 at his home, Villa Gasteiger. His daughters, one of whom, Sydney, is believed to have been the real author of A Rent in a Cloud (1869), are well provided for.


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Grote Markt, Brussels Bombing

On August 28, 1979, a bomb explodes under an open‐air stage on the Grote Markt in Brussels, Belgium where a British Army band is preparing to give a concert, injuring at least 15 persons, including four bandsmen, and causes extensive damage. Mayor Pierre van Halteren of Brussels says the Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility for the bombing in a telephone call to city hall.

The bombing comes just a day after Earl Mountbatten of Burma and three others are killed in a bombing in the Irish Republic, and 18 British soldiers die in an attack in Northern Ireland. The IRA claims responsibility for both attacks.

The band is from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, which is stationed in Osnabrück, West Germany. The bombing occurs only minutes before the band is to have begun a concert in the broad square, a major tourist site surrounded by centuries‐old buildings. However, only 6 of the 30 members of the band are on the makeshift stage when the bomb explodes at about 3:00 PM. The others had left the stage to change into their red dress uniforms after setting up music stands and instruments.

The band is held up in traffic and is late arriving for the concert. The police say that if the bomb had gone off later, during the concert, the casualty toll would have been heavier.

Before the IRA telephone call is reported, Earl Nicoll, military attaché at the British Embassy in Brussels, says, “I’d guess it is either the IRA or people sympathetic to their aims. It is clearly a manifestation they wanted to hit the band, not any Belgians.”

The temporary stage is used for daily concerts to mark the city’s 1,000th birthday. A police spokesman says the explosives were under the stage floor in the back, on the side away from the square. At the time of the explosion only a few hundred people, most of them tourists, are in the square, which is lined by outdoor cafes, flower stalls and centuries‐old guildhalls.

The blast creates a 90‐by‐30‐foot hole in the stage floor, and severely damages the back wall and the ceiling. It shatters windows in the ancient buildings. A police spokesman says investigators did not yet know what kind of bomb was used. Officials estimate the damage at $134,000 to $167,000.

Irish guerrillas are accused of responsibility for several other attacks in Belgium in recent months, including one in June 1979 involving Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., then Supreme Allied Commander Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A number of other recent terrorist attacks on the continent are blamed on the IRA. On March 22, 1979, Sir Richard Sykes, Britain’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, and his Dutch valet are shot and killed as the envoy leaves for work in The Hague. On the same day, a Belgian bank employee is shot to death in front of his home in suburban Brussels in what police believe is a case of mistaken identity on the part of the IRA. Officials believe the gunmen were after Sir John Killick, deputy chief of Britain’s mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has its headquarters in Belgium.

On July 6, a bomb that officials believe to be planted by the IRA goes off in the British consulate building in Antwerp, Belgium, causing damage but no injuries. Four days later, two bombs go off at two British Rhine Army barracks in Dortmund, West Germany, causing extensive damage but again no injuries. The IRA claims responsibility for those and other bombings at facilities of the 50,000‐member Rhine Army.

(From: “I.R.A. Sets Off Bomb at Belgian Concert,” The New York Times, August 29, 1979)


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Death of Francis McPeake II, Uilleann Piper & Singer

Francis ‘Francie’ McPeake II, uilleann piper and singer, dies in Belfast on July 7, 1986. He is a crucial figure in preserving the great Ulster piping tradition.

McPeake is born on January 20, 1917 at 43 Malcolmson Street, Belfast, the son of Francis J. McPeake (1885–1971), piper and tram conductor, and Mary McPeake (née Loney). His father, a staunch nationalist, wins the Feis piping competition in Belfast in 1909 and represents Ireland together with a Welsh harper, John Page, at the Pan-Celtic Congress in Brussels in 1911. In July 1912 he wins first prize in the learners’ class when he attends the foundation of the Pipers’ Club in Dublin. He represents Ireland in many instances as one of relatively few pipers from Northern Ireland at the time.

McPeake continues the strong musical tradition in the family. He also plays the pipes and father and son are recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952. They appear at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956 and later form the McPeake Trio along with his brother James, who plays the fiddle, the piano accordion, and later a harp made by McFall in Belfast. The trio comes to be known as The McPeakes. They sing in Irish and in English and are closely identified with particular songs, such as “The Jug of Punch,” “The Lament of Aughrim,” and “The Verdant Braes of Skreen,” though the one most associated with them is “Will You Go, Lassie, Go?”

The McPeakes win first prize at the international Eisteddfod in Wales in the late 1950s and acquire a strong international reputation with Bob Dylan being among their fans. The trio is later augmented by members of the next generation, recorded by Peter Kennedy again, and make several recordings, including Irish Folk (1964) and Welcome Home (1967), which is a cassette reissue of a 1962 album for the Topic Records label. Some of Kennedy’s recordings of the McPeake family are released on the compact disc Traditional Songs of Ireland (CD-SDL 411) in 1995. A fourth-generation family group follows, Clan McPeake, inheriting the commitment, much of the repertoire, and the verve of the earlier generations.

McPeakes’s gift for teaching is employed at the Francis McPeake School of Music, which is established in 1977, and he writes a well-reviewed tin whistle tutor entitled Smash the Windows, published by Appletree Press in 1981. He also forms the Clonard Traditional Music Society.

McPeake dies on July 7, 1986. The McPeake family remains closely associated with traditional music and with Belfast. The Francis McPeake International Summer School is established in 2004.

(From: “McPeake, Francis (‘Francie’)” by Ríonach uí Ógáin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International license)


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Birth of Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington

Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington (née Hill-Trevor), Anglo-Irish aristocrat, is born on June 23, 1742. She is the wife of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington, and mother of the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

Wellesley is born the Hon. Anne Hill-Trevor, the eldest daughter of the banker Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon, and his wife Anne Stafford. She is a friend of Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the famous Ladies of Llangollen.

Wellesley marries Garrett Wesley, the Earl of Mornington, in 1759. The marriage is said to be a happy one. They have nine children together, with seven of them surviving to adulthood:

Lord Mornington dies on May 22, 1781, leaving Wellesley and their eldest son Richard, who is 21 years old at the time, to raise the rest of the family. She dislikes Arthur when he is young. She says that he is “food for powder and nothing more” and constantly worries about his future. In 1785, she goes to Brussels to live, as a way to economise. She takes Arthur with her and sends him to the Royal Academy of Equitation at Angers, in Anjou, after she returns to Britain in 1786. She is granted a pension of £600 in 1813 by Parliament after Arthur’s success in the Peninsular War.

Wellesley’s husband’s titles are in the Irish peerage, entitling him to sit in the Irish House of Lords, which disbands following the Acts of Union 1800 with Great Britain. Four of her five sons who survive to adulthood earn titles in Peerage of the United Kingdom, entitling them to sit in the United Kingdom House of Lords, while the fifth, Gerald Valerian, becomes a bishop, giving him precedence comparable to a peer.

Wellesley dies at the age of 89 on September 10, 1831.

(Pictured: Portrait of Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington, the mother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1839, from the Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales)


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Death of Charlotte Grace O’Brien, Philanthropist & Activist

Charlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist and an activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, dies on June 3, 1909. She is known also as a plant collector.

Born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters. Her father is William Smith O’Brien, the Irish nationalist and her mother is Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. On her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels, and stays there until he comes back to Cahirmoyle in 1856. On her mother’s death in 1861, she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864, O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, caring for his motherless children until his remarriage in 1880. Having been hard of hearing since childhood, by 1879 she has become entirely deaf. She goes to live at Ardanoir near Foynes on the River Shannon, and spends time writing. She becomes a staunch supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

A bad harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, causes many Irish people to emigrate to the United States. In articles and letters to newspapers and reviews, O’Brien exposes the awful conditions that exist in the Queenstown (Cobh) lodging houses, on board the emigrant ships, and in the dock slums of New York City, where the Irish have to stay upon landing. A notable piece she writes is the Horrors of the Immigrant Ship which appears in The Pall Mall Gazette on May 6, 1881.

A visit to Queenstown, the port of embarkation, and a tour of the White Star Line‘s Germanic leads her to successfully lobby to get a Catholic priest aboard the emigrant ship to help ease the passage, at least spiritually. That achievement captures even more public attention by virtue of the fact that O’Brien herself is Protestant. Despite the limit of 1,000 passengers, she notes the steamer has carried as many as 1,775 at one time.

O’Brien presses the Board of Trade for greater vigilance, and in April 1882, founds a 105-bed boarding house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating. The O’Brien Emigrants Home at The Beach, Queenstown fails because it is boycotted by other boardinghouse keepers and local merchants, forcing her to order provisions from Cork.

O’Brien also daily visits three or four of the ships for which her lodgers are destined along with a medical officer. She makes passages herself to America, using the occasion to investigate shipboard conditions and lobby for the reform and enforcement of health and safety standards.

O’Brien finds little effort to provide food, drink or accommodation at the Castle Garden entry facility. She also finds that often the illiterate young women are being tricked into prostitution through spurious offers of employment. Additionally, she notes the high infant mortality rates in the tenements where the women live. She proposes to Archbishop John Ireland of Minnesota an information bureau at Castle Garden, a temporary shelter to provide accommodation for immigrants and a chapel. Archbishop Ireland agrees to raise the matter at the May 1883 meeting of the Irish Catholic Association which endorses the plan and votes to establish an information bureau at Castle Garden. Ireland also contacts Cardinal John McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, about providing a priest for immigrants arriving at Castle Garden.

The Mission opens on January 1, 1884 with Rev. John J. Riordan appointed as the first chaplain at Castle Garden. Immigrant girls needing accommodation are placed in local boarding houses until May 1 when a Home for Immigrant Girls is opened at 7 Broadway. In 1885, the James Watson House at 7 State Street is purchased from Isabella Wallace for the Mission of Our Lady of the Rosary for the Protection of Irish Immigrant Girls to serve as a way station for young immigrant women. Between 1884 and 1890, the Mission provides assistance to 25,000 Irish immigrant women.

In 1881–82, O’Brien embarks on a campaigning lecture tour in the United States. She encounters problems, however, particularly given her Protestant background and the need to enlist support from Catholic clergy. Poor health, and her profound deafness cause her to curtail her activities in America. When she returns to Ireland in 1883, she finds herself suspected of being a British agent whose Emigrant Boarding house and whose plans for an American home for Irish immigrant girls facilitate the government’s assisted emigrant scheme. Supposedly, this would be the scheme that helps landlords clear their estates of poor tenants. In fact, O’Brien opposes assisted emigration, but she continues to assist those who are sent to her.

O’Brien retires from active public work in 1886, moving to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the Shannon Estuary. She spends considerable time in Dublin, where she socialises with Douglas Hyde and the painter William Osbourne. She joins the Roman Catholic Church in 1887. She dies of heart failure on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick.


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Birth of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century, is born at 6 Merrion Street, Dublin, on May 1, 1769.

Wellesley is born to Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington and Anne Wellesley, Countess of Mornington. Fatherless at an early age and neglected by his mother, he is a reserved, withdrawn child. He fails to shine at Eton College and instead attends private classes in Brussels, followed by a military school in Angers, France. Ironically, he has no desire for a military career. Instead he wishes to pursue his love of music. Following his mother’s wishes, however, he joins a Highland regiment.

Wellesley fights at Flanders in Belgium in 1794, and directs the campaign in India in 1796, where his elder brother Richard is Governor-General. Knighted for his efforts, he returns to England in 1805.

In 1806 Wellesley is elected Member of Parliament for Rye, East Sussex, and within a year he is appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland under Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond. He continues with his military career despite his parliamentary duties, fighting campaigns in Portugal and France, and being made commander of the British Army in the Peninsular War. He is given the title Duke of Wellington in 1814, and goes on to command his most celebrated campaigns in the Napoleonic Wars, with final victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. When he returns to Britain he is treated as a hero, formally honoured, and presented with both an estate in Hampshire and a fortune of £400,000.

After the Battle of Waterloo, Wellesley becomes Commander in Chief of the army in occupied France until November 1818. He then returns to England and Parliament, and joins Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool’s government in 1819 as Master-General of the Ordnance. He undertakes a number of diplomatic visits overseas, including a trip to Russia.

In 1828, after twice being overlooked in favour of George Canning and F. J. Robinson, 1st Viscount Goderich, Wellesley is finally invited by King George IV to form his own government and set about forming his Cabinet. As Prime Minister, he is very conservative; known for his measures to repress reform, his popularity sinks a little during his time in office. Yet one of his first achievements is overseeing Catholic emancipation in 1829, the granting of almost full civil rights to Catholics in the United Kingdom. Feelings run very high on the issue. George Finch-Hatton, 10th Earl of Winchilsea, an opponent of the bill, claims that by granting freedoms to Catholics Wellesley “treacherously plotted the destruction of the Protestant constitution.”

Wellesley has a much less enlightened position on parliamentary reform. He defends rule by the elite and refuses to expand the political franchise. His fear of mob rule is enhanced by the riots and sabotage that follow rising rural unemployment. His opposition to reform causes his popularity to plummet to such an extent that crowds gathered to throw missiles at his London home.

The government is defeated in the House of Commons and Wellesley resigns on November 16, 1830, to be replaced by Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. Wellesley, however, continues to fight reform in opposition, though he finally consents to the Great Reform Act in 1832.

Two years later Wellesley refuses a second invitation to form a government because he believes membership in the House of Commons has become essential. The king reluctantly approves Robert Peel, who is in Italy at the time. Hence, Wellesley acts as interim leader for three weeks in November and December 1834, taking the responsibilities of Prime Minister and most of the other ministries. In Peel’s first cabinet (1834–1835), he becomes Foreign Secretary, while in the second (1841–1846) he is a Minister without portfolio and Leader of the House of Lords. Upon Peel’s resignation in 1846, he retires from politics.

In 1848 Wellesley organises a military force to protect London against possible Chartist violence at the large meeting at Kennington Common.

Arthur Wellesley dies at Walmer Castle, Kent, England on September 14, 1852 after a series of seizures. After lying in state in London, he is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Wellington Arch in London’s Hyde Park is named in his honor.

(From: “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,” GOV.UK (wwww.gov.uk) | Pictured: “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)” by Thomas Lawrence, oil on canvas)


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Death of Feargal Quinn, Businessman & Politician

Feargal Quinn, Irish businessman, politician and television personality, dies in Dublin on April 24, 2019. He is the founder of the Superquinn supermarket chain and serves as a Senator in Seanad Éireann representing the National University of Ireland constituency from 1993 to 2016.

Quinn is born in Dublin on November 27, 1936. His father, Eamonn, founds a grocery brand and later the Red Island resort in Skerries, Dublin. He is a first cousin of Labour Party politician Ruairi Quinn and of Lochlann Quinn, former chairman of Allied Irish Banks (AIB). He is educated at Newbridge College and is a commerce graduate of University College Dublin (UCD). He builds a career in business and later takes on a range of public service roles.

Quinn founds the national supermarket chain Superquinn (originally Quinn’s Supermarkets), of which he remains non-executive president for some years after his family sells out their interest in August 2005 for over €400 million. Superquinn is known for its focus on customer service and pioneers a number of innovations, including Ireland’s first supermarket loyalty card in 1993, SuperClub. It also introduces self-scanning of goods by customers in a number of its outlets. Superquinn becomes the first supermarket in the world to guarantee the absolute traceability of all its beef from pasture to plate, using DNA TraceBack, a system developed at Trinity College, Dublin by IdentiGEN.

Quinn becomes the chairman of the Interim Board for Posts and serves as chairman of its successor An Post (the Irish postal administration) until 1989. He also serves on several other public authorities and boards. From 1993 to 1998, he chairs the steering committee which oversees the development of the Leaving Certificate Applied. In 2006, he is appointed an Adjunct Professor in Marketing at National University of Ireland Galway. He is also chairman of Springboard Ireland.

Quinn is a former President of EuroCommerce, the Brussels-based organisation which represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe. He also serves on the board of directors of CIES, the Food Business Forum based in Paris, as well as the American-based Food Marketing Institute.

In 2009, Quinn works with independent shops and helps them to revamp, modernise and stave off stiff competition from multi-national retailers. It airs as RTÉ‘s six-part television series, Feargal Quinn’s Retail Therapy. A second series airs in 2011, and a third series airs in 2012. In 2011, he fronts RTÉ’s Local Heroes campaign in Drogheda, County Louth, which is an assembled team of experts to kick-start the local economy. It airs as RTÉ One‘s six-part television series, Local Heroes – A Town Fights Back.

Quinn is first elected as a senator in 1993 from the National University of Ireland constituency and is re-elected in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2011. He is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service and is an Oireachtas member of the National Economic and Social Forum, along with the Joint Committee on Jobs and Innovation.

Quinn is one of the co-founders and is a driving force behind Democracy Matters – a civil society group that is formed to oppose the Government’s plans to abolish Seanad Éireann. In May 2013, with Senators Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien, he introduces the Seanad Bill 2013 to reform the system of electing the elected members of Seanad Éireann (as provided for in Article 18.10 of the Constitution of Ireland) through a one-person, one vote franchise. The Seanad Bill 2013 succeeds in being passed at Second Stage in the Seanad. During the Seanad abolition referendum campaign, the Bill demonstrates to the electorate, in a very palpable way, that reform of the Seanad is achievable if they vote for its retention. In a referendum held in October 2013 on the Abolition of Seanad Éireann, the people vote to retain the Seanad by 51.7%.

In 2014, Quinn reveals that since being first elected to Seanad Éireann, he has donated his entire salary to charity and in more recent years he has refused to accept any salary. In March 2015, he opposes the Marriage Equality bill in the Seanad, and votes ‘No’ in the referendum. He serves as Chairman of the Independent Alliance. He does not contest the 2016 Seanad election.

Quinn is the recipient of five honorary doctorates from education institutions, including NUI Galway in 2006, a papal knighthood along with a fellowship and the French Ordre National du Mérite. He shares with Oprah Winfrey the 2006 “Listener of the Year” award of the International Listening Association.

Quinn dies peacefully at his home in Howth, County Dublin, on April 24, 2019 following a short illness. His funeral Mass takes place at St. Fintan’s Church in Sutton, north County Dublin. In attendance is President Michael D. Higgins, a representative for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Senator Michael McDowell, and a host of other current and former politicians, business figures, and past colleagues of the “Superquinn family.” Fittingly, the coffin is carried from the church to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”


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Birth of Ciarán Bourke, Founding Member of The Dubliners

Ciarán Bourke, Irish musician and one of the founding members of the Irish folk band The Dubliners, is born in Dublin on February 18, 1935.

Although born in Dublin, Bourke lives most of his life in Tibradden, County Dublin. His father, a doctor, is in practice in the city. The children have an Irish-speaking nanny. His early exposure to Irish continues throughout his education, attending Colaiste Mhuire, Parnell Square, Dublin. He later attends University College Dublin for a course in Agricultural Science. He does not take his degree but always retains an interest in farming.

After leaving university Bourke meets two of his future bandmates in The Dubliners, Ronnie Drew and Barney McKenna, who invite him to join their sessions in O’Donoghue’s Pub where he plays tin whistle, mouth organ and guitar, and sings. Luke Kelly, who had been singing around the clubs in England, returns to Dublin and joins them, with the four gaining local popularity. Taking the name The Dubliners, the group puts together the first folk concert of its kind in Dublin. The concert is a success, then a theatrical production called “A Ballad Tour of Ireland” is staged at the Gate Theatre shortly afterwards. In 1964 fiddle player John Sheahan joins the band and this becomes known as the original Dubliners line-up.

Bourke is responsible for bringing a Gaelic element to The Dubliners’ music with songs such as “Peggy Lettermore” and “Sé Fáth Mo Bhuartha” being performed in the Irish language. He also sings a number of the group’s more lighthearted and humorous numbers such as “Jar of Porter,” “The Dublin Fusiliers,” “The Limerick Rake,” “Mrs. McGrath,” “Darby O’Leary,” “All For Me Grog” and “The Ballad of Ronnie’s Mare,” as well as patriotic songs such as “Roddy McCorley,” “The Enniskillen Dragoons,” “Take It Down From The Mast” and “Henry Joy.”

On April 5, 1974 The Dubliners travel to Eastbourne where they are to appear in concert. Kelly is worried by the way Bourke keeps moving his head about, as if trying to alleviate increasing pain. Four minutes into the second half, it is decided he cannot continue with the show. Kelly insists that a doctor should be phoned and instructs to await their return to the Irish Club at Eaton Square. The roadie for the trip, John Corry, thinks that it is better to drive straight to St. George’s Hospital in London, where the doctors diagnose a brain aneurysm. He is transferred to the Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, while doctors wait for his wife to return from a trip to Ghana, to get her signature before operating. She is told that there is danger of further haemorrhaging. He is operated on at the earliest opportunity. The bleeding begins again while he is on the table which means that they cannot repair the damage, only staunch the bleeding. This leaves him paralysed down his left side and confused as to where he is and what has happened.

Bourke receives intensive therapy, attending a clinic in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin. He is heartened by his progress and insists on rejoining The Dubliners on their next tour of the Continent in November that year.

Bourke’s continued insistence that he is fit enough to join them on the forthcoming German tour causes them considerable disquiet. They prefer he ease himself back to work, with a few small shows in Ireland. The tour gradually begins to take its toll on him, and it is decided that for the sake of his health he should return home. He flies from Brussels to Dublin.

Bourke makes his last public appearance on Ireland’s RTÉ One during The Late Late Show‘s tribute to The Dubliners in 1987. Despite his lingering paralysis he recites “The Lament for Brendan Behan” after which everyone in the studio, led by Ronnie Drew, sing “The Auld Triangle.”

Bourke dies on May 10, 1988 after a long illness. From 1974 until his death he had continued to be paid by the band. A fifth member of the group is not recruited until after his death.


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


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Death of George Alexander Osborne, Composer & Pianist

george-alexander-osborneGeorge Alexander Osborne, Irish composer, pianist and director of the Royal Academy of Music, dies at his home in Regent’s Park, London on November 17, 1893.

Osborne is born in Limerick, County Limerick. He leaves Ireland for Brussels at the age of eighteen, where he is appointed music instructor for the eldest son of the Dutch king, William of Orange, and becomes friends with Charles de Bériot. With de Bériot he is later to compose more than thirty duos for violin and piano, which enjoy great popularity.

In 1830 Osborne fights for the royalists in the Belgian Revolution, and after his capture and release he moves to Paris. Here he studies under Johann Peter Pixis, François-Joseph Fétis and Friedrich Kalkbrenner and becomes friendly with some of the leading musicians of his time including Hector Berlioz and Frédéric Chopin.

In 1843, Osborne settles permanently in London, although he maintains a home in Paris until 1848, when he encourages a nervous Chopin during the latter’s tour of England in 1848. In London he holds directorships of the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Royal Academy of Music and conducts the Amateur Musical Society from 1852.

Osborne’s compositions are mostly on a small scale and include 83 original piano works, 178 transcriptions and fantasias for piano solo, 24 piano duos, 44 vocal works and 55 chamber music pieces. His unpublished works include two operas and some orchestral overtures, all now lost. Berlioz observes that Osborne’s songs and trios are “lofty in style and spacious in design.” One of his most popular compositions is a piano piece entitled La Pluie de perles (Shower of Pearls), which goes through many editions. Some of his piano music is written to display his own virtuosity, while others are conceived as salon music for domestic entertainment.

George Alexander Osborne dies on November 17, 1893 at his home in Regent’s Park, London, at the age of 87.