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 Hunger Striker Edward Martin Hurson

edward-martin-hursonEdward Martin Hurson, Irish republican hunger striker and a volunteer in the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Cappagh, County Tyrone, on September 13, 1956.

Hurson is one of nine children born to Johnnie and Mary Ann Hurson. Both of his parents come from the Cappagh district, and every member of the family is born into the white-washed farmhouse perched precipitously on top of the thirty hilly acres of rough land. Martin is close to the land as he grows up. He is educated to a primary level at Crosscavanagh Primary School in Galbally and at secondary level in St. Patrick’s, Galbally. When he is not at school he is more often than not helping out about the farm, driving a tractor, helping to rear “croppy pigs,” or looking after cattle.

After leaving school, he works as an apprentice fitter welder for a while before going to Manchester, England where he stays for eighteen months with his brother Francis and works in the building trade. Returning to County Tyrone around Christmas of 1974, both he and his brother spend time in Bundoran, County Donegal, a known IRA training and supply centre.

Hurson, together with Kevin O’Brien, Dermot Boyle, Peter Kane, and Pat O’Neill are arrested and taken to the Omagh Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks on November 11, 1976. He is beaten about the head, back, and testicles, spread-eagled against a wall and across a table, slapped, punched, and kicked. Under torture Martin signs statements admitting involvement in republican activity. On Saturday night, November 13, Martin is charged with a landmine explosion at Galbally in November 1975.

This charge is later dropped, but he is then further charged with IRA membership and explosive offences. Hurson spends a year on remand before being convicted in November 1977 and sentenced to 20 years for possession of landmines and conspiracy. He appeals his conviction on the grounds that the judge had ignored medical evidence about his ill-treatment.

The appeal is dismissed but he is granted a retrial. At the four-day trial in September 1979, the Omagh statements are ruled inadmissible, but instead of Martin walking free the judge goes on to accept the admissibility of the Cookstown statements, themselves extracted under threat of renewed torture. Following his retrial he appeals his conviction once again, challenging the admissibility of the Cookstown statements, but his appeal is disallowed in June 1980.

Hurson becomes engaged to his long-term girlfriend, Bernadette Donnelly, while in prison. He is part of the blanket protest and joins the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike on May 28, replacing South Derryman Brendan McLaughlin who withdraws following a perforated stomach ulcer.

He loses the ability to hold down water after approximately 40 days on hunger strike, and suffers a horrifically agonising death due to dehydration at 4:30 AM on July 13, after only 46 days on hunger strike, considerably shorter than any other hunger striker. Near the end his family considers the possibility of intervening to save his life, but they are told that he will likely have permanent brain damage.