seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


Leave a comment

Death of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich

tomas-o-fiaichRoman Catholic Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh and an ardent Irish nationalist, dies of cardiac arrest in a hospital at Toulouse, France at the age of 66 on May 8, 1990 after falling ill on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is a Catholic shrine where a peasant girl reported a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Miraculous cures have been reported there.

Ó Fiaich is born Thomas Fee on November 3, 1923 in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, within sight of the border with the Republic of Ireland. He changes his name to the Gaelic form as his love of the Irish language and nationalist sentiments develop.

An announcement of the death, issued by the church’s press office in both Belfast and Dublin, says Ó Fiaich had appeared unwell to doctors accompanying the group of 600 pilgrims from his seat at Armagh in Northern Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is admitted first to a hospital in Lourdes, then flown by helicopter to Toulouse. Philippe Giovanni, director of the Rangueil Hospital there, says the cardinal died of a brutal cardiac arrest soon after being admitted.

While calling for a unified Ireland and criticizing British policy in Northern Ireland, Ó Fiaich, whose name is pronounced O’Fee, also castigates the violence of the Irish Republican Army, the predominantly Catholic outlawed guerrilla army that seeks to end British rule in Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

Ó Fiaich is appointed spiritual leader of Ireland’s four million Catholics in in 1977. Two years later Pope John Paul II makes him one of the first cardinals of his papacy.

Tributes to Ó Fiaich poured in from some both sides of the Irish border. In Dublin, Taoiseach Charles Haughey says he is “devastated, … deeply grieved.” Britain’s top official in Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Peter Brooke, also expresses sadness. “We did not always agree about everything, but he treated me with the greatest possible courtesy, friendliness and warmth.”

However hardline Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party says Ó Fiaich is “the mallet of Rome against the Protestants of Northern Ireland.” He claims Ó Fiaich had “made an outrageous statement that the majority of bigotry in Ulster stemmed from the Protestant section of the community” and added, “He did not seem to realize that the IRA, which is carrying out the most atrocious of outrages … were the people who needed to be indicted with bigotry.”

In Belfast, Ulster Television suspends scheduled programs for an hour and airs a religious program and a news program about the cardinal.

Ó Fiaich retains close ties to Armagh, which had been dubbed “bandit country” because of the IRA activity. From the time he becomes primate, he speaks publicly of his wishes for a united Ireland. He visits IRA guerrillas in jail, calls the British Army’s fatal shooting of an Irish civilian murder, and says the border dividing Ireland is “unnatural.”

Following his death, Ó Fiaich lies in state at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, where thousands of people line up to pay their respects.

(From: AP News, apnews.com, May 8, 1990)


Leave a comment

Death of Boxer Jerry “Irish” Quarry

jerry-quarryJerry Quarry, American heavyweight boxer nicknamed “Irish” or “The Bellflower Bomber,” dies on January 3, 1999, in Templeton, California. He is the most visible member of a significant Irish American boxing family, which includes three other pro boxers, his father and two brothers.

Quarry is born on May 15, 1945, in Bakersfield, California and first puts on a pair of boxing gloves when he is three years old. By the time he is eight, he has won the Junior Golden Gloves at the 45 lb. class. He continues to fight as an amateur until 1964 when he culminates a great amateur career by winning the National Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship and is the tournament’s most outstanding fighter. He sets a record that is still standing today. He wins the title by knocking out all five opponents over a three day span.

Under the watchful eyes of his co-managers, his dad and veteran fight manager Johnnie Flores, Quarry turns professional in May 1965. He runs off twelve wins in a row before running into Tony Doyle and is held to his first draw. He also has two draws with Tony Alongi. His first loss comes in his 21st pro bout, against the tough veteran Eddie Machen. His loss is attributed to poor conditioning and at the time Jerry promises that poor conditioning will never cost him another bout. He defeats Joey Orbillo, Alex Miteff, Billy Daniels, Floyd Patterson, Buster Mathis, Brian London, Jack Bodell, Mac Foster, Ron Lyle, and Thad Spencer just to name a few.

Quarry loses a disputed 15-round decision to Jimmy Ellis for the World Boxing Association version of the Heavyweight title that had been stripped away from Muhammad Ali.

Boxing Illustrated names Quarry the most popular professional boxer in the world in 1968, 1969 and in 1970 is tied with Muhammad Ali to share the honor. He fights Muhammad Ali in what is billed as the return of the champ. Quarry gets cut early in the fight and receives eighteen stitches as a result of the loss.

Quarry comes along in a boxing era that many consider to be the best of all time. In the middle 1970’s he manages himself and is trained by Gil Clancy. He continues to fight on occassion until 1992. His record over his 28-year career is 53-9-4 with 32 knockouts. He is inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1995.

Within a few years of his final bout, Quarry is diagnosed with dementia and is soon unable to feed or dress himself and has to be cared for by relatives, primarily his brother James, the only one of the four Quarry brothers not to box professionally. He is hospitalized with pneumonia on December 28, 1998 and then suffers cardiac arrest. He never regains consciousness and dies on January 3, 1999. He is interred at Shafter Cemetery in Shafter, California. A foundation is established in his honor to battle boxing-related dementia, a condition that has afflicted many boxers and brought Quarry’s life to an early end.