seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”

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Murder of Shane “the Proud” O’Neill

shane-o-neillShane O’Neill, Irish patriot known by the nickname “Shane the Proud,” is murdered in what is now Cushendum, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on June 2, 1567. He is among the most famous of all the O’Neills.

O’Neill, the eldest legitimate son of Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, is a chieftain whose support the English consider worth gaining. However, he rejects overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, and refuses to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim. He allies himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants. Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth I of England is disposed to come to terms with O’Neill who, after his father’s death, is de facto chief of the O’Neill clan. She recognizes his claims to the chieftainship, thus throwing over a kinsman, Brian O’Neill. O’Neill, however, refuses to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety and his claims are so exacting that Elizabeth determines to restore Brian. An attempt to incite the O’Donnells against him, however, is frustrated.

Elizabeth, who is not prepared to undertake the subjugation of the Irish chieftain, urgently desires peace with O’Neill, especially when the devastation of his territory by Sussex brings him no nearer to submission. Sussex is not supported by the queen, who sends Gerald FitzGerald,  11th Earl of Kildare to arrange terms with O’Neill. The latter agrees to present himself before Elizabeth. Accompanied by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde and Kildare, he reaches London on January 4, 1562. Elizabeth temporizes but, finding that O’Neill is in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, permits him to return to Ireland, recognizing him as “the O’Neill,” and chieftain of Tyrone.

There are at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O’Neill family in Ireland — O’Neill, Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and Matthew Ó Néill, 1st Baron Dungannon. Turlough had schemed to supplant O’Neill during his absence in London. The feud does not long survive O’Neill’s return to Ireland, where he reestablishes his authority and renews his turbulent tribal warfare. Elizabeth at last authorizes Sussex to take the field against O’Neill, but two expeditions fail. O’Neill then lays the entire blame for his lawless conduct on the lord deputy’s repeated alleged attempts on his life. Elizabeth consents to negotiate, and practically all of O’Neill’s demands are conceded.

O’Neill then turns his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he is serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fights an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and in 1565 he routs the MacDonnells and takes Sorley Boy prisoner near Ballycastle. This victory strengthens O’Neill’s position, but the English make preparations for his subjugation.

Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O’Neill is utterly routed by the O’Donnells at the Battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny and, seeking safety in flight, throws himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presents himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast, hoping to propose an alliance. Here, on June 2, 1567, he is killed by the MacDonnells and his headless body is buried at Crosskern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His body is possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. Unbeknownst to O’Neill, The Scots had already come to an agreement with Henry Sidney and William Piers, Seneschal of Clandeboye, commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus. The English Government tries to pass this off as a “drunken brawl” turned savage. Piers travels to Cushendun to take O’Neill’s head and send it to Dublin Castle.


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The Battle of Connor

grave-of-king-edward-de-bruceThe Battle of Connor is fought on September 10, 1315, in the townland of Tannybrake just over a mile north of what is now the modern village of Connor, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It is part of the Bruce campaign in Ireland.

Edward Bruce lands in Larne, in modern-day County Antrim, on May 26, 1315. In early June, Donall Ó Néill of Tyrone and some twelve fellow northern Kings and lords meet Bruce at Carrickfergus and swear fealty to him as King of Ireland. Bruce holds the town of Carrickfergus but is unable to take Carrickfergus Castle. His army continues to spread south, through the Moyry Pass to take Dundalk.

Outside the town of Dundalk, Bruce encounters an army led by John FitzThomas FitzGerald, 4th Lord of Offaly, his son-in-law Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick and Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Baron Desmond. The Scottish push them back towards Dundalk and on June 29 lay waste to the town and its inhabitants.

By July 22 Edmund Butler, the Justiciar in Dublin, assembles an army from Munster and Leinster to join Richard Óg de Burgh, 2nd Earl of Ulster, to fight Bruce. De Burgh refuses to let the government troops into Ulster, fearing widespread damage to his land. Bruce is able to exploit their dispute and defeat them separately.

Bruce slowly retreats north, drawing de Burgh in pursuit. Bruce and his O’Neill allies sack Coleraine, destroying the bridge over the River Bann to delay pursuit. Edward sends word to Fedlim Ó Conchobair that he will support his position as king in Connacht if he withdraws. He sends the same message to rival claimant Ruaidri mac Cathal Ua Conchobair. Cathal immediately returns home, raises a rebellion and declares himself king. De Burgh’s Connacht allies under Felim then follow as Felim leaves to defend his throne. Bruce’s force then crosses the River Bann in boats and attacks. The Earl of Ulster withdraws to Connor.

The armies meet in Connor on September 10, 1315. The superior force of Bruce and his Irish allies defeat the depleted Ulster forces. The capture of Connor permits Bruce to re-supply his army for the coming winter from the stores the Earl of Ulster had assembled at Connor. Earl’s cousin, William de Burgh, is captured, as well as, other lords and their heirs. Most of his army retreats to Carrickfergus Castle, which the pursuing Scots put under siege. The Earl of Ulster manages to return to Connacht.

The government forces under Butler do not engage Bruce, allowing him to consolidate his hold in Ulster. His occupation of Ulster encourages risings in Meath and Connacht, further weakening de Burgh. Despite this, and another Scottish/Irish victory at the Battle of Skerries, the campaign is to be defeated at the Battle of Faughart.

(Pictured: Grave of King Edward Bruce, Faughart, County Louth)


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The Rathlin Island Massacre

bruces-castle-ruinsThe Rathlin Island massacre takes place on Rathlin Island, off the coast of what is now Northern Ireland, on July 26, 1575. More than 600 Scots and Irish are killed.

Rathlin Island is used as a sanctuary because of its natural defences and rocky shores. In earlier times, when the wind blows from the west it is almost impossible to land a boat. It is also respected as a hiding place, as it is the one-time abode of Saint Columba. Installing themselves in Rathlin Castle (also known as Bruce’s Castle), the MacDonnells of Antrim make Rathlin their base for resistance to the Enterprise of Ulster. Their military leader, Sorley Boy MacDonnell (Scottish Gaelic: Somhairle Buidhe Mac Domhnaill) and other Scots have thought it prudent to send their wives, children, elderly, and sick to Rathlin Island for safety.

Acting on the instructions of Sir Henry Sidney and the Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys take the castle by storm. Drake uses two cannons to batter the castle and when the walls give in, Norreys orders direct attack on July 25, and the Garrison surrenders. Norreys sets the terms of surrender, whereupon the constable, his family, and one of the hostages are given safe passage and all other defending soldiers are killed. On July 26, 1575, Norreys’ forces hunt the old, sick, very young and women who are hiding in the caves. Despite the surrender, they kill all the 200 defenders and more than 400 civilian men, women and children. Sir Francis Drake is also charged with the task of preventing any Scottish reinforcement vessels from reaching the island.

The entire family of Sorley Boy MacDonnell perishes in the massacre. Essex, who orders the killings, boasts in a letter to Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s secretary and spymaster, that Sorley Boy MacDonnell watched the massacre from the mainland helplessly and was “like to run mad from sorrow.”

Norreys stays on the island and tries to rebuild the walls of the castle so that the English might use the structure as a fortress. As Drake is not paid to defend the island, he departs with his ships. Norreys realises that it is not possible to defend the island without intercepting Scottish galleys and he returns to Carrickfergus in September 1575.

(Pictured: the ruins of Rathlin Castle)


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The 1994 Shankill Road Killings

trevor-king-muralThe 1994 Shankill Road killings take place on June 16, 1994. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) shoot dead Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members Trevor King, Colin Craig and David Hamilton on the Shankill Road in Belfast, close to the UVF headquarters.

On June 16, 1994, high-ranking UVF Commander volunteer Trevor King is standing on the Shankill Road about one hundred yards from “The Eagle,” the UVF’s Belfast GHQ, talking to fellow UVF members David Hamilton and Colin Craig. A car drives past them and as it does so Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) gunmen inside the vehicle open fire on the three men. The car is later found burning close to Divis Tower.

David Lister and Hugh Jordan claim that Gino Gallagher, who is himself shot dead in 1996 during an internal dispute, is the main gunman in the attack. However, Henry McDonald and Jack Holland say that Gallagher is inside the car which is scouting the area for UVF members, and not one of the gunmen.

Colin Craig is killed on the spot. King and David Hamilton lay in the street, seriously wounded as panic and chaos erupt on the Shankill in the wake of the shooting. Presbyterian minister Roy Magee is in “The Eagle” discussing an upcoming Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) meeting and the possibility of a loyalist ceasefire with the UVF Brigade Staff when the attack takes place. He and the others race out of the building after hearing the gunfire.

King is rushed to the hospital where he is put on a life-support machine. The shooting has left him paralysed from the neck down. He dies on July 9 with Reverend Magee at his bedside. According to Magee, King himself makes the decision to turn off the machine.

The killings are a blow for the Northern Ireland peace process and a morale boost for the INLA. The attack is the INLA’s most notorious since the Droppin Well bombing in 1982 which killed seventeen people, eleven British soldiers and 6 civilians.

The following day, the UVF launches two retaliatory attacks. In the first, UVF members shoot dead a Catholic civilian taxi driver in Carrickfergus. In the second, they shoot dead two Protestant civilians in Newtownabbey, whom they believe to be Catholics. Two days after the killings the UVF decide to launch another revenge attack when they kill six Catholic civilians in a bar while they are watching the Ireland vs. Italy 1994 FIFA World Cup game opener in what becomes known as the Loughinisland massacre. The tit-for-tat attacks continue during the spring and summer of 1994 until the Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefire of August 31, 1994 and the Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire in October. The attacks on the Shankill are the INLA’s deadliest attacks of the 1990s.

When interviewed for Boston College for research on the conflict, Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine suggests the INLA might have been working in cahoots with the Provisional IRA in targeting prominent Loyalists, as the month after the Provisional IRA kill three leading Ulster Defence Association (UDA) men.

(Pictured: Trevor King mural, Disraeli Street, May 2012)


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The Islandmagee Witch Trial

islandmagee-witch-trialEight women from Islandmagee, County Antrim, in what is today Northern Ireland, are imprisoned and pilloried on March 31, 1711 for “bewitching” a woman named Mary Dunbar, who has experienced strange fits and visions. The Islandmagee witch trial takes place in 1710–1711 on Islandmagee and is believed to be the last witch trial to take place in Ireland.

In March 1711, in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, eight women are put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft. The women are put in stocks and then jailed for one year. The trial is the result of a claim by Mrs. James Haltridge that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, throwing Bibles, going into fits every time a clergyman came near her and vomiting household items such as pins, buttons, nails, glass and wool.” Assisted by local authorities, Dunbar picks out eight women she claims are witches that have attacked her in spectral form.

During the trial, Mary Dunbar is dumb and unable to give evidence. Evidence is given by twenty individuals, of whom four are clergymen of the Presbyterian church. The trial lasts from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM. For the accused, it is said they are industrious, attend public worship, some having latterly received the sacrament. Judge Upton says, “real witches could not assume or retain the form of religion by frequenting worship. The jury should not find them guilty on the sole testimony of the visionary images of the afflicted person.” Judge Macartney believes they might, from the evidence, bring them in guilty and they do.

According to Andrew Sneddon, history lecturer at University of Ulster, “Mary Dunbar was making up the whole thing.” Sneddon writes that “Mary Dunbar learned the part of a demoniac from accounts about Salem or Scotland, or someone told her about it. Remember, this was a time when people were pouring in from Scotland.”

Records of what happened to Mary Dunbar or those convicted of witchcraft are apparently lost when the Public Records Office in question is burned down in June 1922 during the Battle of Dublin in the Irish Civil War.

A memorial to the eight women convicted is proposed by the author Martina Devlin. However the memorial is objected to by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) councillor Jack McKee who believes the plaque could become a “shrine to paganism” and furthermore states that he is not convinced the women were not guilty and that he believes the proposal to be “anti-god.”


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Birth of Margaret Dobbs, Irish Scholar & Playwright

feis-na-ngleannMargaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish Language, is born in Dublin on November 19, 1871.

Dobbs’ father, Conway Edward Dobbs, is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875, and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. The family spends time living in Dublin which is where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish. However, when her father dies in 1898 her mother, Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland Eglantine, moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs’ interest in learning Irish continues and she finds it easier to learn in Donegal where the language is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. Dobbs is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The “Great Feis” takes place in Antrim in 1904. Dobbs is a founding member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are ever performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. However, her plays are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique, and in the Irish magazine Eriu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and, although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known, she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. She also is a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

She dies in Portnagalon, County Antrim, on January 2, 1962.