seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Buttevant Rail Disaster

buttevant-rail-disasterThe Buttevant Rail Disaster, a train crash that occurs at Buttevant Railway Station, County Cork, takes place on August 1, 1980. More than 70 people are injured, and 18 die, resulting as one of Ireland’s worst rail disasters to ever occur and the country’s worst rail disaster during peacetime history.

At 12:45 the 10:00 am Dublin (Heuston) to Cork (Kent) express train enters Buttevant Railway Station carrying some 230 bank holiday passengers. The train is diverted off the main line across a 1:8 temporary set of points into a siding. The locomotive remains upright but carriages immediately behind the engine and generator van jack-knife and are thrown across four sets of rail lines. Two coaches and the dining car are totally demolished by the impact. It results in the deaths of 18 people and over 70 people being injured.

The accident happens because a set of manual facing points are set to direct the train into the siding. These points are installed about four months previously and have not yet been connected to the signal cabin. The permanent way maintenance staff are expecting a stationary locomotive at the Up platform to move into the siding, and set the points for the diversion to the siding, without obtaining permission from the signalman. Upon seeing that this has been done, the signalman at Buttevant manually sets the signals to the Danger aspect and informs the pointsman to reset the points. The train is traveling too fast to stop in time. The train is moving at approximately 60 mph when the derailment occurs.

The train consists of one locomotive, a generator van and eleven coaches. Six of the coaches consist of wooden bodies on steel underframes. Four of these are either destroyed or badly damaged in the impact, the two which survive being at the rear of the train. The remainder of the coaches are light alloy Cravens stock and most survive the crash.

This event, and the subsequent Cherryville junction accident, which kills a further seven people, account for 70% of all Irish rail deaths over a 28-year period. CIÉ and the Government come under severe public pressure to improve safety and to modernise the fleet. A major review of the national rail safety policy is held and results in the rapid elimination of the wooden-bodied coaches that had formed part of the train.

The passengers who are most severely injured or killed are seated in coaches with wooden frames. This structure is incapable of surviving a high speed crash and does not come near to the safety standards provided by modern (post-1950s) metal-body coaches. The expert bodies that review the accident discover that the old timber-frame carriage bodies mounted on a steel frame are totally inadequate as they are prone to complete collapse under the enormous compression forces of a high-speed collision.

The more modern steel-framed carriage bodies survive due to their greater structural rigidity. On this basis the decision to purchase a new fleet of modern intercity coaches based on the British Rail Mark 3 design is quickly made. The Mark 3’s longitudinally corrugated roof can survive compression forces of over 300 tonnes. These coaches, an already well proven design, are built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) in Derby, England and, under licence, at CIÉ’s own workshops at Inchicore Railway Works in Dublin between 1983 and 1989.


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The Stardust Nightclub Fire

stardust-ballroom-artaneThe Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames in the early hours of February 14, 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 die and 214 are injured as a result of the fire.

The fire starts due to an electrical fault in a first floor store room inside the building that is open to the roof space. The non-compliant storage room contains dangerously flammable materials including drums of cooking oil. The staff observes a small fire outbreak on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and fail in an attempt to extinguish it. This fire apparently starts after fire in the roof space comes through the roof tiles and falls onto the seat. The fire then spreads to tables and chairs and patrons notice smoke. The disc jockey announces that there is a small fire and requests a calm evacuation.

Outside, the fire is first spotted by a lady 200 metres from the Stardust and she calls the Dublin Fire Brigade. Within the same minute of her call, two other calls are made from the Stardust building to tell the Fire Brigade that there is a small fire on a seat in the ballroom. The fire is very small when first seen in the ballroom. Within two minutes a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly start coming from the ceiling, causing the material in the ceiling to melt and drip on top of patrons and other highly flammable materials including the seats and carpet tiles on the walls. The fire flashover envelopes the club and the lights fail.

The attendees at a trade union function taking place in the same building make their escape but the escape of some of the Stardust patrons is hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits are padlocked around the push bars and consequently are impossible to open.

The failure of the lighting in the club leads to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively run for the main entrance. Many people mistake the entrance to the men’s toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there have metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempt in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescue 25 to 30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Civil Defence Ireland, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St. John Ambulance Ireland are dispatched to the scene. Many ambulances leave the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIÉ also sends buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations ask people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured and dying, in particular Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Jervis Street Hospital and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals.

The investigation at the time reports that the cause of the fire is arson. The finding of arson has recently been ruled out by investigators, as there was never any evidence to support the arson finding, even at the time of the tragedy.

There are allegations of a huge cover-up as to the cause of so many fatalities. There is a meeting before the public inquiry in 1981 of all of the experts including the Judge when the concept of arson is determined to be the cause to protect the Dublin Corporation from having to pay out millions in compensation to the victims and families. The Coolock Garda investigation is excellent but the Tribunal distorts the evidence. The Inquiry Report and the team of experts and coached witnesses conspire to conceal the truth and determine arson to be the cause without any evidence.

The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.


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Burning of the Sligo Railway Station

sligo-railway-stationForty Republicans burn the railway station in Sligo, County Sligo on January 11, 1923 during the Irish Civil War, destroying it and badly damaging seven engines and forty carriages. Seven engines are sent down the line to the quay and one crashes through a concrete wall into the harbour.

The Great Southern and Western Railway Company releases a report detailing the damage Anti-Treaty forces have caused to their property over the previous six months – 375 lines damaged, 42 engines derailed, 51 over-bridges and 207 under-bridges destroyed, 83 signal cabins, and 13 other buildings destroyed. In the same month, Republicans destroy the railway stations at Ballybunion and Listowel.

The Sligo station opens on December 3, 1862 when Sligo acquires rail links to Dublin. The Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway link to Enniskillen to the north in 1881. A link to Limerick and the south follows in 1895. The line to Enniskillen closes in 1957 and passenger services to Limerick close in 1963. For many years CIÉ keeps the latter line open for freight traffic, and although it is now disused, it forms part of the Western Rail Corridor redevelopment project.

In 1966 Sligo railway station is renamed Sligo Mac Diarmada Station after Irish rebel Seán Mac Diarmada from County Leitrim.

Today, Sligo Mac Diarmada station is a mainline railway station which serves the town of Sligo. It is a terminal station, with two platforms. There is a passing loop at the approach to the station. Iarnród Éireann, Ireland’s national railway operator, runs inter-city rail services between Sligo and Dublin on the Dublin-Sligo railway line.


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Birth of Jim Sheridan, Playwright, Director & Producer

jim-sheridanJim Sheridan, Irish playwright, screenwriter, film director, and film producer, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1949. In the few years from 1989 to 1993, Sheridan makes three acclaimed films set in Ireland (My Left Foot, The Field, and In the Name of the Father) that between them receive a remarkable 13 Academy Award nominations. Sheridan has personally received six Academy Award nominations. In addition to the above-mentioned films, he is also known for the films The Boxer and In America.

Sheridan is born to Anna and Peter Sheridan Snr and raised in the inner city of Dublin. He is the brother of playwright Peter Sheridan. The family runs a lodging house, while Anna Sheridan works at a hotel and Peter Sheridan Snr is a railway clerk with CIÉ. Sheridan’s early education is at a Christian Brothers school. In 1969 he attends University College Dublin to study English and History. He becomes involved in student theater there, where he meets Neil Jordan, who also is later to become an important Irish film director. After graduating from UCD in 1972, Sheridan and his brother begin writing and staging plays, and together found the Project Theatre Company.

In 1981, Sheridan emigrates to Canada, but eventually settles in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. He enrolls in New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts and becomes the artistic director of the Irish Arts Center.

Sheridan returns to Ireland in the late 1980s. In 1989, he directs My Left Foot, which becomes a critical and commercial success and wins Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker Academy Awards. He follows that with The Field starring Richard Harris in 1990, then with In the Name of the Father in 1993, a fictionalized re-telling of the case of the Guildford Four. The film wins the Golden Bear at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1996 he co-writes Some Mother’s Son with Terry George. The Boxer, with Daniel Day-Lewis, is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best film drama in 1997. In 2003, he releases the semi-autobiographical In America, which tells the story of a family of Irish immigrants trying to succeed in New York. The film receives positive reviews and earns Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou Academy Award nominations. In 2005 he releases Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a film starring rap star 50 Cent. He is connected with the upcoming film adaptation of Artemis Fowl and is rumoured to have written the screenplay and been asked to direct it.

Sheridan helms the 2009 film Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is shot in New Mexico. He also directs the thriller Dream House, which stars Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz.

Sheridan has a wife, Fran, and three daughters, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, and Tess Sheridan, with whom he has collaborated, most notably with Naomi and Kirsten on the screenplay for In America.


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Construction Begins on the Royal Canal

royal-canal-old-mill-dublinConstruction begins on the Royal Canal on October 24, 1789. The canal is originally built for freight and passenger transportation from the River Liffey in Dublin to Longford.

In 1755, Thomas Williams and John Cooley make a survey to find a suitable route for a man-made waterway across north Leinster from Dublin to the River Shannon. They originally plan to use a series of rivers and lakes, including the Boyne, Blackwater, Deel, Yellow, Camlin, and Inny and Lough Derravaragh.

Work commences in 1789 and lasts 27 years before finally reaching the River Shannon in 1817, at a total cost of £1,421,954. Construction is unexpectedly expensive and the project is riven with problems. In 1794 the Royal Canal Company is declared bankrupt. The Duke of Leinster, a board member, insists that the new waterway take in his local town of Maynooth. The builders have to deviate from the planned route and necessitate the construction of a ‘deep sinking’ between Blanchardstown and Clonsilla. The diversion also calls for the building of the Ryewater Aqueduct, at Leixlip.

royal-canal-kinnegadThe canal passes through Maynooth, Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar and Ballymahon has a spur to Longford. The total length of the main navigation is 145 kilometres (90 miles), and the system has 46 locks. There is one main feeder, from Lough Owel, which enters the canal at Mullingar.

In 200 years it has been maintained by eight successive agencies – the Royal Canal Company, the Commissioners of Inland Navigation, the New Royal Canal Company, Midland Great Western Railway Company, Great Southern Railways, CIÉ, and the Office of Public Works.

The canal falls into disrepair in the late 20th century, but much of the canal has since been restored for navigation. The length of the canal to the River Shannon is reopened on October 1, 2010, but the final spur branch of the canal to Longford Town remains closed.

(Pictured: Royal Canal as it enters Dublin city centre (left) and Royal Canal in rural County Westmeath north of Kinnegad (right)