seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Margaret Hassan, Irish-born Aid Worker in Iraq

Margaret Hassan, Irish-born aid worker also known as “Madam Margaret,” is born Margaret Fitzsimons in Dalkey, County Dublin on April 18, 1945. She works in Iraq for many years until she is abducted and murdered by unidentified kidnappers in Iraq in 2004. Her remains have never been recovered.

Soon after the end of World War II Hassan’s family moves to London, where she spends most of her early life and where her younger siblings are born. At the age of 27, she marries Tahseen Ali Hassan, a 29-year-old Iraqi studying engineering in the United Kingdom. She moves to Iraq with him in 1972, where she begins work with the British Council of Baghdad, teaching English. Eventually she learns Arabic and becomes an Iraqi citizen.

During the early 1980s, Hassan becomes the assistant director of studies at the British Council, later becoming director. Meanwhile, her husband works as an economist. She remains in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, although the British Council suspends operations in Iraq, and she is left jobless at the end of it.

Hassan joins humanitarian relief organisation CARE International in 1991. Sanitation, health, and nutrition become major concerns in the sanctioned Iraq. She is crucially involved in bringing leukemia medicine to child cancer victims in Iraq in 1998. She becomes a vocal critic of the United Nations restrictions. She is opposed to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that the Iraqis are already “living through a terrible emergency. They do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.”

By 2004, Hassan is head of Iraqi operations for CARE. Well known in many of Baghdad’s slums and other cities, she is especially interested in Iraq’s young people, whom she calls “the lost generation.” Her presence draws large crowds of locals.

Hassan is kidnapped in Baghdad on October 19, 2004, and is killed some weeks later on November 8. In a video released of her in captivity she pleads for help and begs British Prime Minister Tony Blair to remove British troops from Iraq. She adds that she does not “want to die like Mr. Bigley,” a reference to Kenneth Bigley, who had been executed in Iraq only weeks earlier.

Patients of an Iraqi hospital take to the streets in protest against the hostage takers’ actions. On October 25, between 100 and 200 Iraqis protest outside CARE’s offices in Baghdad, demanding her release. Prominent elements of the Iraqi insurgency and Iraqi political figures condemn the kidnapping and call for her release. On November 2, Al Jazeera reports that the kidnappers threatened to hand her over to the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and who is responsible for the execution of Bigley. On November 6, a statement purportedly from al-Zarqawi appears on an Islamist website calling for the release of Hassan unless the kidnappers have information she is aligned with the invading coalition. The statement cannot be authenticated and Hassan’s whereabouts in the video are unknown.

On 15 November, U.S. Marines in Fallujah uncover the body of an unidentified blonde- or grey-haired woman with her legs and arms cut off and throat slit. The body cannot be immediately identified, but is thought unlikely to be Hassan, who has brown hair. There is one other western woman known missing in Iraq at the time the body is discovered, Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish-born long-time Iraqi resident. Khalifa is released by her hostage takers on November 20.

On November 16, CNN reports that CARE has issued a statement indicating that the organisation is aware of a videotape showing Hassan’s execution. Al-Jazeera reports that it has received a tape showing Hassan’s murder but is unable to confirm its authenticity. The video shows Hassan being shot with a handgun by a masked man. It is not known who is responsible for Hassan’s abduction and murder. The group holding her never identifies itself in the hostage videos.

She remains a Roman Catholic throughout her life and never converts to Islam as is widely reported after her death. A Requiem Mass is held for her, after her death is confirmed, at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

CARE International suspends operations in Iraq because of Hassan’s kidnapping. At least eight other women kidnapped by insurgents during the conflict are released unharmed by their captors. It is unclear why Hassan, who was opposed to the war, lived in Iraq for many years, held Iraqi citizenship, was married to an Arab Muslim and spoke fluent Arabic was killed.

On May 1, 2005, three men are questioned by Iraqi police in connection with the murder. On June 5, 2006, news reports emerge that an Iraqi man by the name of Mustafa Salman al-Jubouri has been sentenced to life imprisonment for “aiding and abetting the kidnappers” but two other men are acquitted. Al-Jubouri appeals this sentence and is given a shorter imprisonment.

An Iraqi man named Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, also known as Abu Rasha, an architect from Baghdad, is arrested by Iraqi and U.S. forces in 2008 after contacting the British Embassy in Baghdad and attempting to extort 1 million dollars in return for disclosing the location of Hassan’s body. Though Jassar signs statements confessing to the charges, he pleads not guilty, stating he was forced to sign them after receiving beatings and electrical shocks during questioning.

On June 2, 2009, the Press Association reports that Jassar is given a life sentence by Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court for being involved in Hassan’s abduction and murder, and for attempting to blackmail the British Embassy. Hassan’s family welcomes the court’s decision but pleads with Jassar to tell them where her body is so they can return her to Britain for burial. On July 14, 2010, a day before Jassar is due to appear in court for retrial, it is reported that he could not be located in the prison facility where he was being held. He had been missing for a month.


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Claire McCollum Proposes to Alastair Clarke

claire-mccollumClaire McCollum, newsreader at Downtown Radio in Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland, makes headlines herself on February 29, 2000 when she proposes on air to Dungannon and Ulster rugby star Alastair Clarke and he accepts.

McCollum is born on June 5, 1974 in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. An MA graduate at the University of Dundee, she begins her career in broadcasting with Macmillan Media in 1997. She also works as a researcher for CNN and as a newsreader on Downtown Radio.

McCollum joins UTV in March 2000. As well as presenting and reporting for UTV Sport, she has also presented UTV News bulletins and Sport on Sunday.

In February 2009, McCollum announces she is leaving UTV as part of a voluntary redundancy scheme at the station. In an interview with a regional newspaper, she announces her intention to become a freelance broadcast journalist.

Following her departure from UTV, McCollum builds up her portfolio with BBC Northern Ireland. She becomes synonymous with many of Northern Ireland television’s highest profile events. She co-hosts BBC Proms in the Park at Titanic Slipways, the Olympic flame arriving at Belfast City Hall and the Clipper Homecoming in Derry.

McCollum also presents and reports on two series of the popular BBC Northern Ireland consumer programme In Your Corner and covers many major sporting events including the North West 200, Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Northern Ireland’s Football World Cup qualifiers, Tennis Legends in Belfast and the Belfast International Horse Show. She is also a regular presenter on Balmoral Agricultural Show and Children In Need programmes and hosts the second glittering ‘Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing’ extravaganza for Children in Need.

McCollum and Clarke have two children and reside in her hometown of Newtownabbey, County Antrim.


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The Ordination of Sinéad O’Connor

sinead-oconnorSinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter also known as Magda Davitt, is ordained as a priest in Lourdes on April 22, 1999 by Bishop Michael Cox of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, an Independent Catholic group not in communion with the Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church considers ordination of women to be invalid and asserts that a person attempting the sacrament of ordination upon a woman incurs excommunication. The bishop had contacted her to offer ordination following her appearance on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, during which she tells the presenter, Gay Byrne, that had she not been a singer, she would have wished to have been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she indicates that she wishes to be called Mother Bernadette Mary.

In a July 2007 interview with Christianity Today, O’Connor states that she considers herself a Christian and that she believes in core Christian concepts about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. She says, “I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we’re all going home… I don’t think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally.” In an October 2002 interview, she credits her Christian faith in giving her the strength to live through, and then overcome the effects of, her child abuse.

On March 26, 2010, O’Connor appears on CNN‘s Anderson Cooper 360° to speak out about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. Two days later she has an opinion piece published in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post in which she writes about the scandal and her time in a Magdalene asylum as a teenager. Writing for the Sunday Independent she labels the Vatican as “a nest of devils” and calls for the establishment of an “alternative church,” opining that “Christ is being murdered by liars” in the Vatican. Shortly after the election of Pope Francis she describes the office of the Pope as an “anti-Christian office.”

Asked whether from her point of view, it is therefore irrelevant who is elected to be Pope, O’Connor replies, “Genuinely I don’t mean disrespect to Catholic people because I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them, I don’t think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a Holy Spirit who can’t intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don’t need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that’s OK, we’re not bad people, but let’s wake up… God was there before religion; it’s there [today] despite religion; it’ll be there when religion is gone.”