seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Ross McWhirter

ross-mcwhirterAlan Ross McWhirter, co-founder of The Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers, is murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on November 27, 1975.

McWhirter is the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret “Bunty” Williamson. He is born at Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England on August 12, 1925. Like his two brothers, he is educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946 he serves as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ross and his twin brother Norris become sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they found an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris McWhirter’s words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” In the same year they publish Get to Your Marks.

While building up their accounts, they both work as sports journalists. One of the athletes they know and cover is runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommends them to Hugh Beaver. After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoy testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agree to start work on the book that becomes The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first 198-page green volume is at the bookstalls, and in four more months it is the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller. Both brothers are regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They are noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continues on the programme after Ross’s death.

In the early 1960s, McWhirter is a Conservative Party activist and seeks, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others found the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

McWhirter advocates various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offers a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In doing so, he recognises that he might then be a target himself. This is considered a “bounty” by the IRA Army Council, a view that leads directly to the events that follow, although the idea is not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.

At 6:45 PM on November 27, 1975, McWhirter is shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom are members of what becomes known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He is shot with a .357 Magnum revolver at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. He is taken to Chase Farm Hospital but dies soon after being admitted. His killers are captured and charged with his and nine other murders. They are sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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Birth of Benjamin Lee Guinness

benjamin-lee-guinnessSir Benjamin Lee Guinness, 1st Baronet, Irish brewer and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on November 1, 1798.

Guinness is the third son of Arthur Guinness II (1768–1855), and his wife Anne Lee, and a grandson of the first Arthur (1725–1803), who had bought the St. James’s Gate Brewery in 1759. He joins his father in the business in his late teens, without attending university, and from 1839 he takes sole control within the family. From 1855, when his father dies, he has become the richest man in Ireland, having built up a huge export trade and by continually enlarging his brewery.

In 1851 Guinness is elected the first Lord Mayor of Dublin under the reformed corporation. In 1863 he is made an honorary LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) by Trinity College Dublin, and on April 15, 1867 is created a baronet by patent, in addition to which, on May 18, 1867, by royal licence, he has a grant of supporters to his family arms.

Guinness is elected to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1865 as a Conservative Party representative for Dublin City, serving until his death. His party’s leader is Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby. Previously he had supported the Liberal Party‘s Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, but in the 1860s the Liberals propose higher taxation on drinks such as beer. Before 1865 the Irish Conservative Party does not entirely support British conservative policy, but does so after the Irish Church Act 1869. The government’s most notable reform is the Reform Act 1867 that expands the franchise.

From 1860 to 1865, Guinness undertakes at his own expense, and without hiring an architect, the restoration of the city’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, an enterprise that costs him over £150,000. In 1865 the building is restored to the dean and chapter, and reopens for services on February 24. The citizens of Dublin and the dean and chapter of St. Patrick’s present him with addresses on December 31, 1865, expressive of their gratitude for what he has done for the city. The addresses are in two volumes, which are afterwards exhibited at the Paris Exhibition.

In recognition of his generosity, Guinness is made a baronet in 1867. He is one of the ecclesiastical commissioners for Ireland, a governor of Simpson’s Hospital, and vice-chairman of the Dublin Exhibition Palace. He dies the following year, on May 19, 1868, at his Park Lane home in London. At the time of his death he is engaged in the restoration of Marsh’s Library, a building which adjoins St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The restoration is completed by his son Arthur.

Guinness is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, in the family vault, on May 27, 1868. His personalty is sworn under £1,100,000 on August 8, 1868. A bronze statue of him by John Henry Foley is erected by the Cathedral Chapter in St. Patrick’s churchyard, on the south side of the cathedral, in September 1875, which is restored in 2006.


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Death of Charles Stewart Parnell

charles-stewart-parnellCharles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist politician and one of the most powerful figures in the British House of Commons in the 1880s, dies of pneumonia at age 45 in Hove, East Sussex, England on October 6, 1891.

Born into a wealthy and powerful Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning family in County Wicklow on June 27, 1846, Parnell enters the House of Commons in 1875. He is a land reform agitator and becomes leader of the Home Rule League in 1880, insisting on operating independently of the Liberals, and winning great influence by his balancing of constitutional, radical, and economic issues, and by his skillful use of parliamentary procedure. He is imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in 1882 but, being a very capable negotiator, is released when he renounces violent extra-Parliamentary action in an informal agreement, the Kilmainham Treaty, with British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. That same year he reforms the Home Rule League as the Irish Parliamentary Party, which he controls minutely as Britain’s first disciplined democratic party.

The hung Parliament of 1885 sees him hold the balance of power between Gladstone’s Liberals and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury‘s Conservatives. His power is one factor in Gladstone’s adoption of Home Rule as the central tenet of the Liberal Party. His reputation peaks in 1889-1890 when letters published in The Times linking him to the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 are shown to have been forged by Richard Pigott. However, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 after the revelation of Parnell’s long adulterous love affair, causing many English Liberals, many of them nonconformists, to refuse to work with him, and strong opposition from Catholic bishops. He heads a small minority faction until his death in 1891.

In describing Parnell, Gladstone says, “I do not say the ablest man; I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon.” Liberal leader H. H. Asquith calls him as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane describes him as the strongestparnell-marker man the House of Commons has seen in 150 years. Historian A.J.P. Taylor says, “More than any other man he gave Ireland the sense of being an independent nation.”

Charles Stewart Parnell dies of pneumonia at age 45 in his home at 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove, England on October 6, 1891, in the arms of his wife Katharine. Though an Anglican, his funeral on October 11 is at the Irish National nondenominational Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and is attended by more than 200,000 people. His notability is such that his gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite, erected in 1940, reads only “Parnell.”


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Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


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The Brighton Hotel Bombing

The Brighton hotel bombing, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassination attempt against the top tier of the British government, takes place on October 12, 1984 at the Grand Brighton Hotel in Brighton, England. A long-delay time bomb is planted in the hotel by IRA member Patrick Magee, with the intent of killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, who are staying at the hotel for the Conservative Party conference. Although Thatcher narrowly escapes injury, five people are killed including a sitting Conservative MP, and 31 are injured.

Patrick Magee stays in the hotel under the pseudonym Roy Walsh during the weekend of September 14-17, 1984. During his stay, he plants the bomb under the bath in his room, number 629. The device, described as a “small bomb by IRA standards,” is fitted with a long-delay timer made from videocassette recorder components and a Memo Park Timer safety device. The device may have avoided detection by sniffer dogs due to it being wrapped in cling film to mask the smell of the explosive.

The bomb detonates at approximately 2:54 AM (BST) on October 12. The midsection of the building collapses into the basement, leaving a gaping hole in the hotel’s facade. Firemen say that many lives are likely saved because the well-built Victorian hotel remained standing. Margaret Thatcher is still awake at the time, working on her conference speech for the next day in her suite. The blast badly damages her bathroom, but leaves her sitting room and bedroom unscathed. Both she and her husband escape injury. She changes her clothes and is led out through the wreckage along with her husband and her friend and aide Cynthia Crawford, and driven to Brighton police station.

At about 4:00 AM, as Thatcher leaves the police station, she gives an impromptu interview to the BBC‘s John Cole, saying that the conference would go on as scheduled. Alistair McAlpine persuades Marks & Spencer to open early at 8:00 AM so those who have lost their clothes in the bombing can purchase replacements. Thatcher goes from the conference to visit the injured at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Five people are killed, none of whom are government ministers. But a Conservative MP, Sir Anthony Berry, is killed, along with Eric Taylor, North-West Area Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lady Jeanne Shattock, wife of Sir Gordon Shattock, Western Area Chairman of the Conservative Party, Lady Muriel Maclean, wife of Sir Donald Maclean, President of the Scottish Conservatives, and Roberta Wakeham, wife of Parliamentary Treasury Secretary John Wakeham. Donald and Muriel Maclean are in the room in which the bomb explodes, but Mr. Maclean survives.

Several more, including Walter Clegg, whose bedroom is directly above the blast, and Margaret Tebbit, the wife of Norman Tebbit, who is then President of the Board of Trade, are left permanently disabled. Thirty-four people are taken to the hospital and recover from their injuries. When hospital staff asks Norman Tebbit, who is less seriously injured than his wife, whether he is allergic to anything, he is said to answer “bombs.”