seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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Birth of Andy Irvine, Musician & Singer-Songwriter

Andrew Kennedy Irvine, known as Andy Irvine, Irish folk musician and singer-songwriter, is born on June 14, 1942 in St. John’s Wood, London, England to an Irish mother from Lisburn, County Antrim, and a Scottish father from Glasgow. He is a founding member of popular bands Sweeney’s Men, Planxty, Patrick Street, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher’s Island. He plays the mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, harmonica and hurdy-gurdy.

Irvine has been influential in folk music for over five decades, during which he records a large repertoire of songs and tunes he assembles from books, old recordings and folk-song collectors rooted in the Irish, English, Scottish, Eastern European, Australian and American old-time and folk traditions. He sets these songs to new music and also writes songs about his personal experiences or the lives and struggles of his heroes, including Tom Barker, Michael Davitt, Mother Jones, Douglas Mawson, Raoul Wallenberg, and Emiliano Zapata.

Imbued with a sense of social justice, Irvine often selects or writes songs that are based on historical events and presented from the victim’s perspective. Some of these songs chronicle the abject living and working conditions imposed on groups of people such as the emigrants, the brutalized migrant workers, the exploited textile strikers or coalminers. Other songs recall the archetypal experiences of single individuals – the woman seduced by an unfaithful man or disowned by her father, the destitute young man ostracized or murdered on the order of his sweetheart’s rich father, the down-on-his-luck farmer or the unemployed worker, the young man inveigled by the army’s recruiting sergeant, the scapegoats. Irvine’s songs also denounce worker deaths and industrial diseases, and lament the plight of hunted animals. His repertoire includes humorous songs, but also bittersweet ones of unrequited love, or of lovers cruelly separated or dramatically reunited. He also sings about famous racehorses, men or women masquerading in various disguises, a fantastical fox preying on young maidens, and the violent lives of outlaws.

As a child actor, Irvine hones his performing talent from an early age and learns the classical guitar. He switches to folk music after discovering Woody Guthrie, also adopting the latter’s other instruments, the harmonica and mandolin. While extending Guthrie’s guitar picking technique to the mandolin, he further develops his playing of this instrument and, later, of the mandola and the bouzouki, into a decorative, harmonic style and embraces the modes and rhythms of Bulgarian folk music. Along with Johnny Moynihan and Dónal Lunny, Irvine is one of the pioneers who adapts the Greek bouzouki into an Irish instrument. He contributes to advancing the design of his instruments in cooperation with English luthier Stefan Sobell, and he occasionally plays a hurdy-gurdy made for him in 1972 by Peter Abnett, another English luthier.

Although touring mainly as a soloist, Irvine has also enjoyed great success in pursuing collaborations through many projects that have influenced contemporary folk music. He continues to tour and perform extensively in Ireland, Great Britain, Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.


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Birth of Actor Liam Neeson

Actor Liam John Neeson is born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Neeson is named Liam after the local priest. He says growing up as a Catholic in a predominately Protestant town made him cautious. At age nine, he begins boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later becomes Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.

Neeson first steps on stage at age eleven after his English teacher offers him the lead role in a school play, which he accepts because the girl he is attracted to is starring in it. He continues to act in school productions over the following years.

Neeson’s interest in acting and decision to become an actor is also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak. Neeson says of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”

In 1971, Neeson is enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovers a talent for football and is spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There is a club trial in Dublin and Neeson plays one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C., but is not offered a contract.

In 1976, Neeson joins the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acts in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981), alongside Helen Mirren. Between 1982 and 1987, he stars in five films, most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He lands a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).

Neeson rises to prominence when he stars in the title role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–2014), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus, the fantasy films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–2010) as Aslan, and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011). In 2016 he narrates the RTÉ One three-part documentary on the Easter Rising, 1916.

Neeson has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranks Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.”


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Death of Rose Maud Young, Writer & Scholar

Rose Maud Young (Irish: Róis Ní Ógáin), writer, scholar and collector of Irish songs, best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies on May 28, 1947 in Cushendun, County Antrim.

Young is born in Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, County Antrim, daughter and seventh of twelve children born to Grace Charlotte Savage, and John Young who is a prosperous unionist and high sheriff. Despite his position he is a believer in tenant rights. Her younger sister is the writer Ella Young and her brother Willie Young is secretary of the Ulster Unionist League.

Young is educated by governesses until 1884 before completing training as a teacher through Cambridge University. Young also attends Gaelic League classes in 1903 in London while visiting her sister who is living in the city at the time. After visiting the Bodleian Library she becomes committed to the study of the Irish language.

In the early 1900s Young returns to Ireland and continues her study of the Irish language in Belfast at Seán Ó Catháin‘s Irish College and in County Donegal at Coláiste Uladh in Gort an Choirce. Young also stays in Dublin and becomes friends with members of the Gaelic League and meets Margaret Dobbs. Young works with Dobbs on the Feis na nGleann (The Glens Festival), a gathering dedicated to the Irish language.

Young is not involved in nationalism though she is strongly supportive of creating and maintaining a sense of “Irishness” through language and culture. She is also a friend and patron of Roger Casement. She also works with Ellen O’Brien and contributes to O’Brien’s book, The Gaelic Church. She keeps meticulous diaries and becomes interested in Rathlin Island and the Gaelic spoken there.

Rose Young is buried in the Presbyterian churchyard at Ahoghill, County Antrim.


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King James I Grants License for Old Bushmills Distillery

King James I grants a license to Sir Thomas Phillips, landowner and Governor of County Antrim, for the Old Bushmills distillery on April 20, 1608. The distillery is thought to date from at least 1276 making it the oldest distillery in the world.

The Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself is not established until 1784 by Hugh Anderson. Bushmills suffers many lean years with numerous periods of closure with no record of the distillery being in operation in the official records both in 1802 and in 1822. In 1860 a Belfast spirit merchant named Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan purchase the distillery and in 1880 they form a limited company. In 1885, the original Bushmills buildings are destroyed by fire but the distillery is quickly rebuilt. In 1890, the steamship SS Bushmills, owned and operated by the distillery, makes its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It calls at Philadelphia and New York City before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama.

In the early 20th century, the United States is a very important market for Bushmills, as well as for other Irish Whiskey producers. American Prohibition in 1920 comes as a large blow to the Irish Whiskey industry, but Bushmills manages to survive. Wilson Boyd, Bushmills’ director at the time, predicts the end of prohibition and has large stores of whiskey ready to export. After the World War II, the distillery is purchased by Isaac Wolfson and, in 1972, it is taken over by Irish Distillers, meaning that Irish Distillers controls the production of all Irish whiskey at the time. In June 1988, Irish Distillers is bought by French liquor group Pernod Ricard.

In June 2005, the distillery is bought by Diageo for £200 million. Diageo announces a large advertising campaign in order to regain market share for Bushmills.

In May 2008, the Bank of Ireland issues a new series of sterling banknotes in Northern Ireland which all feature an illustration of the Old Bushmills Distillery on the obverse side, replacing the previous notes series which depicts Queen’s University Belfast.

In November 2014 it is announced that Diageo is to trade the Bushmills brand with Jose Cuervo in exchange for the 50% of the Don Julio brand of tequila that Diageo does not already own.

Some Bushmills offerings have performed well at international Spirits ratings competitions. In particular, its Black Bush Finest Blended Whiskey receives double gold medals at the 2007 and 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competitions. It also receives a well-above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2008 and 2011.


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Birth of Snooker Champion Alex “Hurricane” Higgins

Alexander Gordon “Alex” Higgins, Northern Irish professional snooker player, who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the game, is born in Belfast on March 18, 1949. He is nicknamed “Hurricane Higgins” because of his fast play.

Higgins starts playing snooker at the age of eleven, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age fourteen and weighing seven and a half stone (47.6 kg), he leaves for England and a career as a jockey. However, he never makes the grade because, in his youth, he drinks a lot of Guinness and eats a lot of chocolate, making him too heavy to ride competitively. He returns to Belfast and by 1965, at the age of sixteen, he has compiled his first maximum break. In 1968 he wins the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland Amateur Snooker Championships.

Higgins turns professional at the age of 22, winning the World Snooker Championship at his first attempt in 1972, against John Spencer winning 37–32. Higgins is then the youngest ever winner of the title, a record retained until Stephen Hendry‘s 1990 victory at the age of 21. In April 1976, Higgins reaches the final again and faces Ray Reardon. Higgins leads 11–9, but Reardon makes four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time with the score of 27–16. Higgins is also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins wins the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame). It was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982-1983 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.

Throughout his career, Higgins wins 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trails Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15. He also wins the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively. Another notable victory is his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeats a young Stephen Hendry, which becomes known as “The Hurricane’s Last Hurrah.”

Higgins comes to be known as the “People’s Champion” because of his popularity, and is often credited with having brought the game of snooker to a wider audience, contributing to its peak in popularity in the 1980s. He has a reputation as an unpredictable and difficult character. He is a heavy smoker, struggles with drinking and gambling, and admits to using cocaine and marijuana.

First diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, Higgins is found dead in bed in his flat on July 24, 2010. The cause of death is a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, and a bronchial condition. Higgins’ funeral service is held in Belfast on August 2, 2010. He is cremated and his ashes are interred in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.


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Sinking of the MV Princess Victoria

mv-princess-victoriaMV Princess Victoria, one of the earliest roll-on/roll-off ferries, sinks on January 31, 1953, in the North Channel during a severe European windstorm with the loss of 133 lives. It is then the deadliest maritime disaster in United Kingdom waters since World War II.

Princess Victoria is built in 1947 by William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton. She is the first purpose-built ferry of her kind to operate in British coastal waters and could hold 1,500 passengers plus cargo and had sleeping accommodations for 54.

Captained by James Ferguson, the vessel leaves Stranraer‘s railway loading pier at 7:45 AM on January 31, 1953 with 44 tons of cargo, 128 passengers, and 51 crew. Captain Ferguson has served as master on various ferries on the same route for seventeen years. A gale warning is in force but he makes the decision to put to sea. Loch Ryan is a sheltered inlet and the immediate force of the wind and sea is not apparent, but it is noted that spray is breaking over the stern doors. A “guillotine door” has been fitted, because of a previously identified problem with spray and waves hitting the stern doors, but it is rarely used, because it takes too long to raise and lower. This would provide extra protection for the sliding stern doors but on this occasion it is not lowered.

Shortly after clearing the mouth of Loch Ryan, the ship turns west towards Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and exposes her stern to the worst of the high seas. Huge waves damage the low stern doors, allowing water to enter the car deck. The crew struggles to close the doors again but they prove to be too badly damaged and water continues to flood in from the waves. The scuppers do not appear to be allowing the water to drain away. The ship takes a list to starboard and at this point Captain Ferguson decides to retreat to the safety of Loch Ryan by going astern and using the bow rudder. This proves to be impossible, because the extreme conditions prevent the deckhands from releasing the securing pin on the bow rudder. Ferguson then makes a decision to try to reach Northern Ireland by adopting a course which keeps the stern of the craft sheltered from the worst of the elements. At 9:46 AM, two hours after leaving Stranraer, a message is transmitted in Morse code (the Princess Victoria does not have a radio telephone) by radio operator David Broadfoot to the Portpatrick Radio Station: “Hove-to off mouth of Loch Ryan. Vessel not under command. Urgent assistance of tugs required.”

With a list to starboard exacerbated by shifting cargo, water continues to enter the ship. At 10:32 AM an SOS transmission is made, and the order to abandon is given at 2:00 PM. Possibly the first warship in the area is HMS Launceston Castle, commanded by Lt. Cdr J M Cowling, a frigate which is en route to Derry. Searches are carried out but Launceston Castle is forced to leave when her condensers are contaminated by salt. Upon the upgrade of the assistance message to an SOS, the Portpatrick Lifeboat the Jeannie Spiers is dispatched, as is the destroyer HMS Contest. Contest, commanded by Lt. Commander HP Fleming, leaves Rothesay at 11:09 AM but, although she comes close to her position at 1:30 PM, poor visibility prevents the crew from seeing the sinking ship. The destroyer has been trying to maintain a speed of 31 knots to reach the listing ferry but, after sustaining damage from the seas, Captain Fleming is forced to reduce speed to 16 knots.

The Princess Victoria is still reporting her position as 5 miles northwest of Corsewall Point but her engines are still turning and even at the speed of 5 knots are gradually drawing the vessel closer to Northern Ireland and away from her reported position. At 1:08 PM, the ship broadcasts that her engines have stopped. The final morse code message at 1:58 PM reports the ship “on her beam end” five miles east of the Copeland Islands.

The Court of Enquiry into the sinking, held in March 1953 at Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast, finds that the Princess Victoria was lost due to a combination of factors. In a 30,000 page report the enquiry finds that firstly, the stern doors are not sufficiently robust. Secondly, arrangements for clearing water from the car deck are inadequate. The report concludes “If the Princess Victoria had been as staunch as those who manned her, then all would have been well and the disaster averted.” The court also notes the failure of the duty destroyer HMS Tenacious from the 3rd Training Squadron based at HMS Sea Eagle at Londonderry Port to be able to put to sea as too many men had been released on shore leave. As a consequence of the enquiry the duty destroyer from the 3rd Squadron is subsequently based “on station” at the mouth of Lough Foyle on one hour readiness to put to sea.

The wreck lay undiscovered until 1992 when a team from Cromarty Firth Diving, led by John MacKenzie and funded by the BBC, working from data provided by a Royal Navy seabed survey carried out in 1973, are able to locate it five miles north northeast of the Copeland Islands in 90 metres of water. Video footage and stills from this expedition are transmitted on a BBC programme called Home Truths (Things Don’t Happen to Boats Like This) on the 40th anniversary of the sinking in 1993.