seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.

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Death of Playwright Brian Friel

Brian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, dies on October 2, 2015, in Greencastle, County Donegal. He has been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists. He has been likened to an “Irish Chekhov” and described as “the universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared favourably to those of contemporaries such as Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams.

Friel is born in Knockmoyle, close to Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. The family moves to Derry when Friel is ten years old. There, he attends St. Columb’s College, the same school attended by Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Seamus Deane, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann and Paul Brady. He receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48).

Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a career of more than a half-century. He is elected to the honorary position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly produced on Broadway in New York City throughout this time, as well as in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1980 Friel co-founds Field Day Theatre Company and his play Translations is the company’s first production. With Field Day, Friel collaborates with Seamus Heaney, 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney and Friel first become friends after Friel sends the young poet a letter following publication of his book Death of a Naturalist. Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa wins three Tony Awards in 1992.

Friel is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature and the Irish Academy of Letters. He is appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and serves until 1989. In later years, Dancing at Lughnasa reinvigorates Friel’s oeuvre, bringing him Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It is also adapted into a film, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by Frank McGuinness.

After a long illness Friel dies at the age of 86 in the early morning of Friday, October 2, 2015 in Greencastle, County Donegal. He is survived by his wife Anne and children Mary, Judy, Sally and David. A daughter, Patricia, predeceases him in 2012.


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.


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Birth of Frank McGuinness, Playwright & Poet

Frank McGuinness, award-winning Irish playwright and poet, is born in Buncrana, a town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal on July 29, 1953. As well as his own works, which include The Factory Girls, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and Dolly West’s Kitchen, he is recognised for a “strong record of adapting literary classics, having translated the plays of Jean Racine, Sophocles, Henrik Ibsen, Federico García Lorca, and August Strindberg to critical acclaim.”

McGuinness is educated locally and at University College Dublin, where he studies Pure English and medieval studies to postgraduate level.

He first comes to prominence with his play The Factory Girls, but establishes his reputation with his play about World War I, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which is staged in Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and internationally. The play makes a name for him when it is performed at Hampstead Theatre, drawing comments about McGuinness’s Irish Catholic background. It wins numerous awards including the London Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright for McGuinness and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. He has also written new versions of classic dramas, including works by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and Euripides, adapting the literal translations of others. In addition, he writes the screenplay for the film Dancing at Lughnasa, adapting the stage play by fellow Ulsterman Brian Friel.

McGuinness’s first poetry anthology, Booterstown, is published in 1994. Several of his poems have been recorded by Marianne Faithfull, including Electra, After the Ceasefire and The Wedding.

McGuinness previously lectured in Linguistics and Drama at the University of Ulster, Medieval Studies at University College, Dublin and English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Then he is a writer-in-residence lecturing at University College Dublin before being appointed Professor of Creative Writing in the School of English, Drama and Film there in 2007.


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The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park Bombings

The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings occur on July 20, 1982 in London. Members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two bombs during British military ceremonies in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, both in Central London.

At 10:40 AM, a nail bomb explodes in the boot of a blue Morris Marina parked on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. The bomb comprises 25 lbs. of gelignite and 30 lbs. of nails. It explodes as soldiers of the Household Cavalry, Queen Elizabeth II‘s official bodyguard regiment, are passing. They are taking part in their daily Changing of the Guard procession from their barracks in Knightsbridge to Horse Guards Parade. Three soldiers of the Blues & Royals are killed outright, and another, their standard-bearer, dies from his wounds three days later. The other soldiers in the procession are badly wounded, and a number of civilians were injured. Seven of the regiment’s horses are also killed or had to be euthanised because of their injuries. Explosives experts believe that the Hyde Park bomb is triggered by remote by an IRA member inside the park.

The second attack happens at about 12:55 PM, when a bomb explodes underneath a bandstand in Regent’s Park. Thirty Military bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets are on the stand performing music from Oliver! to a crowd of 120 people. It is the first in a series of advertised lunchtime concerts there. Six of the bandsmen are killed outright and the rest are wounded. A seventh dies of his wounds on August 1. At least eight civilians are also injured. The bomb had been hidden under the stand some time before and triggered by a timer. Unlike the Hyde Park bomb, it contains no nails and seems to be designed to cause minimal harm to bystanders.

A total of 22 people are detained in hospital as a result of the blasts. The IRA claims responsibility for the attacks by deliberately mirroring Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s words a few months before when Britain entered the Falklands War. They proclaimed that “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.” Reacting to the bombing, Thatcher states, “These callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.” The bombings have a negative impact on public support in the United States for the Irish republican cause.

In October 1987, 27-year-old Gilbert “Danny” McNamee, from County Armagh, is sentenced at the Old Bailey to 25 years in prison for his role in the Hyde Park bombing and others, despite his plea that he is not guilty. He is released from HM Prison Maze in late 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

On May 19, 2013, 61-year-old John Anthony Downey, from County Donegal, is charged with murder in relation to the Hyde Park bomb and intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. He appears at the Old Bailey on January 24, 2014 for the beginning of his trial and enters a not guilty plea. On February 25, 2014, it is revealed that Downey’s trial has collapsed after the presiding judge has ruled upon a letter sent by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Downey in 2007, assuring him that he would not face criminal charges over the attack. Although the assurance is made in error and the police realise the mistake, it is never withdrawn, and the judge rules that therefore the defendant has been misled and prosecuting him would be an abuse of executive power. Downey is one of 187 IRA suspects who receive secret on-the-run letters guaranteeing them unofficial immunity from prosecution.

A memorial marks the spot of the Hyde Park bombing and the troop honours it daily with an eyes-left and salute with drawn swords. A plaque commemorating the victims of the second attack also stands in Regent’s Park.


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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.