seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Mickey Devine, Founding Member of the INLA

Michael James “Mickey” Devine, a founding member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is born in Derry, County Londonderry, on May 26, 1954. He dies in prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

Devine, also known as “Red Mickey” because of his red hair, is born into a family from the Springtown Camp, Derry, Northern Ireland. In 1960, when he is six years of age, the Devine family including his grandmother, sister Margaret and parents Patrick and Elizabeth, move to the then newly built Creggan estate to the north of Derry city centre. He is educated at Holy Child Primary School and St. Joseph’s Secondary School, both in the Creggan.

After British soldiers shoot and kill two unarmed civilians, Dessie Beattie and Raymond Cusack, Devine joins the James Connolly Republican Club in Derry in July 1971. Bloody Sunday has a deep impact on him. In the early 1970s, Devine joins the Irish Labour Party and Young Socialists.

Devine helps found the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1975. In 1976, after an arms raid in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, he is arrested in Northern Ireland. He is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He joins the blanket protest before joining the hunger strike.

Devine participates in a brief hunger strike in 1980, which is called off without fatalities. However, on June 22, 1981, Devine joins the 1981 hunger strike at the Maze Prison. He dies on August 20, the tenth and last of the hunger strikers to die.


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Birth of Enya, Singer & Songwriter

Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, singer, songwriter, musician, and producer better known professionally as Enya, is born into a musical family in Dore, Gweedore, County Donegal on May 17, 1961.

Enya’s father, Leo Brennan, is the leader of the Slieve Foy Band, an Irish showband, and runs Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck. Her mother, Máire Brennan (née Duggan), who has Spanish roots, is an amateur musician who plays in Leo’s band and teaches music at Gweedore Community School. Her maternal grandfather, Aodh, is the founder of the Gweedore Theatre company.

Enya begins her music career when she joins her family’s Celtic band Clannad in 1980 on keyboards and backing vocals. She leaves in 1982 with their manager and producer Nicky Ryan to pursue a solo career, with Ryan’s wife Roma Ryan as her lyricist. Enya develops her distinct sound over the following four years with multi-tracked vocals and keyboards with elements of new age, Celtic, classical, church, and folk music. She sings in ten languages.

Enya’s first projects as a solo artist include soundtrack work for The Frog Prince (1984) and the 1987 BBC documentary series The Celts, which is released as her debut album, Enya (1987). She signs with Warner Music UK which grants her considerable artistic freedom and minimal interference from the label. The commercial and critical success of Watermark (1988) propels her to worldwide fame, helped by its international top 10 hit single Orinoco Flow. This is followed by the multi-million selling albums Shepherd Moons (1991), The Memory of Trees (1995), and A Day Without Rain (2000). Sales of the latter and its lead single, Only Time, surge in the United States following its use in the media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Following Amarantine (2005) and And Winter Came… (2008), Enya takes an extended break from music. She returns in 2012 and releases Dark Sky Island (2015).

Enya is known for her private lifestyle and has yet to undergo a concert tour. She is Ireland’s biggest selling solo artist and second overall behind U2, with a discography that has sold 26.5 million certified albums in the United States and an estimated 80 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. A Day Without Rain (2000) remains the best selling new age album with an estimated 16 million copies sold worldwide.

Enya has won several awards throughout her career, including seven World Music Awards, four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and an Ivor Novello Award. She is nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for May It Be, a song she writes for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).


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Birth of Actor Ray McAnally

Ray McAnally, Irish actor and winner of four BAFTA awards in the late 1980s, is born on March 30, 1926, in Buncrana, a seaside town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal.

The son of a bank manager, McAnally is educated at Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where he writes, produces and stages a musical called “Madame Screwball” at the age of sixteen. He enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the age of 18 but leaves after a short time having decided that the priesthood is not his vocation. He joins the Abbey Theatre in 1947 where he meets and marries actress Ronnie Masterson.

The couple later forms Old Quay Productions and present an assortment of classic plays in the 1960s and 1970s. McAnally makes his theatre debut in 1962 with A Nice Bunch of Cheap Flowers and gives a well-received performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Constance Cummings, at the Piccadilly Theatre.

On television he is a familiar face, often in glossy thriller series like television series The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, and Strange Report. In 1968 he takes the title role in Spindoe, a series charting the return to power of an English gangster, Alec Spindoe, after a five-year prison term. This is a spin-off from another series, The Fellows (1967) in which McAnally had appeared in several episodes as the Spindoe character. He could render English accents very convincingly.

McAnally regularly acts in the Abbey Theatre and at Irish festivals, but in the last decade of life he achieves award-winning notice on TV and films. His impressive performance as Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission (1986) earns him Evening Standard and BAFTA awards. He earns a second BAFTA award for his role in the BBC’s A Perfect Spy (1987). In 1988 he wins the BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in A Very British Coup, a role that also brings him a Jacob’s Award. In the last year of his life he portrays the father of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in the Academy Award-winning film, My Left Foot (1989).

McAnally dies suddenly of a heart attack on June 15, 1989, at the age of 63, at his home in County Wicklow which he shares with Irish actress Britta Smith. He remains married to actress Ronnie Masterson until his death, although they reside in different homes. He receives a posthumous BAFTA award for his last film in 1990.

At the time of his death, McAnally is due to play “Bull McCabe” in Jim Sheridan‘s film The Field. The part eventually goes to Richard Harris who receives an Academy Award nomination for his performance. McAnally had also been cast in the lead role of First and Last, a drama about a man who walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Filming is almost a third of the way done when he dies, but the whole play has to be re-filmed, with Joss Ackland taking the role instead.