seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Aengus Fanning, Journalist & Editor of the Sunday Independent

Aengus Fanning, Irish journalist and editor of the Sunday Independent from 1984 until his death, dies on January 17, 2012, following a battle with lung cancer. He is also a former editor of farming for the Irish Independent. He is listed at number 31 on a list of “most influential people” in Irish society compiled for Village magazine.

Fanning is born on April 22, 1944, in the family home at Cloonbeg Terrace, Tralee, County Kerry, the fourth child among five sons and one daughter of Arnold (‘Paddy’) Fanning, a teacher, and his wife Clara (née Connell). Originally from Rostrevor, County Down, his mother is born a Presbyterian and converts to Catholicism to marry his father, though neither is religious. His father is a noted organiser of local theatrical productions, having written a one-act play, Vigil, which is staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1929.

Fanning has a keen interest in sport, having represented Kerry in Gaelic football in his youth. He is also passionate about cricket. He also plays the clarinet, and is a jazz fan. He is a graduate of University College Cork (UCC).

In May 1964 Fanning is hired as a reporter by his uncle, James Fanning, the owner of the Midland Tribune in Birr, County Offaly, and pursues an unglamorous beat covering court sittings, local authority meetings and GAA matches. Needing a better salary to start a family, he joins Independent Newspapers (IN) in Dublin as a general reporter in May 1969, and soon after marries Mary O’Brien from Streamstown, County Offaly. They settle in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, and have three sons.

Fanning covers the Northern Ireland troubles during 1969–70, before reporting increasingly on farming matters, becoming the IN group’s agricultural correspondent in 1973, as Ireland’s European Economic Community (EEC) accession sparks a farming boom. He is made head of news analysis at the Irish Independent in 1982, improving the op-ed page and using it to advocate more market-driven economic policies.

Fanning is appointed editor of the mid-to-upmarket Sunday Independent in 1984 from. Under his leadership, the newspaper adopts what Irish newspaper historian John Horgan calls a “new emphasis on pungent opinion columns, gossip and fashion” which results in the paper overtaking its main rival, The Sunday Press. For a time, his deputy editor is journalist Anne Harris.

In a 1993 interview with Ivor Kenny in the book Talking to Ourselves, Fanning describes himself as a classical liberal who is opposed to both Ulster loyalist and Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorism. He also expresses a strong advocacy of the free market, arguing that the goal of a good newspaper is to be as commercially successful as possible:

“If three or four papers out of 15 are successful and the others are not, they might say they’re not driven by the market, they have some higher vocation: to serve the public interest or some pompous stuff like that. That’s how they feel good about themselves. Fair enough, if that’s how they want to explain the world. It’s a grand excuse for relative failure… I think we live or die by the market, it will always win through.”

Fanning recruits a number of noted writers to contribute to the newspaper, including historians Conor Cruise O’Brien and Ronan Fanning, journalists Shane Ross and Gene Kerrigan, poet Anthony Cronin and novelist Colm Tóibín. However, his editorship is not without controversy. The columns published by Eamon Dunphy and Terry Keane draw criticism. Michael Foley notes some Irish commentators criticised Fanning’s Sunday Independent, claiming the newspaper was publishing “a mix of sleaze and prurience.”

Fanning also defends the controversial Mary Ellen Synon, who calls the Paralympics games “perverse.” One of the more bizarre incidents occurs in 2001 when he is involved in a fisticuffs with a colleague at the newspaper – operations editor Campbell Spray.

Diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2011, Fanning spends his last months undergoing treatment in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, dying there on January 17, 2012, at the age of 69. His remains are cremated at Mount Jerome Crematorium.

Anne Harris, Fanning’s second wife, succeeds him as editor and lasts three years. As well as pioneering changes in the domestic print media’s role, Fanning’s Sunday Independent led Irish society’s turn towards free market hedonism, catching the public mood better than its more conventionally liberal rivals by rendering this cultural transformation in an exuberant, somewhat parodied form, and without regard for lingering post-Catholic inhibitions.


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Birth of Peter Robinson, Northern Irish Politician

Peter David Robinson, retired Northern Irish politician, is born on December 29, 1948, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He serves as First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2008 until 2016 and Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from 2008 until 2015. Until his retirement in 2016, he is involved in Northern Irish politics for over 40 years, being a founding member of the DUP along with Ian Paisley.

Robinson is the son of Sheila and David McCrea Robinson. He is educated at Annadale Grammar School and Castlereagh College, now part of the Belfast Metropolitan College. In 1966 he first hears Ian Paisley speak at a rally at Ulster Hall and shortly afterwards leaves school to devote himself to the Protestant fundamentalist cause. He considers joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) but instead joins the Lagan Valley unit of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), a paramilitary organisation tied to Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He also joins the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee. As a young man he embraces a populist anti-Catholic fundamentalism. A former classmate alleges Robinson and a friend harassed a pair of Catholics nuns in the street in Portrush, County Antrim, yelling “Popehead, Popehead.” He initially gains employment as an estate agent for R.J. McConnell & Co. and later with Alex, Murdoch & Deane in Belfast.

Robinson serves in the role of General Secretary of the DUP from 1975, a position he holds until 1979 and which affords him the opportunity to exert unprecedented influence within the fledgeling party. In 1977, he is elected as a councillor for the Castlereagh Borough Council in Dundonald, County Down, and in 1979, he becomes one of the youngest Members of Parliament (MP) when he is narrowly elected for Belfast East. He holds this seat until his defeat by Naomi Long in 2010, making him the longest-serving Belfast MP since the Acts of Union 1800.

In 1980, Robinson is elected as the deputy leader of the DUP. Following the re-establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, he is elected in 1998 as the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East. He subsequently serves as Minister for Regional Development and Minister of Finance and Personnel in the Northern Ireland Executive. He is elected unopposed to succeed Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP on April 15, 2008, and is subsequently confirmed as First Minister of Northern Ireland on June 5, 2008.

In January 2010, following a scandal involving his wife Iris (née Collins), Robinson temporarily hands over his duties as First Minister to Arlene Foster under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 2006. Following a police investigation, which recommends that he should not be prosecuted following allegations made by the BBC in relation to the scandal, he resumes his duties as First Minister. The Official Assembly Commissioner’s Investigation and Report clears Robinson of any wrongdoing.

In September 2015, Robinson again stands aside to allow Arlene Foster to become acting First Minister after his bid to adjourn the assembly is rejected. His action is a response to a murder for which a member of Sinn Féin, a party in the Northern Ireland Executive, had been questioned. He resumes his duties on October 20, 2015. On November 19, 2015, he announces that he will be stepping down as First Minister and as leader of the DUP. He subsequently steps down as First Minister on January 11, 2016 and is now fully retired from frontline politics.

Robinson is the author of a number of books and pamphlets on local politics and history including: Capital Punishment for Capital Crime (1974), Savagery and Suffering (1975), Ulster the Facts (1981), Self-Inflicted (1981), A War to be Won (1983), It’s Londonderry (1984), Carson – Man of Action (1984), Ulster in Peril (1984), Their Cry was no Surrender (1986), Hands Off the UDR (1990), Sinn Féin – A Case for Proscription (1993), The Union Under Fire (1995), Give Me Liberty (no date), Ulster—the Prey (no date).


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Birth of Irish Mathematician James Thomson

James Thomson, Irish mathematician notable for his role in the formation of the thermodynamics school at the University of Glasgow, Is born on November 13, 1786, in Ballynahinch, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He is the father of the engineer and physicist James Thomson and the physicist William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin.

Born into an Ulster Scots family, Thomson is the fourth son of Agnes Nesbit and James Thomson, a small farmer, at Annaghmore, near Ballynahinch, County Down, in Ulster. His early education is from his father. At the age of 11 or 12 he finds out for himself the art of dialling. His father sends him to a school at Ballykine, near Ballynahinch, kept by Samuel Edgar, father of John Edgar. Here he soon rises to be an assistant.

Wishing to become a minister of the Presbyterian church, Thomson enters the University of Glasgow in 1810, where he studies for several sessions, supporting himself by teaching in the Ballykine school during the summer. He graduates MA in 1812, and in 1814 he is appointed headmaster of the school of arithmetic, bookkeeping, and geography in the newly established Royal Belfast Academical Institution. In 1815 he is Professor of Mathematics in its collegiate department. Here he proves himself as a teacher. In 1829 the honorary degree of LL.D. is conferred upon him by the University of Glasgow, where in 1832 he is appointed Professor of Mathematics. He holds this post until his death on January 12, 1849.

Thomson is buried with his family on the northern slopes of the Glasgow Necropolis to the east of the main bridge entrance. The grave is notable due to the modern memorial to Lord Kelvin at its side.

Thomson is the author of schoolbooks that have passed through many editions including Arithmetic (1819), Trigonometry, Plane and Spherical (1820), Introduction to Modern Geography (1827), The Phenomena of the Heavens (1827), The Differential and Integral Calculus (1831), and Euclid (1834).

A paper, “Recollections of the Battle of Ballynahinch, by an Eye-witness,” which appears in the Belfast Magazine for February 1825, is from his pen.


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Death of Harry Ferguson, Mechanic & Inventor

Henry George “Harry” Ferguson, a British mechanic and inventor who is noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor and its three-point linkage system, for being the first person in Ireland to build and fly his own aeroplane, and for developing the first four-wheel drive Formula One car, the Ferguson P99, dies in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England, on October 25, 1960. Today his name lives on in the name of the Massey Ferguson company.

Ferguson is born on November 4, 1884, at Growell, near Dromore, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland, the son of a farmer. In 1902, he goes to work with his brother, Joe, in his bicycle and car repair business. While working there as a mechanic, he develops an interest in aviation, visiting airshows abroad. In 1904, he begins to race motorcycles.

In the 1900s Ferguson becomes fascinated with the newly emerging technology of powered human flight and particularly with the exploits of the Wright brothers, the American aviation pioneers who made the first plane flight in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

The first person to accomplish powered flight in the UK is Alliot Verdon Roe in June 1908, who also flies an aeroplane of his own design, but this has not yet been achieved in Ireland. Ferguson begins to develop a keen interest in the mechanics of flying and travels to several air shows, including exhibitions in 1909 at Blackpool and Rheims where he takes notes of the design of early aircraft. He convinces his brother that they should attempt to build an aircraft at their Belfast workshop and, working from his notes, they work on the design of a plane, the Ferguson monoplane.

After making many changes and improvements, they transport their new aircraft by towing it behind a car through the streets of Belfast up to Hillsborough Park to make their first attempt at flight. They are at first thwarted by propeller trouble but continue to make technical alterations to the plane. After a delay of nearly a week caused by bad weather, the Ferguson monoplane finally takes off from Hillsborough on December 31, 1909. Ferguson becomes the first Irishman to fly and the first Irishman to build and fly his own aeroplane.

After falling out with his brother over the safety and future of aviation, Ferguson decides to go it alone, and in 1911 founds a company selling Maxwell, Star and Vauxhall cars and Overtime Tractors. He sees at first hand the weakness of having tractor and plough as separate articulated units, and in 1917 he devises a plough that can be rigidly attached to a Ford Model T car — the Eros, which becomes a limited success, competing with the Fordson Model F.

In 1917 Ferguson meets Charles E. Sorensen while Sorensen is in England scouting production sites for the Fordson tractor. They discuss methods of hitching the implement to the tractor to make them a unit. In 1920 and 1921 he demonstrates early versions of his three-point linkage on Fordson tractors at Cork and at Dearborn, Michigan. He and Henry Ford discuss putting the Ferguson system of hitch and implements onto Fordson tractors at the factory, but no deal is struck. At the time the hitch is mechanical. Ferguson and his team of longtime colleagues, including Willie Sands and Archie Greer, soon develop a hydraulic version, which is patented in 1926. After one or two false starts, he eventually founds the Ferguson-Sherman Inc., with Eber and George Sherman.

The new enterprise manufactures the Ferguson plough, incorporating the patented “Duplex” hitch system mainly intended for the Fordson “F” tractor. Following several more years of development, Ferguson’s new hydraulic version of the three-point linkage is first seen on his prototype “Ferguson Black” or ‘Irish tractor’ as he calls it, now in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London. A production version of the “Black” is introduced in May 1936, made at one of the David Brown Engineering Ltd. factories in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and designated Ferguson Model A tractor.

Ferguson’s interests are merged with those of David Brown junior to create the Ferguson-Brown Company.

In October 1938, Ferguson demonstrates his latest tractor to Henry Ford at Dearborn, and they make the famous “handshake agreement.” He takes with him his latest patents covering future improvements to the Ferguson tractor and it is these that lead to the Ford-Ferguson 9N introduction to the world on June 29, 1939.

Henry Ford II, Ford’s grandson, ends the handshake agreement on June 30, 1947, following unsuccessful negotiations with Ferguson, but continues to produce a tractor, the 8N, incorporating Ferguson’s inventions, the patents on almost all of which have not yet expired, and Ferguson is left without a tractor to sell in North America. His reaction is a lawsuit demanding compensation for damage to his business and for Ford’s illegal use of his designs. The case is settled out of court in April 1952 for just over $9 million. The court case costs him about half of that and a great deal of stress and ill health.

By 1952, most of the important Ferguson patents have expired, and this allows Henry Ford II to claim that the case had not restricted Ford’s activities too much. It follows that all the world’s other tractor manufacturers can also use Ferguson’s inventions, which they do. A year later Ferguson merges with Massey-Harris Limited to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co., later Massey Ferguson.

Ferguson dies at his home at Stow-on-the-Wold on October 25, 1960, as the result of a barbiturate overdose. The inquest is unable to conclude whether his death had been accidental or not.

A blue plaque commemorating Ferguson is mounted on the Ulster Bank building in Donegall Square, Belfast, the former site of his showroom. A granite memorial has been erected to Ferguson’s pioneering flight on the North Promenade, Newcastle, County Down, and a full-scale replica of the Ferguson monoplane and an early Ferguson tractor and plough can be seen at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.


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Death of Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh

Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, Irish businessman and philanthropist, dies at his London home in Grosvenor Place on October 7, 1927

Guinness is born on November 10, 1847 at St. Anne’s, Clontarf, County Dublin, the youngest of three sons of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, brewer, of Dublin, and Elizabeth, third daughter of Edward Guinness of Dublin. He is not sent to public school but is taught at home by a private tutor before entering Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his degree in 1870. His father dies in 1868, leaving him a share in the brewery, and he takes over management of the business with his brother Arthur, who in 1876 sells his shares, making Edward sole proprietor.

Guinness is also prominent in municipal life, holding the offices of Sheriff of Dublin City in 1876 and High Sheriff of the County of Dublin in 1885, the year in which he is created a baronet. He is a brilliantly effective businessman, with close attention to detail and a focus solely on the brewery, to the extent of remaining independent from the rest of the brewing trade. In 1888 he bluntly tells the Country Brewers’ Association, “I have always declined to identify myself with any trade question, or to take any side in a controversy on the liquor question, and to this I must adhere.” In 1886 Guinness is floated as a public company, a superbly successful venture with applications for shares exceeding £100 million, and Edward remains as chairman until 1890, although his formal retirement in that year brings little reduction in his involvement with the company, and he continues to make the final decision on many minor matters as well as all major questions of policy.

Socially innovative, with a concern for the welfare of employees, from as early as 1870 Guinness establishes a free dispensary for his workforce and makes provisions for pension and other allowances – acts of social reform that are remarkable for the time. To mark his retirement in 1890 he places in trust £250,000 to be expended in the erection of working-class housing in London and Dublin. Both funds are administered from London until 1903, when the Dublin fund is amalgamated by the Iveagh Trust act with other schemes carried out in Dublin by Edward, who had been raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom in 1891 as Baron Iveagh of Iveagh, County Down. The funds, which increase considerably from the original amount, are thereafter managed entirely in Dublin as a separate undertaking under the name of the Iveagh Trust, still in existence in the early twenty-first century.

As one of the pioneers of the voluntary housing movement Guinness is essentially carrying on the tradition of “merchant prince and city father” established by his father and shared by his brother. Wealthy, ambitious, and resolutely unionist, he gives generous financial support to the Irish Unionist Alliance, and is also public-spirited, religious, and devoted to duty. Acknowledging that the Iveagh Trust is essentially ameliorative, he believes that major social change will only be achieved if numerous other wealthy people follow his example. He insists that gifts of money from the fund are permissible only to assist individuals to improve their condition “without placing them in the position of being the recipients of a bounty.” Numerous other philanthropic donations follow, including another £250,000 for slum clearance in the Bull Alley district of Dublin; various contributions to Dublin hospitals, particularly in 1903 and 1911 on the occasion of royal visits; and in 1907 the opening of the Iveagh Markets, situated in the Francis Street and Patrick Street areas of Dublin, are made possible with his financial backing. Generous contributions are also made to Trinity College Dublin, of which he is elected chancellor in 1908, and he donates land in Iveagh Gardens to University College Dublin (UCD).

In 1905 Guinness is raised to a viscountcy and in September 1909 the nationalist corporation of Dublin presents him with an address of thanks for his many gifts, and even discusses the possibility of offering him the lord mayoralty of the city, which he declines owing to his political affiliations. By this time he lives chiefly in England, having bought Elveden Hall in Suffolk, where he frequently entertains royalty. He also purchases Lord Kensington’s London estate and makes many donations to medical research societies in England, and in conjunction with Sir Ernest Cassel he founds the London Radium Institute, as well as donates £250,000 to the Laster Institute of Tropical Medicine for the endowment of bacteriological research.

In 1919 Guinness is elevated to an earldom and in 1925 purchases the remainder of the Kenwood estate to the north of Hampstead Heath and arranges for it to become public property, ensuring the estate will not be sold for building purposes, and also bequeaths to the nation a valuable collection of art for use in the gallery at the same location. As well as being elected a fellow of the Royal Society, he is awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Dublin and the University of Aberdeen.

In 1873, Guinness marries his third cousin Adelaide Maud, nicknamed “Dodo.” She is descended from the banking line of Guinnesses, and is the daughter of Richard Samuel Guinness, barrister and MP, and his wife Katherine, a daughter of Sir Charles Jenkinson. They have three sons, the eldest of whom, Rupert Edward Cecil Lee, succeeds his father as 2nd Earl of Iveagh.

Guinness dies at his London home in Grosvenor Place on October 7, 1927, and is buried at Elveden, Suffolk. He leaves an estate valued at £11 million.


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Ulster Volunteer Force Attacks Across Northern Ireland

On October 2, 1975, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, carries out a wave of shootings and bombings across Northern Ireland. Six of the attacks leave 12 people dead (mostly civilians) and around 45 people injured. There is also an attack in the small village of Killyleagh, County Down. There are five attacks in and around Belfast which leave people dead. A bomb which explodes near Coleraine leaves four UVF members dead. There are also several other smaller bombs planted around Northern Ireland, sixteen in total, but other than causing damage they do not kill or injure anyone.

There is a rise in sectarian killings during the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) truce with the British Army, which begins in February 1975 and officially lasts until February 1976. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/Irish nationalists. Loyalists kill 120 Catholics in 1975, the vast majority civilians. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

The first attack of the day takes place at Casey’s Bottling Plant in Belfast. The UVF group, which is alleged to have been led by Shankill Butchers leader Lenny Murphy, enters the premises by pretending to have an order to be filled before launching the attack. Four employees are shot and killed in the attack, sisters Frances Donnelly (35), Marie McGrattan (47) and Gerard Grogan (18) all die that day, with a fourth, Thomas Osborne (18), dying of his wounds three weeks later. Murphy personally shoots all except Donnelly who is killed by his accomplice William Green. The two sisters are forced to kneel on the ground and are shot in the back of the head.

In the next attack Thomas Murphy (29), a Catholic photographer from Belfast, is killed in a booby-trap bomb and gun attack, when two UVF gunmen enter his premises on Carlisle Circus (close to both the loyalist Shankill Road and republican New Lodge areas of Belfast) and shoot him in the chest, before planting a duffel bag bomb in his shop. The resulting explosion injures several people including a female passer-by who loses her leg.

Next the UVF carries out a gun and bomb attack on McKenna’s Bar near Crumlin, County Antrim, which kills a Catholic civilian John Stewart (35) and injures scores of people.

In Killyleagh, County Down, a no-warning bomb explodes outside a Catholic-owned bar, The Anchor Inn. Irene Nicholson (37), a Protestant woman, is killed as she is passing by while the attack is being carried out. Three UVF members are later arrested for this attack in Bangor and one of them claims the attack was “a small one to scare them.”

Next Ronald Winters (26), a Protestant civilian, is shot dead by the UVF in his parents’ house on London Road, Belfast.

Later that night four UVF members are killed as they drive along a road in Farrenlester, near Coleraine, when the bomb they are transporting explodes prematurely.

The following day, October 3, the UVF is once again made a proscribed terrorist organisation. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees had unbanned the UVF in May 1974, the same day the ban on Sinn Féin was lifted, a move never extended to the IRA. Despite this the UVF are still able to kill Catholic civilians at will for the remainder of 1975 and for most of 1976 also.


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Birth of George McWhirter, Writer, Teacher & Vancouver’s First Poet Laureate

George McWhirter, Irish-Canadian writer, translator, editor, teacher and Vancouver‘s first Poet Laureate, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 26, 1939.

The son of a shipyard worker, McWhirter is raised in a large extended family on the Shankill Road in Belfast. He and his extended family spend the war years and then weekends and the summers at their seaside bungalow in Carnalea, now a suburb of Bangor, County Down. In 1957 he begins a “combined scholarship” studying English and Spanish at Queen’s University Belfast, and education at Stranmillis University College, Belfast. His tutor at Queen’s is the poet Laurence Lerner, and he is a classmate with the future literary critic Robert Dunbar and the poets Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane.

After graduating, McWhirter teaches in Kilkeel and Bangor, County Down, and in Barcelona, Spain, before moving to Port Alberni, British Columbia, Canada. After receiving his M.A. from the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he studies under Michael Bullock and J. Michael Yates, he stays on to become a full professor in 1982 and head of the Creative Writing Department from 1983 to 1993. He retires as a Professor Emeritus in 2005.

McWhirter is associated with PRISM International magazine from 1968 to 2005. He is the author and editor of numerous books and the recipient of many awards. His first book of poetry, Catalan Poems, is a joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize with Chinua Achebe‘s Beware, Soul Brother. He is made a life member of the League of Canadian Poets in 2005 and is also a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada and PEN International. In March 2007, he is named Vancouver’s inaugural Poet Laureate for a two-year term.

McWhirter currently writes full-time and lives in Vancouver with his wife. They have two children and three grandchildren.


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Birth of John Martin, Irish Nationalist Activist

John Martin, Irish nationalist activist, is born on September 8, 1812, into a landed Presbyterian family, the son of Samuel and Jane (née Harshaw) Martin, in Newry, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland. He shifts from early militant support for Young Ireland and the Repeal Association, to non-violent alternatives such as support for tenant farmers’ rights and eventually as the first Home Rule MP, for Meath (1871–75).

Martin first meets John Mitchel while attending Dr. Henderson’s private school in Newry. He receives an Arts degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1832 and proceeds to study medicine, but has to abandon this in 1835 when his uncle dies and he has to return to manage the family landholding.

In 1847 Martin is moved by the Great Famine to join Mitchel in the Repeal Association but subsequently leaves it with Mitchel. He contributes to Mitchel’s journal, United Irishman, and then following Mitchel’s arrest on May 27, 1848, he continues with his own anti-British journal, The Irish Felon, and establishes “The Felon Club.” This leads to a warrant for his arrest, and he turns himself in on July 8, 1848. He is sentenced on August 18, 1848 to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.

Martin arrives on the Elphinstone with Kevin Izod O’Doherty in Hobart, Tasmania, in November 1849. He accepts a “ticket of leave” which allows him to live in relative freedom at Bothwell, provided he promises not to escape.

While in Tasmania, Martin continues to meet in secret with his fellow exiles Kevin Izod O’Doherty, Thomas Francis Meagher, William Smith O’Brien, and John Mitchel. He and Mitchel live together before the arrival of Mitchel’s wife, Jenny. He chooses not to join Mitchel when Mitchel revokes his ticket of leave and escapes. Instead he remains in Tasmania until he is granted a “conditional pardon” in 1854. This allows him to leave for Paris, and he returns to Ireland on being granted a full pardon in 1856.

On return to Ireland Martin becomes a national organiser for the Tenant Right League. He begins to write for The Nation in 1860. He forms the National League with others in January 1864 – it is mainly an educational organisation but Fenians disrupt its meetings. He remains in contact with Mitchel in Paris through 1866. He opposes the Fenians’ support of armed violence, yet, together with Alexander Martin Sullivan in December 1867, he heads the symbolic funeral march honouring the Manchester Martyrs as it follows the MacManus route to Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. He is briefly arrested for these activities but the charges are dropped.

Martin is in the United States in December 1869 when he is nominated by Isaac Butt and his nationalists as the Irish nationalist Home Rule candidate to oppose Reginald Greville-Nugent, who is supported by the Catholic clergy, in the Longford by-election. Greville-Nugent initially wins the vote but the result is nullified by Judge Fitzgerald on the grounds that voters had been illegally influenced in the non-secret voting process. In the May 1870 re-run, Butt’s second candidate, Edward Robert King-Harman, like Martin a Protestant landlord, is also defeated, but this time legally.

Contradictions and factionalism are symptomatic of the struggle for influence and leadership at the time between the waning Church of Ireland and the rising Irish Catholic Church. Hence a secular Protestant land-owning, non-violent elite reformist nationalist who desires Home Rule like Martin, can find himself both sympathetic to and at odds with a militant organisation like the Fenians with their Jacobin– and American-influenced ideas of revolutionary republicanism and different social roots. Until Charles Stewart Parnell, the Isaac Butt-originated Home Rule forces could not obtain the support of the Catholic Church under the anti-Fenian Cardinal Paul Cullen or manage to achieve more than short-term tactical alliances with Fenians, leading to a split and uncoordinated opposition to British rule. Protestants such as Martin and John Mitchel, with their early political roots in Young Ireland, are, whatever their political ideals, not part of the majority Catholic mainstream, which consists largely of tenants rather than landlords.

In the January 1871 by-election, Martin is elected by a margin of 2–1 to the seat of Meath in the British parliament as the first Home Rule MP, representing first Isaac Butt’s Home Government Association and from November 1873 the Home Rule League. This is unusual for a Protestant in a Catholic constituency, and is a measure of the popular esteem Martin is held in. He retains his seat in the 1874 United Kingdom general election as one of 60 Home Rule members. He is commonly known as “Honest John Martin.” In parliament he speaks strongly for Home Rule for Ireland and opposes Coercion Bills.

Martin dies in Newry, County Down, on March 29, 1875, homeless and in relative poverty, having forgiven tenant fees during preceding years of inflation and low farm prices. His parliamentary seat of County Meath is taken up by Charles Stewart Parnell.

Martin marries Henrietta Mitchel, the youngest sister of John Mitchel, on November 25, 1868, after twenty years of courtship. She shares her husband’s politics, and after his death campaigns for home rule believing this to be a continuation of the Young Ireland mandate. After the split in the party, she sides with Charles Stewart Parnell. She dies at her home in Dublin on July 11, 1913, and is buried in Newry.


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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Birth of Cornelius Denvir, Mathematician & Lord Bishop of Down and Connor

Cornelius Denvir, Roman Catholic Prelate, mathematician, natural philosopher and Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, is born on August 13, 1791, at Ballyculter, County Down. He is noted for ministering in Belfast amidst growing sectarian tension, taking a moderate and non-confrontational stance, to the annoyance of his pro-Catholic followers. He is also a professor at Maynooth College as well as Down and Connor Diocesan College, and is active in the local scientific community.

Denvir is educated at Dr. Nelson’s Classical School in Downpatrick, being described by peers as an enthusiastic child with a love for sight-seeing. According to one biographer, young Denvir also shows interest in the catechism by attending local visits from the then Bishop of Down and Connor, Dr. Patrick MacMullan, who is resident in Downpatrick. In September 1808, he enrolls at Maynooth College, and is appointed chair of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics there in August 1813.

As chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at Maynooth College, Denvir is noted for changing the style of education at the college from pure logic-based reasoning in Mathematics to a more holistic, topical approach. He is also noted for emphasising experimentation and the importance of the scientific method in teaching natural philosophy, with several sources noting his well-stocked labs.

While at Maynooth College Denvir teaches both Nicholas Callan, the inventor and physicist, and Dominic Corrigan, the noted Irish physician. According to several accounts, both speak fondly of their old professor, to the point of Callan gifting Denvir one of his induction coils in thanks.

Denvir is ordained first as deacon in June 1813, then a priest in May 1814, performing his liturgical duties in conjunction with his academic ones. In 1826, he leaves Maynooth College to become the parish priest of Downpatrick. In 1833 he becomes a professor at the newly founded St. Malachy’s College, teaching classes in Latin, Greek and Mathematics. He continues his duties as parish priest and professor until 1835, when he is appointed Bishop of Down and Connor in succession to Dr. William Crolly.

As 22nd Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, Denvir emphasises the teaching of the Catechism to youth as well as emphasising the importance of scripture to the diocese. In 1841 he helps fund the start of construction of St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast, which is completed in 1845. In his later years, he falls under criticism by other Belfast Catholics, who claim he is neglectful of his duties, especially those relating to expanding and defending Catholicism in the face of growing Protestant influence. Some accounts attribute his shortcomings to poor health and temperament, while others suggest that he backs away from expansion to avoid conflict with Protestant groups.

Denvir suffers from personal finance problems during his time as Bishop. The construction of St. Malachy’s Church puts him into deep personal debt, which he is apparently arrested for some time after 1844. He is also criticised for selling seats in the newly constructed church to offset costs. He is also described as reluctant in asking for funds from parishioners, severely limiting his resources with which to care for the church.

Denvir is appointed Commissioner of National Education in 1853. He is noted for being supportive of non-denominational education and investigating reports of proselytism in public primary education. He later resigns this position in 1857 on request of the Holy See to focus on expanding the local Catholic school system.

In 1860, after years of illness compounded by age, Denvir is assigned Dr. Patrick Dorrian as a coadjutor bishop to assist in his episcopal duties. While ill health is said to be the predominant reason for the appointment of a coadjutor, contemporary newspaper accounts suggest there also might be an ideological reason for the appointment. In The Spectator it is noted in December 1859 “it may be, because he is too liberal for the Cullen epoch.”

In May 1865, Denvir resigns as Bishop and is succeeded by Dorrian. He dies one year later on July 10, 1866, in his residence on Donegall St., after suffering from fainting fits a few days prior. He is buried in Ballycruttle Church.