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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Death of Statesman Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke, statesman born in Dublin, dies on July 9, 1797 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England. He is also known as an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher who, after moving to London, served as a member of parliament (MP) for many years in the House of Commons with the Whig Party.

Burke receives his early education at a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare. In 1744, he enters Trinity College, Dublin, a Protestant establishment, which up until 1793, did not permit Catholics to take degrees. He graduates from Trinity in 1748. Burke’s father wants him to read Law, and with this in mind he goes to London in 1750, where he enters the Middle Temple, before soon giving up legal study to travel in Continental Europe. After eschewing the Law, he pursues a livelihood through writing.

Burke criticizes British treatment of the American colonies, including through its taxation policies. He also supports the American Revolution, believing both that it could not affect British or European stability and would be an innovative experiment in political development since the Americas are so far away from Europe and thus could have little impact on England.

Burke is remembered for his support for Catholic emancipation, the impeachment of Warren Hastings from the East India Company, and for his later opposition to the French Revolution. In his Reflections on the Revolution in France, he claims that the revolution is destroying the fabric of good society, and condemned the persecution of the Catholic Church that results from it. This leads to his becoming the leading figure within the conservative faction of the Whig Party, which he dubs the “Old Whigs,” as opposed to the pro–French Revolution “New Whigs” led by Charles James Fox.

For more than a year prior to his death, Burke realizes that his “stomach” is “irrecoverably ruind.” Edmund Burke dies in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, on July 9, 1797 and is buried there alongside his son and brother. His wife, Mary Jane Nugent, survives him by nearly fifteen years.

In the nineteenth century Burke is praised by both conservatives and liberals. Subsequently, in the twentieth century, he becomes widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.


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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.


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The Sallins Train Robbery

The Sallins Train robbery occurs on March 31, 1976 when the Cork to Dublin mail train is robbed near Sallins in County Kildare. Approximately £200,000 is stolen. Five members of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, Osgur Breatnach, Nicky Kelly, Brian McNally, Mick Plunkett, and John Fitzpatrick, are arrested in connection with the robbery.

After the failure of the authorities to produce a “book of evidence” against them, the four are released but are immediately re-arrested. During interrogation in Garda Síochána custody, all except Plunkett sign alleged confessions, presenting with extensive bruising and injuries they claim are inflicted by members of the Gardaí.

While awaiting trial, Fitzpatrick jumps bail and leaves the country. The trial of McNally, Kelly, and Breatnach in the Special Criminal Court becomes the longest-running trial in Irish criminal history, at 65 days, before it collapses due to the death of one of the three judges, Judge John O’Connor of the Circuit Court.

Medical evidence of beatings is presented to the court, both during the initial trial and the second trial. The court rejects this evidence, finding that the beatings have been self-inflicted or inflicted by the co-accused. Anticipating a conviction, Kelly flees before the conclusion of the second trial. The three are found guilty, solely on the basis of their confessions, and sentenced to between nine and twelve years in prison. Kelly is sentenced in absentia.

In May 1980, Breatnach and McNally are acquitted on appeal on the grounds that their statements had been taken under duress. The same month, the Provisional Irish Republican Army claims responsibility for the robbery. Kelly returns to Ireland from the United States in June 1980, expecting to be acquitted. Instead he is incarcerated in the maximum-security Portlaoise Prison and spends the next four years proclaiming his innocence, including a 38-day period on hunger strike.

After a campaign by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International, and others and a song, Wicklow Boy, by the popular folk singer Christy Moore, Kelly is eventually released on “humanitarian grounds” in 1984. He is given a presidential pardon in 1992 and receives £1,000,000 in compensation. Breatnach and McNally are also given compensation.


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Birth of Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo

richard-southwell-bourkeRichard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo, statesman, Viceroy of India, and prominent member of the British Conservative Party from Dublin, is born in Dublin on February 21, 1822.

Mayo is the eldest son of Robert Bourke, 5th Earl of Mayo, and his wife, Anne Charlotte, daughter of the Hon. John Jocelyn. His younger brother, the Hon. Robert Bourke, is also a successful politician. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin.

After travelling in Russia, Mayo enters parliament for Kildare in 1847, a seat he holds until 1852, and then represents Coleraine from 1852 to 1857 and Cockermouth from 1857 to 1868. He is thrice appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland – in 1852, 1858, and 1866. In 1869 he becomes the fourth Viceroy of India where he is locally often referred to as “Lord Mayo.” He consolidates the frontiers of India and reorganises the country’s finances. He also does much to promote irrigation, railways, forests, and other useful public works. He establishes local boards to solve local problems. During his tenure, the first census takes place in 1872. The European-oriented Mayo College at Ajmer is founded by him for the education of young Indian chiefs, with £70,000 being subscribed by the chiefs themselves.

While visiting the convict settlement at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands in 1872 for the purpose of inspection, he is assassinated by Sher Ali Afridi, an Afridi Pathan convict who uses a knife. His murderer appears to be motivated only by a sense of injustice at his own imprisonment, and has resolved to kill a high-ranking colonial official. Mayo’s body is brought home to Ireland and buried at the medieval ruined church in Johnstown, County Kildare, near his home at Palmerstown House. Afridi is hanged.

In 1873, the newly discovered swallowtail butterfly Papilio mayo from the Andaman Islands is named in his honour. The traditional Irish march Lord Mayo (Tiagharna Mhaighe-eo) is named after him. According to tradition, it is composed by his harper David Murphy to appease Mayo after Murphy angered him.

lord-mayo-statueOn August 19, 1875 a statue of Lord Mayo is unveiled in the town of Cockermouth in the centre of the main street. The 800-guinea cost of the statue is raised by public subscription. The statue, carved in Sicilian marble, depicts Lord Mayo in his viceregal garb, and still stands today.

In 2007, a statue of Lord Mayo is unearthed in Jaipur, India, after being buried for six decades. The statue had previously been installed in the premises of Mayo Hospital, currently known as the Mahilya Chikatsalya, Jaipur. The 9-foot-tall cast-iron statue, weighing around 3 tons, was ordered sculpted by the Maharaja Ram Singh ji of Jaipur, as a tribute to Lord Mayo after his assassination. To prevent it from vandalism, the statue is buried in the premises of the Albert Hall Museum of Jaipur at the time of the independence of India. After six decades, the statue is unearthed by the Jaipur Mayo Alumni Chapter on May 29, 2007, and sent to Mayo College, in Ajmer, India, where it is installed. Mayo College in Ajmer already has a full life-size statue of Lord Mayo sculpted in white marble installed in front of its famous Main Building since inception and a marble sculpted bust of him in its School Museum.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Joseph Mary Plunkett

joseph-mary-plunkettJoseph Mary Plunkett, Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, is born at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin on November 21, 1887.

Both his parents come from wealthy backgrounds, and his father, George Noble Plunkett, has been made a papal count. Despite being born into a life of privilege, young Joe Plunkett does not have an easy childhood.

Plunkett contracts tuberculosis at a young age. This is to be a lifelong burden. His mother is unwilling to believe his health is as bad as it is. He spends part of his youth in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean and North Africa. He spends time in Algiers where he studies Arabic literature and language and composes poetry in Arabic. He is educated at the Catholic University School and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College in Dublin and later at Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England, where he acquires some military knowledge from the Officers’ Training Corps. Throughout his life, Plunkett takes an active interest in Irish heritage and the Irish language, and also studies Esperanto. He is one of the founders of the Irish Esperanto League. He joins the Gaelic League and begins studying with Thomas MacDonagh, with whom he forms a lifelong friendship. The two are both poets with an interest in theatre, and both are early members of the Irish Volunteers, joining their provisional committee. Plunkett’s interest in Irish nationalism spreads throughout his family, notably to his younger brothers George and John, as well as his father, who allows his property in Kimmage, south Dublin, to be used as a training camp for young men who wish to escape conscription in Britain during the First World War. Men there are instead trained to fight for Ireland.

Sometime in 1915 Plunkett joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and soon after is sent to Germany to meet with Roger Casement, who is negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Casement’s role as emissary is self-appointed, and, as he is not a member of the IRB, the organisation’s leadership wishes to have one of their own contact Germany to negotiate German aid for an uprising the following year. Plunkett is seeking, but not limiting himself to, a shipment of arms. Casement, on the other hand, spends most of his energies recruiting Irish prisoners of war in Germany to form a brigade to fight instead for Ireland. Some nationalists in Ireland see this as a fruitless endeavour, and prefer to seek weapons. Plunkett successfully gets a promise of a German arms shipment to coincide with the rising.

Plunkett is one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that is responsible for planning the Easter Rising, and it is largely his plan that is followed. Shortly before the rising is to begin, Plunkett is hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health. He has an operation on his neck glands days before Easter and has to struggle out of bed to take part in what is to follow. Still bandaged, he takes his place in the General Post Office with several other of the rising’s leaders, including Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke, though his health prevents him from being terribly active. His energetic aide-de-camp is Michael Collins.

Following the surrender Plunkett is held in Kilmainham Gaol, and faces a court-martial. Seven hours before his execution by firing squad at the age of 28, he is married in the prison chapel to his sweetheart Grace Gifford, a Protestant convert to Catholicism, whose sister, Muriel, had years before also converted and married his best friend Thomas MacDonagh, who is also executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Plunkett is executed by firing squad on May 4, 1916 and is the fourth and youngest signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic to be executed.

Plunkett’s brothers, George Oliver Plunkett and Jack Plunkett, join him in the Easter Rising and later become important Irish Republican Army (IRA) men. His father’s cousin, Horace Plunkett, is a Protestant and unionist who seeks to reconcile unionists and nationalists. Horace Plunkett’s home is burned down by the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

The main railway station in Waterford City is named after Plunkett as is Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun. Plunkett barracks in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare is also named after him.