seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Londonderry Tragedy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most tragic events of the Great Famine occurs on December 1, 1848 when 72 people suffocate in the small aft cabin of the paddle steamer Londonderry, which often sails between Sligo and Liverpool.

One hundred seventy-two men, women, and children, mostly impoverished farmers from County Mayo and County Sligo, and their families, fleeing the ravages of the Great Famine, board the Londonderry in Sligo in late November. As the steamer is approaching Derry on the first leg of its journey to England, a sudden storm prompts Captain Alexander Johnstone to order his crew to force all the passengers into a small aft cabin, measuring about eighteen feet in length and, at most, twelve feet wide. The situation is exacerbated when the only ventilation available is covered with a tarpaulin to ensure that water does not get into the cabin. As a result, many of the passengers begin to suffocate.

The captain seeks refuge from the storm in the harbour at Derry on December 1. When the hatches of the Londonderry are opened it reveals a horrific scene. The corpses of 31 women, 23 men and 18 children are found in the grossly overcrowded hold. Soldiers are called to the docks as public rage intensifies. The public outcry that follows belatedly forces the British government to publish guidelines for the safe transport of Irish Immigrants, too late unfortunately for the victims of the coffin ship Londonderry.

After the tragic voyage, the master and two mates are arrested. During an inquest, survivors accuse the Scottish crew of being cruel and savage. The captain says that he had given orders for the decks to be cleared for the passengers’ safety while the storm raged.

The coroner’s jury returns a verdict of manslaughter, commenting that more consideration was shown to the cattle than the passengers entrusted to their care.

In 1996 six coffins are found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry, in grounds close to the former workhouse. They are believed to be the remains of some of the poverty-stricken travelers from the ill-fated paddle steamer.

(Pictured: The Great Hunger Plaque, Derry, near Derry County Borough, Derry, Clooney Park, Creggan and Boom Hall)

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Death of Michael Cusack, Founder of the GAA

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, dies in Dublin on November 25, 1906.

Cusack is born on the eastern fringe of the Burren to Irish speaking parents in Carran, County Clare on September 20, 1847, during the Great Famine. He becomes a national school teacher and in 1874, after teaching in various parts of Ireland, becomes a professor at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own civil service academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also reputed to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival, initially as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Gaelic League who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that he and Nally agree on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics.

He would recall how both Nally and himself, While walking through Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depresses Cusack and Nally that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to artisans in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack together with Maurice Davin, of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, calls a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and founds the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin on November 27, 1906 at the age of 59. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.


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The Treaty of Limerick

treaty-stone-limerickThe Treaty of Limerick, which actually consists of two treaties, is signed on October 3, 1691 ending the Williamite War in Ireland between the Jacobites and the supporters of William III of England, widely known as William of Orange. Reputedly they are signed on the Treaty Stone, an irregular block of limestone which once served as a mounting block for horses. This stone is now displayed on a pedestal in Limerick, put there to prevent souvenir hunters from taking pieces of it. Because of the treaty, Limerick is sometimes known as the Treaty City.

After his victory at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, William III issues the Declaration of Finglas which offers a pardon to Jacobite soldiers but excludes their senior officers from its provisions. This encourages the Jacobite leaders to continue fighting and they win a major victory during the 1691 Siege of Limerick. However, defeats the following year at the Battle of Aughrim and the second siege of Limerick leave the Williamites victorious. Nonetheless the terms they offer to Jacobite leaders at Limerick are considerably more generous than those a year earlier at Finglas.

One treaty, the Military Articles, deals with the treatment of the disbanded Jacobite army. This treaty contains twenty-nine articles. Under the treaty, Jacobite soldiers in formed regiments have the option to leave with their arms and flags for France to continue serving under James II of England in the Irish Brigade. Some 14,000 Jacobites choose this option. Individual soldiers wanting to join the French, Spanish or Austrian armies also emigrate in what becomes known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. The Jacobite soldiers also have the option of joining the Williamite army. One thousand soldiers chose this option. The Jacobite soldiers thirdly have the option of returning home which some 2,000 soldiers choose.

The second treaty, the Civil Articles, which contains thirteen articles, protects the rights of the defeated Jacobite landed gentry who choose to remain in Ireland, most of whom are Catholics. Their property is not to be confiscated so long as they swear allegiance to William III and Mary II, and Catholic noblemen are to be allowed to bear arms. William requires peace in Ireland and is allied to the Papacy in 1691 within the League of Augsburg.

It is often thought that the Treaty of Limerick is the only treaty between Jacobites and Williamites. A similar treaty had been signed on the surrender of Galway on July 22, 1691, but without the strict loyalty oath required under the Treaty of Limerick. The Galway garrison had been organised by the mostly-Catholic landed gentry of counties Galway and Mayo, who benefited from their property guarantees in the following century.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the Treaty of Limerick may have been signed)


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Execution of Bartholomew Teeling

bartholomew-teelingBartholomew Teeling, Irish republican who is leader of the Irish forces during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, is executed at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin on September 24, 1798.

Teeling is born in Lisburn, County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland in 1774 and is educated at the Dubordieu School in Lisburn and at Trinity College Dublin. His younger brother, Charles Teeling, goes on to be a writer. In 1796 he enlists in the Society of United Irishmen and travels to France to encourage support for a French invasion of Ireland.

Teeling returns to Ireland on August 22, 1798 as chief aide-de-camp to General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert and lands at Killala Bay between County Sligo and County Mayo with French troops. On August 28 the combined forces capture Castlebar and declare the Republic of Connacht. The Franco-Irish troops then push east through County Sligo but are halted by a cannon which the British forces have installed above Union Rock near Collooney.

On September 5, 1798, Teeling clears the way for the advancing Irish-French army by single handedly disabling a British gunner post during the Battle of Collooney in Sligo when he breaks from the French ranks and gallops towards Union Rock. He is armed with a pistol and shoots the cannon’s marksman and captures the cannon. The French and Irish advance and the British, after losing the cannon position, retreat towards their barracks at Sligo, leaving 60 dead and 100 prisoners.

During the Battle of Ballinamuck at Longford, Teeling and approximately 500 other Irishmen are captured along with their French allies. The French troops are treated as prisoners of war and later returned to France, however the Irish troops are executed by the British.

Teeling is court-martialled by Britain as an Irish rebel and for committing treason. To positively identify him, the authorities enlist William Coulson, a damask manufacturer from Lisburn, who identifies him as a son of Luke Teeling, a linen merchant who lived in Chapel Hill, Lisburn. Bartholomew Teeling is hanged at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin on September 24, 1798.

In 1898, the centenary year of the battle, a statue of Teeling is erected in Carricknagat. One of the main streets in Sligo, which accommodates the Sligo Courthouse and main Garda Síochána barracks, is later named Teeling Street also in honour of Bartholomew Teeling.


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Sinking of the HMS Wasp

hms-waspHMS Wasp, a composite screw Banterer-class gunboat of the Royal Navy, is wrecked off Tory Island, County Donegal on September 22, 1884 with the loss of 52 lives. There are six survivors.

The Banterer class is designed by Nathaniel Barnaby, the Admiralty Director of Naval Construction. The keel of the HMS Wasp is laid at Barrow Iron Shipbuilding as yard number 71 and she is launched on October 5, 1880. She is commissioned on December 1, 1881 and is rigged with three masts, making her a barquentine-rigged vessel.

On her final voyage, HMS Wasp, under the command of Lieutenant J.D. Nicholls, is sailing from Westport, County Mayo, in the West of Ireland, to Moville in Inishowen, County Donegal, in Ulster, to pick up a party of police, bailiffs and court officials. These are to be transported to Inishtrahull, an island off Malin Head, to carry out evictions for non-payment of rents. Ironically, the ship had delivered urgently needed supplies of seed potatoes to the same islanders the previous year.

In the early morning of September 22, 1884, HMS Wasp is near Tory Island. The weather is cloudy with occasional squalls and rain showers. The commanding officer and most of the crew are in their bunks. The lieutenant navigating the ship is relatively unfamiliar with the area in which the ship is sailing. At 3:55 AM HMS Wasp runs aground on a reef. The initial shock breaks the hull of the ship and she begins to rapidly fill with water. The commander orders the ship’s boats lowered but HMS Wasp hits the reefs again, sinking so quickly that the boats cannot be launched. HMS Wasp sinks within fifteen minutes. Six crewmen manage to cling to one of the gunboat’s spars and they wash ashore on Tory Island and are found by islanders. The other 52 crew aboard drown.

A court martial is held for the survivors. The finding is that the cause of the wreck was a lack of care taken with the vessel’s navigation, but the survivors are all exonerated. The wreck is sold to the Cornish Salvage Co. in November 1910.


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Death of Mick Lally, Stage, Film & Television Actor

mick-lallyMichael “Mick” Lally, Irish stage, film and television actor, dies in Dublin on August 31, 2010. He departs from a teaching career for acting during the 1970s. Though best known in Ireland for his role as Miley Byrne in the television soap Glenroe, his stage career spans several decades, and he is involved in feature films such as Alexander and the Academy Award-nominated The Secret of Kells. Many reports cite him as one of Ireland’s finest and most recognisable actors.

Born on November 10, 1945 and reared in the Gaeltacht village of Toormakeady, County Mayo, Lally is the eldest of a family of seven children. He goes to the local national school in Toormakeady and then to St. Mary’s College, Galway. After studying at University College Galway he teaches history and Irish for six years in Archbishop McHale College in Tuam from 1969 to 1975, but quits teaching to pursue his career as a stage actor.

Lally begins his acting career with Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, Ireland’s national Irish language theatre, and is a founding member of the Druid Theatre Company. He receives an Irish Times/ESB Theatre Award Nomination for Best Actor for his role in Druid’s production of The Dead School. He also becomes a member of the Field Day Theatre Company, and stars in the company’s 1980 premiere of Brian Friel‘s play Translations. He first plays at the Abbey Theatre in 1977 in a production of Wild Oats and goes on to perform in many other Abbey productions.

In 1982, Lally stars in the TV series The Ballroom of Romance alongside Brenda Fricker. From 1983 he plays the role of Miley Byrne in the RTÉ soap Glenroe, reprising the character that he played earlier in Bracken in 1978. In 1979, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance as Miley in Bracken. He also has some musical success when “The By-road to Glenroe” goes to the top of the Irish charts in 1990. He is also involved in voice-over work, including a noted advertisement for Kilmeaden Cheese during the 1990s. Other TV appearances include roles in Tales of Kinvarna, The Year of the French and Ballykissangel.

In 1994, Lally plays the character Hugh in The Secret of Roan Inish, and in 1995 portrays Dan Hogan in the film adaptation of Maeve Binchy‘s Circle of Friends. Other film roles included Poitín, Our Boys, The Outcasts, A Man of No Importance and others. In later years, he provides the voice of Brother Aidan in the Academy Award-nominated The Secret of Kells, an animated film directed by Tomm Moore.

Lally appears in several TV advertisements encouraging elderly people to “release the equity tied up in their homes” during the Celtic Tiger.

Mick Lally dies on the morning of August 31, 2010, after a short stay in the hospital. The cause of death is reported as heart failure, arising from an underlying emphysema condition. His funeral takes place in Dublin on September 2, 2010. The Irish Examiner comments that the “nation has lost one of its favourite uncles.” Personalities from TV, film, theatre and politics attend, while President of Ireland Mary McAleese sends a letter and Lally receives a standing ovation at the end.