seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Opening of the Volta Electric Theatre in Dublin

Under the managership of the writer James Joyce, Ireland’s first cinematographic theatre, the Volta Electric Theatre (later renamed the Lyceum Picture Theatre), opens at 45 Mary Street in Dublin on December 20, 1909. The site has since been demolished and is occupied today by a department store.

In the early 1900s, demand for moving pictures is fierce and cinemas are springing up all over the world. After visiting Trieste, Joyce is determined to bring a cinema to Ireland. After receiving the backing of his Italian friends, he sets up the Cinematograph Volta on Mary Street. It opens its doors on December 20, 1909. The opening night features an eclectic program, with the comedy Deviled Crab, the mystery Bewitched Castle, La Pourponièrre, The First Paris Orphanage, and The Tragedy of Beatrice Cency. A popular actor is Charlie Chaplin.

Joyce soon becomes disillusioned with the venture, as the cinema mainly shows films from Europe and Italy, which are largely shunned by Dubliners at the time. After seven months, Joyce withdraws his involvement and the cinema is sold to the British Provincial Cinema Company. The cinema remains open until 1919.

In 1921, it is reopened as the Lyceum Picture Theatre following alterations which increase seating from 420 to 600. In the 1940s, Capitol and Allied Theatres Ltd. acquires the cinema. However, it closes its doors for the last time in 1948. Although it survives almost 40 years, the cinema is rarely successful.

Penneys, a fast fashion retailer and subsidiary of the British food processing and retail company Associated British Foods, purchases the building along with adjacent shops and builds a department store on the demolished site. For many years the site of Ireland’s first cinema is unknown to many as there is no plaque to commemorate it. However, on June 12, 2007, a plaque is unveiled on the original site marking the significance of 45 Mary Street.

A connection between the name and cinema in Ireland still remains. Volta is a streaming service for mainly Irish content.


Leave a comment

Irish Businessman Ben Dunne Kidnapped by the IRA

Ben Dunne, an Irish businessman, is kidnapped by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 16, 1981. Former director of his family firm, Dunnes Stores, one of the largest chains of department stores in Ireland, he now owns a chain of fitness centres established by his company Barkisland Developments Limited.

Dunne is born in Cork, County Cork on March 3, 1949 to Nora Maloney and Ben Dunne, a business man who founded Dunnes Stores. He is the last of six children.

In 1981, he is kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days. He is released unharmed after his friend and fellow businessman, Patrick Gallagher, pays his £1 million ransom.

In 1992, Dunne is arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida. His arrest triggers the end of his leadership of Dunnes Stores, as family turmoil leads to control falling to his sister Margaret Heffernan and the company paying IR£100 million for his share of the business.

Dunne is again embroiled in scandal in the mid-1990s when it emerges he had given large amounts of money to a number of Irish politicians, mainly from the Fianna Fáil party including the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. He also gave money to Michael Lowry of Fine Gael. Justice Brian McCracken, sole member of The McCracken Tribunal which is established by the Irish Government in 1997, finds that Dunne knowingly assisted Lowry in evading his tax obligations. On March 22, 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal concludes of Ben Dunne’s dealings with Michael Lowry that “What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr. Dunne and Mr. Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking.” The report refers to its finding Lowry sought to influence a rent review of a building part-owned by Dunne.

Dunne now owns a chain of fitness centres called Ben Dunne Gyms located in Dublin and Liverpool, which he personally promotes on radio, using recent Irish advertising legislation which allows direct comparisons to named competitors. He was working on a new health club, to open in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, but abandons the project due to complaints from local residents.

In April 2005 Dunne pays £3,000,000 for a 21-acre site in Motspur Park, New Malden (South London), former home of BBC Football Club and other BBC sports facilities. His intent is to apply for planning permission to build a leisure and fitness centre, but he does not do so. Instead, in February 2008, his company Barkisland Developments Limited submits a planning application to the Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council for change of use of the sports ground to a cemetery. The application to change the former BBC Sports Ground into a cemetery is withdrawn on October 3, 2008 after it had become clear that planning permission was likely to be refused. Objections are lodged by many local residents, sports clubs, Sport England and the Mayor of London.


Leave a comment

“The Irish Times” Is Launched In Dublin

The Irish Times is launched at 4 Lower Abbey Street in Dublin on March 29, 1859. The first appearance of a newspaper using the name occurs in 1823 but it closes in 1825. The title is revived as a thrice weekly publication by Major Lawrence E. Knox. It is originally founded as a moderate Protestant newspaper, reflecting the politics of Knox, who stands unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League. In its early days, its main competitor is the Dublin Daily Express.

After Knox’s death in 1873, the paper is sold to the widow of Sir John Arnott, MP, a former Lord Mayor of Cork and owner of Arnotts, one of Dublin’s major department stores. The sale, for £35,000, leads to two major changes. Its headquarters is shifted to 31 Westmoreland Street, remaining in buildings on or near that site until 2005. Its politics also shifts dramatically, becoming predominantly Unionist in outlook, and it is closely associated with the Irish Unionist Alliance. The paper, along with the Irish Independent and various regional papers, calls for the execution of the leaders of the failed 1916 Easter Rising.

Though the paper becomes a publicly listed company in 1900, the family continues to hold a majority shareholding until the 1960s. The last member of the Arnott family to sit on the paper’s board is Sir Lauriston Arnott, who dies in 1958.

The editor during the 1930s, R. M. “Bertie” Smyllie, has strong anti-fascist views: he angers the Irish Catholic hierarchy by opposing General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. Later, The Irish Times, like other national newspapers, has problems with Irish Government censorship during World War II. The newspaper is largely pro-Allied and is opposed to the Éamon de Valera government’s policy of neutrality.

In 1974, ownership is transferred to a non-charitable trust, The Irish Times Trust. The Trust is set up as “a company limited by guarantee” to purchase The Irish Times Limited and to ensure that The Irish Times will be published as an independent newspaper with specific editorial objectives. The former owner, Major Thomas Bleakley McDowell, is made “president for life” of the trust which runs the paper and is paid a large dividend. However several years later the articles of the Trust are adjusted, giving Major McDowell ten preference shares and one more vote than the combined votes of all the other directors should any move be made to remove him. Major McDowell dies in 2009.

The Trust is regulated by a legal document, the Memorandum and Articles of Association, and controlled by a maximum of eleven Governors under company law. It is not a charity and does not have charitable status. It has no beneficial shareholders and it cannot pay dividends. Any profits made by The Irish Times cannot be distributed to the Trust but must be used to strengthen the newspaper, directly or indirectly.

In 1994, The Irish Times establishes a website called Irish-times.ie, the first newspaper in Ireland and one of the first 30 newspapers in the world to do so. The company acquires the domain name Ireland.com in 1997, and from 1999 to 2008, uses it to publish its online edition. On June 30, 2008, the company relaunches Ireland.com as a separate lifestyle portal and the online edition of the newspaper is now published at irishtimes.com. It is supplied free of charge, but a subscription is charged to view its archives.

On October 15, 2012, John O’Shea, Head of Online, The Irish Times, announces that the ireland.com domain name has been sold to Tourism Ireland, and that the ireland.com email service will end on November 7, 2012, affecting about 15,000 subscribers. The newspaper announces on February 17, 2015 the reintroduction of a paywall for its website, irishtimes.com, beginning on February 23.

In December 2017, it is reported that The Irish Times has reached an agreement to purchase the newspaper, radio and website interests of Landmark Media Investments which include the Irish Examiner. Initially subject to regulatory approval, this sale is completed in July 2018. In September 2018, following the Landmark Media Investments acquisition, The Irish Times starts a voluntary redundancy scheme.

Average print circulation is approximately 100,000 copies per issue in 2011, dropping to approximately 62,000 by 2017. The circulation of the newspaper is no longer audited.


Leave a comment

Birth of James White, Science Fiction Writer

james-whiteJames White, author of science fiction novellas, short stories and novels, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 7, 1928.

White is educated in Belfast at St. John’s Primary School and St. Joseph’s Technical Secondary School. As a teenager he lives with foster parents. He wants to study medicine but financial circumstances prevented this. Between 1943 and 1965 he works for several Belfast tailoring firms and then as assistant manager of a Co-op department store. He marries Margaret “Peggy” Sarah Martin, another science fiction fan, in 1955 and the couple has three children. He later works for the aeroplane builders Short Brothers as a technical clerk, publicity assistant and publicity officer.

White becomes a science fiction fan in 1941, attracted particularly by the works of E. E. “Doc” Smith, which features good aliens as well as evil ones, and of Robert A. Heinlein, many of whose stories concern ordinary people. In 1947 he meets another Irish fan, Walt Willis, and the two help to produce the fan magazines Slant and Hyphen, which feature stories and articles by noted authors including John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler and Bob Shaw. In 2004 both White and Willis are nominated for the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer of 1953, although neither wins. White says that he started writing stories because the Slant team felt that Astounding Stories of Super-Science was too dominated by prophesies of nuclear doom, and his friends dared him to write the kind of story that they all liked to read. Getting published is fairly easy during the 1950s, as the World War II restrictions on paper are ended, and there are at least 12 science magazines in Britain and about 40 in the United States. His first published short story, Assisted Passage, a parody of 1950s Anglo-Australian emigration policies, appears in the January 1953 edition of the magazine New Worlds. Further stories appear in New Worlds during the next few years, but White’s attempt to access the more lucrative American market by submitting stories to Astounding Stories of Super-Science stall after the publication of The Scavengers. As a result, White’s work is little-known outside the UK until the 1960s.

In 1957, Ace Books publishes White’s first novel, The Secret Visitors, which includes locations in Northern Ireland. Ace Books’ science fiction editor, Donald A. Wollheim, thinks the original ending is too tame and suggests that White should insert an all-out space battle just after the climactic courtroom scene. In November of the same year New Worlds publishes White’s novella Sector General, and editor John Carnell requests more stories set in the same universe, founding the series for which White is known best. White gains a steady following for his scientifically accurate stories, which are examples of hard science fiction in New Worlds, despite the magazine’s promotion of literary New Wave science fiction during the 1960s.

White keeps his job with Short Brothers and writes in the evenings, as his stories do not make enough money for him to become a full-time author. In 1980 he teaches a literature course at a Belfast branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. When diabetes has severely impaired his eyesight, he takes early retirement in 1984 and relocates to the north County Antrim resort town of Portstewart, where he continues to write. For many years he is a Council Member of the British Science Fiction Association and, with Harry Harrison and Anne McCaffrey, a Patron of the Irish Science Fiction Association. He is also a strong pacifist.

James White dies of a stroke in Portstewart, Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 23, 1999, while his novels Double Contact and The First Protector are being prepared for publication.