seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.


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Birth of Frances Browne, Poet & Novelist

frances-browneFrances Browne, Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for Granny’s Wonderful Chair, her collection of short stories for children, is born on January 16, 1816, at Stranorlar, County Donegal, the seventh child in a family of twelve children.

Browne is blind from infancy as a consequence of an attack of smallpox when she is only 18 months old. In her writings, she recounts how she learned by heart the lessons which her brothers and sisters said aloud every evening, and how she bribed them to read to her by doing their chores. She then worked hard at memorising all that she had heard. She writes her first poem, a version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” when she is seven years old.

In 1841, her first poems are published in the Irish Penny Journal and in the London Athenauem. One of those included in the Irish Penny Journal is the beautiful lyric “Songs of Our Land” which can be found in many anthologies of Irish patriotic verse. She publishes a complete volume of poems in 1844, and a second volume in 1847. The provincial newspapers, especially the Belfast-based Northern Whig reprint many of her poems and she becomes widely known as “The Blind Poetess of Ulster.”

In 1845 she makes her first contribution to the popular magazine Chambers’s Journal and she writes for this journal for the next 25 years. The first short story that she has published in the Journal is entitled, “The Lost New Year’s Gift,” appearing in March 1845. She also contributes many short stories to magazines that have a largely female readership.

In 1847, she leaves Donegal for Edinburgh with one of her sisters as her reader and amanuensis. She quickly establishes herself in literary circles, and writes essays, reviews, stories, and poems, in spite of health problems. In 1852, she moves to London, where she writes her first novel, My Share of the World (1861). Her best known work, Granny’s Wonderful Chair, is published in 1856. It remains in print to this day and has been translated into several languages. It is a richly imaginative collection of fairy stories. It is also in 1856 that Pictures and Songs of Home appears, her third volume of poetry. This is directed at very young children and contains beautiful illustrations. The poems focus on her childhood experiences in County Donegal and provide evocative of its countryside.

After her move to London she writes for the Religious Tract Society, making many contributions to their periodicals The Leisure Hour and The Sunday at Home. One of these is “1776: a tale of the American War of Independence” which is printed in The Leisure Hour on the centenary of that event in 1876. As well as describing some of the revolutionary events, it is also a touching love story and is beautifully illustrated. Her last piece of writing is a poem called “The Children’s Day” which appears in The Sunday at Home in 1879.

Frances Brown dies from apoplexy on August 21, 1879, at 19 St. John’s Grove in Richmond-upon-Thames. She is buried on August 25, 1879, in plot 40 in the cemetery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Richmond, London. Frances dies unmarried and leaves all her belongings, valued at less than 100 pounds, to Eliza Hickman who had been her faithful companion and secretary for many years.


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Birth of Margaret Dobbs, Irish Scholar & Playwright

feis-na-ngleannMargaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish Language, is born in Dublin on November 19, 1871.

Dobbs’ father, Conway Edward Dobbs, is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875, and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. The family spends time living in Dublin which is where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish. However, when her father dies in 1898 her mother, Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland Eglantine, moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs’ interest in learning Irish continues and she finds it easier to learn in Donegal where the language is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. Dobbs is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The “Great Feis” takes place in Antrim in 1904. Dobbs is a founding member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are ever performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. However, her plays are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique, and in the Irish magazine Eriu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and, although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known, she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. She also is a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

She dies in Portnagalon, County Antrim, on January 2, 1962.