seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Éamonn Ceannt, Irish Republican

eamonn-ceanntÉamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.

Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.

In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.

In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.

As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.

The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.

After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.

Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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The Stardust Nightclub Fire

stardust-ballroom-artaneThe Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames in the early hours of February 14, 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 die and 214 are injured as a result of the fire.

The fire starts due to an electrical fault in a first floor store room inside the building that is open to the roof space. The non-compliant storage room contains dangerously flammable materials including drums of cooking oil. The staff observes a small fire outbreak on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and fail in an attempt to extinguish it. This fire apparently starts after fire in the roof space comes through the roof tiles and falls onto the seat. The fire then spreads to tables and chairs and patrons notice smoke. The disc jockey announces that there is a small fire and requests a calm evacuation.

Outside, the fire is first spotted by a lady 200 metres from the Stardust and she calls the Dublin Fire Brigade. Within the same minute of her call, two other calls are made from the Stardust building to tell the Fire Brigade that there is a small fire on a seat in the ballroom. The fire is very small when first seen in the ballroom. Within two minutes a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly start coming from the ceiling, causing the material in the ceiling to melt and drip on top of patrons and other highly flammable materials including the seats and carpet tiles on the walls. The fire flashover envelopes the club and the lights fail.

The attendees at a trade union function taking place in the same building make their escape but the escape of some of the Stardust patrons is hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits are padlocked around the push bars and consequently are impossible to open.

The failure of the lighting in the club leads to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively run for the main entrance. Many people mistake the entrance to the men’s toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there have metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempt in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescue 25 to 30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Civil Defence Ireland, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St. John Ambulance Ireland are dispatched to the scene. Many ambulances leave the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIÉ also sends buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations ask people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured and dying, in particular Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Jervis Street Hospital and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals.

The investigation at the time reports that the cause of the fire is arson. The finding of arson has recently been ruled out by investigators, as there was never any evidence to support the arson finding, even at the time of the tragedy.

There are allegations of a huge cover-up as to the cause of so many fatalities. There is a meeting before the public inquiry in 1981 of all of the experts including the Judge when the concept of arson is determined to be the cause to protect the Dublin Corporation from having to pay out millions in compensation to the victims and families. The Coolock Garda investigation is excellent but the Tribunal distorts the evidence. The Inquiry Report and the team of experts and coached witnesses conspire to conceal the truth and determine arson to be the cause without any evidence.

The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.


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Death of Jim Mitchell, Fine Gael Politician

jim-mitchellJim Mitchell, senior Irish politician who serves in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, loses his three-year battle with cancer in Dublin on December 2, 2002.

Mitchell begins his political involvement when he supports Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joins Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s unsuccessful candidate in a by-election in 1970. He seeks a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agrees not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello goes on to serve as Attorney General of Ireland in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Mitchell is elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, at the age of 29, he becomes the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South-West and loses again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he is elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appoints Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell is elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increases its number of seats, forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald causes some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell are appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapses in January 1982, but regains power in December of that year. Mitchell again is included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell grants the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on November 29, 1985. This is granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license breaks Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

Mitchell, who is seen as being on the social liberal wing of Fine Gael, is out of favour with John Bruton when he becomes Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton forms the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994, Mitchell is not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contests and wins Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He runs for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also is director of elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton is deposed as Fine Gael leader and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell serves as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. He also chairs the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under his chairmanship is widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and wide-scale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors,” who holds onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal is primarily middle class, Mitchell loses his Dublin Central seat in the 2002 general election. That election witnesses a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Although Mitchell suffers from the swing against Fine Gael in Dublin, he is not aided by the fact that Inchicore, which is considered his base in the constituency has been moved to Dublin South-Central. He chooses not to run in that constituency as his brother, Gay, is a sitting Teachta Dála (TD) running for re-election for that constituency.

Mitchell earlier has a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation is successful, the cancer returns. Although he appears to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately dies of the disease on December 2, 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, describes Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.”


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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.


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Opening of the Custom House in Dublin

custom-houseThe Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim), a neoclassical 18th century building in Dublin which houses the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, opens on November 7, 1791. It is located on the north bank of the River Liffey, on Custom House Quay between Butt Bridge and Talbot Memorial Bridge.

A previous Custom House had been built in 1707 by engineer Thomas Burgh. However, by the late 18th century it is deemed unfit for purpose.

The building of a new Custom House for Dublin is the idea of John Beresford, who becomes first commissioner of revenue for Ireland in 1780. In 1781 he appoints James Gandon as architect, after Thomas Cooley, the original architect on the project, dies. This is Gandon’s first large scale commission. The new Custom House is unpopular with the Dublin Corporation and some city merchants who complain that it moves the axis of the city, would leave little room for shipping, and is being built on what at the time is a swamp. Purchase of land is delayed and proves exorbitant and the laying of foundations is disrupted by the High Sheriff and members of the Dublin Corporation with a mob of several thousand. However, Beresford is determined to complete the project and ignores the protests.

Construction begins in 1781, and for his assistants Gandon chooses Irish artists such as Meath stone-cutter Henry Darley, mason John Semple, and carpenter Hugh Henry. Every available mason in Dublin is engaged in the work. When it is completed and opens for business on November 7, 1791, it has cost £200,000 to build – a considerable sum at the time. The four facades of the building are decorated with coats-of-arms and ornamental sculptures by Edward Smyth representing Ireland’s rivers. Another artist, Henry Banks, is responsible for the statue on the dome and other statues.

As the port of Dublin moves further downriver, the building’s original use for collecting custom duties becomes obsolete, and it is used as the headquarters of local government in Ireland. During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) burns down the Custom House in an attempt to disrupt British rule in Ireland. Gandon’s original interior is completely destroyed in the fire and the central dome collapses. A large quantity of irreplaceable historical records are also destroyed in the fire. Despite achieving its objectives, the attack on the Custom House is a setback for the IRA as a large number of Volunteers are captured either during the attack or when falling back.

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it is restored by the Irish Free State government. The results of this reconstruction can still be seen on the building’s exterior today. The dome is rebuilt using Irish Ardbraccan limestone which is noticeably darker than the Portland stone used in the original construction. This is done as an attempt to promote Irish resources.

Further restoration and cleaning of the stonework is done by an Office of Public Works team in the 1980s.


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Death of Kathleen Clarke, Founder of Cumann na mBan

kathleen-clarkeKathleen Clarke (née Daly), a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and one of very few privy to the plans of the Easter Rising in 1916, dies in Dublin on September 29, 1972. She is the wife of Tom Clarke and sister of Edward “Ned” Daly, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising. She is subsequently a Teachta Dála (TD) and senator with both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939–41).

Kathleen Daly is born into a prominent Fenian family in Limerick on April 11, 1878, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, is at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. He is released in 1896 and returns home to Limerick. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, is released in 1898 he travels to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stays with the Daly family.

In 1901 Daly decides to emigrate to the United States to join Tom, who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They marry on July 16, 1901 in New York City. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continues to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joins the Gaelic League while in the United States and they return to Ireland in November 1907.

In 1914 Clarke becomes a founder member of Cumann na mBan. Her husband forbids her permission to take an active part in the 1916 Easter Rising as she has orders regardless of how the events pan out. As Tom Clarke is the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he is chosen to be executed for his part in the Easter Rising. Her younger brother, Ned Daly, is also executed for taking part in the rising. She visits both of them before they are executed. After the Rising, Michael Collins establishes contact with her while in prison in his attempts to re-build the IRB network. She also sets up the Irish National Aid Fund to aid those who had family members killed or imprisoned as a result of the Easter Rising, closely aided by Sorcha MacMahon.

Clarke becomes a member of Sinn Féin and in 1917 is elected a member of the party’s Executive. During the German Plot she is arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months. During the Irish War of Independence she serves as a District Judge on the Republican Courts in Dublin. In 1919 she is elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation and serves until the Corporation is abolished in 1925.

Clarke is elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin TD to the Second Dáil at the 1921 elections for the Dublin Mid constituency. She is not re-elected at the 1922 general election, however, and supports the Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. In 1926 she becomes a founder member of Fianna Fáil and has to resign from Cumann na mBan. She is re-elected to the short-lived 5th Dáil at the June 1927 election as a Fianna Fáil member for the Dublin Mid constituency but loses her seat at the September 1927 election and does not regain it. She is elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad for nine years at the 1928 Seanad election under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remains a member of the Seanad until it is abolished in 1936.

In 1930 Clarke is elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil along with Robert Briscoe, Seán T. O’Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Oscar Traynor. She serves as the first Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Dublin as well as the first female Lord Mayor, from 1939 to 1941. She opposes the Constitution of Ireland as she feels that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She is criticised by many in the Fianna Fáil organisation as a result and, while she resigns from the Thomas Clarke Cumann, she remains a member of the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.

While Clarke does not support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in England during World War II, she appeals for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government to be given clemency. Ultimately this leads to her breaking with the party completely after her term as Lord Mayor finishes in 1941. She declines to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election.

In 1966, as part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising, Clarke and other surviving relatives are awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland. Following her death on September 29, 1972, she receives the rare honour of a state funeral. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin.


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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.