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


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Birth of Thomas Steele, Engineer & Political Activist

Thomas (Tom) Steele, engineer and political activist, is born on November 3, 1788 at Derrymore, County Clare, the son of William Steele, gentleman, and Catherine Steele (née Bridgeman).

In July 1805 Steele enters Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA in the spring of 1810. He then studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he graduates MA in 1820, becoming an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the same year. In 1821 he inherits Cullane House, near Craggaunowen, County Clare, on the death of his uncle. Of an enthusiastic and adventurous nature, in 1823 he decides to support the cause of the liberals in Spain who had rebelled against the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII in 1820. Mortgaging the house and lands at Cullane, he purchases a large quantity of arms and ships them to Spain on board the ship Iris. Commissioned in the Legion Estrenjera of the liberal army, he distinguishes himself in the Battle of Trocadero and the defence of Madrid. He later publishes an account of his experiences, Notes on the war in Spain (London, 1824).

Returning from Spain with his fortunes ruined, Steele begins experiments with underwater diving apparatus, patenting “Steele’s improved diving-bell” in 1825. In the same year he becomes a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which attempts to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships which sank in Vigo Bay in 1702. After extensive diving operations using Steele’s diving-bell, the company is wound up at an acrimonious meeting of shareholders in September 1826. Despite claims by some of the shareholders that bullion had been found, the scheme is a total failure.

Steele is involved in the Catholic Association and, a close friend of Daniel O’Connell, is active in the emancipation campaign although himself a protestant. In 1828 he seconds O’Connell’s nomination for Clare in the general election of that year. Appointed by O’Connell as ‘Head Pacificator,’ he tours the country collecting weapons and discouraging the rural population from engaging in faction fighting. There is a certain irony in this appointment, as Steele’s own volatile temper is well known. A noted duelist, he fights an inconclusive duel in 1829 with William Smith O’Brien, who had opposed O’Connell’s second candidature for County Clare. In 1828 he is a founder of the Limerick Independent Club.

An associate of the diving pioneers John and Charles Deane, Steele dives on the wreck of the Intrinsic, off the Clare coast in January 1836, using their new diving helmet. He then begins developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, and in 1840 dives with the Deane brothers off Plymouth on the wreck of Henry VIII‘s ship, the Mary Rose. Yet he is in serious financial difficulties, which are not helped by some of his more eccentric building projects. It is said of him that “he seemed utterly incapable of rationally estimating the value of money in his own case.” He begins renovating, at great expense, a ruined castle that stands on his land at Cullane. He also later has a large standing stone, known as the ‘Umbilicus Hiberniae’ (‘Navel of Ireland’), removed from Birr, King’s County (now County Offaly), and taken to his house. At Cullane it is set up as an altar and used for mass whenever O’Connell or members of the Catholic Association visit. It is not returned to Birr until 1974.

Known as “Honest Tom Steele,” Steele is deeply devoted to O’Connell, and is one of his key lieutenants during the repeal campaigns of the 1830s and 1840s. He takes his title and responsibilities as O’Connell’s “Head Pacificator” so seriously and generally expresses himself with such long-winded pomposity that he becomes something of a figure of fun for opponents of O’Connell and for many of the younger men in the Repeal Association. Tried on conspiracy charges after the prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting, he is one of the six “traversers” imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail from May to September 1844. Strongly supporting O’Connell’s repudiation of physical force, he chairs and takes a prominent part in the peace resolution debates of July 1846 in which the Young Ireland group walks out of the Repeal Association.

After the death of O’Connell on May 15, 1847, Steele falls into a deep depression and, financially ruined, jumps from Waterloo Bridge in London on April 19, 1848. Pulled from the river by a Thames boatman, he survives for a number of weeks. Former political opponents, including Lord Brougham, offer financial help but he refuses. He dies on June 15, 1848, and his remains are taken to Dublin, where he is waked at Conciliation Hall, the headquarters of the Repeal Association, on Burgh Quay. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, beside O’Connell’s tomb. He appears as one of the figures on the O’Connell memorial in O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Steele never marries, but harbours an unrequited passion for a Miss Eileen Crowe of Ennis, County Clare, and is often to be seen standing on a large rock, which comes to be known as “Steele’s Rock,” on the banks of the River Fergus in Ennis as he tries to catch a glimpse of Miss Crowe, who lives across the river.

(From: “Steele, Thomas (Tom)” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: (L to R) Thomas Steele, Daniel O’Connell and O’Gorman Mahon by Joseph Patrick Haverty)


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Death of Pat Upton, Labour Party Politician & Veterinarian

Pat Upton, Irish Labour Party politician and veterinarian, dies of a heart attack on February 22, 1999.

Upton is born in Kilrush, County Clare and educated at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, at University College Galway, and at University College Dublin (UCD) where he receives a doctorate in veterinary medicine. He then works as a lecturer.

Upton is first elected to public office as a Labour Party member of Dublin County Council for Terenure at the 1991 Irish local elections, where he serves until the Council’s abolition in 1994, and then as a member of South Dublin County Council until 1999.

Upton unsuccessfully contests the Dublin South-Central constituency at the 1989 Irish general election. However, he is then elected to the 19th Seanad on the Agricultural Panel, and becomes the Labour Party’s leader in Seanad Éireann.

At the 1992 Irish general election, Upton stands again in Dublin South-Central, and in Labour’s “Spring Tide” surge at that election, he tops the poll with nearly 12,000 first-preference votes, a remarkable 1.48 quotas. He is re-elected at the 1997 Irish general election with a considerably reduced vote.

In the 28th Dáil Upton is appointed as Labour’s spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A leading critic of Labour’s 1999 merger with the Democratic Left, he nonetheless becomes the party’s spokesman on communications and sport after the merger.

Upton is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 1994–95.

Upton dies suddenly of a heart attack on February 22, 1999 at the UCD Veterinary College, where he is an occasional lecturer. He is taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and his death is officially confirmed. He is survived by his wife and their four children. Politicians of all parties pay glowing tributes to him for his outspoken but “erudite and incisive” contributions to politics and to Irish culture.

The by-election for Upton’s Dáil seat in Dublin South-Central is held on October 27, 1999, and won for the Labour Party by his sister Mary Upton.

Following Upton’s death, the University College Dublin branch of the Labour party is named in his honour due to his involvement with the college. It has since been renamed to honour the Spanish Civil War veteran Charlie Donnelly.


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Birth of Composer Gerald Barry

Gerald Barry, Irish composer, is born in Clarehill, Clarecastle, County Clare, on April 28, 1952.

Growing up in rural County Clare, Barry has little exposure to music except through the radio: “The thing that was the lightning flash for me, in terms of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, would have been an aria from a Handel opera, from Xerxes maybe, that I heard on the radio. I heard this woman singing this, and bang – my head went. And that was how I discovered music.” He is educated at St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, County Clare. He goes on to study music at University College Dublin, in Amsterdam with Peter Schat, in Cologne with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel, and in Vienna with Friedrich Cerha. He teaches at University College Cork from 1982 to 1986.

“Barry’s is a world of sharp edges, of precisely defined yet utterly unpredictable musical objects. His music sounds like no one else’s in its diamond-like hardness, its humour, and sometimes, its violence.” He often conceives of material independently of its instrumental medium, recycling ideas from piece to piece, as in the reworking of Triorchic Blues from a violin to a piano piece to an aria for countertenor in his television opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit:

“It seemed to me unprecedented: the combination of the ferociously objective treatment of the material and the intense passion of the working-out, and both at an extreme of brilliance. And the harmony – that there was harmony at all, and that it was so beautiful and lapidary. It functions, again, irrationally, but powerfully, to build tension and to create structure. It wasn’t just repetitive. It builds. And the virtuosity, the display of it, that combination of things seemed, to me, to be new, and a major way forward.”

Barry’s most recent opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, has become a huge success after its world premiere at Los Angeles and European premiere at the Barbican, London. A critic comments:

“He writes ‘what he likes’ in the way Strindberg does, not trying to characterise his characters, but letting them perform his own specialties, a kind of platform for his own musical specialties. As in Strindberg where you feel every sentence stands for itself and the characters are sort of borrowed for the use of saying them (borrowed to flesh out the text, rather than the other way round), that they’ve been out for the day. In Gerald’s opera the whole apparatus – for that’s what it is – takes on a kind of surrealistic shape, like one person’s torso on someone else’s legs being forced to walk, half the characters in the opera and half the composer.”

It is written in The Irish Times that “no other Irish composer springs to mind who carries the same aura of excitement and originality or whose music means so much to such a wide range of listeners. Certainly, there has been no Irish premiere that has made the impression of The Conquest of Ireland since Barry’s opera The Intelligence Park was seen at the Gate Theatre in 1990.”

In a 2013 guide to Barry’s musical output, Tom Service of The Guardian praises Chevaux-de-frise (1988), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (2005), Lisbon (2006), Beethoven (2008), and The Importance of Being Earnest (2012).


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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Birth of James Patrick Mahon, Journalist, Barrister & Parliamentarian

Charles James Patrick Mahon, Irish nationalist journalist, barrister, parliamentarian and international mercenary, is born into a prominent Roman Catholic family in Ennis, County Clare, on March 17, 1800.

Mahon, the eldest of four children, is the son of Patrick Mahon of New Park, who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Barbara, a considerable heiress and the only daughter of James O’Gorman of Ennis. He studies at Clongowes Wood College, where he is one of the earliest pupils, and at Trinity College Dublin, where he takes his BA in 1822 and his MA in law in 1832. Following his father’s death in 1821, he inherits half the family property and becomes a magistrate for Clare.

In 1830, Mahon marries Christina, the daughter of John O’Brien of Dublin. She is an heiress and has property valued at £60,000 in her own right, which gives him the resources to seek election to parliament. The couple spends little time together, and she dies apart from him in Paris in 1877. They have one son who dies in 1883.

In 1826, Mahon joins the newly formed Catholic Association. He encourages fellow member Daniel O’Connell to stand for election at the 1828 Clare by-election. O’Connell’s election, in which Mahon plays a large role, persuades the British Government to pass the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which finalises the process of Catholic Emancipation and permitted Roman Catholics to sit in the British Parliament.

As a result, when Mahon is elected for Clare at the 1830 United Kingdom general election, he is entitled to take his seat. However, during the election campaign he quarrels with O’Connell, and after his election he is unseated for bribery. He is subsequently acquitted, and stands again at the 1831 United Kingdom general election, but is defeated by two O’Connell-backed candidates, one of whom is his old schoolfriend Maurice O’Connell, Daniel O’Connell’s son. He gives up on politics, becomes deputy lieutenant of Clare, and captain of the local militia.

Mahon becomes a barrister in 1834, but the following year, he leaves for Paris. There he associates with Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, becoming a favourite at Louis Philippe‘s court and working as a journalist. He travels the world, spending time in both Africa, where he befriends Ferdinand de Lesseps, engineer of the Suez Canal, and South America, before returning to Ireland in 1846.

At the 1847 United Kingdom general election, Mahon is elected for Ennis, and declares himself a Whig in favour of Irish Repeal. However, he opposes the Young Irelanders, and narrowly loses his seat at the 1852 United Kingdom general election.

Following his defeat in the 1852 election, Mahon returns to Paris, then travels on to Saint Petersburg, where he serves in the Imperial Bodyguard. During this period, he journeys through lands from Finland to Siberia. He then travels across China, India and Arabia. His finances largely exhausted, he serves as a mercenary in the Ottoman and Austrian armies before returning to England in 1858. Late that year, he leaves for South America, where he attempts to finance the construction of a canal through Central America.

After exploits abroad Mahon returns to Ireland in 1871 and is a founding member of the Home Rule League. Nearly ruined by his ventures, he even ends up at the Old Bailey as a consequence of his dealings, but is acquitted. He is defeated in Ennis at the 1874 United Kingdom general election, and also at the 1877 Clare by-election. Finally, he wins the 1879 Clare by-election and holds the seat at the 1880 United Kingdom general election.

Mahon is a close associate of Charles Stewart Parnell, who he successfully nominates for the leadership of the League in 1880, but is dropped in 1885 as a party candidate because of his age and his tendency to vote with the Liberal Party in Parliament. He is also embroiled in a court case disputing the will of his son.

Parnell personally ensures Mahon is a candidate at the 1887 County Carlow by-election, which he wins at the age of 87 as a Liberal. By this point, he is the oldest MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. He dies at his home in South Kensington, London on June 15, 1891 while still in office.

Mahon had served alongside William O’Shea as an MP, and the two were close friends. He introduced him and Katharine O’Shea, his wife, to Parnell. After Parnell is named in the O’Sheas’ divorce case in 1890, Mahon splits with Parnell, siding with the Irish National Federation. However, Parnell attends Mahon’s funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery a few months later.

(Pictured: Caricature of James Patrick Mahon by Sir Leslie Matthew Ward under the pseudonym “Spy” published in Vanity Fair in 1885)


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Groundbreaking for the West Clare Railway

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CIE_F502_(17156275240).jpgCharles Stewart Parnell turns the first sod for the construction of the West Clare Railway (WCR) on January 27, 1885, although actual work on the line had begun in November 1884. The line is opened on July 2, 1887.

At the end of the Great Famine there is a new growth in local businesses. The British Government determines that an improved railway system is necessary to aid in the recovery of the West of Ireland. The West Clare Railway and the South Clare Railway are built by separate companies, but in practice the West Clare Railway operates the entire line. The lines meet at Milltown Malbay. In due course the entire line becomes known as the West Clare Railway.

The West Clare Railway originally operates in County Clare between 1887 and 1961. The 3-foot narrow gauge railway runs from the county town of Ennis, via numerous stopping points along the West Clare coast to two termini, at Kilrush and Kilkee, with the routes diverging at Moyasta Junction. The system is the last operating narrow gauge passenger system in Ireland and connects with the mainline rail system at Ennis, where a station still stands today for bus and train services to Limerick and Galway. Intermediate stops include Ennistymon, Lahinch and Milltown Malbay.

On 27 September 27, 1960, CIÉ gives notice of its intending closure with effect from February 1, 1961, despite the dieselisation of passenger services in 1952 and freight in 1953. CIÉ says that the West Clare is losing £23,000 per year, despite the considerable traffic it handles. In December 1960 it is announced that the line would close completely on January 1, 1961 although actual closure does not take place until January 31, 1961. CIÉ begins dismantling the line the following day.

A preservation society maintains a railway museum at Moyasta Junction station, and successfully re-opens a section of the railway as a passenger carrying heritage line with diesel traction in the 1990s, and with steam motive power from 2009.


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Birth of Tomás Mac Giolla, Irish Workers’ Party Politician

tomas-mac-giollaTomás Mac Giolla, Workers’ Party of Ireland politician who serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994, leader of the Workers’ Party from 1962 to 1988 and leader of Sinn Féin from 1962 to 1970, is born Thomas Gill in Nenagh, County Tipperary on January 25, 1924. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency from 1982 to 1992.

Mac Giolla’s uncle T. P. Gill is a Member of Parliament (MP) and member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father, Robert Paul Gill, an engineer and architect, also stands unsuccessfully for election on a number of occasions. His mother is Mary Hourigan.

Mac Giolla is educated at the local national school in Nenagh before completing his secondary education at St. Flannan’s College in Ennis, County Clare. It is while at St. Flannan’s that he changes to using the Irish language version of his name. He wins a scholarship to University College Dublin where he qualifies with a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a degree in Commerce.

A qualified accountant, Mac Giolla is employed by the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) from 1947 until he goes into full-time politics in 1977.

In his early life Mac Giolla is an active republican. He joins Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) around 1950. He is interned by the Government of Ireland during the 1956–1962 IRA border campaign. He also serves a number of prison sentences in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.

At the 1961 Irish general election, Mac Giolla unsuccessfully contests the Tipperary North constituency for Sinn Féin. In 1962, he becomes President of Sinn Féin, and is one of the people who moves the party to the left during the 1960s. In 1969, Sinn Féin splits and he remains leader of Official Sinn Féin. It is also in 1962 that he marries May McLoughlin who is also an active member of Sinn Féin as well as Cumann na mBan, the women’s section of the IRA. In 1977, the party changes its name to Sinn Féin the Workers Party and in 1982 it becomes simply the Workers’ Party.

Mac Giolla is elected to Dublin City Council representing the Ballyfermot local electoral area in 1979 and at every subsequent local election until he retires from the council in 1997. In the November 1982 Irish general election he is elected to Dáil Éireann for his party. In 1988, he steps down as party leader and is succeeded by Proinsias De Rossa. He serves as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1993 to 1994 and remains a member of Dublin Corporation until 1998.

While president Mac Giolla is regarded as a mediator between the Marxist-Leninist wing headed by Sean Garland and the social democratic wing of Prionsias De Rossa. At the 1992 special Ard Fheis he votes for the motion to abandon democratic centralism and to re-constitute the party much as the Italian Communist Party became the Democratic Party of the Left. However the motion fails to reach the required two-thirds majority. Following the departure of six Workers’ Party TDs led by De Rossa to form the new Democratic Left party in 1992, Mac Giolla is the sole member of the Workers’ Party in the Dáil. He loses his Dáil seat at the 1992 Irish general election by a margin of just 59 votes to Liam Lawlor of Fianna Fáil.

In 1999, Mac Giolla writes to the chairman of the Flood Tribunal calling for an investigation into revelations that former Dublin Assistant City and County Manager George Redmond had been the official supervisor at the election count in Dublin West and was a close associate of Liam Lawlor. In 2003, Redmond is convicted of corruption by a Dublin court but subsequently has his conviction quashed due to conflicting evidence.

In his eighties Mac Giolla continues to be active and is a member of the group which campaigns to prevent the demolition of No. 16 Moore Street in Dublin city centre, where the surrender after the Easter Rising was completed. He also serves on the Dublin ’98 committee to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Tomás Mac Giolla dies in Beaumont Hospital in Beaumont, Dublin on February 4, 2010 after a long illness.


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Muhammad Ali Fights Al Lewis in Dublin

muhammad-ali-and-al-lewisMuhammad Ali fights Al “Blue” Lewis in Dublin on July 19, 1972 and defeats him via a technical knockout (TKO) in the eleventh round.

After losing to Joe Frazier in March 1971, Ali goes on something of a world tour, fighting 13 times in six countries before defeating Frazier in a rematch in January 1974.

The promotion is the brainchild of a character from County Kerry named Butty Sugrue, known throughout Ireland as a circus strongman, whose alleged claim to fame is pulling double-decker buses by a rope in his teeth. Dublin journalists laugh at him when he first announces his intentions.

But despite the scepticism, the fight is arranged for July 19, 1972. As soon as he steps off the plane at Dublin Airport, Ali, ever the showman, immediately captures the heart of a nation by announcing that he has Irish roots. In the 1860s, Abe Grady left his native Ennis in County Clare and emigrated to the United States. In Kentucky, he met and married an emancipated slave. A century later Abe Grady’s great grandson Muhammad Ali touches down in Dublin.

In the week leading up to the fight Ali meets people from all walks of life in Dublin. He spends time with celebrities, including actor Peter O’Toole, and playfully spars with director John Huston, whose boxing movie, Fat City, is screened with both Ali and Lewis in attendance.

Ali also meets politicians, including Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Leinster House and political activist Bernadette Devlin. The Cork Examiner comments on how popular Ali has proven with politicians in Ireland. “Not since the late President John F. Kennedy was in Dublin in 1963 has a visitor from abroad been given as big a welcome at Leinster House as that accorded to Muhammad Ali.”

Ali is always about so much more than boxing, and that week in Dublin is another case in point, as the fight itself is not a classic. He has a cold and is wary of Lewis, who is a dangerous fighter and a man who had previously served time in prison for manslaughter. Ali who, prior to the bout predicts that his opponent’s chances of victory lay somewhere between “slim and none,” eventually wins with a TKO in the eleventh round.

In 2009, Ali returns to Ireland to visit Ennis in County Clare, the home town of his ancestor Abe Grady, where he is granted the freedom of the town. The huge crowds who come out to meet him are testament to his enduring appeal. But the magic of Muhammad Ali leaves an indelible impact on Ireland after his 1972 visit as the late Budd Schulberg, a legendary boxing writer, said, “Ali was like the Pied Piper. It was really kind of magical. He had enormous influence over there. He was a fellow Irishman.”

(From: “When Ali thrilled Ireland: How ‘the Greatest’ shook up Dublin” by Peter Crutchley, BBC NI Digital & Learning, June 6, 2016)


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Birth of Tom McBride, Ireland’s King of Country Music

tom-mcbrideTom McBride, Irish country, traditional, easy listening singer, guitarist, and saxophone player best known as Big Tom, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan on September 18, 1936. He is affectionally known as “Ireland’s king of country music.”

With a career spanning over five decades, McBride starts his career in 1966 as the frontman of the Irish showband Big Tom and The Mainliners. In 1980, suffering from a fear of flying, he undertakes a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to record his Blue Wings album in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2000, McBride undergoes a vocal cord nodule operation on his throat. On July 8, 2005, a plaque is erected by the local community in his home village of Castleblayney. In November 2006, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 70, which puts doubt into whether he will ever tour again with his band.

On February 1, 2008, McBride begins a 12-date tour of Ireland after doctors give him the all clear. On March 24, he performs at Castlebar‘s TF Ballroom’s final farewell night but reportedly takes ill on stage during the performance.

On 25 May, McBride performs for the closure night of the Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood, London. He is the headline act at London’s Irish Festival on July 27 and headlines the Claremorris Dance Festival weekend on November 23.

In July 2009, K-MAC Records announces more dates in Ireland for Big Tom and the Mainliners which commences in August. From August 14 to September 13, McBride runs a successful tour of Ireland with large attendances to venues. The highlight is the Glencarn Hotel in his hometown Castleblayney where the concert is packed to capacity. The tour ends in Ennis with fans travelling many miles to see McBride and the band. Two days after the end of the tour the band’s trombone player and vocalist Cyril McKevitt dies of a heart attack.

In 2010, McBride announces an extensive series of tour dates. From 2011 until his death in Drogheda, County Louth on April 17, 2018, McBride and his band continue to perform with sporadic appearances.

In June 2016, McBride becomes the inaugural artist to be inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame.


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Birth of Maura O’Connell, Singer & Actress

maura-oconnellMaura O’Connell, singer and actress known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish traditional music, strongly influenced by American country music, is born on September 16, 1958 in Ennis, County Clare.

Born into a musical family, O’Connell is the third of four sisters. Her mother’s family owns Costello’s fish shop in Ennis where O’Connell works until music becomes her full-time career. She grows up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlour music records. Her father’s interest leans towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O’Connell gets very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronts folk rock outfit Stockton’s Wing, they perform a country music set, as a duo called “Tumbleweed.”

O’Connell attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point from 1971 to 1974, where she takes part in the school choir. She is also a member of the “Cúl Aodha Choir”, led by Peader Ó Riada, that sings at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.

O’Connell begins her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the United States in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she is featured on the band’s landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, which becomes something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she becomes very interested in the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths cross. She moves to the United States in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she meets progressive bluegrass pioneers Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she works on most of her records.

O’Connell records her first solo album in 1983, however, it does not make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. She receives a Grammy Award nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which is her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1990) and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992) register a move toward a pop synthesis. Her versions of “Living in These Troubled Times” and Cheryl Wheeler‘s “Summerfly” become standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman’s Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman’s Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith‘s “Trouble in the Fields” and Gerry O’Beirne’s “Western Highway.” After numerous albums heavily inspired by American newgrass music, she returns to her Irish roots with the 1997 release Wandering Home.

As the new millennium approaches, O’Connell signs with Sugar Hill Records in late 2000 and begins working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, she has Ray Kennedy produce Walls and Windows, which is released in 2001, and features an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don’t I Know, contains musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel guitar and B-3 organ.

Naked With Friends (2009) is O’Connell’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to her solo work, O’Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, John Gorka, Béla Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison’s 1988 project with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton’s Wing on Take A Chance.

Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese casts O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th-century epic Gangs of New York, released in 2002.

O’Connell announces the end of her solo career in 2013.