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 Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor

Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Brosna, County Kerry, on July 4, 1870. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1924 to 1935.

At seventeen O’Connor leaves school to become a stonemason. In October 1893, at the age of 23, he goes to Boston, where he stays five years. On his return to Ireland, he moves to Dublin, where he soon establishes himself as a “speculative builder” constructing houses in Anglesea Road, Dolphin’s Barn, Eglington Road, Brendan Road, and Donnybrook.

O’Connor joins the Gaelic League in 1900, through which he comes into contact with many of the future leaders of the Independence movement, including Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada. He is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909 and enrolls in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the same night as Éamon de Valera.

While not directly involved during the Easter Rising, O’Connor is recognised and arrested on his return to Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Gaol, then to Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Prison, and finally to Frongoch internment camp, in North Wales.

On his release in September 1916, O’Connor re-establishes his business and takes up his political activities. He reconnects with members of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League at 46 Parnell Square, and takes part in the re-organising of the fragmented IRB. He canvasses for by-elections in Kilkenny and Armagh on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates W. T. Cosgrave and Patrick McCartan.

O’Connor is involved with the revolutionary Sinn Féin party during the time of the First Dáil, handling money and hiding documents for Michael Collins. He purchases 76 Harcourt Street for Michael Collins, following a raid on the Sinn Féin Office at No. 6. There he installs a secret recess for private papers and means of escape through the skylight. When the recess escapes discovery following a raid, he goes on to construct hiding places in many of the other houses used by the movement. He is one of the shareholders of the National Land Bank which is set up in March 1920 at 68 Lower Leeson Street.

O’Connor plays a role in the “National Loan,” raised by Collins to fund the fledgling Dáil Éireann. The loan, which had been declared illegal, is lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees. The gold is kept under the floor of O’Connor’s house until 1922.

O’Connor takes the pro-Treaty side during the subsequent split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election, in the Dublin County constituency.

After the death in November 1923 of Cumann na nGaedheal TD Michael Derham, O’Connor is the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the Dublin County by-election on March 19, 1924, when he is elected to the 4th Dáil ahead of Seán MacEntee. He retains his seat at the next four general elections, joining Fine Gael when Cumann na nGaedheal merges in 1933 with the National Centre Party and the Blueshirts. He serves as a Trustee of Cumann na nGaedheal.

After his death on February 7, 1935, the 1935 Dublin County by-election is won by Cecil Lavery of Fine Gael.


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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers has campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill meets secretly with Childers at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by world leaders including the Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Birth of Labour Party Leader Frank Cluskey

Frank Cluskey, Irish politician and leader of the Irish Labour Party from 1977 to 1981, is born in Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Cluskey is educated at St. Vincent’s C.B.S. in Glasnevin. He works as a butcher and then joins the Labour Party. He quickly becomes a branch secretary in the Workers’ Union of Ireland. At the 1965 general election he is elected as a Labour Party Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-Central constituency. In 1968 he is elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. In 1973 he is appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Brendan Corish. He introduces sweeping reforms to the area while he holds that position. He plays a leading role in initiating the EU Poverty Programmes.

The Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition is defeated at the 1977 general election resulting in the resignation of Brendan Corish as Labour Party leader. Cluskey is elected the new leader of the Labour Party. In 1981, the Labour Party enters into a coalition government with Fine Gael. However Cluskey has lost his seat in Dáil Éireann at the 1981 general election and with it the party leadership. He is appointed on July 1, 1981 as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Dublin, replacing Michael O’Leary, who had resigned the seat after succeeding Cluskey as Labour leader.

The coalition government falls in January 1982 over a budget dispute, and Cluskey is re-elected to the Dáil at the February 1982 general election. When the coalition returns to office after the November 1982 election, Cluskey is appointed as Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism. He then resigns from the European Parliament, to be replaced by Brendan Halligan.

On December 8, 1983 Cluskey resigns as Minister due to a fundamental disagreement over government policy about the Dublin Gas Company. He retains his Dáil seat in the 1987 general election.

Following his re-election Cluskey’s health begins to deteriorate. He dies in Dublin on May 7, 1989 following a long battle with cancer.


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First Edition of the “Irish Independent” Printed

irish-independent-first-issueThe first edition of the Irish Independent, flagship publication of Independent News & Media (INM) and Ireland’s largest-selling daily newspaper, is printed on January 2, 1905.

The Irish Independent is formed in 1905 as the direct successor to the Daily Irish Independent, an 1890s pro-Parnellite newspaper, and is launched by William Martin Murphy, a controversial Irish nationalist businessman, staunch anti-Parnellite and fellow townsman of Charles Stewart Parnell‘s most venomous opponent, Bantry’s Timothy Michael Healy.

During the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913, in which Murphy is the leading figure among the employers, the Irish Independent vigorously sides with its owner’s interests, publishing news reports and opinion pieces hostile to the strikers, expressing confidence in the unions’ defeat and launching personal attacks on the leader of the strikers, James Larkin. The Irish Independent describes the 1916 Easter Rising as “insane and criminal” and famously calls for the shooting of its leaders. In December 1919, during the Irish War of Independence, a group of twenty Irish Republican Army (IRA) men destroy the printing works of the paper, angered at its criticism of the IRA’s attacks on members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and British government officials. In 1924, the traditional nationalist newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal, merges with the Irish Independent. Until October 1986 the paper’s masthead over the editorial contains the words “incorporating the Freeman’s Journal.”

For most of its history, the Irish Independent is seen as a nationalist, Catholic, anti-Communist, newspaper which gives its political allegiance to the Pro-Treaty party Cumann na nGaedheal and later its successor party, Fine Gael. During the Spanish Civil War, the Irish Independent‘s coverage is strongly pro-Franco and the paper criticizes the De Valera government for not intervening on behalf of the Spanish Nationalists.

In the 1970s, the Irish Independent is taken over by former Heinz chairman Tony O’Reilly. Under his leadership, it becomes a more populist, market liberal newspaper — populist on social issues but economically right-wing. By the mid-nineties its allegiance to Fine Gael has ended. In the 1997 general election, it endorses Fianna Fáil under a front page editorial entitled “It’s Payback Time.” While it suggests its headline refers to the fact that the election offers a chance to “pay back” politicians for their failings, its opponents suggest that the “payback” actually refers to its chance to get revenge for the refusal of the Rainbow Coalition to award the company a mobile phone licence.

In late 2004, Independent Newspapers moves from their traditional home in Middle Abbey Street to a new office, “Independent House” in Talbot Street, with the printing facilities already relocated to the Citywest business park near Tallaght.

On September 27, 2005, a fortnight after the paper publishes its centenary edition, it is announced that editor Vinnie Doyle will step down after 24 years in the position. He is replaced by Gerry O’Regan, who has until then been editor of the Irish Independent‘s sister paper, the Evening Herald. The newspaper’s previous editor Stephen Rae is also formerly editor of the Evening Herald and is appointed editor in September 2012. Fionnan Sheahan is appointed editor in January 2015.

In January 2008, at the same time as completing the purchase of Today FM, Ireland’s last national radio station independent of Denis O’Brien and state broadcaster RTÉ, O’Brien increases his INM shareholding to become the company’s second-largest shareholder behind Tony O’Reilly. In May 2008, O’Brien ousts O’Reilly and acquires a majority shareholding. Traditionally a broadsheet newspaper, it introduces an additional compact size in 2004 and in December 2012, following O’Brien’s takeover, it is announced that the newspaper will become compact only.

(Pictured: the first edition of the Irish Independent)


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Mary Robinson Elected First Woman President of the Republic

mary-robinson-1Mary Robinson becomes the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland on November 7, 1990. She becomes the first Labour Party candidate, the first woman, and the first non-Fianna Fáil candidate in the history of contested presidential elections to win the presidency.

Brian Lenihan, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence is chosen by Fianna Fáil as their candidate, though he faces a late challenge for the party nomination from another senior minister, John P. Wilson, TD. Lenihan is popular and widely seen as humorous and intelligent. He has delivered liberal policy reform (relaxed censorship in the 1960s), and is seen as a near certainty to win the presidency.

Fine Gael, after trying and failing to get former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former Tánaiste Peter Barry to run, ultimately nominate the former civil rights campaigner and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) member Austin Currie. Currie is elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1989 general election and has been a minister in Brian Faulkner‘s power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland from 1973–1974. However Currie has little experience in the politics of the Republic and is widely seen as the party’s last choice, nominated only when no one else is available.

The Labour Party lets it be known that it would for the first time run a candidate. Along with the Workers’ Party, Labour nominates the independent candidate Mary Robinson, SC, a former Labour Party member and senator, and liberal campaigner. Robinson is a former Reid Professor of Law in the Trinity College, Dublin. She is previously involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and the campaign to save Wood Quay.

Lenihan enters the race as odds-on favourite. No Fianna Fáil candidate has ever lost a presidential election. However, Lenihan is derailed when he confirms in an on-the-record interview with freelance journalist and academic researcher Jim Duffy that he has been involved in controversial attempts to pressurise the President, Patrick Hillery, over a controversial parliamentary dissolution in 1982. As a result of the contrast between his public denials during the campaign and his confirmation during an earlier interview recorded in May, he is dismissed from the Irish government.

At this point a cabinet colleague, Pádraig Flynn, launches a controversial personal attack on Mary Robinson “as a wife and mother,” an attack that is itself attacked in response as “disgraceful” on live radio by Michael McDowell, a senior member of the Progressive Democrats, then in coalition with Fianna Fáil and up to that point supporting Lenihan’s campaign. Flynn’s attack is a fatal blow to Lenihan’s campaign, causing many female supporters of Lenihan to vote for Robinson in a gesture of support.

Lenihan nonetheless receives a plurality of first-choice votes. Mary Robinson beats Austin Currie, forcing Fine Gael’s candidate into third place. Under Ireland’s system of single transferable vote, Robinson receives over 75% of the transfers when Austin Currie is eliminated, beating Lenihan into second place and becoming the seventh President of Ireland.

While the role of the presidency in day-to-day politics is a very limited one, the Robinson presidency is regarded by many observers as a watershed in Irish society, symbolising the shift away from the conservative ultra-Catholic male-dominated Ireland which existed up until the end of the 1980s to the more liberal society symbolised by Robinson.

Robinson is generally credited with raising the profile of the office of president, which has been considered little more than an honorary figurehead position under her predecessors. Prior to Mary Robinson’s presidency it was not unusual to hear commentators advocating the abolition of the office of president, a viewpoint that is almost never advanced nowadays.


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Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland Approved

eighth-amendmentThe Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which introduces a constitutional ban on abortion by recognizing a right to life of an unborn child, is approved by referendum on September 7, 1983 and signed into law on October 7 of the same year. It is often referred to as the Irish Pro-Life Amendment.

The amendment is adopted during the Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government led by Garret FitzGerald but is drafted and first suggested by the previous Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey. The amendment is supported by Fianna Fáil and some of Fine Gael, and is generally opposed by the political left. Most of those opposed to the amendment, however, insist that they are not in favour of legalising abortion. The Roman Catholic hierarchy supports the amendment, but it is opposed by the other mainstream churches. After an acrimonious referendum campaign, the amendment is passed by 67% voting in favour to 33% voting against.

Under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, abortion is already illegal in Ireland. However, anti-abortion campaigners fear the possibility of a judicial ruling in favour of allowing abortion. In McGee v. Attorney General (1973), the Supreme Court of Ireland had ruled against provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 prohibiting the sale and importation of contraception on the grounds that the reference in Article 41 to the “imprescriptable rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law” of the family conferred upon spouses a broad right to privacy in marital affairs. In the same year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on similar grounds in Roe v. Wade to find a right to an abortion grounded on privacy.

The Pro-Life Amendment Campaign (PLAC) is founded in 1981 to campaign against a ruling in in Ireland similar to Roe. Prior to the 1981 general election, PLAC lobbies the major Irish political parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Labour Party – to urge the introduction of a Bill to allow the amendment to the constitution to prevent the Irish Supreme Court so interpreting the constitution as giving a right to abortion. The leaders of the three parties – respectively Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, and Frank Cluskey – agree although there is little consultation with any of their parties’ ordinary members. All three parties are in government over the following eighteen months but it is only in late 1982, just before the collapse of a Fianna Fáil minority government, that a proposed wording for the amendment is produced.

The referendum is supported by PLAC, Fianna Fáil, some members of Fine Gael, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy and opposed by various groups under the umbrella name of the Anti-Amendment Campaign (AAC), including Labour senator, and future President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, feminist campaigners, and trade unions.

There is currently a campaign for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in Ireland. This is led by both a coalition of human rights and pro-choice groups and has widespread support from a number of legal academics and members of the medical profession. In the run up to the 2016 general election, a number of parties commit to a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and a group of feminist law academics publish model legislation to show what a post-Eighth Amendment abortion law could look like. In June 2016, Minister for Health Simon Harris states his support for a referendum on repealing the 8th.

On July 27, 2016, the government appoints Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy as chair of a Citizens’ Assembly to consider a number of topics, including the Eighth Amendment.