seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Dromcollogher Burning

drumcollogher-cinema-fireForty-eight people die when a fire breaks out in a make-shift cinema on the upper floor of the village hall in Dromcollagher, County Limerick, on September 5, 1926.

The conversion of village halls into makeshift cinemas is a common practice in many rural villages in Ireland, right up to the 1940s. Prints are often borrowed from cinemas in larger towns or in Cork city, and then bicycled over to smaller venues (sometimes surreptitiously).

During the Irish Free State period (1922-1937), the exhibition of films is still governed by legislation put in place by the British government in 1909. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stipulates that cinema owners must apply for a license to screen films, and that venues must observe strict safety standards. Such standards include encasing projectors in fireproof booths, ensuring that the highly-unstable nitrate film, then the industry standard, be properly stored and handled, and fitting out venues with several fire exits. The regulations are generally observed by established cinemas but they are often ignored by operators of ad hoc venues/makeshift conversions.

The consequences of such indifference to patron safety are tragically realized in the small town of Dromcollogher in West Limerick in 1926. Situated a few miles from the County Cork border, its population is around 500 at the time, hardly enough to sustain a full-time cinema. However, local hackney driver, William Forde, identifies a business opportunity that seems too good to pass up. Through a contact, Patrick Downey, who works as a projectionist in Cork city’s Assembly Rooms cinema, he arranges for a print of Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments to be bicycled over for an unofficial one-off screening.

Forde rents the upstairs room of a venue on Church Street, later described by the Leinster Express as a wooden two-story structure, and advertises his evening’s entertainment. He finds a readymade audience among the churchgoers that come out of the service in the adjacent Catholic Church and straight into the hall, many with their rosary beads still entwined in their hands. It is estimated that 150 people crowd into the room and ascend the ladder to the upstairs room. Though Forde has been informed by one local Garda that he cannot run a screening unless the venue is equipped with fire blankets and exits, he and Downey disregard the advice and, in a bid to reduce the weight for the cyclist bringing the reels from Cork, instruct that the fireproof metal cases be left behind in the city.

A generator hooked up to a lorry is used to power the borrowed projector, and candles to illuminate the makeshift box-office. It is one of those candles, placed in close proximity to an exposed film reel, which sparks off a series of small fires that quickly developed into an inferno. Some of those seated closest to the main exit manage to escape, but those nearer the screen find themselves trapped and iron bars that had been placed on the few windows in the hall windows seal their fate. Whole families are wiped out and the final death toll comes to 48. As newspapers of the time report, 1/10th of the town’s population is lost.

Newspapers around the world carry reports of the tragedy and a relief fund is set up for the survivors with Hollywood star Will Rogers being one of the contributors. President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State William T. Cosgrave later travels to the town to attend the mass funeral service held for the victims.

As for Forde and Downey, they are later charged with manslaughter but the State chooses not to pursue the prosecutions. Forde apparently later immigrates to Australia and possibly accidentally poisons himself, and two others, while working as a cook in the Outback.

The “Dromcollogher Burning”, as it becomes known, holds the dubious honour of Ireland’s worst cinema fire. Sadly, it is not the last time safety regulations are disregarded in an entertainment venue: 75 years later the devastating Stardust Nightclub fire in Dublin also claims the lives of 48 patrons.

(From: “The Dromcollogher Cinema Fire,” http://www.corkmoviememories.com | Image Source: National Library of Ireland)


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


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Murder of Irish Crime Reporter Veronica Guerin

veronica-guerin-1Journalist and crime scene reporter Veronica Guerin is murdered by drug lords in Dublin on June 26, 1996, an event which helped establish the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB).

Guerin is born in Artane, Dublin on July 5, 1958. She attends Catholic school where she excels in athletics and later studies accountancy at Trinity College, Dublin. She plays for both the Ireland women’s national basketball team and Republic of Ireland women’s national football team, representing the latter in a match against England at Dalymount Park in May 1981.

After she graduates, her father employs her at his company but, following his death three years later, she changes professions and starts a public relations firm in 1983, which she runs for seven years. In 1983–84, she serves as secretary to the Fianna Fáil group at the New Ireland Forum. She serves as Charles Haughey‘s personal assistant, and becomes a family friend, taking holidays with his children. In 1987 she serves as election agent and party treasurer in Dublin North for Seán Haughey.

In 1990, she changes careers again, switching to journalism as a reporter with The Sunday Business Post and Sunday Tribune, working under editor Damien Kiberd. Craving first-hand information, she pursues a story directly to the source with little regard for her personal safety, to engage those she deems central to a story. This allows her to build close relationships with both the legitimate authorities, such as the Garda Síochána, and the criminals, with both sides respecting her diligence by providing highly detailed information. She also reports on Irish Republican Army activities in the Republic of Ireland.

From 1994 onwards, she begins to write about criminals for the Sunday Independent. Using her accountancy knowledge to trace the proceeds of illegal activity, she uses street names or pseudonyms for organized crime figures to avoid Irish libel laws.

When she begins to cover drug dealers, and gains information from convicted drugs criminal John Traynor, she receives numerous death threats. The first violence against her occurs in October 1994, when two shots are fired into her home after her story on murdered crime kingpin Martin Cahill is published. Guerin dismisses the “warning.” The day after writing an article on Gerry “The Monk” Hutch, on January 30, 1995, she answers her doorbell to a man pointing a revolver at her head. The gunman misses and shoots her in the leg. Regardless, she vows to continue her investigations.

On September 13, 1995, convicted criminal John Gilligan, Traynor’s boss, attacks her when she confronts him about his lavish lifestyle with no source of income. He later calls her at home and threatens to kidnap and rape her son, and kill her if she writes anything about him.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, Gilligan drug gang members Charles Bowden, Brian Meehan, Kieran ‘Muscles’ Concannon, Peter Mitchell and Paul Ward meet at their distribution premises on the Greenmount Industrial Estate. The following day, while driving her red Opel Calibra, Guerin stops at a red traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin, unaware she is being followed. She is shot six times, fatally, by one of two men sitting on a motorcycle.

About an hour after Guerin is murdered, a meeting takes place in Moore Street, Dublin, between Bowden, Meehan, and Mitchell. Bowden later denies under oath in court that the purpose of the meeting is the disposal of the weapon but rather that it was an excuse to appear in a public setting to place them away from the incident.

At the time of her murder, Traynor is seeking a High Court order against Guerin to prevent her from publishing a book about his involvement in organised crime. Guerin is killed two days before she is due to speak at a Freedom Forum conference in London.

Guerin’s funeral is attended by Ireland’s Taoiseach John Bruton, and the head of the armed forces. It is covered live by Raidió Teilifís Éireann. On July 4, labour unions across Ireland call for a moment of silence in her memory, which is duly observed by people around the country. Guerin is buried in Dardistown Cemetery, County Dublin.

 


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Birth of Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Politician

iohiggs001p1Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Irish politician who serves as Minister for Economic Affairs from January 1922 to September 1922, Minister for External Affairs from June 1927 to July 1927, Minister for Justice from August 1922 to July 1927 and Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1927, is born in Stradbally, Queen’s County (County Laois since 1922) on June 7, 1892. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1927 and is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Queen’s County from 1918 to 1921.

A man of intellectual power, O’Higgins is described by William Butler Yeats as “a great man in his pride confronting murderous men.” He is in fact murdered by maverick republicans while on his way to church.

Educated at University College Dublin, O’Higgins is apprenticed to his uncle, a lawyer. Following the Easter Rising in 1916, he joins the Sinn Féin nationalist movement and is imprisoned. In 1918, while still in jail, he is elected to Parliament from Queen’s County, and in the next year he becomes assistant to the minister of local government, William Thomas Cosgrave. He goes on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal.

O’Higgins supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Great Britain that creates the Irish Free State. In 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He helps to draft the Irish Free State constitution and secures its passage through Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. Working for a united Ireland within the British Commonwealth, he plays an important part in the 1926 Imperial Conference. He also prominently represents the Free State in the League of Nations.

As Minister for Justice, O’Higgins establishes the Garda Síochána police force and takes summary measures to restore order following the civil war between the Free State forces and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). His role in the execution of 77 republicans in 1922–23 makes him many enemies, as does his sardonic wit, his inflammatory speeches during the civil war, and his curtailment of the liquor trade.

On Sunday, July 10, 1927, O’Higgins is assassinated at the age of 35 on the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Dublin, while on his way to Mass at the Church of the Assumption. The assassination is carried out by three anti-Treaty members of the IRA, Timothy Coughlan, Bill Gannon and Archie Doyle, in revenge for O’Higgins’ part in the executions of the 77 IRA prisoners during the Irish Civil War.

None of the three assassins is ever apprehended or charged, but Coughlan, a member of Fianna Fáil as well as the IRA, is killed in 1928 in Dublin by a police undercover agent whom he is attempting to murder. The other two benefit from the amnesty to IRA members issued by Éamon de Valera, upon his assumption of power in 1932. Gannon, who dies in 1965, joins the Communist Party of Ireland and plays a central role in organising Irish volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Doyle remains a prominent IRA militant and takes part in various acts in the early 1940s. He lives to an old age, dying in 1980, and continues to take pride in having killed O’Higgins.


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The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings

dublin-and-monaghan-bombingsThe Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 17, 1974 are a series of co-ordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan, Ireland. Three car bombs explode in Dublin at Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street during the evening rush hour and a fourth car bomb explodes in Monaghan, just south of the border with Northern Ireland, almost ninety minutes later. The bombs kill 33 civilians and a full-term unborn child, and injure almost 300. The bombings are the deadliest attack of the conflict known as the Troubles, and the deadliest attack in the Republic of Ireland‘s history. Most of the victims are young women, although the ages of the dead range from pre-born up to 80 years.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, claims responsibility for the bombings in 1993. It has launched a number of attacks in the Republic since 1969. There are allegations taken seriously by inquiries that elements of the British state security forces help the UVF carry out the bombings, including members of the Glenanne gang. Some of these allegations have come from former members of the security forces. The Irish parliament‘s Joint Committee on Justices calls the attacks an act of international terrorism involving British state forces. The month before the bombings, the British government lifts the UVF’s status as a proscribed organisation.

The bombings happen during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike. This is a general strike called by hardline loyalists and unionists in Northern Ireland who oppose the Sunningdale Agreement. Specifically, they oppose the sharing of political power with Irish nationalists and the proposed role for the Republic in the governance of Northern Ireland. The Republic’s government had helped bring about the Agreement. The strike brings down the Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 28.

No one has ever been charged with the bombings. A campaign by the victims’ families leads to an Irish government inquiry under Justice Henry Barron. His 2003 report criticises the Garda Síochána‘s investigation and says the investigators stopped their work prematurely. It also criticises the Fine Gael/Labour Party government of the time for its inaction and lack of interest in the bombings. The report says it is likely that British security force personnel or MI5 intelligence is involved but has insufficient evidence of higher-level involvement. However, the inquiry is hindered by the British government’s refusal to release key documents. The victims’ families and others are continuing to campaign to this day for the British government to release these documents.

(Pictured: Some of the damage caused by the second car bomb on Talbot Street, Dublin)


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Easter Rising “Remembrance Wall” Unveiled

glasnevin-memorial-wallA “Remembrance Wall” showing the names of all those who died during the 1916 Easter Rising is unveiled at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on April 3, 2016. The memorial wall bears the names of all those who died, Irish and British, military and civilian, in the rebellion 100 years earlier.

Almost 500 people are killed in the uprising, with 268 of them being civilians caught up in the violence. The names are displayed chronologically without distinction between the different categories. The inclusion of the names of 119 British soldiers on the wall, some of whom are buried in Glasnevin, causes some controversy and a number of protesters gather outside the cemetery to demonstrate as the interfaith service takes place inside. A significant Garda Síochána presence monitors the protest events.

The Glasnevin Trust insists the memorial is an attempt to present the historical facts, without hierarchy or judgement. Chairman of Glasnevin Trust John Green tells the service the wall reflects modern Ireland. “Behind each and every one of these lost lives is a story of heartbreak, no matter what side the person served on or indeed for those innocently caught up in the conflict,” he says. “One hundred years on we believe this memorial reflects the time we live in, with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people wishing to live in peace and in reconciliation. But it is for each visitor to take from the wall what they wish.”

Senior church figures from a range of faiths and humanist representatives are among those to speak at the ceremony. Inspiration for the project is drawn from an international memorial near Arras in France that lists the names of 580,000 people killed in fighting on the western front in World War I. Taoiseach Enda Kenny lays a wreath during the event, which is part of the official State programme commemorating the uprising.

Conradh na Gaeilge expresses its disappointment about a spelling mistake on the new memorial wall. The wall is titled Éirí Amach na Cásca but the word Éirí (meaning Rising) appears with a fada on the first i, instead of on the E. Julian de Spáinn of Conradh na Gaeilge says the mistake illustrates a laziness toward the Irish language and he cannot understand why those involved did not ensure that the Irish is as accurate and correct as the English spelling on the wall.


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Birth of Micheál Mac Liammóir, Actor, Writer & Poet

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 80Micheál Mac Liammóir, British-born Irish actor, playwright, impresario, writer, poet and painter, is born Alfred Willmore on October 25, 1899. He is born to a Protestant family living in the Kensal Green district of London. He co-founds the Gate Theatre with his partner Hilton Edwards and is one of the most recognizable figures in the arts in twentieth-century Ireland.

As Alfred Willmore, he is one of the leading child actors on the English stage, in the company of Noël Coward. He appears for several seasons in Peter Pan. He studies painting at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, continuing to paint throughout his lifetime. In the 1920s he travels all over Europe. He is captivated by Irish culture and learns the Irish language which he speaks and writes fluently. He changes his name to an Irish version, presenting himself in Ireland as a descendant of Irish Catholics from Cork. Later in his life, he writes three autobiographies in Irish and translates them into English.

While acting in Ireland with the touring company of his brother-in-law Anew MacMaster, Mac Liammóir meets the man who becomes his partner and lover, Hilton Edwards. Their first meeting takes place in the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Deciding to remain in Dublin, where they live at Harcourt Terrace, the pair assists with the inaugural production of Galway‘s Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc. The play is Mac Liammóir’s version of the mythical story Diarmuid agus Gráinne, in which Mac Liammóir plays the lead role as Diarmuid.

Mac Liammóir and Edwards then throw themselves into their own venture, co-founding the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The Gate becomes a showcase for modern plays and design. Mac Liammóir’s set and costume designs are key elements of the Gate’s success. His many notable acting roles include Robert Emmet/The Speaker in Denis Johnston‘s The Old Lady Says “No!” and the title role in Hamlet.

In 1948, Mac Liammóir appears in the NBC television production of Great Catherine with Gertrude Lawrence. In 1951, during a break in the making of Othello, he produces Orson Welles‘s ghost-story Return to Glennascaul which is directed by Hilton Edwards. He plays Iago in Welles’s film version of Othello (1951). The following year, he goes on to play ‘Poor Tom’ in another Welles project, the TV film of King Lear (1953) for CBS.

Mac Liammóir writes and performs a one-man show, The Importance of Being Oscar, based on the life and work of Oscar Wilde. The Telefís Éireann production wins him a Jacob’s Award in December 1964. It is later filmed by the BBC with Mac Liammóir reprising the role.

Mac Liammóir narrates the 1963 film Tom Jones and is the Irish storyteller in 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1968) which stars Dudley Moore.

In 1969 Mac Liammóir has a supporting role in John Huston‘s The Kremlin Letter. In 1970 he performs the role of narrator on the cult album Peace on Earth by the Northern Irish showband, The Freshmen and in 1971 he plays an elocution teacher in Curtis Harrington‘s What’s the Matter with Helen?.

Mac Liammóir claims when talking to Irish playwright Mary Manning, to have had a homosexual relationship with General Eoin O’Duffy, former Garda Síochána Commissioner and head of the paramilitary Blueshirts in Ireland, during the 1930s. The claim is revealed publicly by RTÉ in a documentary, The Odd Couple, broadcast in 1999. However, Mac Liammóir’s claims have not been substantiated.

Mac Liammóir’s life and artistic development are the subject of a major study by Tom Madden, The Making of an Artist. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christopher Fitz-Simon.

Micheál Mac Liammóir dies at the age of 78 on March 6, 1978. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are buried alongside each other at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin.


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Kidnapping of Tiede Herrema by the IRA

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tiede_Herrema_(1975).jpgDr. Tiede Herrema, chief executive of the Dutch-owned Ferenka factory in Ballyvarra, County Limerick, is kidnapped by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 3, 1975. He is a Dutch businessman, born in Zuilen on April 21, 1921.

On the morning of October 3, Herrema is driving from his home in Castletroy, County Limerick, to an early-morning meeting at the Ferenka steel plant when he is abducted by two republicans, Marion Coyle and Eddie Gallagher.

Herrema, invariably referred to thereafter as “the Dutch industrialist,” had been dispatched by the parent company in his native Netherlands to troubleshoot the strike-ridden factory, which employs 1,200 at a time when the Irish economy is reeling from the oil crisis and six years of Northern Ireland troubles.

The kidnappers, banking that Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave’s government will quietly cave in, so as not to scare off other foreign investors, threatens to execute Herrema in 48 hours unless it releases republican prisoners Rose Dugdale, Kevin Mallon (a friend of Coyle’s) and James Hyland. It is the start of a 36-day ordeal for Herrema and his family, sparking the biggest manhunt in the State’s history.

Two weeks later a tape of Herrema’s voice is released, accompanied by demands for a £2 million ransom and a flight to the Middle East. After 18 days the kidnappers are traced to a terraced house in Monasterevin, County Kildare.

When Gardaí smashes the front door down the kidnappers retreat to the house’s box room, where they hole up with the hostage in a stand-off that lasts 18 days, with the world’s media camped outside.

After several days without food or water the kidnappers begin to accept supplies, as well as underpants and a chamber pot, hoisted up in a shopping basket. On day 18, Gallagher claims to be getting severe headaches and neck cramps, which Herrema takes as a sign that he is seeking a way out. Soon afterwards the kidnappers throw their guns out of a window and surrender. Herrema leaves Ireland soon thereafter.

Coyle was sentenced to 15 years, of which she serves nine. Gallagher serves 14 years of his 20-year sentence. In 1978 Gallagher and Dugdale become the first convicted prisoners in the State’s history to be married behind bars.

Herrema eventually returns to Ireland to present an episode of Saturday Live. He and his wife Elizabeth are made honorary Irish citizens in 1975, and he is made a Freeman of the city of Limerick. In 2005, he donates his personal papers to the University of Limerick.

(Pictured: Tiede Herrema (1975) by Rob Bogaerts/Anefo, Nationaal Archief, copyright: http://proxy.handle.net/10648/ac768a7c-d0b4-102d-bcf8-003048976d84)


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Death of Writer John McGahern

john-mcgahernJohn McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, dies in Dublin on March 30, 2006. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death and in its obituary The Guardian describes him as “arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett.”

Born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, his mother runs the farm (with some local help) while maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. His mother subsequently dies of cancer in 1944, when the young McGahern is ten years old resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the aforementioned Garda barracks, Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having traveled daily to complete his second level education, he continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following on from his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, he begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd. He is dismissed from Scoil Eoin Báiste on the order of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He is first published by the London literary and arts review, X magazine, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his abandoned first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaksi, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Censorship of Publications Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

John McGahern dies from cancer in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006, at the age of 71. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church, Aughawillan alongside his mother.