seamus dubhghaill

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


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Closing of the Magdalene Laundries

magdalene-laundriesThe last of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as the Magdalene Asylums, closes on September 25, 1996.

The Magdalene Laundries are institutions usually run by Roman Catholic orders, which operate from the 18th to the late 20th centuries. They are run ostensibly to house “fallen women,” a term primarily referring to prostitutes in the late 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, Magdalene laundries are filled with many different kinds of women, including girls who are “not prostitutes at all”, but either “seduced women” or women who have yet to engage in sexual activity.

Several religious institutes establish even more Irish laundries, reformatories and industrial schools, sometimes all together on the same plot of land, with the aim to “save the souls primarily of women and children.” Examples are Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge and the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, who run the largest laundries in Dublin. These large complexes become a massive interlocking system, carefully and painstakingly built up over a number of decades. Consequently, Magdalene laundries become part of Ireland’s “larger system for the control of children and women.”

An estimated 30,000 women are confined in these institutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is unknown how many women resided in the Magdalene institutions after 1900. Vital information about the women’s circumstances, the number of women, and the consequences of their incarceration is unknown. Due to the religious institutes’ “policy of secrecy,” their penitent registers and convent annals remain closed to this day, despite repeated requests for information.

In Dublin in 1993, the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity sell part of the land in their convent to a property developer to cover money lost in share dealings on the stock exchange. This leads to the discovery of 133 corpses in a mass grave. The Sisters arrange to have the remains cremated and reburied in another mass grave at Glasnevin Cemetery, splitting the cost of the reburial with the developer who had bought the land. It later transpires that there are 22 more corpses than the sisters had applied for permission to exhume. In all, 155 corpses were exhumed and cremated.

Discovery of the mass grave leads to media revelations about the operations of the secretive institutions. A formal state apology is issued in 2013, and a £50 million compensation scheme for survivors is set up by the Irish Government. The religious orders which operate the laundries have rejected activist demands that they financially contribute to this programme.


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.


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The Buttevant Rail Disaster

buttevant-rail-disasterThe Buttevant Rail Disaster, a train crash that occurs at Buttevant Railway Station, County Cork, takes place on August 1, 1980. More than 70 people are injured, and 18 die, resulting as one of Ireland’s worst rail disasters to ever occur and the country’s worst rail disaster during peacetime history.

At 12:45 the 10:00 am Dublin (Heuston) to Cork (Kent) express train enters Buttevant Railway Station carrying some 230 bank holiday passengers. The train is diverted off the main line across a 1:8 temporary set of points into a siding. The locomotive remains upright but carriages immediately behind the engine and generator van jack-knife and are thrown across four sets of rail lines. Two coaches and the dining car are totally demolished by the impact. It results in the deaths of 18 people and over 70 people being injured.

The accident happens because a set of manual facing points are set to direct the train into the siding. These points are installed about four months previously and have not yet been connected to the signal cabin. The permanent way maintenance staff are expecting a stationary locomotive at the Up platform to move into the siding, and set the points for the diversion to the siding, without obtaining permission from the signalman. Upon seeing that this has been done, the signalman at Buttevant manually sets the signals to the Danger aspect and informs the pointsman to reset the points. The train is traveling too fast to stop in time. The train is moving at approximately 60 mph when the derailment occurs.

The train consists of one locomotive, a generator van and eleven coaches. Six of the coaches consist of wooden bodies on steel underframes. Four of these are either destroyed or badly damaged in the impact, the two which survive being at the rear of the train. The remainder of the coaches are light alloy Cravens stock and most survive the crash.

This event, and the subsequent Cherryville junction accident, which kills a further seven people, account for 70% of all Irish rail deaths over a 28-year period. CIÉ and the Government come under severe public pressure to improve safety and to modernise the fleet. A major review of the national rail safety policy is held and results in the rapid elimination of the wooden-bodied coaches that had formed part of the train.

The passengers who are most severely injured or killed are seated in coaches with wooden frames. This structure is incapable of surviving a high speed crash and does not come near to the safety standards provided by modern (post-1950s) metal-body coaches. The expert bodies that review the accident discover that the old timber-frame carriage bodies mounted on a steel frame are totally inadequate as they are prone to complete collapse under the enormous compression forces of a high-speed collision.

The more modern steel-framed carriage bodies survive due to their greater structural rigidity. On this basis the decision to purchase a new fleet of modern intercity coaches based on the British Rail Mark 3 design is quickly made. The Mark 3’s longitudinally corrugated roof can survive compression forces of over 300 tonnes. These coaches, an already well proven design, are built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) in Derby, England and, under licence, at CIÉ’s own workshops at Inchicore Railway Works in Dublin between 1983 and 1989.


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Resignation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny

varadkar-kennyEnda Kenny formally resigns as Taoiseach on June 13, 2017 after six years as head of Government of Ireland. He is the longest-serving Fine Gael Taoiseach and the first in his party to serve two consecutive terms in the highest political office.

An emotional Kenny makes his final address to Dáil Éireann as Taoiseach, saying he is the first to acknowledge that he had not gotten everything right. “But I can honestly say my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people,” he added. “I really do believe politics is work worth doing, a noble profession.”

Flanked by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, his successor Leo Varadkar, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris, Kenny informs the Dáil that he will be going later to Áras an Uachtaráin to submit his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins. He formally submits his letter that evening.

Following his speech in the Dáil, Kenny sits down, visibly emotional, to applause from all sides of the House.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin describes Kenny as “an Irish patriot and an Irish democrat.” Throughout his time in elected office and in government he had been a proud representative of his community, political tradition and country. He adds that “the mischievous enjoyment he has taken in this has been a genuine joy to behold”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams says his party and Fine Gael do not agree on many issues but “I always found Enda to be friendly on a personal level. Probably the best leader Fine Gael ever had.” Adams adds, “Let me say I will miss you. I will miss your entertaining tales of meetings you have had and meetings you have not had and recollections of people you have met along the way, like the man with the two pints in one hand.”

Adams says there have been successes including the success of the same-sex marriage referendum. But he also says there have been abject failures, including the Taoiseach’s consistent failure to recognise the State of Palestine, the squandering of the biggest mandate in the history of the State as the Fine Gael-Labour Government reneged on election promises, the clear lack of affinity with Northern Ireland and a clear lack of consistent strategic engagement with the process of change that is under way on the island.

Kenny now becomes a party backbencher until the next general election when he is expected to retire as a Teachta Dála (TD). He is also father of the House as the longest serving TD with 42 years in the Dáil. He is first elected in 1975 in a by-election following the death of his father Henry and faces another 12 elections in his Dáil tenure.

Kenny serves three years as a cabinet minister, serving as Minister for Tourism and Trade during the 1994 to 1997 Rainbow Coalition. He also serves for a year as Minister of State for Youth Affairs from February 1986 to March 1987. He takes over from Michael Noonan as party leader in 2002 after a disastrous general election for the party and in 2007 the party’s numbers in the Dáil rise from 32 to 51 TDs. In the 2011 general election at the height of the economic recession, Fine Gael secures 76 seats, the most in the party’s history, under his leadership.

(From: “Enda Kenny steps down as Taoiseach” by Michael O’Regan and Marie O’Halloran, The Irish Times, June 13, 2017)


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Real IRA Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization

real-irish-republican-armyOn May 16, 2001, the United States Department of State designates the Real Irish Republican Army, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) charged with killing 29 people in the August 1998 Omagh bombing, as a “foreign terrorist organisation,” a legal term that brings financial and other sanctions. Under U.S. law, any assets the Real IRA has in the United States are frozen, it is illegal to support the organization, and Real IRA members are not eligible for U.S. visas.

The Real IRA broke off from the main Irish Republican Army and its political wing Sinn Féin in 1998 to oppose the decision by Sinn Féin to support the Northern Ireland peace process and work to end 30 years of fighting in Northern Ireland.

As a result of the FTO designation many activities, including fund-raising, of the Real IRA or its two so-called “front groups” or “political pressure groups” — the “32 County Sovereignty Movement” and the “Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association” — are now illegal.

A senior State Department official notes that this is the first time a group with “heavy ties” to the United States, with sympathizers and supporters coming from the United States, has been designated as a terrorist organization. But, in the words of this official, the “British and Irish government publicly asked us to look into this.” The “rigorous” review, begun in the fall of 2000, included volumes of evidence and was an inner-agency process that required the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State.

A second State Department official points out that Irish nationalists have typically received the most support from South Boston, New York City and Chicago, where there are heavy concentrations of Irish Americans.

According to the State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism report in 2000, the Real IRA was formed in February-March 1998, has between 150-200 hard-line members and is dedicated to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and unifying Ireland.

The State Department report goes on to accuse the Real IRA of carrying out the bombing of Hammersmith Bridge and a rocket attack against Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6) headquarters in London in 2000.

State Department officials say they absolutely anticipate the Real IRA to challenge the FTO designation in court. The designation comes as the Irish Republic prepares to prosecute Michael McKevitt, the Real IRA’s alleged leader.

Other designated FTOs include 29 organizations: the Abu Nidal Organization, the Abu Sayyaf group, the Palestinian Liberation Front, Al-Qaeda and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, to name a few.


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The Opening of Cork Airport

cork-airportCork Airport, the second-largest of the three principal international airports in the Republic of Ireland, after Dublin Airport and ahead of Shannon Airport, is opened on October 16, 1961.

In 1957 the Government of Ireland agrees in principle to the building of an airport for Cork. After considering many sites in the area, it is agreed that the airport should be built at Ballygarvan. Tenders are invited for the construction of the airport in 1959 at an estimated cost of £1 million. The airport is officially opened on October 16, 1961, following proving flights four days earlier by Aer Lingus and Cambrian Airways. Vincent Fanning is the first manager at the airport. In its first year the airport handles 10,172 passengers – close to the average number of passengers handled each day at the airport in 2007. Throughout the 1960s the airport expands with the arrival of more advanced aircraft and more destinations. The first jet, a British Overseas Airways Corporation de Havilland DH 106 Comet, lands at Cork Airport on March 29, 1964. By 1969 Aer Lingus is operating to London‘s Heathrow Airport, Manchester Airport and Bristol Airport.

In 1975 Aer Rianta, the then state airports authority, undertakes a passenger terminal study aimed at improving the terminal facilities. The findings result in the provision, over the next two years, of new departure and arrival halls, a new check-in area, office complex, information desk, duty office and executive lounge. The new extensions and facilities are opened in 1978.

The 1980s begin with an extension of the main apron. New services to London Gatwick begin, while Aer Lingus’ commuter division starts a new domestic service to Dublin Airport. In 1985 following significant growth, Aer Rianta carries out a survey of the terminal facilities with a view to carrying out a major expansion and development programme. On June 8, 1987, Ryanair commences services at Cork Airport. Phase I of the Terminal Expansion and Development Plan is completed in 1988. The following year the main runway extension of 1,000 feet is opened.

The 1990s begin with the completion of Phase II of the terminal expansion in 1991 and Phase III being completed in 1992 with the plan being brought to completion in 1994.

In 2001 plans are drawn up for the construction of a new terminal building and ancillary capital investment works at an estimated cost of €140 million. Along with the construction of the terminal, roads are upgraded from single to dual carriageway and re-aligned, and a new short term multistorey car park is constructed. The new terminal opens on August 15, 2006. Designed by HOK and Jacobs Engineering Group, the new terminal is the first built in Ireland in the 21st century.

In June 2008, the Irish Aviation Authority completes a new control tower 1 km from the old terminal to the west of the main runway. However, it takes until mid-October 2009 to get all the new systems tested and working. The new control tower officially opens on 20 October 20, 2009.

In 2013, Cork Airport is placed first for overall customer satisfaction in a global survey of passengers carried out by Airports Council International Europe. The survey measures customer satisfaction across eight categories in 61 regional airports worldwide, with Cork Airport scoring highest.

In June 2017, the airport is named as “Best Airport in Europe under 5 million passengers” at the 27th Airports Council International (ACI) Europe General Assembly.


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Opening of the National Concert Hall

national-concert-hall-dublinThe National Concert Hall is opened in Dublin on September 9, 1981. It is a concert hall located on Earlsfort Terrace, close to St. Stephen’s Green, and is the principal national venue for classical music concerts in Ireland.

Originally built for the Dublin International Exhibition of Arts and Manufactures of 1865, the structure is converted into the central building of University College Dublin (UCD) at the foundation of the National University of Ireland in 1908. When UCD begins to relocate to a new campus at Belfield in the 1960s, part of the building is converted, and reopened as the National Concert Hall in 1981. Since then, the structure has been shared with UCD. In 2005 it is announced that UCD is to relocate all of its faculties to Belfield in the near term, allowing the NCH to develop a major expansion plan on the entire site, bringing it in line with international peers.

Today the National Concert Hall is one of Ireland’s National Cultural Institutions, under the aegis of the Irish Government‘s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and, as such, is grant-aided by the Irish Government. The National Concert Hall is a statutory corporate body, with a management team, and a Government-appointed Board.

Although its facade is quite impressive, the venue’s architectural acoustics have been criticized. It is also unsuitable for large-scale opera stagings, lacking full stage facilities. Consequently, calls for a purpose-built venue are made from time to time.

Due to its central location, lunchtime concerts and recitals are common and attended by many workers from nearby office buildings. During the summer, outdoor recitals are given in the adjacent Iveagh Gardens. The resident orchestra is the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. Other regular performances are made from the rest of the RTÉ Performing Groups.

The National Concert Hall generally makes a small surplus, unlike most of Ireland’s National Cultural Institutions. This is despite the fact that although it has a high level of attendance, it has only a small public funding element, especially compared to the Abbey Theatre.