seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Ross McWhirter

ross-mcwhirterAlan Ross McWhirter, co-founder of The Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers, is murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on November 27, 1975.

McWhirter is the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret “Bunty” Williamson. He is born at Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England on August 12, 1925. Like his two brothers, he is educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946 he serves as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ross and his twin brother Norris become sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they found an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris McWhirter’s words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” In the same year they publish Get to Your Marks.

While building up their accounts, they both work as sports journalists. One of the athletes they know and cover is runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommends them to Hugh Beaver. After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoy testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agree to start work on the book that becomes The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first 198-page green volume is at the bookstalls, and in four more months it is the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller. Both brothers are regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They are noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continues on the programme after Ross’s death.

In the early 1960s, McWhirter is a Conservative Party activist and seeks, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others found the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

McWhirter advocates various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offers a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In doing so, he recognises that he might then be a target himself. This is considered a “bounty” by the IRA Army Council, a view that leads directly to the events that follow, although the idea is not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.

At 6:45 PM on November 27, 1975, McWhirter is shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom are members of what becomes known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He is shot with a .357 Magnum revolver at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. He is taken to Chase Farm Hospital but dies soon after being admitted. His killers are captured and charged with his and nine other murders. They are sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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Final Barge Journey on the Grand Canal

barge-51mThe last barge on the Grand Canal makes its final journey to Limerick on May 27, 1960 carrying a cargo of Guinness. The impressive broad-beamed barge carrying the number 51M casts off from Dublin‘s James Street Harbour marking the end of a way of life on the canal which has existed since the construction of the waterway in the early 1800s.

For some 160 years freight barges ply the canal bringing cargoes to and from Dublin, Limerick, Waterford and canal-side villages across the midlands from Sallins to Shannon Harbour. The spine of the waterways system is the Grand Canal which crosses mid-Kildare in a southwest direction from Hazelhatch to west of Ticknevin.

Typically a crew of four men live on the boats on voyages which can take up to four days from Dublin to Limerick. The crew is comprised of the Master or skipper, the Engineman, Deck man and Greaser. Although a seemingly idyllic job the boatmen worked hard in all weather, sometimes sailing through the night.

The canal cargo business is always under pressure from the railways but tonnages of bulk goods (barrels of porter, turf, coal, sand, gravel, and grain and flour) where speed is not important remain high. Competition from the motor lorry in the 1920s and 1930s causes tonnages to fall severely. The canals get a brief respite during the Emergency years (1939-45) when they are pressed into service to transport turf from the Bog of Allen to Dublin city where it is stored in massive clamps at Phoenix Park.

As part of a rationalisation in the post-war decades, the Government brings out the shareholders of the Grand Canal Company and amalgamates its operations with Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), a newly formed semi-state entity with a mandate to take over all transport services in Ireland. CIÉ has enough on its hands trying to keep the railway system viable and it is clear that the days of canal freight are numbered. In November 1959 CIÉ announces that the Grand Canal will close to cargo boats on December 31 of that year.

The Guinness brewery asks for a stay of a few months so it can complete alternative arrangements for road deliveries. The definitive final voyage from Dublin begins on the afternoon of May 27, 1960 when 51M casts off at James Street Harbour bound for the Guinness depot in Limerick.

51M escapes the wrecker’s torch and is kept in service though a succession of canal authorities as a maintenance boat for the canals. In May 2010, fifty years after it carried the last commercial cargo from Dublin to Limerick, the canal boat 51M retraces its historic journey, once again carrying a number of original Guinness casks as its cargo.


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Death of Actor Henry Wilfrid Brambell

henry-brambell-john-lennonHenry Wilfrid Brambell, Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series Steptoe and Son, dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985.

Brambell is the youngest of three sons born to Henry Lytton Brambell, a cashier at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith Marks, a former opera singer. His first appearance is as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during World War I. Upon leaving school he works part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also does repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II, he joins the British military forces entertainment organisation Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His television career begins during the 1950s, when he is cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC TelevisionThe Quatermass Experiment (1953), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), and Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earn him a reputation for playing old men, though he is only in his forties at the time.

It is this ability to play old men that leads to his casting in his best remembered role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in Steptoe and Son. This begins as a pilot on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, and its success leads to a full series being commissioned, running from 1962 to 1974 including a five-year hiatus. There are two feature film spin-offs, a stage show, and an American incarnation entitled Sanford and Son, some episodes of which are almost exact remakes of the original British scripts.

The success of Steptoe and Son makes Brambell a high-profile figure on British television, and earns him the supporting role of Paul McCartney‘s grandfather in The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In 1965, Brambell tells the BBC that he does not want to do another series of Steptoe and Son and, in September that year, he goes to New York City to appear in the Broadway musical Kelly at the Broadhurst Theatre, however, it closes after just one performance.

Apart from his role as the older Steptoe, Brambell achieves recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy wins him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son. Although he appears throughout the full 94-minute piece, Brambell does not speak a single word.

After the final series of Steptoe and Son is made in 1974, Brambell has some guest roles in films and on television. He and Harry H. Corbett also undertake a tour of Australia in 1977 in a Steptoe and Son stage show.

Brambell dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985, at the age of 72. He is cremated on January 25, 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes are scattered.

(Pictured: Henry Wilfrid Brambell and John Lennon in The Beatles’ first motion picture, A Hard Day’s Night)


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Birth of Actor Liam Neeson

Actor Liam John Neeson is born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Neeson is named Liam after the local priest. He says growing up as a Catholic in a predominately Protestant town made him cautious. At age nine, he begins boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later becomes Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.

Neeson first steps on stage at age eleven after his English teacher offers him the lead role in a school play, which he accepts because the girl he is attracted to is starring in it. He continues to act in school productions over the following years.

Neeson’s interest in acting and decision to become an actor is also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak. Neeson says of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”

In 1971, Neeson is enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovers a talent for football and is spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There is a club trial in Dublin and Neeson plays one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C., but is not offered a contract.

In 1976, Neeson joins the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acts in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981), alongside Helen Mirren. Between 1982 and 1987, he stars in five films, most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He lands a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).

Neeson rises to prominence when he stars in the title role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–2014), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus, the fantasy films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–2010) as Aslan, and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011). In 2016 he narrates the RTÉ One three-part documentary on the Easter Rising, 1916.

Neeson has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranks Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.”


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Birth of Henry Wilfrid Brambell in Dublin

henry-wilfred-brambellHenry Wilfrid Brambell, Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series Steptoe and Son, is born in Dublin on March 22, 1912.

Brambell is the youngest of three sons born to Henry Lytton Brambell, a cashier at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith Marks, a former opera singer. His first appearance is as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during World War I. Upon leaving school he works part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also does repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II, he joins the British military forces entertainment organisation Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His television career begins during the 1950s, when he is cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC Television, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), and Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earn him a reputation for playing old men, though he is only in his forties at the time.

It is this ability to play old men that leads to his casting in his best remembered role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in Steptoe and Son. This begins as a pilot on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, and its success leads to a full series being commissioned, running from 1962 to 1974 including a five-year hiatus. There are two feature film spin-offs, a stage show, and an American incarnation entitled Sanford and Son, some episodes of which are almost exact remakes of the original British scripts.

The success of Steptoe and Son makes Brambell a high-profile figure on British television, and earns him the supporting role of Paul McCartney‘s grandfather in The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In 1965, Brambell tells the BBC that he does not want to do another series of Steptoe and Son and, in September that year, he goes to New York City to appear in the Broadway musical Kelly at the Broadhurst Theatre, however, it closes after just one performance.

Apart from his role as the older Steptoe, Brambell achieves recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy wins him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son. Although he appears throughout the full 94-minute piece, Brambell does not speak a single word.

After the final series of Steptoe and Son is made in 1974, Brambell has some guest roles in films and on television. He and Harry H. Corbett also undertake a tour of Australia in 1977 in a Steptoe and Son stage show.

Brambell dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985, at the age of 72. He is cremated on January 25, 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes are scattered.