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


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Birth of British Labour Politician Kevin McNamara

Joseph Kevin McNamara KSG, British Labour Party politician who serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) for almost 40 years, is born on September 5, 1934.

McNamara is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers at St. Mary’s College, Crosby and he studies for an LLB at the University of Hull. He is head of department in History at St. Mary’s Grammar School (now called St. Mary’s College) in Kingston upon Hull from 1958–64 and a law lecturer at Hull College of Commerce from 1964–66.

After unsuccessfully contesting Bridlington in 1964, McNamara is elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston upon Hull North, in a by-election in January 1966 following the death of sitting Labour MP Henry Solomons. Labour’s hold of a former marginal seat with a significantly increased majority is widely considered to have helped to convince Prime Minister Harold Wilson to call the 1966 election to seek a larger majority.

McNamara retains his seat at the 1966 general election, and at subsequent elections until the constituency is abolished for the February 1974 general election, when he transfers to the new Kingston upon Hull Central constituency. When that constituency is abolished for the 1983 election, he is re-elected for the re-created Kingston upon Hull North constituency.

McNamara campaigns in his last years in parliament on many issues, protesting against the Act of Succession which prohibits a Roman Catholic or the spouse of a Roman Catholic to be the British monarch. He steps down at the 2005 general election, with the local Constituency Labour Party choosing Diana Johnson to stand in his place.

During the 2005 general election campaign McNamara claims some of the policies regarding illegal travelers’ sites of the leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, had a “whiff of the gas chambers” about them. Howard’s grandmother died at Auschwitz.

McNamara is known throughout his parliamentary career as a supporter of Irish nationalism and favours a United Ireland. After entering parliament, he soon becomes interested in reports of discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and supports the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster (CDU). He serves as a frontbench spokesman for the Labour Party, including Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under Neil Kinnock, 1987–94, an appointment that is widely criticised by Unionists.

After Tony Blair becomes Labour leader, he replaces McNamara as Northern Ireland spokesman with Mo Mowlam. In 1997, he helps persuade the newly elected Labour government to donate £5,000 (thereby matching the contribution of the Irish government) for the erection of a memorial in Liverpool to the victims of the Great Irish Famine. He also supports Republicanism in the United Kingdom and joins the All-Party Parliamentary Republic Group.

McNamara is a Roman Catholic and a Knight of the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory the Great. He is married to Nora McNamara, and is the father of four sons and a daughter.

In 2006, McNamara receives the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Hull in recognition of his long service in politics. He graduates with a Ph.D from the University of Liverpool in 2007 having completed a thesis on the MacBride Principles at the Institute of Irish Studies, where he gives the 2008 John Kennedy Lecture in Irish Studies, Perhaps It Will All Go Away – an Examination of the British Response to the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland.

In 2017, McNamara is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer while on holiday in Spain. He dies on August 6, 2017 at Formby, England, at the age of 82.


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Dissolution of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on March 5, 1976, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces the dissolution of the short lived Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (NICC).

The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention is an elected body set up in 1975 by the United Kingdom Labour government of Harold Wilson as an attempt to deal with constitutional issues surrounding the status of Northern Ireland.

The idea for a constitutional convention is first mooted by the Northern Ireland Office in its white paper The Northern Ireland Constitution, published on July 4, 1974. The paper lays out plans for elections to a body which would seek agreement on a political settlement for Northern Ireland. The proposals become law with the enactment of the Northern Ireland Act 1974 later that month. With Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Robert Lowry appointed to chair the new body, elections are announced for May 1, 1975.

The elections are held for the 78-member body using the single transferable vote system of proportional representation in each of Northern Ireland’s twelve Westminster constituencies. Initially the body is intended to be purely consultative, although it is hoped that executive and legislative functions can be devolved to the NICC once a cross-community agreement has been reached. Unionists opposed to the NICC once again band together under the umbrella of the United Ulster Unionist Council (UUUC) and this coalition proves the most successful, taking 46 seats.

A number of leading Northern Ireland politicians are elected to the NICC, increasing hope that the body might achieve some of its aims. Also elected are some younger figures who go on to become leading figures in the future of Northern Ireland politics.

The elections leave the body fundamentally weakened from its inception as an overall majority has been obtained by those Unionists who oppose power sharing as a concept. As a result, the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention Report published on November 20, 1975 recommends only a return to majority rule as had previously existed under the old Parliament of Northern Ireland government. As such a solution is completely unacceptable to the nationalist parties, the NICC is placed on hiatus.

Hoping to gain something from the exercise, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Merlyn Rees announces that the NICC would be reconvened on February 3, 1976. However, a series of meetings held between the UUUC and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) fail to reach any agreement about SDLP participation in government, and so the reconvened NICC once again fails to achieve a solution with cross-community support. As a result, Rees announces the dissolution of the body on March 5, 1976 and Northern Ireland remains under direct rule.

On the face of it, the NICC is a total failure as it does not achieve its aims of agreement between the two sides or of introducing ‘rolling devolution’ (gradual introduction of devolution as and when the parties involved see fit to accept it). Nevertheless, coming as it does not long after the Conservative-sponsored Sunningdale Agreement, the NICC indicates that no British government will be prepared to re-introduce majority rule in Northern Ireland. During the debates William Craig accepts the possibility of power-sharing with the SDLP, a move that splits the UUUC and precipitates the eventual collapse of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP).

The idea of electing a consultative body to thrash out a deal for devolution is also retained and in 1996 it is revived when the Northern Ireland Forum is elected on largely the same lines and with the same overall purpose. The Forum forms part of a process that leads to the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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Home of British PM Edward Heath Damaged by Bomb

The London home of the Conservative leader and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Edward Heath is damaged from the impact of a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on December 22, 1974. The attack comes just hours before a Christmas ceasefire is due to come into effect. Heath is not at home at the time of the blast but arrives ten minutes later. His housekeeper, Mrs. Crawford, and her daughter are both in the house at the time but are not injured.

The 21-pound bomb breaks glass, smashes the front door and damages the front room. The only damage to anything valuable is to a painting done in the south of France by Sir Winston Churchill. No one initially admits carrying out the attack but the IRA is immediately suspected.

Witnesses describe seeing a man emerging from a Ford Cortina and throwing what is believed to have been the bomb onto the first floor balcony of the house. Two policemen and a patrol car chase the vehicle as it drives off. The Cortina crashes a few minutes later in Chelsea and several men flee from the vehicle.

The police are fearful that the explosion is a “come‐on” tactic where an initial smaller bomb is followed by a larger one after the first has attracted crowds. They seal off all streets around the house for several hours. Heath’s home is about half a mile from Harrods, in Knightsbridge, where a more powerful bomb had gone off the previous night as Christmas shoppers were being evacuated.

Heath tells waiting reporters that Prime Minister Harold Wilson had sent him a message which was “very much appreciated.” Addressed “Dear Ted,” Wilson says, “This attack will only strengthen our united resolve to bring these things to justice.”

Heath, who had been conducting a carol service at his hometown of Broadstairs, Kent, carrying an overnight bag is driven off by police to an undisclosed location after his arrival at home. He returns later to inspect the damage with bomb squad chief, Commander Robert Huntley.

Heath says the attack will not deter him from traveling to Ulster the following day for talks with security forces and Ulster political leaders as previously scheduled. As Leader of the Opposition, Heath has a Special Branch police bodyguard with him at all times. The house is under “short” police patrol which means there are extra cars and foot patrols in the area but not directly outside the building.


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Birth of Erskine H. Childers, 4th President of Ireland

erskine-hamilton-childers-1Erskine Hamilton Childers, Irish politician and a member of the Fianna Fáil party who serves as the fourth President of Ireland (1973–74), is born on December 11, 1905 in the Embankment Gardens, Westminster, London, to a Protestant family, originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow.

Childers is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge, hence his striking British upper class accent. On November 24, 1922, when he is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically-inspired charges of gun-possession. The pistol he had been found with had been given to him by Michael Collins. Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, the elder Childers obtains a promise from his son to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his death warrant.

Following his father’s funeral, he returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He returns to Ireland in 1932 and becomes advertising manager of The Irish Press, the newly founded newspaper owned by the family of Éamon de Valera.

Childers’s political debut is as a successful Fianna Fáil candidate for a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1938. He becomes a Parliamentary secretary in 1944 and is later Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1951–54), Minister for Lands (1957–59), and Minister for Transport and Power (1959–69). He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health (1969–73). He supports Taoiseach Jack Lynch’s condemnation of the violence in Northern Ireland and Lynch’s advocacy of a European role for the Irish republic within the European Economic Community (now European Community, embedded in the European Union).

Childers is nominated as the presidential candidate of Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He 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 proved enormous, and in a political upset at the 1973 Irish presidential election, he is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating Tom O’Higgins by 635,867 (52%) votes to 578,771 (48%). He becomes the second Protestant to hold the office, the first being Douglas Hyde (1938–1945).

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, during a conference to the psychiatrists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a congestional heart failure causing him to lie sideways and turn blue before suddenly collapsing. He is pronounced dead the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by his presidential predecessor Éamon de Valera and world leaders including Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and British Opposition Leader Edward Heath, 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 Northern Ireland Politician Gerry Fitt

Gerard Fitt, Northern Ireland politician, is born in Belfast on April 9, 1926. He is a founder and the first leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), a social democratic and Irish nationalist party.

Fitt is educated at a local Christian Brothers school in Belfast. He joins the Merchant Navy in 1941 and serves on convoy duty during World War II. His elder brother Geordie, an Irish Guardsman, is killed at the Battle of Normandy.

Living in the nationalist Beechmount neighbourhood of the Falls, he stands for the Falls as a candidate for the Dock Labour Party in a city council by-election in 1956, but loses to Paddy Devlin of the Irish Labour Party, who later becomes his close ally. In 1958, he is elected to Belfast City Council as a member of the Irish Labour Party.

In 1962, he wins a seat in the Parliament of Northern Ireland from the Ulster Unionist Party, becoming the only Irish Labour member. Two years later, he left Irish Labour and joined with Harry Diamond, the sole Socialist Republican Party Stormont MP, to form the Republican Labour Party. At the 1966 general election, Fitt won the Belfast West seat in the Westminster parliament.

Many sympathetic British Members of Parliament (MPs) are present at a civil rights march in Derry on October 5, 1968 when Fitt and others are beaten by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Fitt also supports the 1969 candidacy of Bernadette Devlin in the Mid Ulster by-election who runs as an anti-abstentionist ‘Unity‘ candidate. Devlin’s success greatly increases the authority of Fitt in the eyes of many British commentators, particularly as it produces a second voice on the floor of the British House of Commons who challenge the Unionist viewpoint at a time when Harold Wilson and other British ministers are beginning to take notice.

In August 1970, Fitt becomes the first leader of a coalition of civil rights and nationalist leaders who create the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). By this time Northern Ireland is charging headlong towards near-civil war and the majority of unionists remain hostile.

After the collapse of Stormont in 1972 and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1973 Fitt becomes deputy chief executive of the short-lived Power-Sharing Executive created by the Sunningdale Agreement.

Fitt becomes increasingly detached from both his own party and also becomes more outspoken in his condemnation of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He becomes a target for republican sympathisers in 1976 when they attack his home. He becomes disillusioned with the handling of Northern Ireland by the British government. In 1979, he abstains from a crucial vote in the House of Commons which brings down the Labour government, citing the way that the government had failed to help the nationalist population and tried to form a deal with the Ulster Unionist Party.

In 1979, Fitt is replaced by John Hume as leader of the SDLP and he leaves the party altogether after he agrees to constitutional talks with British Secretary of State Humphrey Atkins without any provision for an ‘Irish dimension’ and then sees his decision overturned by the SDLP party conference. Like Paddy Devlin before him, he claims the SDLP has ceased to be a socialist force.

In 1981, he opposes the hunger strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast. His seat in Westminster is targeted by Sinn Féin as well as by the SDLP. In June 1983, he loses his seat in Belfast West to Gerry Adams, in part due to competition from an SDLP candidate. The following month, on October 14, 1983, he is created a UK life peer as Baron Fitt, of Bell’s Hill in County Down. His Belfast home is firebombed a month later and he moves to London.

Gerry Fitt dies in London on August 26, 2005, at the age of 79, after a long history of heart disease.


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Roger Casement’s Remains Returned to the Republic of Ireland

roger-casementIrish patriot Roger Casement‘s body is returned to Ireland from the United Kingdom on February 23, 1965, forty-nine years after his execution for treason.

In October 1914, Roger Casement sails for Germany where he spends most of his time seeking to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2,000 Irish prisoners-of-war taken in the early months of World War I and held in the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn. His plan is that they will be trained to fight against Britain in the cause of Irish independence.

In April 1916, Germany offers the Irish 20,000 Mosin–Nagant 1891 rifles, ten machine guns and accompanying ammunition, but no German officers. It is a fraction of the quantity of arms that Casement has hoped. Casement does not learn of the Easter Rising until after the plan is fully developed. The German weapons never land in Ireland as the Royal Navy intercepts the ship transporting them.

In the early hours of April 21, 1916, three days before the beginning of the rising, Casement is taken by a German submarine and is put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Suffering from a recurrence of malaria and too weak to travel, he is discovered at McKenna’s Fort in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and arrested on charges of treason, sabotage, and espionage against the Crown. He is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Casement’s trial for treason is highly publicized and he is ultimately convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He unsuccessfully appeals the conviction and death sentence. Among the many people who plead for clemency are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw.

On the day of his execution, Casement is again received into the Catholic Church at his request. He is attended by two Irish Catholic priests, Dean Timothy Ring and Father James Carey, from the East London parish of St. Mary and St. Michael’s. Casement is hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on August 3, 1916. His body is buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery at the rear of the prison.

roger-casement-glasnevin-graveDuring the decades after his execution, many formal requests for repatriation of Casement’s remains are refused by the U.K. government. Finally, February 23, 1965, Casement’s remains are repatriated to the Republic of Ireland. Casement’s last wish, to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast, in what is now Northern Ireland, may never be satisfied as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s government releases the remains only on condition that they can not be brought into Northern Ireland, as “the government feared that a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions.”

Casement’s remains lay in state at Arbour Hill in Dublin for five days, during which time an estimated half a million people file past his coffin. After a state funeral on March 1, the remains are buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, with other militant republican heroes. The President of the Republic of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, who is in his mid-eighties and the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defies the advice of his doctors and attends the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 others.