seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Murder of George Clancy, Mayor of Limerick

george-clancyGeorge Clancy, Irish nationalist politician and Mayor of Limerick, is shot in his home by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and dies on March 7, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Clancy is born at Grange, County Limerick in 1881 to a family with a strong republican tradition. He is educated at Crescent College, Limerick, and thereafter at the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, now University College, Dublin. Among his friends at the university are James Joyce, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney. He helps form a branch of the Gaelic League at college and persuades his friends, including Joyce, to take lessons in the Irish language. He plays hurling and is a good friend of Michael Cusack. With Arthur Griffin he joins the Celtic Literary Society. It is said that he is the model for the character of Michael Davin in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Clancy graduates in 1904 and finds a position teaching the Irish language at Clongowes Wood College and is active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Due to ill health he has to return to his home at Grange. In 1908 he comes to Limerick to teach Irish. In 1913 he joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1915 he marries Máire Killeen, a teacher. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned in Cork, but is released before he comes to trial following a hunger strike.

Clancy helps in Éamon de Valera‘s election campaign in East Clare. He nearly dies of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovers and, in January 1921, he is elected Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick.

On the night of March 6, 1921 three Auxiliaries come to Clancy’s house and one of them shoots him, injuring him fatally. His wife is also injured in the attack. The previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, is also murdered on the same night by the same group.

Suspicion immediately falls upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolve Crown forces of any blame. One of Clancy’s killers is later said to be George Nathan who dies in the Spanish Civil War in July 1937.


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Birth of Mairéad Farrell, Provisional IRA Member

mairead-farrellMairéad Farrell, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on March 3, 1957. She is shot dead by the British Army in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

Farrell is born into a middle-class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She is educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. At the age of 14 she is recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey. After leaving school at the age of 18, she is hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker’s office.

On March 1, 1976, the British government revokes Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigates a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland and younger members such as Farrell are asked to participate. On April 5, 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempts to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty in Northern Ireland. She is arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. McDermott, her boyfriend, is shot dead by a RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate.

At her trial, Farrell refuses to recognise the court as it is an institution of the British state. She is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.

When Farrell arrives at Armagh Prison, she refuses to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals and becomes the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners. After 13 months, she, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, begin a hunger strike to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh Prison. It ends on December 19, a day after the men’s strike. In March 1981 the prisoners’ rights campaign is focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 Irish general election, standing in Cork North-Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).[17]

Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolls at Queen’s University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she drops out to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sends her with Seán Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in a heavily populated town area. The target is the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors’ residence, on March 8, 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar is selected as a target because it is a British possession that is in dispute, and that it is an area with lighter security measures than had become endemic at British military installations elsewhere due to the IRA’s campaign.

The British Government’s domestic intelligence service MI5 becomes aware of their plan and a detachment from the British Army is specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann are confronted by plainclothes soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment while they are engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car bomb. Farrell is shot three times in the back and once in the face. Her two accomplices are also killed in an operation code-named Operation Flavius by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting state that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members are all found afterwards to be unarmed.

Keys to a hire car found in Farrell’s handbag lead the Spanish Police to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totaling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team intended to subsequently drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages have four separate detonators attached. Around this is packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There are two timers but they were not primed or connected.

At the funeral of the ‘Gibraltar Three’ on March 16, three mourners are killed in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone in the Milltown Cemetery attack.


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Founding of the Irish Women’s Franchise League

irish-womens-franchise-leagueThe Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), an organisation for women’s suffrage, is established in Dublin on November 4, 1908. Its founder members include Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh is also a member. The IWFL has 1,000 members by 1912 but only about fifty of these are active.

In the early 20th century, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon is opposed to votes for women, as is the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smash government windows in the General Post Office (GPO) and other government buildings. They are arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith makes a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Frank Sheehy-Skeffington manages to gain entrance and demands votes for women before being thrown out. Meanwhile Asquith’s carriage is attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond is injured. Leigh and Evans go on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol, and are joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity.

In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy is defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travels from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which is held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) provide protection and offer escorts to women as they leave the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. While in jail she starts a hunger strike but is released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act 1913 and is soon rearrested.

The league keeps a neutral stance on Home Rule, but is opposed to World War I. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supports Sinn Féin.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League publishes a paper, The Irish Citizen, from 1912 to 1920. The paper is edited originally by James H. Cousins.


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”


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Death of IRA Hunger Striker Michael Gaughan

michael-gaughanMichael Gaughan, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, dies on hunger strike on June 3, 1974 in HM Prison Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, England.

Gaughan, the eldest of six children, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on October 5, 1949. He grows up at Healy Terrace and is educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina. After finishing his schooling, he emigrates from Ireland to England in search of work.

While in London, Gaughan becomes a member of the Official Irish Republican Army through Official Sinn Féin‘s English wing Clann na hÉireann and becomes an IRA volunteer in a London-based Active Service Unit. In December 1971, he is sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years imprisonment for his part in an IRA fundraising mission to rob a bank in Hornsey, north London, which yields just £530, and for the possession of two revolvers.

Gaughan is initially imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, where he spends two years before being transferred to the top security HM Prison Albany on the Isle of Wight. While at Albany Prison, he requests political status, which is refused, and he is then placed in solitary confinement. He is later transferred to Parkhurst Prison, where four of the Belfast Ten are on hunger strike for political status.

On March 31, 1974, Gaughan, along with current Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, Paul Holme, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg, go on hunger strike to support the fight of Dolours and Marion Price to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners demands are as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison

British policy at this time is to force-feed hunger strikers. According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, “six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.”

After visiting Gaughan in jail, his brother John describes his condition, “His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.”

During his hunger strike, Gaughan’s weight drops from 160 lbs. to 84 lbs. He is force-fed for the first time on April 22 and this occurs 17 times during course of his hunger strike. The last time he is force-fed is the night before his death. After a hunger strike that lasts 64 days, Michael Gaughan dies on Monday, June 3, 1974, at the age of 24.

The cause of Gaughan’s death is disputed. The British government states that he died of pneumonia. The Gaughan family state that he died after prison doctors injured him fatally when food lodged in a lung punctured by a force-feeding tube. His death causes controversy in English medical circles, as some forms of treatment can be classed as assault if given without the express permission of the patient.

The timing of Gaughan’s death comes just one week after the British Government had capitulated to the demands of Ulster loyalist hunger strikers. After his death, the British government’s policy of force-feeding ends and the remaining hunger strikers are given assurances that they will be repatriated to Irish prisons. However, these promises are reneged on by the British government.

Gaughan’s body is initially removed from London and on June 7-8 over 3,000 mourners line the streets of Kilburn and march behind his coffin, which is flanked by an IRA honour guard, to a Requiem Mass held in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Following the Requiem Mass, his body is transported to Dublin, where again it is met by mourners and another IRA honour guard who bring it to the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands file past as it lay in state. The following day, his body is removed to Ballina, County Mayo. A funeral mass takes place on June 9, at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, and the procession then leads to Leigue Cemetery. Gaughan is given a full IRA funeral and is laid to rest in the republican plot, where Frank Stagg would join him after being reburied in November 1976. His funeral is attended by over 50,000 people and is larger than the funeral of former president Éamon de Valera the following year.


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Birth of Irish American Actor Gregory Peck

gregory-peckActor Gregory Peck is born in La Jolla, California on April 5, 1916 to Bernice Mary (Ayres) and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist and pharmacist in San Diego. Through his Irish-born paternal grandmother, Catherine Ashe, Peck is related to Thomas Ashe, who takes part in the Easter Rising fewer than three weeks after Peck’s birth and dies while on hunger strike in 1917.

Peck’s parents divorce when he is five years old. An only child, he is sent to live with his grandmother. He never feels as though he has a stable childhood. His fondest memories are of his grandmother taking him to the movies every week and of his dog, which follows him everywhere.

At the age of ten Peck is sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s Military Academy in Los Angeles. While he is a student there, his grandmother dies. At 14, he moves back to San Diego to live with his father and attends San Diego High School. After graduating he enrolls for one year at San Diego State Teacher’s College (now known as San Diego State University).

Peck studies pre-med at the University of California, Berkeley and while there is bitten by the acting bug and decides to change the focus of his studies. He enrolls in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and debuts on Broadway after graduation. His debut is in Emlyn Williams‘ play The Morning Star (1942). By 1943, he is in Hollywood, where he debuts in the RKO Pictures film Days of Glory (1944).

Stardom comes with Peck’s next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), for which he is nominated for an Academy Award. Peck’s screen presence displays the qualities for which he becomes well known. He is tall, rugged and heroic, with a basic decency that transcends his roles. He appears in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Spellbound (1945) as an amnesia victim accused of murder. In The Yearling (1946), he is again nominated for an Academy Award and wins the Golden Globe Award. He is especially effective in westerns and appears in such varied fare as David O. Selznick‘s critically blasted Duel in the Sun (1946), the somewhat better received Yellow Sky (1948) and the acclaimed The Gunfighter (1950). He is nominated again for the Academy Award for his roles in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which deals with antisemitism, and Twelve O’Clock High (1949), a story of high-level stress in an Air Force bomber unit in World War II.

With a string of hits to his credit, Peck makes the decision to only work in films that interest him. He continues to appear as the heroic, larger-than-life figures in such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951) and Moby Dick (1956). He works with Audrey Hepburn in her debut film, Roman Holiday (1953).

Peck finally wins the Oscar, after four nominations, for his performance as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). In the early 1960s, he appears in two darker films than he usually makes, Cape Fear (1962) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which deal with the way people live. He also gives a powerful performance as Captain Keith Mallory in The Guns of Navarone (1961), one of the biggest box-office hits of that year.

In the early 1970s, Peck produces two films, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972) and The Dove (1974), when his film career stalled. He makes a comeback playing, somewhat woodenly, Robert Thorn in the horror film The Omen (1976). After that, he returns to the bigger-than-life roles he is best known for, such as MacArthur (1977) and the monstrous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele in the huge hit The Boys from Brazil (1978). In the 1980s, he moves into television with the miniseries The Blue and the Gray (1982) and The Scarlet and the Black (1983). In 1991, he appears in the remake of his 1962 film, playing a different role, in Martin Scorsese‘s Cape Fear (1991). He is also cast as the progressive-thinking owner of a wire and cable business in Other People’s Money (1991).

In 1967, Peck receives the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has also been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Always politically progressive, he is active in such causes as anti-war protests, workers’ rights and civil rights. In 2003, Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch is named the greatest film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

Gregory Peck dies in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles, California from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003. He is entombed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels mausoleum in Los Angeles. His eulogy is read by Brock Peters, whose character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.