seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Brendan Behan, Irish Republican, Poet & Writer

brendan-behanBrendan Francis Aidan Behan, Irish Republican, poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who writes in both English and Irish, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1923.

Behan is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers and poets of all time. He is also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Born in Dublin into a staunchly republican family, he becomes a member of the IRA’s youth organisation Fianna Éireann at the age of fourteen. However, there is also a strong emphasis on Irish history and culture in the home, which means he is steeped in literature and patriotic ballads from an early age. Behan eventually joins the IRA at sixteen, which leads to his serving time in a borstal youth prison in the United Kingdom. He is also imprisoned in Ireland. During this time, he takes it upon himself to study and he becomes a fluent speaker of the Irish language. Subsequently released from prison as part of a general amnesty given by the Fianna Fáil government in 1946, Behan moves between homes in Dublin, Kerry, and Connemara, and also resides in Paris for a time.

In 1954, Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, is produced in Dublin. It is well received, however, it is the 1956 production at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop in Stratford, London, that gains Behan a wider reputation. This is helped by a famous drunken interview on BBC television. In 1958, Behan’s play in the Irish language, An Giall, has its debut at Dublin’s Damer Theatre. Later, The Hostage, Behan’s English-language adaptation of An Giall, meets with great success internationally. Behan’s autobiographical novel, Borstal Boy, is published the same year and becomes a worldwide best-seller.

He marries Beatrice Ffrench-Salkeld in 1955. By early March 1964, after developing diabetes, the end is in sight. Collapsing at the Harbour Lights bar, he is transferred to the Meath Hospital in central Dublin, where he dies at the age 41 on March 20, 1964. He is given an IRA guard of honour, which escorts his coffin. It is described by several newspapers as the biggest funeral since those of Michael Collins and Charles Stewart Parnell.


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Birth of Shane MacGowan, Lead Singer of The Pogues

shane-macgowanShane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan, Anglo-Irish musician and singer, best known as the lead singer and songwriter of Celtic trad punk band The Pogues, is born to Irish parents in Pembury, Kent, England, on December 25, 1957.

MacGowan spends his early childhood in County Tipperary, before his family moves back to England when he is six years old. He lives in many parts of the southeast of England, including Brighton and London.

MacGowan’s father, Maurice, works for a department store. MacGowan’s mother, Therese, is a singer and traditional Irish dancer, and has worked as a model in Dublin. In 1971, after attending Holmewood House School at Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, MacGowan earns a literature scholarship and is accepted into Westminster School. He is found in possession of drugs and is expelled in his second year.

MacGowan gets his first taste of fame in 1976 at a concert by British punk band The Clash, when his earlobe is damaged by Jane Crockford, later to be a member of Mo-dettes. A photographer snaps a picture of him covered in blood and it makes the papers, with the headline “Cannibalism at Clash Gig.” Shortly after this, he forms his own punk rock band, The Nipple Erectors, later renamed The Nips.

MacGowan draws upon his Irish heritage when founding The Pogues and changes his early “punk” voice for a more authentic sound with tutoring from his extended family. Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, the experiences of the Irish in London and the United States, and London life in general.

Between 1985 and 1987, he co-writes “Fairytale of New York,” which he performs with Kirsty MacColl. In the coming years MacGowan and The Pogues release several albums.

After The Pogues throw MacGowan out for unprofessional behaviour, he forms a new band, Shane MacGowan & The Popes, recording two studio albums, a live album, three tracks on The Popes Outlaw Heaven (2010) and a live DVD, and touring internationally. From December 2003 until May 2005, Shane MacGowan & The Popes tour extensively in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

The Pogues and MacGowan reform for a sell-out tour in 2001 and each year from 2004 to 2009 for further tours, including headline slots at GuilFest in England and the Azkena Rock Festival in Basque Country. In May 2005, he rejoins The Pogues permanently.

The Pogues’ last performance on British soil occurs on July 5, 2014 at the British Summer Time festival in London’s Hyde Park.

For many years MacGowan suffers from binge drinking and heroin use. In 2001, Sinéad O’Connor reports MacGowan to the police in London for drug possession in what she says is an attempt to discourage him from using heroin. Initially furious, MacGowan later expresses gratitude towards O’Connor and claims that the incident helped him kick his heroin habit.

MacGowan has long been known for having very bad teeth. He loses the last of his natural teeth around 2008. In 2015, he has 28 new dentures on a titanium frame fitted in a nine-hour procedure which is the subject of an hour-long television programme. Dr. Darragh Mulrooney, the dental surgeon who carries out the procedure, comments that MacGowan recorded most of his great works while he still had some teeth: “We’ve effectively re-tuned his instrument and that will be an ongoing process.”

In the summer of 2015, MacGowan falls as he is leaving a Dublin studio, fracturing his pelvis. He is seen in public on crutches by December 2015, and continues to experience difficulty with general mobility.


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The Daunt Rock Rescue

daunt-rock-rescueThe Ballycotton lifeboat Mary Stanford returns to its home port in East Cork on February 11, 1936 following what is likely the most famous sea rescue in Irish maritime history.

Riding at anchor, the Daunt Rock lightship Comet, with a crew of eight, breaks from her mooring off Roberts Head on the southern coast of Ireland on the morning of February 8, 1936 during a three-day gale. The seas are so mountainous that spray is flying over the lantern of the 196-foot tall lighthouse.

In one of the most exhausting and gallant services in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI), Patrick Sliney, Coxswain of the Mary Stanford, and a crew of six take to the sea in response to an SOS call from the Comet.

The Mary Stanford makes several attempts to get a steel cable aboard the Comet, but on every attempt, a terrible wave crashes the ships further apart and the cable snaps. When darkness falls, the Mary Stanford heads for Cobh to get stronger cables. Early the following morning, the Mary Stanford returns to Daunt rock. The sea is just as stormy and a thick fog has set in, making it impossible to effect a rescue. The Mary Stanford remains in the storm all day and all night.

That evening, as the storm increases, the Comet drifts dangerously close to Daunt rock. When she is just 60 yards from the rock, Sliney decides the only option, albeit a dangerous one, is to try and get alongside the Comet so the crew can jump for the lifeboat. On the first attempt, one man jumps to safety aboard the Mary Stanford. No one is able to jump on the second attempt but on the third attempt five men are successfully rescued. A fourth and fifth attempt are unsuccessful as no one is able to jump to the Mary Stanford. Two men remain on board the Comet, clinging to the rails and too exhausted to jump. As the Mary Stanford comes alongside on the sixth attempt, the two are seized by the lifeboat crew and dragged aboard.

The Mary Stanford is away from its Ballycotton station for 79 hours and at sea for 49 hours. The crew has no food for 25 hours and they only have three hours sleep. All suffer from colds, saltwater burns, and hunger.

A Gold Medal is awarded by the RNLI to Sliney, Silver Medals to Second Coxswain John Lane Walsh and Motor Mechanic Thomas Sliney, and Bronze Medals to Crew Members Michael Coffey Walsh, John Shea Sliney, William Sliney, and Thomas Walsh for their service.


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The 1996 Docklands Bombing

docklands-bombingThe Docklands bombing, also known as the Canary Wharf bombing or the South Quay bombing, occurs on February 9, 1996, marking the end of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) seventeen-month ceasefire.

At about 7:01 PM on February 9, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonates a large bomb in a small lorry about 80 yards from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. The bomb, containing 500 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and sugar and a detonating cord made of semtex, PETN, and RDX high explosives, is placed directly under the point where the tracks cross Marsh Wall.

The IRA sends telephone warnings 90 minutes prior to the detonation and the area is evacuated. However, two men working in the newsagents shop directly opposite the explosion, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, are not evacuated in time and are killed in the explosion. Thirty-nine people require hospital treatment as a result of the blast and falling glass. A portion of the South Quay Plaza is destroyed and the explosion leaves a crater ten metres wide and three metres deep. The shockwave from the blast causes windows to rattle five miles away.

Approximately £100 million worth of damage is done by the blast. The Midland Bank building is damaged beyond economic repair and is demolished. South Quay Plaza I and II are severely damaged and require complete rebuilding. The station itself is extensively damaged, but both it and the bridge under which the bomb is exploded are reopened within weeks.

The bombing marks the end of a 17-month IRA ceasefire during which Irish, British, and American leaders work for a political solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. IRA member James McArdle is convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but murder charges are dropped. McArdle is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in June 2000 with a royal prerogative of mercy from Queen Elizabeth II.

dockland-bombing-damageThe IRA describes the deaths and injuries as a result of the bomb as “regrettable,” but says that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings.” Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon says, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, speaks of the need to continue the peace process. British Prime Minister John Major says there is now “a dark shadow of doubt” where optimism has existed.

On February 28, Prime Minister Major and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland John Bruton, announce that all-party talks will be resumed in June. Major’s decision to drop the demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks leads to criticism from the press, which accuse him of being “bombed to the table.”


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Éamon de Valera Escapes from Lincoln Gaol

boland-collins-devaleraÉamon de Valera, along with Seán McGarry and Seán Milroy, escape from Lincoln Gaol in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England on February 3, 1919.  The escape plot is engineered by fellow Sinn Féin members Harry Boland and Michael Collins (pictured to the left of de Valera).

After his participation as a leader of the Easter Rising of 1916, de Valera is arrested and sentenced to death for his role in the uprising, but the sentence is later commuted due to his American citizenship. Following his release from prison in 1916, he quickly gains fame on the Irish political scene, ultimately becoming the leader of Sinn Féin. He also gains notoriety amongst the British political elites, which ensures his eventual re-arrest and imprisonment in Lincoln Gaol.

De Valera is sent to Lincoln Gaol presumably for his participation in a “German Plot” against the British. Once incarcerated at Lincoln, de Valera, wanting to embarrass the English, quickly begins to plan his escape with the assistance of Milroy and McGarry. Irish Republicans on the outside, including Boland and Collins, also assist in the planning.

Open fields surrounded by barbed wire are to the rear and east of the prison. The Republicans hope to use this to their advantage by sneaking de Valera through a rear door. The plans are sung in Gaelic to de Valera through a window in his cell by a fellow Irish inmate in order to confuse the guards. The first song tells him of the escape route and the second gives him instructions to obtain a copy of the master-key for the prison.

De Valera, being a deeply religious man, is active in the prison’s chapel from the beginning his internment. Using his connections within the chapel, over time he manages to steal candles from the altar. While Mass is being read, he “borrows” the master-key of the chaplain and makes an impression of it in the candle wax. The mould is then wrapped in paper and tossed over the prison wall so a duplicate can be made.

The key is duplicated and smuggled back into the prison concealed in a cake and the escape begins on the evening of February 3, 1919. While Collins and other members of Sinn Féin cut through the barbed wire, a group of Irish girls are sent to flirt with the prison guards to ensure they are preoccupied. With the guards’ attention diverted, de Valera, wrapped in a fur coat, McGarry, and Milroy are able to walk to the back door of the prison and, after some difficulty with the key, walk away from the prison.

They stroll down Wragby Road to the Adam & Eve Pub where a taxi driver, unaware of who his passengers are, awaits them. De Valera is swiftly moved to the railway station where they split up. Collins and Boland catch a train to London from St. Mark’s while the rest drive to Worksop where another innocent taxi driver drives them to Sheffield. De Valera then returns to Ireland briefly before traveling on to the United States. The prison officials, realizing that the men will be virtually impossible to locate, concede defeat after a one day search of the city.

The escape from Lincoln Gaol is major news and is covered in all the national papers. Prison officials blame the escape on the ability of special prisoners to interact with the general prison population. The escape proves to be an important moment in Irish history – when a cake, a wax key, and some pretty Irish girls help spring the future Irish president from Lincoln Gaol.


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Hillary Clinton Announced for Induction into Irish America Hall of Fame

hillary-clintonOn February 2, 2015, Irish America magazine announces that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in March, in recognition of her work on the Irish peace process.

Clinton travels frequently to Ireland as First Lady and as U.S. Secretary of State, and often talks about the end of the civil strife, known as The Troubles, as a crowning foreign policy achievement of her husband’s administration. On her visit to Belfast in 2012, she pledges to continue to support peace in Ireland in whatever way possible.

“Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the unsung heroes of the success of the Irish peace process,” says Niall O’Dowd, publisher of Irish America magazine. “As First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State she always gave the issue top priority to help ensure it remained at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda. During that historic first trip to Northern Ireland with Bill Clinton in 1995, which I was privileged to be on, she galvanized women’s groups on both sides by meeting with them, shaping their agenda, and making sure they always had a friend in the U.S. administration. More than that, she constantly stayed involved, never giving up her focus on bringing an end to Europe’s longest conflict at the time.”

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Clinton delivers the keynote address at the luncheon in Manhattan of high profile Irish-Americans who each year honor elected officials and others. She describes sitting at a table in Belfast, over cups of tea, with women from both sides of the conflict and watching as they discover how much they share.

She does not portray herself as instrumental to the Good Friday Agreement that President Clinton brokered in 1998, but says her outreach to women in Belfast on multiple visits during that period had played a critical role.

“You cannot bring peace and security to people just by signing an agreement,” she says. “In fact, most peace agreements don’t last.” She says that when “the work of peace permeates down to the kitchen table, to the backyard, to the neighborhood, around cups of tea, there’s a much greater chance the agreement will hold.”

Previous inductees into the Irish America Hall of Fame include former President John F. Kennedy, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who addressed the luncheon in 2014 in a mix of English and Irish.


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U2 Fights to Save Hanover Quay Recording Studio

u2On January 29, 2002, at a public hearing at the Gresham Hotel, rock superstars U2 battle to save their recording studios at Hanover Quay in the Grand Canal Dock area of Ringsend, a southside inner suburb of Dublin, from being pulled to the ground.

The Dublin Docklands Development Authority wants to clear the way for a major new leisure development on a Hanover Quay site which contains a number of buildings including the band’s one-story recording studio. Talks between the band and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority fail to result in a compromise.

Citing the multi-million-pound records sales and musical heritage that have resulted from their use of the Hanover Street site since 1994, the band members submit to An Bord Pleanála (Irish Planning Appeals Board) a formal, nine page objection to the proposed plan. The band recorded their All That You Can’t Leave Behind album and a portion of their Pop album at the studio.

In addition to U2’s complaint, three other parties raise formal objections, including businessman Harrie Crosbie, millionaire businessman and Point Depot owner, who also owns small business premises at the Hanover Quay site.

In a statement released in the evening, the band says that while they love the docklands and are very happy with their present studio, they “appreciate that change is inevitable and often for the best.” They disclose that they are continuing discussions with the Dublin Docklands Development Authority but would consider moving to another location in the vicinity should a suitable property be offered.

The hearing continues into a second day.

Ultimately, on June 17, 2002, U2 loses the battle to save the Hanover Quay recording studio from demolition when An Bord Pleanála gives the go-ahead for the redevelopment of the Hanover Quay site. The band later reaches an agreement with the Dublin Docklands Development Authority for a replacement studio building which allows them to remain in the docklands area.