seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1979 Fastnet Race

fastnet-race-memorialNineteen people lose their lives during the 1979 Fastnet Race, which begins on August 11, 1979. The race is the 28th Royal Ocean Racing Club‘s Fastnet Race, a yachting race held generally every two years since 1925 on a 605-mile course from Cowes direct to the Fastnet Rock and then to Plymouth via south of the Isles of Scilly. In 1979, it is the climax of the five-race Admiral’s Cup competition, as it has been since 1957.

A worse-than-expected storm on the third day of the race wreaks havoc on over 303 yachts that started the biennial race resulting in 24 yachts being abandoned, of which five are lost and believed to be sunk due to high winds and severe sea conditions. The nineteen fatalities consist of fifteen yachtsmen and four spectators.

Rescue efforts begin after 6:30 AM on August 14, once the winds drop to severe gale Force 9 on the Beaufort scale. Emergency services, naval forces, and civilian vessels from around the west side of the English Channel are summoned to aid what becomes the largest ever rescue operation in peace-time. This involves some 4,000 people, including the entire Irish Naval Service‘s fleet, lifeboats, commercial boats, tugs, trawlers, tankers and helicopters.

The handicap winner is the yacht Tenacious, designed by Sparkman & Stephens, owned and skippered by Ted Turner. The winner on elapsed time in the race is the 77-foot Condor of Bermuda, skippered by Peter Blake, which gains around 90 minutes on the leader at the Fastnet rock, the Kialoa IV, by chancing a spinnaker. Jim Kilroy of the Kialoa IV has broken his ribs and there is damage to the yacht’s runners. Condor of Bermuda breaks the Fastnet record by nearly eight hours (71h 25m 23s).

The disaster results in a major rethink of racing, risks and prevention.

(Pictured: Memorial to those who died in the 1979 Fastnet Race, Lissarnona, Cape Clear Island, Cork, Ireland)


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Samuel Beckett Awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature

samuel-beckettSamuel Barclay Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 23, 1969. Beckett lives in Paris for most of his adult life and writes in both English and French. He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984.

Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and becomes increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin calls the “Theatre of the Absurd.” Waiting for Godot is generally regarded as his best-known play.

In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with his wife Suzanne, Beckett hears that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne calls the award a “catastrophe.” In true ascetic fashion, he gives away all of the prize money. While Beckett does not devote much time to interviews, he sometimes meets the artists, scholars, and admirers who seek him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Although Beckett is an intensely private man, a review of the second volume of his letters by Roy Foster in the December 15, 2011 issue of The New Republic reveals Beckett to be not only unexpectedly amiable but frequently prepared to talk about his work and the process behind it.

Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, Beckett dies on 22 December 22, 1989, just five months after the passing of Suzanne. The two are interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett’s work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opens up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.

On December 10, 2009, a new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin is opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. Reminiscent of a harp on its side, it is designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. The newest ship of the Irish Naval Service, the LÉ Samuel Beckett (P61), is named for Beckett. An Ulster History Circle blue plaque in his memory is located at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.


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The Bombing of Air India Flight 182

air-india-182Air India Flight 182, an Air India flight operating on the Montreal, CanadaLondon, U.K.Delhi, India route, is destroyed by a bomb on June 23, 1985, at an altitude of 31,000 feet and crashes into the Atlantic Ocean while in Irish airspace.

It is the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jetliner. A total of 329 people are killed, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians. The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. The incident is the largest mass murder in Canadian history. It is the deadliest terrorist attack involving an airplane until the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States in 2001. The bombing of Air India 182 occurs at the same time as the Narita Airport bombing in Japan. Investigators believe that the two plots are linked, and that those responsible are aiming for a double bombing. However, the bomb at Narita explodes before it can be loaded onto a plane.

At 07:14:01 GMT, the crew of Air India 182 “squawked 2005,” a routine activation of its aviation transponder, as requested by Shannon International Airport Air Traffic Control (ATC). The plane then disappears from radar. A bomb in a Sanyo tuner in a suitcase in the forward cargo hold explodes while the plane is at 31,000 feet at 51°3.6′N 12°49′W. It causes rapid decompression and the break-up of the aircraft in mid-air. The wreckage settles in 6,700-feet deep water off the southwest coast of Ireland, 120 miles offshore of County Cork. No “mayday” call is received by Shannon ATC. ATC asks aircraft in the area to try to contact Air India, to no avail. By 07:30:00 GMT, ATC has declared an emergency and requests nearby cargo ships and the Irish Naval Service vessel Aisling to begin searching for the aircraft.

The bomb kills all 22 crew and 307 passengers. One hundred thirty-two bodies are recovered. The remaining 197 are lost at sea. Eight bodies exhibit “flail pattern” injuries, indicating that they had exited the aircraft before it hit the water. This is a sign that the aircraft had broken up in mid-air. Twenty-six bodies show signs of hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Twenty-five, mostly victims who were seated near windows, show signs of explosive decompression. Twenty-three have signs of “injuries from a vertical force.” Twenty-one passengers are found with little or no clothing.

Canadian law enforcement determines that the main suspects in the bombing are members of the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa. The attack is thought to be a retaliation against India for the operation carried out by the Indian Army Operation Blue Star to flush out several hundred Sikh militants who were within the premises of the Golden temple and the surrounding structures ordered by the Indian government, headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Though a handful of members are arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, remains the only person convicted of involvement in the bombing. Singh pleads guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. He is sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded aboard Flight 182 and at Narita.

The subsequent investigation and prosecution lasts almost twenty years and is the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly CAD 130 million. The Governor General-in-Council in 2006 appoints the former Supreme Court Justice John C. Major to conduct a commission of inquiry. His report is completed and released on June 17, 2010. It concludes that a “cascading series of errors” by the government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had allowed the terrorist attack to take place.