seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


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National Day of Commemoration 2017

national-day-of-commemoration-2017President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar lead the ceremony to mark the National Day of Commemoration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin on July 9, 2017. The event is a multi-faith service of prayer and a military service honouring all Irish people who died in past wars or on service with the United Nations. Events are also held in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny and Waterford.

The National Day of Commemoration is held on the Sunday closest to July 11, the anniversary of the date the truce was signed in 1921 to end the Irish War of Independence.

Leaders from Christian, Coptic Christian, Jewish and Islamic denominations read or sing prayers and readings, and President Higgins lays a laurel wreath. The service is observed by more than 1,000 guests, including Government Ministers, the Council of State, which advises the Taoiseach, members of the judiciary, members of the diplomatic corps, TDs and Senators, representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisations and relatives of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

The national flag is lowered to half-mast while the “Last Post” and “Reveille” are sounded. After a minute of silence, a gun salute is sounded and the flag is raised again before the national anthem is played with a fly-by by three Pilatus PC-9 aircraft.

The Army band of the 1st Brigade and pipers play music including “Limerick’s Lament” and “A Celtic Lament” as guests arrive at the quadrangle of the former British Army veterans’ hospital, now the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The prayer service begins with Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, father of Ibrahim Halawa, who is in prison in Cairo, singing verses from the Quran in Arabic and praying in English, “I ask Allah, the Mighty, the Lord, to bless our country, Ireland, and give the people of our country a zeal for justice and strength for forbearance.”

Soloist Sharon Lyons sings hymns between prayers and readings from all denominations, ending with Rabbi Zalman Lent: “May the efforts and sacrifice of those we honour today be transformed into the blessing of people throughout the world.”

Speaking to reporters, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett says more than 650 personnel are serving in eleven countries and on the Mediterranean Sea. “In the Defence Forces we have over 80 people who have given their lives in the cause of peace internationally, and I think it’s a sign of a State that recognises those who give this service,” he says. “The military of our State serve the political and serve the people. And it’s this loyalty to the State which is actually critical, and I’m delighted that we have a day like this.”

Mellett’s views are echoed by former sergeant Denis Barry, who says 47 Irish soldiers died in Lebanon and it is important to pay respects for that sacrifice. “None of us who served ever thought we would see the day we could travel in Lebanon without weapons, heavy armaments or flak jackets.” That United Nations mission paid off, he says.

Former British soldier Ron Hammond says the event reflects positive developments, such as the creation of the veterans’ Union of British and Irish Forces. He served from 1960 to 1980 in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Irish Rangers, spending time in Germany, Canada, Yemen and north and south Africa. He joined the British rather than the Irish forces because at the time “a home posting in the Defence Forces was Collins Barracks and an overseas posting was the Curragh encampment.”

(From: “Irish military dead honoured in National Day of Commemoration” by Marie O’Halloran, The Irish Times, July 9, 2017)


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Birth of Frederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Lord Dufferin

Created with GIMPFrederick Temple Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, British diplomat who is a distinguished Governor General of Canada and Viceroy and Governor-General of India and holder of Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, County Down, is born in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Italy on June 21, 1826.

The son of Price Blackwood, 4th Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, Blackwood is educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford. In his youth he is a popular figure in the court of Queen Victoria, and becomes well known to the public after publishing a best-selling account of his travels in the North Atlantic.

Lord Dufferin’s long career in public service begins as a commissioner to Syria in 1860, where his skillful diplomacy maintains British interests while preventing France from instituting a client state in Lebanon. After his success in Syria, he serves in the Government of the United Kingdom as William Ewart Gladstone’s Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Under-Secretary of State for War. He is created Earl of Dufferin in 1871.

In 1872 Lord Dufferin becomes the third Governor General of Canada, bolstering imperial ties in the early years of the Dominion. After leaving Ottawa in 1878 at the end of his term, he returns to Great Britain to continue his diplomatic career. He serves as British ambassador to Imperial Russia from 1879 to 1881. In 1881 he becomes ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and deals with the problems raised by the British occupation of the Ottoman dependency of Egypt. In 1884 he reaches the pinnacle of his diplomatic career when he succeeds George Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon as Viceroy and Governor-General of India and placates the British community there, which had been antagonized by Ripon’s reforms.

By the annexation of Burma (Myanmar) in 1886, Lord Dufferin consolidates British territories. For his services he is made Marquess of Dufferin and Ava when, in 1888, he retires from India. He then spends three years (1889–91) as Britain’s ambassador to Italy and four years (1892–96) as ambassador to France. He retires in 1896.

Following his retirement from the diplomatic service, Lord Dufferin’s final years are marred by personal tragedy and a misguided attempt to secure his family’s financial position. In 1897, worried about the family financial situation, he is persuaded to become chairman of the London and Globe Finance Corporation, a mining promotion and holding company controlled by Whitaker Wright. It subsequently transpires that Wright is a consummate fraudster and the firm goes bankrupt, although Lord Dufferin is not guilty of any deception and his moral standing remains unaffected. Soon after the misfortune, his eldest son, Lord Ava, is killed in the Second Boer War and another son is badly wounded.

Following the death of his son and in poor health, Lord Dufferin returns to his country house at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down, and dies there on February 12, 1902.

Lord Dufferin’s biographer Richard Davenport-Hines says he was “imaginative, sympathetic, warm-hearted, and gloriously versatile.” He was an effective leader in Lebanon, Canada and India, averted war with Russia, and annexed Burma. He was careless with money but charming in high society on three continents.


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Inauguration of Mary McAleese as 8th President of Ireland

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Mary Patricia McAleese (née Leneghan) is inaugurated as the eighth President of Ireland on November 11, 1997. She succeeds Mary Robinson, making her the second female president of Ireland and the first woman in the world to succeed another woman as president. She is the first president to come from Northern Ireland.

Leneghan is born into a Roman Catholic family on June 27, 1951 in Ardoyne, north Belfast. The eldest of nine children, she grows up in Northern Ireland through the violent times that have come to be known as “The Troubles.” She is educated at St. Dominic’s High School, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. In 1975, she is appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin.

Leneghan marries Martin McAleese, an accountant and dentist in 1976. They have three children, Emma, born 1982, and twins Justin and SaraMai, born in 1985.

In 1987, McAleese returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s University Belfast, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university.

McAleese defeats former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in an internal party election in 1997, held to determine the Fianna Fáil nomination for the Irish presidency. Her opponents in the 1997 presidential election are Mary Banotti of Fine Gael, Adi Roche of the Labour Party and two Independents, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Derek Nally.

McAleese wins the presidency with 45.2% of first preference votes. In the second and final count against Banotti, McAleese wins 55.6% of preferences. Within weeks of her November 1997 inauguration she makes her first official overseas trip to Lebanon.

McAleese describes the theme of her presidency as “building bridges.” The first individual born in Northern Ireland to become President of Ireland, McAleese is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland throughout her presidency, where she is on the whole warmly welcomed by both communities, confounding critics who had believed she would be a divisive figure. While on an official visit to the United States in 1998, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Francis Law tells her he is “sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President.” She tells the cardinal that she is the “President of Ireland and not just of Catholic Ireland.”

McAleese’s initial seven-year term of office ends in November 2004, but she stands for a second term in the 2004 presidential election. She is re-elected on October 1, 2004, being the only validly-nominated candidate.

McAleese is an experienced broadcaster, having worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann. She has a longstanding interest in many issues concerned with justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation.


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.


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Kidnapping of Writer Brian Keenan

Irish writer Brian Keenan is taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 11, 1986.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time include Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid-1980s Keenan returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by his hands and feet when taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both British and Irish passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap the government also provides support to Keenan’s two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release.

Keenan is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city. He now lives in Dublin.

(Pictured: Brian Keenan arrives at Dublin Airport after his release from captivity in Beirut in August 1990)