seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.


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Birth of Actor Ray McAnally

Ray McAnally, Irish actor and winner of four BAFTA awards in the late 1980s, is born on March 30, 1926, in Buncrana, a seaside town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal.

The son of a bank manager, McAnally is educated at Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where he writes, produces and stages a musical called “Madame Screwball” at the age of sixteen. He enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the age of 18 but leaves after a short time having decided that the priesthood is not his vocation. He joins the Abbey Theatre in 1947 where he meets and marries actress Ronnie Masterson.

The couple later forms Old Quay Productions and present an assortment of classic plays in the 1960s and 1970s. McAnally makes his theatre debut in 1962 with A Nice Bunch of Cheap Flowers and gives a well-received performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Constance Cummings, at the Piccadilly Theatre.

On television he is a familiar face, often in glossy thriller series like television series The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, and Strange Report. In 1968 he takes the title role in Spindoe, a series charting the return to power of an English gangster, Alec Spindoe, after a five-year prison term. This is a spin-off from another series, The Fellows (1967) in which McAnally had appeared in several episodes as the Spindoe character. He could render English accents very convincingly.

McAnally regularly acts in the Abbey Theatre and at Irish festivals, but in the last decade of life he achieves award-winning notice on TV and films. His impressive performance as Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission (1986) earns him Evening Standard and BAFTA awards. He earns a second BAFTA award for his role in the BBC’s A Perfect Spy (1987). In 1988 he wins the BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in A Very British Coup, a role that also brings him a Jacob’s Award. In the last year of his life he portrays the father of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in the Academy Award-winning film, My Left Foot (1989).

McAnally dies suddenly of a heart attack on June 15, 1989, at the age of 63, at his home in County Wicklow which he shares with Irish actress Britta Smith. He remains married to actress Ronnie Masterson until his death, although they reside in different homes. He receives a posthumous BAFTA award for his last film in 1990.

At the time of his death, McAnally is due to play “Bull McCabe” in Jim Sheridan‘s film The Field. The part eventually goes to Richard Harris who receives an Academy Award nomination for his performance. McAnally had also been cast in the lead role of First and Last, a drama about a man who walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Filming is almost a third of the way done when he dies, but the whole play has to be re-filmed, with Joss Ackland taking the role instead.


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Birth of Cardinal Patrick Joseph O’Donnell

patrick-joseph-odonnellPatrick Joseph O’Donnell, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, is born in Glenties, County Donegal, on November 28, 1856. He serves as Archbishop of Armagh from 1924 until his death, and is elevated to the cardinalate in 1925.

O’Donnell, son of Daniel O’Donnell, a farmer, and his wife, Mary (née Breslin), is one of nine children in a family that claim descent from the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell. He is educated in the High School, Letterkenny, the Catholic University, Dublin, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained to the priesthood on June 29, 1880. In that same year he is appointed to the staff of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, holding the chairs of Dogmatic and Moral Theology. In 1884 he becomes dean of the revived post-graduate Dunboyne Institute and in 1885 is awarded his STD. From his desk in Maynooth he pours out a continuous stream of articles on moral theology and canon law.

O’Donnell becomes Bishop of Raphoe on February 26, 1888, and is consecrated by Cardinal Michael Logue on April 3 in Letterkenny. With superior qualities of mind and body, he is a benign figure who is yet gifted with sharp political acumen. He has the most distinguished episcopate, locally and nationally. He undertakes and completes prodigious building projects including a superbly-sited neo-gothic cathedral, St. Eunan’s Diocesan College, and the Presentation Monastery and Loreto schools and an extension to Loreto Convent, all in Letterkenny.

He is appointed coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh on January 14, 1922 and succeeds Cardinal Logue on November 19, 1924. On December 14, 1925, Pope Pius XI makes O’Donnell a Cardinal.

O’Donnell takes an active part in the social, political, and economic life of Ireland. A staunch activist for social justice, as Bishop of Raphoe, he is a member of the first Committee of the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, founded by Sir Horace Plunkett. In 1918, when representing the nationalist’s side at the Irish Convention, he opposes John Redmond‘s amendment intended to bring about unanimity on All-Ireland Home Rule.

Cardinal O’Donnell dies on October 22, 1927 in Carlingford, County Louth. The St. Connell’s Museum in his home town of Glenties has a display about his life.