seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Larry Cunningham, Irish County Music Singer

Larry Cunningham, Irish country music singer, who is one of the leading figures of the Irish showband scene in the 1960s and 1970s, dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. He is regarded as a “trailblazer” and “legend” in the music industry.

Cunningham is born in Clooneen, Mullinalaghta, County Longford on February 13, 1938. He grows up in a farming family of seven children. After leaving school at the age of sixteen, he goes to England and works as a carpenter, playing Irish traditional music and Gaelic football during his spare time. In 1958 he returns to Ireland. Still working as a carpenter, he soon joins the part-time Gowna-based Grafton Showband, but leaves it in 1961 to become fully professional as the lead singer of the Mighty Avons, based in Cavan. That band initially specialises in covers of Jim Reeves songs and similar country material.

The band’s first taste of fame comes when they are supporting Jim Reeves during the Irish leg of his European tour in 1963. When Reeves walks off the stage during a concert in Lifford in protest at the poor condition of the supplied piano, the Avons, as they later become popularly called, take over and entertain the crowd, to much subsequent publicity and acclaim.

In December 1964, Cunningham and the Mighty Avons have a Top-10 hit with the song Tribute to Jim Reeves, which also enters the British charts and is played on Top of the Pops, both firsts for an Irish artist, which further boosts their career. Their major hit is Lovely Leitrim in September 1965, which stays at number one in the charts for four weeks. As well as regularly touring Ireland to large crowds, the Avons make many appearances on television, and often played in Britain, the United States, and other places.

In late 1969, Cunningham leaves the Mighty Avons and merges with Edenderry band The Fairways to form Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys, leaving Gene Stuart to front the Avons. He continues having success with his new band, but after his marriage to Beatrice Nannery in February 1972 he gives up regular touring in favour of occasional concerts and recording. He continues to have top-10 hits until the mid-1970s, and still performs occasionally for the remainder of his life. In recent years, audio and video compilations of his music have been released, as well as a biography.

Cunningham dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. Among those to pay tribute are U.S. country singer Robert Mizzell who says, “I am so saddened to hear of the passing of country legend Larry. I admired his talent and quick humour. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the fans who loved the big deep voice that rattled the radio waves.”


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The Battle of Scarrifholis

The Battle of Scarrifholis takes place on June 21, 1650, near Letterkenny, County Donegal, during the Irish Confederate Wars. A force loyal to the Commonwealth of England commanded by Charles Coote defeats the Catholic Ulster Army, commanded by Heber MacMahon, Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher.

Although slightly smaller than their opponents, Coote’s troops consist largely of veterans from the New Model Army and have three times the number of cavalry. After an hour of fighting, the Ulster army collapses and flees, losing most of its men, officers, weapons, and supplies. The battle secures the north of Ireland for the Commonwealth and clears the way to complete the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Irish Confederate Wars, sparked by the Irish Rebellion of 1641, are initially fought between the predominantly Catholic Confederation, and a largely Protestant Irish Royal Army, led by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond. Both claim to be loyal to Charles I, while there is a three sided war in Ulster. The latter involves Royalists, Gaelic Catholic leader Eoghan Ruadh Ó Néill, and Presbyterian militia, known as the Laggan Army, supported by Scots Covenanters under Robert Munro.

In September 1643, Ormond agrees a truce, or ‘Cessation’, with the Confederation, freeing his troops for use in England against Parliament in the First English Civil War. Some Irish Protestants object, and switch sides, including Sir Charles Coote, who becomes Parliamentarian commander in Connacht. Charles surrenders in 1646, while a Covenanter/Royalist uprising is quickly suppressed in the 1648 Second English Civil War. On January 17, 1649, the Confederation allies with Ormond’s Royalists. Following the execution of Charles on January 30, they are joined by the Laggan Army, and remaining Scots troops in Ulster.

There are various reasons for this. The Covenanter government, who provide support for Scottish settlers in Ulster, consider Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the new Commonwealth of England dangerous political and religious radicals. As Scots, they object to the execution of their king by the English. As Presbyterians, they view monarchy as divinely ordained, making regicide also sacrilegious, and they transfer their allegiance to his son, Charles II of England.

However, this is offset by a split within the Confederation, between Catholic landowners who want to preserve the position prevailing in 1641, and those like Ó Néill, whose estates had been confiscated in 1607. As a result, he agrees a truce with Coote, and refuses to join the Alliance, depriving them of their most effective fighting force in the north. Despite this, by late July, Ormond’s combined Royalist/Confederate army control most of Ireland.

Ormond’s defeat at the Battle of Rathmines on August 2 allows Cromwell and an army of 12,000 to land in Dublin unopposed. After capturing Drogheda on September 11, his main force heads south towards Wexford. Colonel Robert Venables is sent north with three regiments, or around 2,500 men, to take control of Ulster. Munro’s garrisons surrender with minimal resistance, and by the end of September, Venables has occupied Dundalk, Carlingford, Newry, and Belfast. These are accompanied by the mass expulsion of Scots settlers, as punishment for their defection. When Coote captures Coleraine on September 15, he massacres the largely Scottish garrison.

Ó Néill’s death in November 1649 and Coote’s defeat of a combined Royalist/Covenanter force at Lisnagarvey in December leaves the Catholic Ulster army as the only remaining opposition to the Commonwealth in the north. At a meeting at Belturbet on March 18, 1650, Heber MacMahon, Catholic Bishop of Clogher, is appointed in his place. Although a leading figure in the Confederation, MacMahon has no military experience and opposes the alliance with Ormond’s Royalists. His election is essentially a compromise between supporters of Henry, Ó Néill’s son, and his cousin, Felim Ó Néill.

By May 20, MacMahon and his deputy Richard O’Farrell have assembled an army near Loughgall, with 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry. They lack both arms and artillery but after Ormond promises to send these from Connacht, they march north, intending to divide Coote’s troops at Derry from those commanded by Venables at Carrickfergus in the east. To do this, MacMahon establishes a line of garrisons with its northern end at Ballycastle, then moves south, intending to cross the River Foyle just below Lifford and maintain contact with Ormond through Ballyshannon.

At this point, Coote has only 1,400 men and seems vulnerable. The Irish cross the river on June 2, beating off an attack by the Commonwealth cavalry and occupy Lifford, where they spend the next two weeks and Coote withdraws to Derry. However, the supplies promised by Ormond fail to arrive, leaving MacMahon short of provisions, while on June 18 Coote is joined by an additional 1,000 infantry under Colonel Roger Fenwick sent from Belfast. At the same time, detaching men for the new garrisons leave MacMahon with around 4,000 infantry and 400 cavalry.

MacMahon now relocates to the Doonglebe/Tullygay Hill overlooking the pass at Scariffhollis, a strong defensive position two miles west of Letterkenny on the River Swilly. When Myles MacSweeney takes his regiment off to recapture his ancestral home at Doe Castle, it leaves the two armies roughly equal in number. However, Coote’s men are well equipped veterans and he has three times the number of cavalry. When he appears at Scariffhollis on June 21, MacMahon’s subordinates advise him not to risk battle. They argue Coote will soon be forced to retreat due to lack of provisions, allowing the Irish to withdraw into Connaught in good order.

For reasons that are still debated, MacMahon ignores this advice and on the morning of June 21, 1650 orders his troops down from their mountain camp to give battle. Coote later reports that although the ground is still “excessive bad,” it allows him to use his cavalry, although the initial fighting is conducted by the opposing infantry.

The Irish army is drawn up in a large mass formation with 200–300 musketeers in front, which may have been due to their shortage of ammunition. The battle begins when Colonel Fenwick leads a detachment of 150 men against the advance guard. After an exchange of fire, during which Fenwick is mortally wounded, it turns into a hand-to-hand struggle. As Coote feeds in reinforcements, the Irish musketeers fall back on their main force, which has no room to manoeuvre and is now subjected to devastating volleys at close range. After an hour of bitter conflict, the Irish are out of ammunition and at this point the Parliamentarian cavalry charges their flank. Thrown into disarray, the Irish break and run.

In most battles, flight is the point at which the defeated suffer the heaviest casualties, exacerbated by the lack of Irish cavalry and the brutal nature of the war. Most of the infantry dies on the battlefield or in the pursuit that follows, including Henry Ó Néill and many officers, some of whom are killed after surrendering. Estimates of the Irish dead range from 2,000 – 3,000, while Coote loses around 100 killed or wounded.

MacMahon escapes with 200 horse but is captured a week later and executed. Phelim Ó Néill and O’Farrell make it to Charlemont, which is besieged by Coote and surrenders on August 14. With the exception of a few scattered garrisons, this ends fighting in the north. Limerick is taken by Hardress Waller in October 1651 and the war ends when Galway surrenders to Coote in May 1652.

(Pictured: A view of the mouth of River Swilly at Lough Swilly, Letterkenny, County Donegal)


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Death of Red Hugh O’Donnell

Hugh Roe O’Donnell (Aodh Rua ÓDomhnaill), sixteenth century Irish nobleman also known as Red Hugh O’Donnell, dies at Simancas Castle in Valladolid, Spain, on September 10, 1602. Evidence suggests he might have been poisoned by an English spy.

O’Donnell is born on October 30, 1572 in Lifford (which is in present-day County Donegal) and is the son of Hugh McManus O’Donnell, the Gaelic Lord of Tyrconnell, a territory which takes in most of the present-day county of Donegal except for the Inishowen peninsula. His mother, Aodh MacManus’ second wife, is the formidable and extremely well connected Scottish lady, Fionnuala Nic Dhomhnaill, known to history as the Iníon Dubh or The Dark Daughter. A daughter of James Mac Donald she had been raised at the Scottish court.

In 1587, at the age of fifteen, O’Donnell marries Rose O’Neill, the daughter of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, a nephew of Turlough Luineach O’Neill who is recognised by the Irish as The O’Neill. He is, therefore, a bridge between two traditional enemies, the O’Donnell’s and the O’Neills.

The English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir John Perrot, recognises the importance of the young O’Donnell prince and decides to secure him as a hostage thus giving him power over the O’Donnell clan and preventing them from forming a treaty with the O’Neills. In 1587, when he is sixteen, O’Donnell and two friends, a MacSweeney and an O’Gallagher, are persuaded to board a ship at Rathmullan which has been disguised as a Spanish wine barque. Once onboard they are carried off to Dublin Castle as prisoners. The O’Donnell’s offer to pay a large ransom and the Iníon Dubh also gives up 25 Spaniards rescued from the Armada. The English agree to this but as soon as the Spaniards are handed over they are beheaded. The agreement is not kept.

Perrot has his hostage but a most reluctant one. The young man continuously seeks ways to escape. His first opportunity comes at Christmas in 1590 when a rope is smuggled in to the prince. He escapes and flees into the Wicklow Mountains. He seeks shelter with Phelim O’Toole who has him returned to the English as he fears the anger of the infamous Perrot.

A year later, at Christmas in 1591, O’Donnell makes his second attempt at escape, this time by crawling through the Dublin Castle sewers. With him are Henry and Art O’Neill, two sons of Shane O’Neill (Shane the Proud). This time the escapees make their way to the Glenmalure stronghold of Fiach McHugh O’Byrne. Unfortunately, the winter is very severe and Art O’ Neill dies from exposure just as the O’Byrne rescue party finds them. Both Red Hugh and Henry O’Neill suffer severe frostbite but are safely returned to Ulster.

While O’Donnell is held prisoner by the English, his father becomes senile. In 1592, when O’Donnell is sufficiently recovered, he is inaugurated as the O’Donnell and England, for her treachery, has an avowed and implacable enemy.

O’Donnell aids the Maguires of Fermanagh against the English and when his father-in-law, Hugh O’Neill, initiates the Nine Years’ War by leading his clan against the English at the Battle of Clontibret (1595) and Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598), O’Donnell is at his side.

In 1595 O’Donnell ambushes an English force in the Curlew Mountains, killing 500 of them including their commander. However, the tide is turning against the Irish now. England is flooding the country with armies and many of the leading Gaelic families are beginning to make deals with them.

In 1601 the Spanish land in Kinsale and the English besiege them. O’Neill and O’Donnell march south from Ulster and Ballymote Castle in Sligo in an attempt to break the siege. This turns into a debacle causing the Irish to scatter and the Spanish to surrender. O’Neill marches back north and O’Donnell is sent to Spain to ask for more troops from Phillip III. In Spain, he is treated like a royal. He petitions aid from the King who gives him a promise of another Spanish force.

As a year passes and O’Donnell does not receive any news from Philip III of Spain, he leaves again for Valladolid but he dies on September 10, 1602 while en route. He is attended on his death-bed by Archbishop of Tuam Fláithrí Ó Maolchonaire and two friars from Donegal named Father Muiris mac Donnchadh Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe and Father Muiris mac Seaán Ulltach Ó Duinnshléibhe. The Anglo-Irish double-agent, James “Spanish” Blake, is alleged to have poisoned O’Donnell.

It is, however, unlikely that O’Donnell is poisoned. A more probable cause of death is the tapeworm that Simancas documents of the time state to be the cause of his demise. His Last Will and Testament, written in his dying moments with his loyal retinue, is an extremely evocative and moving document. One original is preserved in Simancas and the other in the Chancellery archive in Valladolid.

O’Donnell is buried in the chapter of the Franciscan monastery in Valladolid. Though the building is demolished in 1837, the exact location of the tomb may have been discovered following a Spanish archaeological dig in May 2020.

O’Donnell is succeeded as chieftain of his clan and prince of Tyrconnell by his brother Rory.

(Pictured: Statue of Gaelic Chieftain Red Hugh O’Donnell in County Donegal)


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Death of Poet Matthew Gerard Sweeney

Matthew Gerard Sweeney, Irish poet, dies at Cork University Hospital in Wilton, Cork on August 5, 2018. His work has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Hebrew, Japanese, Latvian, Mexican Spanish, Romanian, Slovakian and German.

Sweeney is born at Lifford, County Donegal, on October 6, 1952. Growing up in Clonmany, he attends Gormanston College (1965–70). He then reads sciences at University College Dublin (1970–72). He goes on to study German and English at the Polytechnic of North London, spending a year at the University of Freiburg, before graduating with a BA Honours degree in 1978.

Sweeney meets Rosemary Barber in 1972 and they marry in 1979. Two offspring – daughter Nico and son Malvin – are produced before the couple goes their separate ways in the early 21st century. Having lived in London for many years until 2001, he separates from Rosemary and goes to live in Timișoara, Romania and Berlin. In 2007, he meets his partner, Mary Noonan, and in early 2008 he moves to Cork to live with her there.

Sweeney produces numerous collections of poetry for which he wins several awards. His novels for children include The Snow Vulture (1992) and Fox (2002). He authors a satirical thriller, co-written with John Hartley Williams, and entitled Death Comes for the Poets (2012).

As Bill Swainson, Sweeney’s editor at Allison & Busby in the 1980s, recalls: “As well as writing his own poetry, Matthew was a great encourager of poetry in others. The workshops he animated, and later the residencies he undertook, were famous for their geniality and seriousness and fun. Sometime in the late 1980s I attended one of these workshops in an upstairs room of a pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, where the poems were circulated anonymously and carefully read and commented on by all. Around the pushed-together tables were Ruth Padel, Eva Salzman, Don Paterson, Maurice Riordan, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Donaghy, Maura Dooley and Tim Dooley.” Sweeney later has residencies at the University of East Anglia and Southbank Centre, among many others. He reads at three Rotterdam Poetry Festivals, in 1998, 2003 and 2009.

According to the poet Gerard Smyth: “I always sensed that in the first instance [Sweeney] regarded himself as a European rather than an Irish poet – and rightly so: like the German Georg Trakl whom he admired he apprehended the world in a way that challenged our perceptions and commanded our attention.” Sweeney’s work has been considered “barely touched by the mainstream of English writing” and more so by the German writers Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, Franz Kafka, Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the aforementioned Georg Trakl. According to Poetry International Web, he would be among the top five most famous Irish poets on the international scene.

Sweeney’s final year sees the publication of two new collections: My Life As A Painter (Bloodaxe Books) and King of a Rainy Country (Arc Publications), inspired by Charles Baudelaire‘s posthumously published Petits poèmes en prose.

Having been diagnosed with motor neuron disease the previous year, Sweeney dies at the age of 65 at Cork University Hospital on August 5, 2018, surrounded by family and friends. He continues writing up until three days before his death. In an interview shortly before his death he is quizzed on his legacy, to which he gives the response, “Mostly what awaits the poet is posthumous oblivion. Maybe there will be a young man in Hamburg, or Munich, or possibly Vienna, for whom my German translations will be for a while important – and might just contribute to him becoming a German language poet with Irish leanings.”

Among those attending a special ceremony on August 8, 2018 at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork to celebrate Sweeney’s life are fellow poets Jo Shapcott, Thomas McCarthy, Gerry Murphy, Maurice Riordan and Padraig Rooney. On August 9, 2018, he is buried in Clonmany New Cemetery in County Donegal.


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Birth of Singer Larry Cunningham

larry-cunningham

Larry Cunningham, Irish country music singer, who is one of the leading figures of the Irish showband scene in the 1960s and 1970s, is born in Clooneen, Mullinalaghta, County Longford on February 13, 1938. He is regarded as a “trailblazer” and “legend” in the music industry.

Cunningham grows up in the townland of Clooneen in a farming family of seven children. After leaving school at the age of 16 he goes to England and works as a carpenter, playing Irish traditional music and gaelic football during his spare time. In 1958 he returns to Ireland. Still working as a carpenter, he soon joins the part-time Gowna-based Grafton Showband, but leaves it in 1961 to become fully professional as the lead singer of the Mighty Avons, based in Cavan. That band initially specialises in covers of Jim Reeves songs and similar country material.

The band’s first taste of fame comes when they are supporting Jim Reeves during the Irish leg of his European tour in 1963. When Reeves walks off the stage during a concert in Lifford in protest at the poor condition of the supplied piano, the Avons, as they later become popularly called, takes over and entertains the crowd, to much subsequent publicity and acclaim.

In December 1964, Cunningham and the Mighty Avons have a Top-10 hit with the song Tribute to Jim Reeves, which also enters the British charts and is played on Top of the Pops, both firsts for an Irish artist, which further boosted their career. Their major hit is Lovely Leitrim in September 1965, which stays at number one in the charts for four weeks. As well as regularly touring Ireland to large crowds, the Avons make many appearances on television, and often played in Britain, the United States, and other places.

In late 1969, Cunningham leaves the Mighty Avons and merges with Edenderry band The Fairways to form Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys, leaving Gene Stuart to front the Avons. He continues having success with his new band, but after his marriage to Beatrice Nannery in February 1972 he gives up regular touring in favour of occasional concerts and recording. He continues to have top-10 hits until the mid-1970s, and still performs occasionally for the remainder of his life. In recent years, audio and video compilations of his music have been released, as well as a biography.

Larry Cunningham dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. Among those to pay tribute are U.S. country singer Robert Mizzell who says, “I am so saddened to hear of the passing of country legend Larry. I admired his talent and quick humour. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the fans who loved the big deep voice that rattled the radio waves.”