seamus dubhghaill

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


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Commuter Aircraft Overshoots Sligo Airport Runway

euroceltic-airlines-sligo-airportA Euroceltic Airways commuter aircraft with 40 passengers on board, including the Irish rock band Aslan, overshoots the runway at Sligo Airport on November 2, 2002 and ends up with its nose in the sea.

Nobody is injured in the incident, which happens as the aircraft attempts to land during heavy rain. A member of the rock band Aslan, who are among the passengers on the Euroceltic Airways flight from Dublin, describes it as a “very, very frightening experience.”

Although the Fokker 27 Friendship aircraft also faces high winds as it makes the landing, the major problem seems to be due to the amount of rainwater on the runway, which is located on a coastal spit at Strandhill. According to a Euroceltic spokesman, “The pilot touched down and hit the brakes, but it aquaplaned, basically, and kept going.”

The plane crosses a short, rocky beach at the end of the runway, bursting three of its tires, before coming to a stop with its nose in the sea. The 36 passengers and four crew are safely evacuated and the plane is removed after crash inspectors examine the scene. An inquiry by the Department of Transport takes place.

Euroceltic, a Luton-based airline owned by a group from Waterford, began operating the Dublin-Sligo and Dublin-Donegal routes in the summer of 2002. The two Fokker 27 planes in use are scheduled for replacement by Fokker 50s, bought from Aer Lingus, in the weeks following the accident. However, according to the spokesman, the age of the planes, built in 1984, is not a factor in the incident. He says the pilot and co-pilot on the Sligo flight are both “very experienced.”

Aslan goes ahead with their concert in Sligo the following Saturday night despite the shock. Guitarist Billy McGuinness describes his fear as he watched the plane’s tires burst, “When I saw the sea, I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re in trouble here’.” Band members had earlier joked about the tradition of rock groups being involved in air crashes, he added.

Euroceltic flight schedules return to normal on November 4. At the time of the accident, the company also flies from Waterford to Luton and Liverpool.

(From: “Investigation under way after plane skids off Sligo runway” by Frank McNally, The Irish Times, November 4, 2002)


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Death of United Irishmen Leader Michael Dwyer

michael-dwyerUnited Irishmen leader Michael Dwyer, whose guerrilla attacks maddened the British Army from 1798, dies in Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia on August 23, 1825.

Dwyer is born in Camara, a townland in the Glen of ImaalCounty Wicklow in 1772 and he participates in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. However, unlike most of the leaders and soldiers in that Rising, he does not either leave the country or return to his normal life, nor is he captured. He retreats into the Wicklow Mountains with a band of men and drives the British to distraction in their attempts to apprehend him. A reward is placed on Dwyer’s head and another for each of his men, but he leads the British authorities on a merry chase for five years, with many daring narrow escapes, each adding to his legend. Some call him the “Outlaw of Glenmalure.”

In 1803, he plans to assist Robert Emmet in his rising but he never receives the signal to join the rising. At this point he recognizes the futility of his situation, and he also wishes to relieve the suffering of a number of his family members, including his sister, whom has been jailed for no offense other than their family relationship to him. Some claim that when he contacts the British to ask terms of surrender, he is promised he and his men will be sent to the United States. If so, and not for the first time, their word to an Irishman proves worthless. After two years of brutal treatment in Kilmainham Gaol, under the infamous Edward Trevor, Dwyer is transported to Botany Bay.

Dwyer and his family, along with a number of his men, set sail for Australia on board the Tellicherry on August 25, 1805, arriving in Sydney on February 14, 1806. However, the story of Michael Dwyer does not end there. In Sydney, Dwyer runs afoul of the Governor, a certain Capt. William Bligh, of HMS Bounty fame. Bligh accuses Dwyer of being the leader of a rebellious plot involving other United Irishmen in the area, which, if true, would certainly not be out of character. Bligh ships Dwyer off to Norfolk Island, one of the worst hellholes of the British penal system in Australia.

After six months he is transferred to Tasmania, where he remains for another two years. In 1808, Bligh leaves the Governorship and Dwyer finally makes it back to his family in Sydney and is granted 100 acres of land nearby. Like many transported Irish rebels, he eventually becomes part of the local establishment and, in a bit of irony, the “Outlaw of Glenmalure” is appointed constable. However, he is dismissed in October for drunken conduct and mislaying important documents.

In December 1822 Dwyer is sued for aggrandising his by now 620 acre farm. Bankrupted, he is forced to sell off most of his assets, which include a tavern called “The Harrow Inn”, although this does not save him from several weeks incarceration in the Sydney debtors’ prison in May 1825. Here he evidently contracts dysentery, to which he succumbs on August 23, 1825.

Dwyer’s wife lives to be 93, not dying until 1861. With her passes the last connection to the “Boys of ’98” in Australia. Dwyer remains a legend among the people of the Wicklow Mountains to this day.


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First Balloon Crossing of the Irish Sea

william-windham-sadlerWilliam Windham Sadler makes the first balloon crossing of the Irish Sea, from Dublin to Anglesey, on July 22, 1817.

Sadler is born near Dublin on October 17, 1796, the son by a second wife of James Sadler, one of the earliest British balloonists. The elder Sadler makes his first ascent on May 5, 1785, in company with William Windham, the politician, who subsequently consents to stand godfather to his son. In October 1811 he makes a rapid flight from Birmingham to Boston, Lincolnshire, in less than four hours. Less successful is his attempt to cross the Irish Sea on October 1, 1812, when he ascends from the lawn of the Belvedere House, Dublin, receiving his flag from the Duchess of Richmond. In spite of a tear in the balloon fabric, which he partially repairs with his neckcloth, he nearly succeeds in crossing the Channel. However, when over Anglesey a strong southerly current carries him out to sea, and he has a most perilous escape, being rescued by a fishing craft, which ran its bowsprit through the balloon. He is not deterred from making other ascents, and his name is long familiar in connection with ballooning. George III takes a special interest in his ascents.

The younger Sadler is brought up as an engineer, acquires a good practical knowledge of chemistry, and enters the service of the first Liverpool gas company. He gives up his employment there for professional aërostation, with which, upon his marriage in 1819, he combines the management of an extensive bathing establishment at Liverpool.

Sadler’s most notable feat is performed in 1817, when, with a view to carrying his father’s adventure of 1812 to a successful issue, he ascends from the Portobello barracks at Dublin on June 22. He rises to a great height, obtains the proper westerly current, and manages to keep the balloon in it across the St. George’s Channel. In mid-channel he writes, “I enjoyed at a glance the opposite shores of Ireland and Wales, and the entire circumference of Man.” Having started at 1:20 PM, Sadler alights a mile south of Holyhead at 6:45 PM.

On September 29, 1824 Sadler makes his thirty-first ascent at Bolton. He prepares to descend at dusk near Blackburn, but the wind dashes his car against a lofty chimney, and he is hurled to the ground, sustaining injuries of which he dies at 8:00 on the following morning. He is buried at Christchurch in Liverpool, where he was very popular. He well deserves the title of ‘intrepid’ bestowed on his father by Erasmus Darwin, but he did little to advance a scientific knowledge of aërostation by making systematic observations.


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Birth of Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Dancer & Actress

lola-montezMarie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, Irish dancer and actress better known by the stage name Lola Montez, is born in Grange, County Sligo, on February 17, 1821. She becomes famous as a “Spanish dancer,” courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who makes her Countess of Landsfeld. She uses her influence to institute liberal reforms. At the start of the German revolutions of 1848-1849, she is forced to flee. She proceeds to the United States via Switzerland, France, and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

Gilbert’s family makes their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon, until early 1823, when they journey to Liverpool, thence departing for India on March 14. Gilbert spends much of her childhood in India but is educated in Scotland and England. At age 19 she elopes with Lieutenant Thomas James. The couple separates five years later and, in 1843, Gilbert launches a career as a dancer. Her London debut in June 1843 as “Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer” is disrupted when she is recognized as Mrs. James. The fiasco would probably have ended the career of anyone less beautiful and determined, but Gilbert receives additional dancing engagements throughout Europe. During her travels she reputedly forms liaisons with Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas, among many others.

Late in 1846, Gilbert dances in Munich and Ludwig I of Bavaria is so struck by her beauty that he offers her a castle. She accepts, becomes Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfeld, and remains as his mistress. Under Gilbert’s influence, Louis inaugurates liberal and anti-Jesuit governmental policies, but his infatuation with her helps to bring about the collapse of his regime in the revolution of 1848. In March of that year Ludwig abdicates in favour of his son. Gilbert flees to London, where in 1849 she marries Lieutenant George Heald, although she has never been divorced from James. Heald later leaves her.

From 1851 to 1853 Gilbert performs in the United States. Her third marriage, to Patrick P. Hull of San Francisco in 1853, ends in divorce soon after she moves to Grass Valley, California. There, among other amusements, she coaches young Lotta Crabtree in singing and dancing. She settles in New York City after an unsuccessful tour of Australia in 1855–1856 and gathers a following as a lecturer on such topics as fashion, gallantry, and beautiful women. An apparently genuine religious conversion leads her to take up various personal philanthropies.

Gilbert publishes Anecdotes of Love; Being a True Account of the Most Remarkable Events Connected with the History of Love; in All Ages and among All Nations (1858), The Arts of Beauty, or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet with Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascination (1858), and Lectures of Lola Montez, Including Her Autobiography (1858). The international notoriety of her heyday persists long after her death and inspires numerous literary and balletic allusions.

Gilbert spends her last days in rescue work among women. By November 1859 she is showing the tertiary effects of syphilis and her body begins to waste away. She dies at the age of 39 on January 17, 1861. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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Death of Joan Denise Moriarty, Ballet Dance & Choreographer

joan-denise-moriartyJoan Denise Moriarty, Irish ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher of ballet and traditional Irish dancer and musician, dies on January 24, 1992. She is a key figure in the development of both amateur and professional ballet in Ireland.

Little is known of Moriarty’s early life. Her year of birth is estimated between 1910 and 1913 but no documentation has been found. The place of her birth is also unknown, and even the country is uncertain. She grows up as the daughter of Michael Augustus Moriarty, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College and contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his wife, Marion (née McCarthy). The Moriartys are originally from Mallow, County Cork, where her grandfather John Moriarty was a successful solicitor.

Moriarty is brought up in England. She studies ballet until her early teens with Dame Marie Rambert. She is an accomplished Irish step-dancer and traditional musician, and becomes the champion Irish step-dancer of Britain on April 24, 1931. She also wins a swimming championship. She is a member of the Liverpool branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge.

In the autumn of 1933 Moriarty returns with her family to their native Mallow in County Cork. In 1934, she sets up her first school of dance there. From 1938 she also gives weekly classes in Cork in the Gregg Hall and Windsor School. During the 1930s she takes part in the Cork Feis, annual arts competitions with a focus on traditional dance and music, competing in Irish step-dancing, warpipes and operatic solo singing. She performs on the warpipes in various public concerts and gives at least two broadcasts. In 1938 she is invited by Seán Neeson, lecturer in Irish music at University College Cork, to perform at a summer school which the Music Department organises for primary school teachers.

Moriarty’s mother dies in February 1940. The following November she moves to Cork where she sets up the Moriarty School of Dancing. The early years during the war are very difficult financially. In the early 1940s she performs with her dancers in musicals and variety shows at the Cork Opera House.

In 1945 the composer Aloys Fleischmann invites Moriarty to perform in his Clare’s Dragoons for baritone, war pipes, choir and orchestra, which had been commissioned by the national broadcasting company, Radio Éireann, for the Thomas Davis centenary. Moriarty agrees, on condition that his Cork Symphony Orchestra would play for her Ballet Company’s annual performances, which marks the beginning of a lifelong collaboration.

Branches of the Moriarty School of Dance are established in Bandon, Clonmel, Fermoy, Killarney, Mallow, Tralee, Waterford, and Youghal. Moriarty bequeaths her Cork school to Breda Quinn, a long-standing member of the Cork Ballet Company, who runs it with another Moriarty student, Sinéad Murphy, who creates a new dance school, Cork School of Dance, after Breda’s death in 2009.

Moriarty founds the Cork Ballet Group in 1947, the members recruited from her school. It gives its first performance in June of that year at the Cork Opera House. In 1954 the group is registered as a company under the name “Cork Ballet Company.” The company’s final season is 1993, the year following Moriarty’s death.

Irish Theatre Ballet is founded by Moriarty in the summer of 1959, and gives its first performance in December 1959. It is a small touring company of 10 to 12 dancers, which travels all over Ireland, going to some 70 venues annually with extracts from the classical ballets, contemporary works and folk ballets. In an attempt to resolve the constant financial difficulties, the Arts Council in 1963 insists on a merger with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet. The amalgamation does not bring a solution to the financial problems besetting both companies and, after one joint season, the amalgamated company, Irish National Ballet, has to be disbanded in March 1964.

In 1973, the Irish government decides to fund a professional ballet company, the Irish Ballet Company, and entrusts it to Moriarty. Like Irish Theatre Ballet, it is a touring company which travels all over Ireland in two annual seasons. The company has a number of striking successes between 1978 and 1981. In 1983 the name of the company is changed to Irish National Ballet. The severe recession in Ireland during the 1980s and shrinking funds force the Irish National Ballet to disband in 1989.

Moriarty spends almost 60 years working for ballet in Ireland. Her amateur Cork Ballet Company is still the longest-lasting ballet company the country’s history. Her two professional touring companies bring ballet to all parts of Ireland for 21 years. She receives numerous awards for her work, among them an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1979.

During the last years of her life, Moriarty suffers ill-health, but continues her work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringing the shows to towns in the county. She dies on January 24, 1992 in Dublin.


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Birth of Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.