seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Erskine H. Childers, 4th President of Ireland

erskine-hamilton-childers-1Erskine Hamilton Childers, Irish politician and a member of the Fianna Fáil party who serves as the fourth President of Ireland (1973–74), is born on December 11, 1905 in the Embankment Gardens, Westminster, London, to a Protestant family, originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow.

Childers is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge, hence his striking British upper class accent. On November 24, 1922, when he is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically-inspired charges of gun-possession. The pistol he had been found with had been given to him by Michael Collins. Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, the elder Childers obtains a promise from his son to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his death warrant.

Following his father’s funeral, he returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He returns to Ireland in 1932 and becomes advertising manager of The Irish Press, the newly founded newspaper owned by the family of Éamon de Valera.

Childers’s political debut is as a successful Fianna Fáil candidate for a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1938. He becomes a Parliamentary secretary in 1944 and is later Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1951–54), Minister for Lands (1957–59), and Minister for Transport and Power (1959–69). He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health (1969–73). He supports Taoiseach Jack Lynch’s condemnation of the violence in Northern Ireland and Lynch’s advocacy of a European role for the Irish republic within the European Economic Community (now European Community, embedded in the European Union).

Childers is nominated as the presidential candidate of Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proved enormous, and in a political upset at the 1973 Irish presidential election, he is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating Tom O’Higgins by 635,867 (52%) votes to 578,771 (48%). He becomes the second Protestant to hold the office, the first being Douglas Hyde (1938–1945).

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing.

On November 17, 1974, during a conference to the psychiatrists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a congestional heart failure causing him to lie sideways and turn blue before suddenly collapsing. He is pronounced dead the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by his presidential predecessor Éamon de Valera and world leaders including Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and British Opposition Leader Edward Heath, and Presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary Church, in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Death of Writer John McGahern

john-mcgahernJohn McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, dies in Dublin on March 30, 2006. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death and in its obituary The Guardian describes him as “arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett.”

Born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, his mother runs the farm (with some local help) while maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. His mother subsequently dies of cancer in 1944, when the young McGahern is ten years old resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the aforementioned Garda barracks, Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having traveled daily to complete his second level education, he continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following on from his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, he begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd. He is dismissed from Scoil Eoin Báiste on the order of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He is first published by the London literary and arts review, X magazine, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his abandoned first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaksi, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Censorship of Publications Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

John McGahern dies from cancer in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006, at the age of 71. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church, Aughawillan alongside his mother.


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The Stardust Nightclub Fire

stardust-ballroom-artaneThe Stardust nightclub in Artane, Dublin goes up in flames in the early hours of February 14, 1981. Some 841 people had attended a disco there, of whom 48 die and 214 are injured as a result of the fire.

The fire starts due to an electrical fault in a first floor store room inside the building that is open to the roof space. The non-compliant storage room contains dangerously flammable materials including drums of cooking oil. The staff observes a small fire outbreak on a seat in an alcove behind a curtain and fail in an attempt to extinguish it. This fire apparently starts after fire in the roof space comes through the roof tiles and falls onto the seat. The fire then spreads to tables and chairs and patrons notice smoke. The disc jockey announces that there is a small fire and requests a calm evacuation.

Outside, the fire is first spotted by a lady 200 metres from the Stardust and she calls the Dublin Fire Brigade. Within the same minute of her call, two other calls are made from the Stardust building to tell the Fire Brigade that there is a small fire on a seat in the ballroom. The fire is very small when first seen in the ballroom. Within two minutes a ferocious burst of heat and lots of thick black smoke quickly start coming from the ceiling, causing the material in the ceiling to melt and drip on top of patrons and other highly flammable materials including the seats and carpet tiles on the walls. The fire flashover envelopes the club and the lights fail.

The attendees at a trade union function taking place in the same building make their escape but the escape of some of the Stardust patrons is hampered by a number of obstructions. Some of the main fire exits are padlocked around the push bars and consequently are impossible to open.

The failure of the lighting in the club leads to widespread panic causing mass trampling as many of the patrons instinctively run for the main entrance. Many people mistake the entrance to the men’s toilets for the main entrance doors but the windows there have metal plates fixed on the inside and iron bars on the outside. Firemen attempt in vain to pull off the metal bars using a chain attached to a fire engine. Firemen rescue 25 to 30 of those trapped in the front toilets.

Ambulances from Dublin Fire Brigade, the Eastern Health Board, Civil Defence Ireland, the Irish Red Cross, the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St. John Ambulance Ireland are dispatched to the scene. Many ambulances leave the scene carrying up to 15 casualties. CIÉ also sends buses to transport the injured, and local radio stations ask people in the vicinity with cars to come to the club. The city’s hospitals are overwhelmed by the influx of injured and dying, in particular Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Jervis Street Hospital and Dr. Steevens’ Hospitals.

The investigation at the time reports that the cause of the fire is arson. The finding of arson has recently been ruled out by investigators, as there was never any evidence to support the arson finding, even at the time of the tragedy.

There are allegations of a huge cover-up as to the cause of so many fatalities. There is a meeting before the public inquiry in 1981 of all of the experts including the Judge when the concept of arson is determined to be the cause to protect the Dublin Corporation from having to pay out millions in compensation to the victims and families. The Coolock Garda investigation is excellent but the Tribunal distorts the evidence. The Inquiry Report and the team of experts and coached witnesses conspire to conceal the truth and determine arson to be the cause without any evidence.

The club was located where Butterly Business Park now lies, opposite Artane Castle Shopping Centre.


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Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

Erskine Hamilton Childers, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as the 4th President of Ireland, dies on November 17, 1974. He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health from 1969 to 1973, Minister for Transport and Power from 1959 to 1969, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1951 to 1954 and 1966 to 1969. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1938 to 1973.

Childers is born on December 11, 1905, in the Embankment Gardens, London, to a Protestant family originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge. In 1922, when Childers is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically inspired charges of gun-possession. After attending his father’s funeral, Childers returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge.

After finishing his education, Childers works for a period in a tourism board in Paris. In 1931, Éamon de Valera invites him to work for his recently founded newspaper, The Irish Press, where Childers becomes advertising manager. He becomes a naturalised Irish citizen in 1938. That same year, he is first elected as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Athlone–Longford. He remains in the Dáil Éireann until 1973, when he resigns to become President.

Childers joins the cabinet in 1951 as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the de Valera government. He then serves as Minister for Lands in de Valera’s 1957–59 cabinet, as Minister for Transport and Power under Seán Lemass, and, successively, as Transport Minister, Posts and Telegraphs Minister, and Health Minister under Jack Lynch. He becomes Tánaiste in 1969.

Fine Gael TD Tom O’Higgins, who had almost won the 1966 presidential election, is widely expected to win the 1973 election when he is again the Fine Gael nominee. Childers is nominated by Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous, and in a political upset, Childers is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating O’Higgins by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers had campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Garret FitzGerald.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers’ daughter Nessa believes that he plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict, reporting that former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Terence O’Neill meets secretly with her father at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desired, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is attended by world leaders including the Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers has campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill meets secretly with Childers at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by world leaders including the Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


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Death of Seán Francis Lemass, Taoiseach (1959-1966)

sean-francis-lemassSeán Francis Lemass, one of the most prominent Irish politicians of the 20th century and Taoiseach from 1959 until 1966, dies at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on May 11, 1971, at the age of 71.

John Francis Lemass is born in Ballybrack, County Dublin before his family moves to Capel Street in Dublin city centre. He is the second of seven children born to John and Frances Lemass. Within the family his name soon changes to Jack and eventually, after 1916, he himself prefers to be called Seán. He is educated at O’Connell School where he was described as studious, with his two best subjects being history and mathematics.

As early as the age of sixteen, Lemass becomes a freedom fighter in the streets of Dublin, engaging in the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War, landing in jail again and again. He opposes the establishment of the Irish Free State as a dominion under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and becomes a member of the headquarters staff of the Irish Republican Army in the civil war of 1922–1923.

Lemass is first elected as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South constituency in a by-election on November 18, 1924 and is returned at each election until the constituency is abolished in 1948, when he is re-elected for Dublin South–Central until his retirement in 1969.

He plays a key role in persuading Éamon de Valera to found a new republican party, Fianna Fáil, in 1926. After de Valera rises to the premiership in 1932, Lemass holds portfolios in all his cabinets for 21 of the next 27 years, notably as Minister for Industry and Commerce, Minister for Supplies, and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister).

When de Valera becomes President of Ireland in 1959, Lemass inherits the office of Taoiseach, serving in this position until 1966. Under him the country takes a more outward-looking approach, and he especially presses for Ireland’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Community embedded in the European Union, and for reconciliation with Northern Ireland.

Ill health forces Lemass to relinquish the leadership of his party in 1966 and he withdraws from politics altogether in 1969. He has been a heavy pipe smoker all his life, smoking almost a pound of tobacco a week in later life. At the time of his retirement it is suspected that Lemass has cancer, but this is later disproved. In February 1971, while attending a rugby game at Lansdowne Road, he becomes ill, is rushed to hospital, and is told by his doctor that one of his lungs is about to collapse.

On Tuesday, May 11, 1971, Seán Lemass dies in Dublin’s Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. He is afforded a state funeral and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

Lemass is widely regarded as the father of modern Ireland, primarily due to his efforts in facilitating industrial growth, bringing foreign direct investment into the country, and forging permanent links between Ireland and the European community. His greatest legacy, Ireland’s membership in the EEC, is not secured until 1973, after his death.