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


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Groundbreaking for the West Clare Railway

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CIE_F502_(17156275240).jpgCharles Stewart Parnell turns the first sod for the construction of the West Clare Railway (WCR) on January 27, 1885, although actual work on the line had begun in November 1884. The line is opened on July 2, 1887.

At the end of the Great Famine there is a new growth in local businesses. The British Government determines that an improved railway system is necessary to aid in the recovery of the West of Ireland. The West Clare Railway and the South Clare Railway are built by separate companies, but in practice the West Clare Railway operates the entire line. The lines meet at Milltown Malbay. In due course the entire line becomes known as the West Clare Railway.

The West Clare Railway originally operates in County Clare between 1887 and 1961. The 3-foot narrow gauge railway runs from the county town of Ennis, via numerous stopping points along the West Clare coast to two termini, at Kilrush and Kilkee, with the routes diverging at Moyasta Junction. The system is the last operating narrow gauge passenger system in Ireland and connects with the mainline rail system at Ennis, where a station still stands today for bus and train services to Limerick and Galway. Intermediate stops include Ennistymon, Lahinch and Milltown Malbay.

On 27 September 27, 1960, CIÉ gives notice of its intending closure with effect from February 1, 1961, despite the dieselisation of passenger services in 1952 and freight in 1953. CIÉ says that the West Clare is losing £23,000 per year, despite the considerable traffic it handles. In December 1960 it is announced that the line would close completely on January 1, 1961 although actual closure does not take place until January 31, 1961. CIÉ begins dismantling the line the following day.

A preservation society maintains a railway museum at Moyasta Junction station, and successfully re-opens a section of the railway as a passenger carrying heritage line with diesel traction in the 1990s, and with steam motive power from 2009.


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The Rineen Ambush

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rineen_Monument.JPGThe Rineen ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on September 22, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Drummin Hill in the townland of Drummin, near the hamlet of Rineen, County Clare.

The Volunteers in County Clare have been active since 1917 and by late 1920 have forced the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) to abandon most of its small rural barracks in the county. This gives the IRA greater freedom to move in the countryside. In August 1920, the RIC are reinforced by the British deployment of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to the county. Five RIC men, eleven IRA volunteers and four civilians have been killed in County Clare during the two years before the ambush.

The Rineen Ambush is ordered by the leadership of the IRA’s Mid-Clare Brigade, who had noticed that a RIC lorry travels every week on the Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay road. John Joe Neylon, leader of the local IRA battalion, is put in charge, although the actual attack is led by Ignatius O’Neill, the Officer Commanding. He is a veteran of World War I who had formerly fought with the Irish Guards. The ambush party has only nine rifles and some grenades, the remainder being armed with shotguns or handguns. They prepare to attack the lorry from a railway bridge that overlooks the road at Rineen.

As the IRA party is lying in wait, Alan Lendrum, the local resident magistrate, drives unwittingly into a roadblock of the IRA’s West Clare Brigade, in an unrelated action. He is stopped at a railway crossing at Caherfeenick near Doonbeg. When the IRA demand he surrender his car, he draws an automatic pistol and the IRA men shoot him twice in the head, fatally wounding him. The IRA weights his body with stones and dumps it in a nearby lake. Even though the British Military inquest establishes that Lendrum had died of gunshot wounds, members of the RIC in Clare spread a false version of events and claim that Lendrum had died of drowning.

Although in strict military sense not related to the ambush, it has serious consequences for the ambush. It is quite quickly noticed that the magistrate is missing and the military in Ennistymon decide to send out a search party of ten lorries of soldiers.

The RIC lorry passes safely through the ambush position, travelling from Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay, due to some confusion among the IRA over the numbers they face. However when they learn that there is only one lorry, it is attacked on its return journey from Milltown Malbay. The lorry is hit by a grenade and blasted at close range by rifle and shotgun fire. The shooting is over in seconds, with five out of the six RIC men being killed outright. The sixth man manages to run about 300 yards before being shot dead. Five of the dead are Irish RIC officers and one is an English Black and Tan. The IRA take their weapons and burn the lorry.

Not long after the lorry has been set ablaze, the ten-lorry search party arrives on the scene. A running fight develops, as four IRA riflemen keep the troops at bay while the other volunteers make their escape. Two IRA volunteers and several British soldiers are wounded in the firing. Padraic O’Farrell lists the casualties as three British soldiers killed, but this is not confirmed by the other sources.

The British forces, enraged by the ambush and the escape of the IRA force, take out reprisals on civilians in the surrounding area. Immediately after the action ends, they burn the house and farm of the O’Gorman family and shoot a local farmer, Sean Keane, who later dies of his wounds.

That night, a mixed force of police and soldiers raid the Lahinch home of Dan Lehane, whose two sons had taken part in the ambush. They shoot him dead and burn his house. Patrick Lehane, who is hiding in the attic, perishes in the blaze. Several other houses are burned in Lahinch and a further eight are razed in Milltown Malbay. A separate RIC raid takes place in Ennistymon, in which several homes and businesses are burned.

In what may have been a belated reprisal for the ambush, four IRA men are arrested by the Auxiliaries at Killaloe on November 16, beaten, interrogated and then shot dead. Another two are summarily executed in the same manner on December 22 at Kilkee.

The reprisals are condemned in the British, Irish and international press. In the House of Commons, the British Labour Party tables a resolution condemning the reprisals and calling for an investigation. This is defeated by 346 votes to 79. Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, defends the State Forces’ actions, saying that the houses destroyed were those of “notorious Sinn Féiners…I am convinced that the people of those two villages knew of this ambush.”

In Clare itself, according to IRA man Anthony Malone, the ambush has two effects. One is that the RIC becomes careful to travel in convoys of no less than three lorries. The other is that, as a result of the reprisals, the civilian population becomes embittered against the British and adopt a more defiant attitude to the British military and Black and Tans.

The death of Resident Magistrate Alan Lendrum, however, according to pro-republican Catholic priest Sean Gaynor, “was not to our credit.” On October 1, the local IRA remove Lendrum’s body from the lake, put it in a roughly constructed coffin and leave it on the railway tracks at Craggaknock railway station for British forces to find.

(Pictured: Monument for the attack at Rineen during the Irish War of Independence, designed by Walter Kiernan)


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Birth of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

patrick-hilleryPatrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


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Death of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, uilleann piper and folklorist, dies in Galway, County Galway on January 24, 1973.

Clancy is born into a musical family in the outskirts of Milltown Malbay, County Clare on December 24, 1918. His parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to Willie.

Clancy starts playing the tin whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first sees a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay in 1957 he records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” The next decades he stayed in Milltown Malbay. He marries Dóirín Healy in 1962.

Willie Clancy dies suddenly at the early age of 55 on January 24, 1973, leaving a great void. Cór Cúl Aodha sings at his funeral mass, just as Clancy had played at Seán Ó Riada’s funeral only a year earlier. Others who take part include Seán Ach Donnchadha, John Kelly and Séamus Ennis. His funeral cortege to Ballard Cemetery is led by pipers from the Tulla Pipe Band.

The Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour in 1973, by Clancy’s friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Seán Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.

(Photo courtesy of Mick O’Connor, flute player and friend of Willie Clancy)


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Birth of Journalist Eoghan Corry

eoghan-corryEoghan Corry, Irish journalist and author regarded as the most extensively traveled writer in Ireland, averaging over 30 countries a year, is born in Dublin on January 19, 1961.

Corry is the third of four children of Patrick Corry (1916–1971) from Kilmacduane, Cooraclare and Anne Corry (1929–2009) from Clahanmore, Milltown Malbay, both from County Clare. He grows up in Ardclough, Straffan, County Kildare.

Corry is educated at Scoil Mhuire, Clane, at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and University College Dublin (UCD). His first published work, as a teenager, is poetry in English and the Irish language in literary magazines and the New Irish Writing section of The Irish Press.

He begins his journalistic career as a sportswriter with The Irish Times and Sunday Tribune where he wins several awards and becomes sports editor. Determined to pursue a career outside of sports journalism, he joins The Sunday Press as a feature writer in 1985 and becomes features editor of The Irish Press in 1986, bringing younger writers and a more contemporary, polemical and literary style to the paper. He revives the literary and travel sections of the paper and is an adjudicator of the Dublin Theatre Festival awards.

When The Irish Press closes in 1995 he becomes Features Editor of the short-lived Evening News, storylines the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) museum in Croke Park in 1998 and is founding editor of High Ball magazine. Since then he has been a columnist, first with The Sunday Business Post and then with the Evening Herald and Irish Independent. As a journalism lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology he tells students that “journalism is about pissing people off.”

Since 2002 Corry has edited Ireland’s biggest circulation travel publication, Travel Extra. He has fronted travel shows broadcast in Ireland and the Middle East and is a regular commentator on travel affairs to Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) and TG4, and an occasional guest contributor to BBC Northern Ireland. He writes the ten-part series GAA@125, screened on Irish television station TG4 in 2009. He appears on Tonight with Vincent Browne from time to time to preview the next day’s newspapers.

Corry is awarded a lifetime “contribution to the industry” award at the Irish Travel Industry Awards in Dublin on January 22, 2016. He receives the Business Travel Journalist of the year award in London in October 2015. Previous awards include Irish sportswriter of the year, young journalist of the year, Seamus Kelly award, MacNamee award for coverage of Gaelic Games and is short listed for sports book of the year.


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Birth of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, an Irish uilleann piper, is born into a musical family at Islandbawn near Milltown Malbay, County Clare, on December 24, 1918.

Clancy’s parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to his son.

Clancy starts playing the whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first lays eyes on a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts, and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay shortly after the death of his father in 1957, Clancy records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” He develops a highly distinctive and individual style of piping. From 1957 until 1972 the Summer music sessions in the West Clare town become widely renowned, with Clancy as one of the main attractions. Pipe-making, reed-making, and all things connected with the instrument are explored and advanced by the Clancy influence. He gives many performances on both radio and television as well as live sessions in his local area.

He lives out the remainder of his life in Milltown Malbay. Clancy marries Dóirín Healy in 1962. He dies suddenly in a hospital in Galway on January 24, 1973, and is widely mourned among friends and musicians alike. He is buried in Ballard Cemetary just outside Miltown Malbay.

Later that year the Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour by his friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Sean Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna, and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.

A statue of Clancy is unveiled on November 9, 2013 on the Main Street in Miltown Malbay.