seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.


Leave a comment

The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


Leave a comment

Birth of Andrea Corr, Musician & Songwriter

andrea-jane-corrAndrea Jane Corr MBE, Irish musician, songwriter, and actress, is born in Dundalk, County Louth on May 17, 1974.

Corr, the youngest of four children, is born to Gerry Corr, a manager of the payroll department of the Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and his wife, Jean, a housewife. Gerry and Jean have their own band, Sound Affair, which plays songs by ABBA and the Eagles in local pubs in Dundalk where they would often bring along their children.

With the encouragement of her parents, Corr takes up the tin whistle and is taught the piano by her father. Throughout their teenage years, she and her siblings often practise in her brother Jim‘s bedroom at a house he had rented. She sings lead vocals, her sister Sharon plays the violin and sister Caroline and Jim both play keyboards. She takes part in school plays at her school, Dundalk’s Dún Lughaidh Convent.

Corr debuts in 1990 as the lead singer of the Celtic folk rock and pop rock group The Corrs along with her three siblings. Aside from singing lead vocals she plays the tin whistle, the ukulele, and the piano.

With the others, Corr releases six studio albums, two compilation albums, one remix album and two live albums. She also pursues a solo career, releasing her debut album, Ten Feet High, in 2007. The album moves away from the sound of the Corrs and features a dance-pop sound. Her next album, released on May 30, 2011, is entirely made up of covers of songs that were important to her when younger.

Corr is involved in charitable activities. She plays charity concerts to raise money for the Pavarotti & Friends Liberian Children’s Village, Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the victims of the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland and The Prince’s Trust in 2004. She is an ambassador for Nelson Mandela‘s “46664” campaign, raising awareness towards AIDS in Africa. During the Edinburgh Live 8 on July 2, 2005 The Corrs perform “When the Stars Go Blue” alongside Bono to promote the Make Poverty History campaign. Along with her siblings, she is appointed an honorary MBE in 2005 by Queen Elizabeth II for her contribution to music and charity.


Leave a comment

Mikhail Gorbachev Receives Freedom of the City of Dublin

mulcahy-and-gorbachevMikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, becomes the 71st person to receive the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a special meeting in the City Hall on January 9, 2002, following in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and members of U2.

“You helped change and enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Mulcahy says as he presents the award. “There are few people in the history of the world of whom that can be stated.”

City councillors in their robes assemble for the occasion and the guests include Cardinal Desmond Connell, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and other members of the diplomatic corps. Gorbachev is also presented with a dove of peace in Waterford Crystal.

In his acceptance speech, the former Communist leader says there have been many events in his life, big and small, joyful and sad. “The event that is happening today in this wonderful hall is very special.”

He says Ireland has taken the right road in emphasising knowledge, education and high technology. He quips that President Mary McAleese had said to him over lunch, “We don’t have any natural resources other than the rain.”

Gorbachev notes that as a Freeman of the City of Dublin he is entitled to graze sheep anywhere in Dublin. He assures his audience he will “buy a flock” to exercise that right. “I have seen some very, very nice places in the Park, near the President’s palace.”

At a news conference in the Mansion House earlier in the day, Gorbachev comes in for sharp questioning from Eoin Ó Murchú, a journalist, who asks “ex-Comrade Gorbachev” if he felt any sense of remorse or guilt when he “stood passively aside” while the Soviet Union was destroyed and ordinary people were reduced to poverty and prostitution. He also queries Gorbachev about his decision to take part in a television commercial for a chain of pizza restaurants.

Ignoring the suggestion that he has demeaned himself by appearing in the television advertisement, Gorbachev replies equally sharply, “My advice to you as a comrade – you used the word ‘comrade’ – is that you too should probably get rid of this kind of ideological straitjacket.”

Gorbachev denies having stood idly by while the USSR was dismantled. Commenting on the Northern Ireland situation he says, “This is one of those processes where people have to make difficult choices. You will see politicians who have a ready-made recipe for everything, in many cases to use force and bombs.”

It was good that, instead of bombing, there was a peace process. Bombing was not a solution and he welcomes the peace efforts being made and the fact that parties are acting “both prudently and responsibly.”

(From The Irish Times, January 10, 2002 | Pictured: Lord Mayor Michael Mulcahy and Mikhail Gorbachev, Doheny & Nesbitt’s Public House, January 8, 2002)


Leave a comment

Birth of Dolores Keane, Folk Singer & Actress

dolores-keaneDolores Keane, folk singer and occasional actress, is born on September 26, 1953 in the small village of Sylane, near Tuam, in rural County Galway. She is a founding member of the successful group De Dannan, and has since embarked on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.

Keane is raised from the age of four by her aunts Rita and Sarah Keane, who are also well-known sean-nós singers. She starts her singing at a very young age, due to the influence of her musical aunts. She makes her first recording for Radio Éireann in 1958 at the age of five. This early start sets her on the path to a career in music. Her brother, Seán, also goes on to enjoy a successful music career.

In 1975, Keane co-founds the traditional Irish band De Dannan, and they release their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gains international recognition and enjoys major success in the late 1970s in the United States. She tours with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” is a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she leaves De Dannan and is replaced by Andy Irvine, who records live with the band on April 30, 1976, during the 3rd Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Soon thereafter, she marries multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently records three albums of folk music.

Keane lives and works in London for several years with Faulkner before they move to Ireland in the early 1980s. They work on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and form two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period she records her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This is followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gives credit to Faulkner. In the mid-1980s she rejoins De Dannan and records the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Keane turns her attention, once again, to her solo career in 1988. It sees the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album, A Lion in a Cage (1989), features a song written by Faulkner called “Lion in a Cage” protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It serves as Keane’s second Irish number one and she performs the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expands her reputation and popularity worldwide. A new facet is added to her career when she plays the female lead in the Dublin production of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage. The opening night is attended by Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland at the time.

In 1992, Keane is among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album goes on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 is released in late 1994 and emulates its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, Solid Ground, is released on the Shanachie Records label and receives critical acclaim in Europe and America.

In August 1995, Keane is awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, County Down, for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture.” In that same year, she takes to the stage in the Dublin production of John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World. She contributes to the RTÉ/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home,” a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America.

In August 1997, Keane goes to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album, Night Owl, is released in 1998. It sees her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it does well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she goes on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s, where she plays to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham, Alabama and New York City.

Keane puts an end to recording and touring in the late 1990s, due to depression and alcoholism, for which she receives extensive treatment. As of June 2014, she is given the all clear after suffering from cancer.


Leave a comment

Nelson Mandela Awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin

nelson-mandela-freedom-of-dublinNelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, is awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin on his 70th birthday, July 18, 1988. Mandela is not available to receive his award on the date it is conferred, however, as he is a prisoner in South Africa at the time. On July 1, 1990, after his release from prison, Mandela  finally receives the Freedom of the City of Dublin at a ceremony in the Mansion House Dublin.

The Freedom of the City of Dublin is awarded by Dublin City Council after approving a person nominated by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Eighty people have been honoured under the current process introduced in 1876. Most honourees have made a contribution to the life of the city or of Ireland in general, including politicians, public servants, humanitarians, artists, and entertainers. Others have been distinguished members of the Irish diaspora and foreign leaders, honoured visiting Dublin. Honourees sign the roll of freedmen in a ceremony at City Hall or the Mansion House and are presented with an illuminated scroll by the Lord Mayor.

Mandela is honoured with the Freedom of Dublin city for his contribution to society and commitment to the study and promotion of Human Rights and also his work in the area of development and social inclusion, which has enhanced the lives of local communities in Ireland and fostered global links with institutions and organisations.

Among the notable recipients of this award are American presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill ClintonMikhail Gorbachev, Éamon de Valera, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Aung San Suu Kyi, all four members of U2, Bob Geldof, and Ronnie Delaney.

Holders of this award have some ancient privileges and duties such as the right to bring goods into Dublin through the city gates without paying customs duties, the right to pasture sheep on common ground within the city boundaries including College Green and St. Stephen’s Green (this right is exercised as a publicity stunt by U2 members the day after their 2000 conferring), and the right to vote in municipal and parliamentary elections. Some of the ancient duties are that freemen/women must be ready to defend the city of Dublin from attack and, at short notice, can be called up to join a city militia. Also a law which was passed in 1454 states that freemen/women must own a bow, a coat of mail, a helmet, and a sword.