seamus dubhghaill

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


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Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory Bombing

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) van bomb explodes outside the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) on the Newtownbreda Road on the outskirts of Belfast late in the evening of September 23, 1992. It is one of the biggest bombs detonated in a residential area of Northern Ireland. The blast comes after a temporary lull in an IRA bombing campaign.

The 2,000 lb. (900kg) bomb goes off outside the laboratory at Newtownbreda while Army bomb disposal experts are moving in to investigate a large, abandoned van. The alarm is raised when the IRA makes a telephone warning saying that it has planted a “massive van bomb.”

The device reduces every room to rubble. It also causes damage, in some cases severe, to more than 700 homes and other premises. One estimate puts repair costs after the blast at about £20 million.

The wrecking of the laboratory is a blow to the authorities, because the blast destroys valuable forensic evidence for use in the prosecution of terrorist suspects. But on a personal level it is a traumatic night for hundreds of families who live through the explosion and face the task of repairing their homes.

The blast is unusually loud and destructive. It shakes Belfast and is heard for miles around. Many people living some distance away are convinced the explosion had been outside their door. One man who lives 10 miles away believes his home is under attack and goes outside with a golf club to investigate.

Emergency staff say the area affected is one of the largest they had ever known, with damage reported up to a radius of a mile and a half. But the brunt of the damage is suffered by Belvoir Park, a model and almost incident-free largely Protestant housing estate built by a public authority but now largely privately owned, which is separated from the laboratory by a dual carriageway.

Up to 50 homes are demolished. In one experience which is typical of many, a 65-year-old widow who lives alone is watching television when the bomb goes off. Much of the plaster ceiling collapses while the window shatters into fragments and showers the room. An immediate power cut plunges the house into darkness. She escapes with only a slight cut to the head.

After the explosion people roam the darkened estate in cars and on foot, checking for relatives and friends while police officers help tend those suffering from shock and injuries. No one is seriously hurt. A number of pet cats and dogs panic and run off into the night.

In the early hours of September 24, rain pours through damaged roofs, making life even more difficult for families involved in immediate repair work. At 5:00 AM, almost eight hours after the blast, workmen are still engaged in boarding up broken windows.

(From: “Damage in huge blast put at 20m pounds: A Belfast housing estate counts the cost of an IRA bomb which may have destroyed vital criminal evidence” by David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk)


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Birth of Charlie Lawson, Northern Irish Actor

charles-lawsonQuintin Charles Devenish “Charlie” Lawson, actor from Northern Ireland best known for playing Jim McDonald in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street, is born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh on September 17, 1959.

Lawson is raised in a Protestant family and is educated at Campbell College, a grammar school in Belfast. He then trains as an actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where a classmate and good friend of his is fellow Enniskillen native Adrian Dunbar, whom Lawson says is the first Catholic he has ever met.

Lawson appears in at least three films and in at least twenty television productions. He is probably best known for appearing as Jim McDonald in the ITV television soap opera Coronation Street. He first appears as Jim in 1989 and remains a regular character for eleven years, since which time his appearances have been few and far between.

Lawson’s other television work includes appearing as Seamus Duffryn in the 1982 Yorkshire Television thriller miniseries Harry’s Game (also known as Belfast Assassin), and as one of the main characters, Billy, in Mike Leigh‘s television film Four Days in July, both based on The Troubles in Northern Ireland. He plays Trigg in the 1989 television film The Firm and has also appeared in various other television series including Doctors, Bread, The Bill and Rosemary & Thyme.

In 2000, Lawson makes a programme for ITV Granada, Passion for Peace, which follows him back to Northern Ireland and reports on the creation of the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Centre in Warrington. In 2005 he appears in the TV documentary Titanic: Birth of a Legend. In 2009 he appears alongside an eight-foot Frankfurter sausage in a German television commercial, advertising hot dogs. His overdubbed catchphrase in the commercial is Betrachten Sie die Größe meiner Wurst! (English: “Look at the size of my sausage!”).

In 2010, Lawson reveals that he is returning to Coronation Street for its fiftieth anniversary celebrations. He speculates that bosses may be planning to kill his character off, however, this never happens. He stays until April 2011. He then returns for a three-month stint on the soap between August and November 2014.

In 2015, Lawson makes a guest appearance in an episode of the Comedy Central sitcom Brotherhood as the father of the three main characters. He also appears as Doctor Black in the 2016 BBC Northern Ireland drama My Mother and Other Strangers.

Lawson returns to Coronation Street in September 2018 with his supposed long lost daughter from his relationship with Liz. On October 8, 2018, while portraying Inspector John Rebus in the play Long Shadows in Edinburgh, he suffers a minor stroke on stage, but recovers shortly afterwards.

Lawson lives in Belfast with his partner, Debbie Stanley, having previously lived with her in Chester, Cheshire, for a number of years.


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Mitchell Returns to Belfast to Save the Peace Process

george-mitchellFormer United States Senator George Mitchell returns to Belfast on September 13, 1999 in a bid to prevent the Northern Ireland peace process from coming apart at the seams.

The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic paramilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.

“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.

The Protestant political leaders are unwilling to accept the good faith of Sinn Féin, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are also attacking Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam for having refused to acknowledge that republican paramilitaries have breached the cease-fire despite several violent incidents and the discovery of an alleged plot to send arms to the IRA from the United States.

Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.

Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.

Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.

According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.

Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.

(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)


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Birth of Eric Bell, Founder Member of Thin Lizzy

eric-bellEric Robin Bell, Northern Irish rock and blues musician, is born on September 3, 1947 in East Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is best known as a founder member and the original guitarist of the rock group Thin Lizzy. After his time in Thin Lizzy, he briefly fronts his own group before joining The Noel Redding Band in the mid-1970s. He has since released several solo albums and performs regularly with a blues-based trio, the Eric Bell Band.

Bell begins his career with local groups around the Belfast area, including the last incarnation of Them to feature Van Morrison, between September and October 1966. He also plays with a number of other bands including Shades of Blue, The Earth Dwellers and The Bluebeats, before joining an Irish showband named The Dreams. He leaves in 1969 having tired of the showband format and, at the end of that year, forms a band with local musicians Phil Lynott, Eric Wrixon and Brian Downey. Bell names the group Thin Lizzy, after Tin Lizzie, a robot character in The Dandy comic.

Organist Eric Wrixon leaves Thin Lizzy after a few months, and the remaining trio later secure a contract with Decca Records. As lead guitarist, Bell plays on Thin Lizzy’s first three albums, Thin Lizzy, Shades of a Blue Orphanage and Vagabonds of the Western World, as well as their hit single “Whiskey in the Jar.” He co-writes a number of songs with Lynott and Downey, including “The Rocker” which becomes a live favourite throughout the band’s career. He also composes one song on his own, “Ray Gun,” from their first album, Thin Lizzy.

Although Thin Lizzy gains in popularity during the early 1970s, the pressures of recording, touring and the excesses of the rock star lifestyle begin to take their toll. Bell leaves the band after a New Year’s Eve concert in 1973, after throwing his guitar into the air in the middle of the concert, pushing the amplifiers into the audience and storming off stage. He states later that he had no regrets about leaving: “I really had to leave because of ill-health. It was exhaustion, and the majority of things that were available to me… I couldn’t really handle it.” He is temporarily replaced by Gary Moore.

In 1974, after a brief period fronting his own Eric Bell Band, Bell is recruited by ex-Jimi Hendrix sideman Noel Redding, along with guitarist/singer Dave Clarke and drummer Les Sampson, to form The Noel Redding Band. He is initially unsure of the musical direction Redding is taking, but goes on to record two albums with the group before they split in 1976. A third album of unused tracks is released in 1995. He composes the song “Love and War” for the second album, Blowin’.

In 1980, Bell reunites with Thin Lizzy to record a tribute song to Jimi Hendrix, “Song for Jimmy,” which is released as an orange flexi disc and given away with Flexipop in August 1981. It is later included on Thin Lizzy’s Vagabonds Kings Warriors Angels box set in 2002, although much of Bell’s lead guitar work is missing from this version as the relevant master tapes cannot be found. He also appears as a guest on Thin Lizzy’s final tour in 1983, and the accompanying live album, Life.

Bell subsequently joins saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith‘s eight-piece blues rock ensemble Mainsqueeze. They tour Europe, record a live album in 1983, and later tour as Bo Diddley‘s backing group, recording the Hey… Bo Diddley: In Concert album in 1986.

Bell continues to perform and record with the Eric Bell Band throughout the 1990s and 2000s, releasing several albums. He also records with the Barrelhouse Brothers.

In 2005, Bell joins Gary Moore onstage to perform “Whiskey in the Jar” at the Phil Lynott tribute concert “The Boy Is Back in Town” in the Point Theatre, Dublin. This is released on a DVD called One Night in Dublin: A Tribute to Phil Lynott. In 2010, he moves from London where he had lived for many years to his new home in West Cork, Ireland.


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The Tullyvallen Massacre

tullyvallen-orange-hallThe Tullyvallen massacre takes place on September 1, 1975, when Irish republican gunmen attack an Orange Order meeting hall at Tullyvallen, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Orange Order is an Ulster Protestant and unionist brotherhood. Five Orangemen are killed and seven wounded in the shooting. The “South Armagh Republican Action Force” claims responsibility, saying it is retaliation for a string of attacks on Catholic civilians by Loyalists. It is believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the attack, despite the organisation being on ceasefire.

On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. The IRA agrees to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly end their raids and searches. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/nationalists. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

On August 22, loyalists kill three Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Armagh. Two days later, loyalists shoot dead two Catholic civilians after stopping their car at a fake British Army checkpoint in the Tullyvallen area. Both of these attacks are linked to the Glenanne gang. On August 30, loyalists kill two more Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Belfast.

On the night of September 1, a group of Orangemen are holding a meeting in their isolated Orange hall in the rural area of Tullyvallen. At about 10:00 PM, two masked gunmen burst into the hall armed with assault rifles and spray it with bullets while others stand outside and fire through the windows. The Orangemen scramble for cover. One of them is an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returns fire with a pistol and believes he hit one of the attackers. Five of the Orangemen, all Protestant civilians, are killed while seven others are wounded. Before leaving, the attackers also plant a two-pound bomb outside the hall, but it fails to detonate.

The victims are John Johnston (80), James McKee (73) and his son William McKee (40), Nevin McConnell (48), and William Herron (68) who dies two days later. They all belong to Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge. Three of the dead are former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

A caller to the BBC claims responsibility for the attack on behalf of the “South Armagh Republican Action Force” or “South Armagh Reaction Force,” saying it is retaliation for “the assassinations of fellow Catholics.” The Irish Times reports on September 10: “The Provisional IRA has told the British government that dissident members of its organisation were responsible” and “stressed that the shooting did not have the consent of the organisation’s leadership.”

In response to the attack, the Orange Order calls for the creation of a legal militia, or “Home Guard,” to deal with republican paramilitaries.

Some of the rifles used in the attack are later used in the Kingsmill massacre in January 1976, when ten Protestant workmen are killed. Like the Tullyvallen massacre, it is claimed by the “South Armagh Reaction Force” as retaliation for the killing of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1977, 22-year-old Cullyhanna man John Anthony McCooey is convicted of driving the gunmen to and from the scene and of IRA membership. He is also convicted of involvement in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Joseph McCullough, chaplain of Tullyvallen Orange lodge, in February 1976, and UDR soldier Robert McConnell in April 1976.


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Assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten

assassination-of-lord-mountbattenLord Louis Mountbatten is killed on August 27, 1979 when Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel, Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb explodes. Three others are killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land kills 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland in what becomes known as the Warrenpoint ambush.

The assassination of Mountbatten is the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardens the hearts of many British against the IRA and convinces Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hardline stance against the terrorist organization.

Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, enters the Royal Navy in 1913, when he is in his early teens. He sees service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II is commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk during the Battle of Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commands an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he is named Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters. From this position, he is appointed Supreme Allied Commander for South East Asia Command in 1943 and successfully conducts the campaign against Japan that leads to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, Mountbatten is appointed the last Viceroy of India, and he conducts the negotiations that lead to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He holds various high naval posts in the 1950s and serves as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he is made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He is the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduces Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encourages the marriage of the two distant cousins and becomes godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made Governor and then Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Mountbatten is a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination is perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell and the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, are also killed. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy, Nicholas’ twin brother, is injured as is his daughter, Lady Brabourne, and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne.

The IRA immediately claims responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also takes responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claims eighteen lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon is later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he is a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which kills more than 100 British soldiers. He is one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and is an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination is the work of many people, but McMahon is the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he is released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

(From: This Day In History: Mountbatten killed by IRA, by the editors of History.com, July 21, 2010, http://www.history.com)


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Birth of Novelist & Screenwriter Brian Moore

brian-mooreBrian Moore, novelist and screenwriter who is acclaimed for the descriptions in his novels of life in Northern Ireland after World War II, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 25, 1921. He has been described as “one of the few genuine masters of the contemporary novel.”

Moore is born into a large Roman Catholic family. His father, James Bernard Moore, is a prominent surgeon and the first Catholic to sit on the senate of Queen’s University Belfast. His mother, Eileen McFadden Moore, a farmer’s daughter from County Donegal, is a nurse. His uncle is the prominent Irish nationalist, Eoin MacNeill, founder of Conradh na Gaeilge and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. He leaves the college in 1939, having failed his senior exams.

Moore is a volunteer air raid warden during World War II and serves during the Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941. He goes on to serve as a civilian with the British Army in North Africa, Italy and France. After the war ends he works in Eastern Europe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

In 1948 Moore emigrates to Canada to work as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, and becomes a Canadian citizen. While eventually making his primary residence in California, he continues to live part of each year in Canada up to his death.

Moore lives in Canada from 1948 to 1958, where he meets his first wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Sirois, a French Canadian and fellow-journalist. They marry in 1952. He moves to New York City in 1959 to take up a Guggenheim Fellowship and remains there until his divorce in October 1967. He then moves to the west coast of the United States, settling in Malibu, California, with his new wife Jean Denney, a former commentator on Canadian TV. There he teaches creative writing at UCLA.

Moore writes his first novels in Canada. His earliest novels are thrillers, published under his own name or using the pseudonyms Bernard Mara or Michael Bryan. His first novel outside the genre, Judith Hearne, remains among his most highly regarded. The book is rejected by ten American publishers before being accepted by a British publisher. It is made into a film, with British actress Maggie Smith playing the lonely spinster who is the book/film’s title character.

Other novels by Moore are adapted for the screen, including Intent to Kill, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Catholics, Black Robe, Cold Heaven, and The Statement. He co-writes the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Torn Curtain, and writes the screenplay for The Blood of Others, based on the novel Le Sang des autres by Simone de Beauvoir.

Some of Moore’s novels feature staunchly anti-doctrinaire and anti-clerical themes, and in particular he speaks strongly about the effect of the Church on life in Ireland. A recurring theme in his novels is the concept of the Catholic priesthood. On several occasions he explores the idea of a priest losing his faith. At the same time, several of his novels are deeply sympathetic and affirming portrayals of the struggles of faith and religious commitment, Black Robe most prominently.

Moore dies at his Malibu home, which is celebrated in Seamus Heaney‘s poem Remembering Malibu, on January 11, 1999 from pulmonary fibrosis. His widow, Jean, lives on in the house until it is destroyed in 2018 in the Woolsey Fire.

At the time of his death, Moore is working on a novel about the 19th-century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. His last published work before his death is an essay entitled “Going Home.” It is a reflection inspired by a visit he made to the grave in Connemara of his family friend, the Irish nationalist Bulmer Hobson. The essay is commissioned by Granta and published in The New York Times on February 7, 1999.

In 1996, the Brian Moore Short Story Awards is launched by the Creative Writers Network in Northern Ireland and is open to all authors of Irish descent. Previous judges have included Glenn Patterson, Lionel Shriver, Carlo Gébler and Maeve Binchy.

In 1975 Moore arranges for his literary materials, letters and documents to be deposited in the Special Collections Division of the University of Calgary Library, an inventory of which is published by the University of Calgary Press in 1987. His archives, which include unfilmed screenplays, drafts of various novels, working notes, a 42-volume journal (1957–1998), and his correspondence, are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.


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Death of Hunger Striker Michael “Mickey” Devine

michael-devineMichael James “Mickey” Devine, a founding member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and participant in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, dies in Maze Prison on August 20, 1981, the tenth and last of the hunger strikers to die.

Devine, also known as “Red Mickey” because of his red hair, is born into a family from the Springtown Camp, on the outskirts of Derry, a former United States military base from the World War II. In 1960, when he is six years of age, the Devine family, including his grandmother, sister Margaret and parents Patrick and Elizabeth, move to the then newly built Creggan estate to the north of Derry city centre. He is educated at Holy Child Primary School and St. Joseph’s Boy’s School, both in the Creggan.

After British soldiers shoot dead two unarmed civilians, Dessie Beattie and Raymond Cusack, Devine joins the James Connolly Republican Club in Derry in July 1971. Bloody Sunday has a deep impact on him. In the early 1970s, he joins the Irish Labour Party and Young Socialists.

Devine helps found the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1975. In 1976, after an arms raid in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, he is arrested in Northern Ireland. He is convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He joins the blanket protest before joining the hunger strike.

Devine participates in a brief hunger strike in 1980, which is called off without fatalities. On June 22, 1981, he joins Joe McDonnell, Kieran Doherty, Kevin Lynch, Martin Hurson, Thomas McElwee and Paddy Quinn on hunger strike at the Maze Prison. He dies on August 20, after sixty days on hunger strike.


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Birth of Frank McCourt, Teacher & Writer

frank-mccourtFrancis “Frank” McCourt, Irish American teacher and writer, is born in New York City‘s Brooklyn borough on August 19, 1930.

McCourt is born to Malachy McCourt, Sr., who falsely claims to have been in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, and Irish Catholic mother Angela Sheehan from Limerick. In the midst of the Great Depression, the family moves back to Ireland. Unable to find steady work in Belfast or Dublin and beset by his father’s alcoholism, the family returns to their mother’s native Limerick, where they sink even deeper into poverty.

In October 1949, at the age of 19, McCourt leaves Ireland, taking a boat from Cork to New York City. In 1951, he is drafted during the Korean War and sent to Bavaria for two years initially training dogs, then as a clerk. Upon his discharge from the US Army, he returned to New York City, where he held a series of jobs on docks, in warehouses, and in banks. Using his G.I. Bill education benefits, he talks his way into New York University by claiming he is intelligent and reads a great deal. He is admitted on one year’s probation provided he maintains a B average. He graduates in 1957 from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in English.

A New York city schoolteacher for more than thirty years, McCourt achieves literary fame later in life with his best-selling childhood memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood, Angela’s Ashes. With a first printing of just 25,000 copies, the book becomes an instant favourite with critics and readers and is perhaps the ultimate case of the non-celebrity memoir, the extraordinary life of an ordinary man.

McCourt wins the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997 and one of the annual National Book Critics Circle Awards for the book, which is eventually published in 25 languages and 30 countries. It is a bestseller and makes him a millionaire. Three years later, a movie version of Angela’s Ashes opens to mixed reviews with Northern Irish actor Michael Legge playing McCourt as a teenager.

McCourt is also the author of ‘Tis (1999), which continues the narrative of his life, picking up from the end of Angela’s Ashes and focusing on his life after returning to New York. He subsequently writes Teacher Man (2005) which details his teaching experiences and the challenges of being a teacher.

McCourt writes the book for a 1997 musical entitled The Irish…and How They Got That Way, which features an eclectic mix of Irish music – everything from the traditional Danny Boy to U2‘s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

It is announced in May 2009 that McCourt has been treated for melanoma and that he is in remission, undergoing home chemotherapy. On July 19, 2009, he dies from the cancer, with meningeal complications, at a hospice in Manhattan, New York City.