seamus dubhghaill

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


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Murder of Patrick Finucane, Human Rights Lawyer

patrick-finucanePatrick Finucane, Irish human rights lawyer, is killed on February 12, 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries acting in collusion with the British government intelligence service MI5. His killing is one of the most controversial during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Finucane is born into a Roman Catholic family on the Falls Road, Belfast on March 21, 1949. At the start of the Troubles, his family is forced out of their home. He graduates from Trinity College, Dublin in 1973. He comes to prominence due to successfully challenging the British government in several important human rights cases during the 1980s.

Finucane is shot fourteen times and killed at his home in Fortwilliam Drive, north Belfast, by Ken Barrett and another masked man using a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol and a .38 revolver respectively. The two gunmen knock down the front door with a sledgehammer and enter the kitchen where Finucane has been having a Sunday meal with his family. They immediately open fire and shoot him twice, knocking him to the floor. Then while standing over him, the leading gunman fires twelve bullets into his face at close range. Finucane’s wife Geraldine is slightly wounded in the shooting attack which their three children witness as they hide underneath the table.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) immediately launches an investigation into the killing. The investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson, runs for six weeks and he later states that from the beginning, there had been a noticeable lack of intelligence coming from the other agencies regarding the killing. Finucane’s killing is widely suspected by human rights groups to have been perpetrated in collusion with officers of the RUC and, in 2003, the British Government Stevens Report states that the killing is indeed carried out with the collusion of police in Northern Ireland.

In September 2004, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, and at the time of the murder a paid informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ken Barrett, pleads guilty to Finucane’s murder.

The Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) claim they killed Finucane because he was a high-ranking officer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Police at his inquest say they have no evidence to support this claim. Finucane had represented republicans in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented loyalists. Several members of his family have republican links, but the family strongly denies Finucane is a member of the IRA. Informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that he attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However both Finucane and Adams have consistently denied being IRA members.

In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report find that he is not a member of the IRA. Republicans strongly criticise the claims made by O’Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. One Republican source says O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”

In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Finucane’s family and admits the collusion, although no member of the British security services has yet been prosecuted.

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Crash of Manx2 Flight 7100 at Cork Airport

manx2-flight-7100Manx2 Flight 7100 (NM7100/FLT400C), a scheduled commercial flight from George Best Belfast City Airport in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Cork Airport in Cork, County Cork, crashes on February 10, 2011 on its third attempt to land at Cork Airport, which is experiencing dense fog at the time. The aircraft is carrying ten passengers and two crew. Six people, including both pilots, perish in the crash. Six passengers survive, four receiving serious injuries, while two are described as walking wounded.

After two aborted landing attempts, the flight crew enters a holding pattern and maintains an altitude of 3,000 feet. During the hold the flight crew requests weather conditions for Waterford Airport which are below minima. The flight crew nominates Shannon Airport as their alternate and requests the latest weather. Again the weather there is below minima. Weather for Dublin Airport is passed on to the flight crew and is also below minima. Cork Approach informs the flight crew about weather conditions at Kerry Airport which are “good” with 10 km visibility. The decision is made to make a third attempt at Cork Airport.

The approach is continued beyond the Outer Marker (OM), the commander takes over operation of the Power Levers. Descent is continued below the Decision Height (DH). A significant reduction in power and significant roll to the left follows, just below 100 feet, a third go-around is called by the commander which the co-pilot acknowledges. Coincident with the application of go-around power by the commander, control of the aircraft is lost. The aircraft rolls rapidly to the right beyond the vertical which brings the right wingtip into contact with the runway surface. The aircraft continues to roll and impacts the runway inverted. The stall warning sounds continuously during the final seven seconds of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) recording.

At 09:50:34 following both initial impacts the aircraft continues inverted for an additional 207 yards and comes to a rest in soft ground to the right of the runway. During this time the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) begins to sound in the control tower at Cork Airport. Post impact fires ensue in both engines and from fuel leaking from the outboard right fuel tank. The fires are put out by the Airfield Fire Service (AFS) before they reach the fuselage. A witness inside the airport terminal building states that the fog is so thick that the crashed aircraft could not be seen. The Airport Fire Service extinguish both post impact fires within ten minutes of the accident and begin to remove the casualties from the wreckage. The injured are taken to Cork University Hospital for treatment. As a result of the accident, Cork Airport is closed until the evening of February 11 and all flights are diverted.

The final report on the incident is sent to the bereaved families and the six survivors over a week in advance of its official release on January 28, 2014, almost three years after the crash. The report states that the probable cause of the accident is loss of control during an attempted go-around below decision height in instrument meteorological conditions. It notes that there is an inappropriate pairing of flight crews, inadequate command training and checking and inadequate oversight of the chartered operation by the operator and the operator’s state as contributory factors in the accident.


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Ahern Meets Paisley in County Antrim

paisley-and-ahern-2008Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visits Ballymena on February 1, 2008 to meet Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley in his County Antrim constituency. Paisley says the Taoiseach’s visit to north Antrim is a historic day, and Ahern says his visit is another tangible benefit of the ongoing peace process.

Ahern and Paisley discuss political and economic developments in Northern Ireland and increasing cross-Border co-operation. The Taoiseach says he is honoured to visit the north Antrim heartland of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader.

“I do not believe even a year back it could have been envisaged we would have been together here,” Ahern says. “It is an honour to be here with the First Minister to talk about progress.”

Paisley jokes that Ahern and his entourage had held a prayer meeting in their helicopter hoping that they would not be pelted with snowballs by him, a reference to his famous protest when former Taoiseach Seán Lemass visited Stormont in 1965.

When asked about welcoming the Fianna Fáil leader to his constituency Paisley quips, “What I am saying is he is in under my control. This is a good day for work. It is a good day for our province. It is a good day for the whole of Ireland because we need help from outside. We cannot live on our own.”

Ahern and Paisley meet again the following week at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce AGM dinner where Paisley has been invited to be a guest speaker.

The engagement is the latest visit to the Republic by the DUP leader since the Assembly was restored in Stormont the previous May. The Taoiseach invites Paisley to the historic Battle of the Boyne battle site in County Louth in July where the DUP leader presents a 17th-century musket to Ahern.

In October 2007, Paisley addresses the Trinity College Historical Society in Dublin and also attends an event in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in the city in November.

(From The Irish Times, Friday, February 1, 2008)


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Birth of Matilda Cullen Knowles, Pioneer in Irish Lichenology

matilda-cullen-knowlesMatilda Cullen Knowles, considered the founder of modern studies of Irish lichens following her work in the early twentieth century on the multi-disciplinary Clare Island Survey, is born on January 31, 1864 in Cullybackey near Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Her work is said to have “formed an important baseline contribution to the cryptogamic botany of Ireland and western oceanic Europe.”

Knowles’ early interest in botany is encouraged by her father, William James Knowles, himself an amateur scientist who takes Matilda and her sister to meetings of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club. This is where she first meets Robert Lloyd Praeger who continues to be a lifelong influence. In 1895 she is introduced to the Derry botanist Mary Leebody and together they work on a supplement to Samuel Alexander Stewart‘s and Thomas Hughes Corey‘s 1888 book the Flora of the North-east of Ireland.

Knowles then volunteers to help with the crowdsourcing of material about the plants of County Tyrone. While completing this work Knowles publishes her own first paper about Tyrone’s flowering plants in 1897. She eventually sends in over 500 examples that are considered for inclusion in the Irish Topographical Botany, which Praeger publishes in 1901.

In 1902, after attending the Royal College of Science for Ireland for a year, Knowles is appointed a temporary assistant in the then Botanical Section of the National Science and Art Museum. She works closely with Professor Thomas Johnson to continue the development of the Herbarium collection. She also co-authors with him the Hand List of Irish Flowering Plants and Ferns (1910).

One of Knowles’ first works is The Maritime and Marine Lichens of Howth, which the Royal Dublin Society publishes in 1913. Knowles had gathered the knowledge and experience to do this while diligently assisting with a survey of Clare Island as suggested by Praeger. This novel survey involves not only Irish but also several European scientists including prominent UK lichenologist, Annie Lorrain Smith. This is claimed as the most extensive piece of field work at the time. As a result, Knowles is able to create a foundation for her later specialism in lichens.

Knowles publishes more than thirty scientific papers on a wide range of botanical subjects between 1897 and 1933. It is while studying the lichens of Howth that she discovers how lichens by the shore grow in distinct tidal zones that can be distinguished by their colour: black, orange and grey.

Her major work is The Lichens of Ireland which adds over 100 species of lichen to the Irish List and records the distribution of the eight hundred species identified in Ireland. She achieves this task with the collaboration of thirty other natural scientists. It is published in 1929 and includes twenty lichens that had previously not been identified as Irish.

Professor Thomas Johnson retires in 1923, allowing Knowles to take over curatorship, working with Margaret Buchanan. As she becomes older Knowles’ hearing begins to fail such that she has to rely on an ear trumpet. Despite her deafness she still attends meetings. She cares for and adds to the National Museum Herbarium collection although never gets the credit she deserves. In 1933 she plans to retire but pneumonia ends her life before she ends her career. Knowles dies in Dublin on April 27, 1933.

Knowles is honoured with a commemorative plaque by the Irish National Committee for Science and Engineering in October 2014 to mark the 150th anniversary of her birth.


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Birth of Máiread Maguire, Northern Irish Peace Activist

mairead-maguireMáiread Maguire, née Máiread Corrigan, also called Máiread Corrigan Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on January 27, 1944. Along with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, she founds the Peace People, a grassroots movement of both Roman Catholic and Protestant citizens dedicated to ending the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. For their work, Maguire and Williams share the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Maguire from a young age earns her living as a secretary, she also is from her youth a member of the Legion of Mary, a lay Catholic welfare organization, and through it she becomes deeply involved in voluntary social work among children and teenagers in various Catholic neighbourhoods of Belfast. She is stirred to act against the growing violence in Northern Ireland after witnessing in August 1976 an incident in which a car being driven by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorist goes out of control when the IRA man is shot by British troops. The car strikes and kills three children of Maguire’s sister.

Within days each woman publicly denounces the violence and calls for mass opposition to it. Marches of Catholic and Protestant women, numbering in the thousands, are organized, and shortly afterward the Peace People is founded based on the conviction that genuine reconciliation and prevention of future violence are possible, primarily through the integration of schools, residential areas, and athletic clubs. The organization publishes a biweekly paper, Peace by Peace, and provides a bus service to and from Belfast’s jails for families of prisoners.

Although Williams breaks away from the Peace People in 1980, Maguire remains an active member and later serves as the group’s honorary president. In 2006 she joins Williams and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Wangari Maathai, and Rigoberta Menchú to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative. She is also active in various Palestinian causes, notably efforts to end the Israeli government’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and she is deported from Israel on several occasions.

In October 2012, Maguire travels to New York City to serve on the Russell Tribunal on Israel/Palestine alongside writer Alice Walker, activist Angela Davis, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The Russell Tribunal’s findings and conclusions challenge governments and civil society to have courage and act by implementing sanctions, thereby refusing to be silent and complicit in the face of Israel ’s violation of International Laws.

In March 2018, Maguire and two Nobel peace laureates, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman, visit rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar and share opinion on the crisis. After returning to Dhaka they discuss the Rohingya crisis with members of the civil society of Bangladesh.

Maguire is a proponent of the belief that violence is a disease that humans develop but are not born with. She believes humankind is moving away from a mindset of violence and war and evolving to a higher consciousness of nonviolence and love. Among the figures she considers spiritual prophets in this regard are Jesus, Francis of Assisi, Mahatma Gandhi, Abdul Ghaffār Khān, Fr. John L. McKenzie, and Martin Luther King, Jr. She professes to reject violence in all its forms.


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Birth of Novelist Jennifer Johnston

jennifer-johnstonJennifer Prudence Johnston, Irish novelist whose works deal with political and cultural tensions in Ireland with an emphasis on the problems of the Anglo-Irish people, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1930. Rich in dialogue, Johnston’s novels often concern interpersonal relationships and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Johnston is born to Irish actress and director Shelah Richards, and Irish playwright Denis Johnston. A cousin of actress and film star Geraldine Fitzgerald, via Fitzgerald’s mother, Edith (née Richards), she is educated at Trinity College Dublin. Other cousins include the actresses Tara Fitzgerald and Susan Fitzgerald.

Born into the Church of Ireland, many of Johnston’s novels deal with the fading of the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20th century.

Johnston’s first published book, The Captains and the Kings (1972), is actually written after The Gates (1973). Both novels feature the Anglo-Irish setting of a decaying manor house. Johnston’s third novel, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), concerns the complex and tragic friendship of two young men who are sentenced to death during World War I. Shadows on Our Skin (1977) and The Railway Station Man (1984) focus on violence in Northern Ireland, and The Old Jest (1979 and filmed as The Dawning, 1988) and Fool’s Sanctuary (1987) are set during the emergence of modern Ireland in the 1920s. The protagonist of The Christmas Tree (1981) attempts to salvage her troubled life before it is cut short by leukemia.

Johnston’s other novels include The Invisible Worm (1991), The Illusionist (1995), Two Moons (1998), This Is Not a Novel (2002), and Foolish Mortals (2007). She also writes short stories and plays, such as Three Monologues: Twinkletoes, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine (1995) and The Desert Lullaby: A Play in Two Acts (1996).

Johnston marries a fellow student at Trinity College, Ian Smyth in 1951. She is a mother of four and currently lives near Dublin. She is also a member of Aosdána.


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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)