seamus dubhghaill

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


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Patrick J. Hillery Inaugurated Sixth President of Ireland

Patrick John Hillery, Irish politician, is inaugurated as the sixth President of Ireland on December 3, 1976. 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 born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He 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 Europe 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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Execution of Robert Erskine Childers

During the Irish Civil War, British writer and Irish republican Robert Erskine Childers is executed by the Irish Free State government at the Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin on November 24, 1922.

The London-born son of a British scholar and an Irish mother, Childers is a lifelong Protestant, itself an anomaly since Irish nationalism maps strongly to Catholicism. In his early years his loyalty was with the British Empire. In his twenties, Childers volunteers for the Second Boer War, and he later says the rank savagery and underlying injustice of England’s war “changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist.”

Laying down the sword, Childers takes up the pen and writes several books of military history. He also writes a novel, The Riddle of the Sands, that has a claim of being the first spy novel. The Riddle of the Sands has never gone out of print since it was published in 1903.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, Childers’ warnings against the German challenge to British hegemony are prophetic, but he is himself becoming a man divided. In 1914 he runs German guns to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht Asgard and then signs up for the royal navy when World War I erupts. The British crackdown on the Easter Rising during the war completes his radicalization. He moves to Dublin and turns his eloquence against the British.

Childers is swept into the tragedy of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that follows. Although both he and Michael Collins are in the delegation that produces the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty, Childers breaks with Collins over it and backs the Irish Republican Army (IRA) nationalists who fight the Irish Free State.

After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgate the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorization. Childers is a writer, not a partisan, but he is arrested in early November with a small sidearm, a gift Collins had given him back when they were on the same side. It is a time of bloody justice and they throw the book at him.

Childers knows as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He faces his execution with awe-inspiring forgiveness. Summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracts a promise from the boy that he will find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. This son, young Erskine Hamilton Childers, eventually becomes President of Ireland.

Childers himself likewise shakes the hands of his own firing squad, one by one. His last words, reported in a number of slightly different variations, are lightheartedly addressed to them: “Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way.”


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Death of Erskine Hamilton Childers, 4th President of Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Charles Haughey Acquitted of Conspiring in the Arms Crisis

Charles Haughey, former Minister for Finance, and three others including former Minister for Agriculture Neil Blaney, are acquitted on October 23, 1970, of charges that they had conspired to illegally import arms and ammunition into Ireland for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), an incident known as the Arms Crisis.

The Garda Special Branch informs the Minister for Justice Micheál Ó Móráin and Taoiseach Jack Lynch that a plot to import arms exists and includes government members, however Lynch takes no action until the Special Branch makes opposition leader Liam Cosgrave aware of the plot. Cosgrave tells Lynch he is aware of the plot and will announce it in the Dáil the next day if he does not act. Lynch subsequently requests that Haughey and Blaney resign from the Cabinet. Both men refuse, saying they had done nothing illegal. Lynch then asks President Éamon de Valera to terminate their appointments as members of the government, a request that de Valera is required to grant by convention. Haughey and Blaney are subsequently tried in court along with Captain James Kelly, a former intelligence captain in the Irish Army, and Albert Luykx, a former Flemish Nationalist and businessman, who allegedly used his contacts to buy the arms.

The verdict, reached by jury after two hours and 10 minutes of deliberation, leads to political repercussions for the Government of Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Lynch had dismissed the Haughey from his Cabinet post the previous May on the allegation of illegal gun‐running.

Witnesses declare during the 14‐day trial that the arms, imported from the Continental Europe, were ultimately destined for the Roman Catholic minority in Northern Ireland. However, the defense contends that the arms had been brought in with the knowledge and approval of the current Minister for Agriculture, Jim Gibbons, who was serving as Minister for Defence at the time.

The jury rules that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.  Haughey is carried from the High Court after the acquittal, as are the three other defendants.

Although cleared of wrongdoing, it appears as if Haughey’s political career is finished. Blaney eventually resigns from Fianna Fáil but Haughey remains. He spends his years on the backbenches building support within the grassroots of the party. During this time he remains loyal to the party and serves the leader but after the debacle of the Arms Crisis neither man trusts the other.

(Pictured: Charles Haughey with Neil Blaney at the 1970 at the Arms Trial)


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Birth of Christopher Nolan, Irish Poet & Author

Christopher Nolan, Irish poet and author, is born to parents Joseph and Bernadette Nolan in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 6, 1965.

Due to asphyxiation at birth, Nolan is born with permanent impairment of his nerve-signaling system, a condition now labelled dystonia. Because of these complications, Nolan is born with cerebral palsy and can only move his head and eyes. Due to the severity of the cerebral palsy, he uses a wheelchair. In an interview, his father, Joseph, explains how, at the age of 10, he is placed on medication that “relaxed him so he could use a pointer attached to his head to type.” To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while Christopher painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

He communicates with others by moving his eyes, using a signal system. When he is young, his father tells him stories and reads passages from James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and D.H. Lawrence to keep his mind stimulated. His mother strings up letters of the alphabet in the kitchen, where she keeps up a stream of conversation. His sister, Yvonne, sings songs and acts out skits. His mother stated that “he wrote extensively since the age of 11 and went on to write many poems, short stories and two plays, many of which were published.” Many of the writings are compiled for his first publication, the chapbook Dam-Burst of Dreams.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic School, Mount Temple Comprehensive School and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published at the age of fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the U.K., the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the U.K.’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

At the age of 43, while working on a new novel, Christopher Nolan dies in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009. His death is the result of a piece of salmon becoming trapped in his airway. However, nothing from the novel he was working on has been released since his death.

Upon hearing the news of Nolan’s death, President of Ireland Mary McAleese says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”


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The Funeral of Michael Collins

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is laid to rest in Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery on August 28, 1922.

Collins is shot and killed by anti-Treaty ambushers as his Free State Army convoy approaches Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads in County Cork, on August 22, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass on August 28, 1922 takes place at Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. According to a report in The New York Times, the seven mile journey from the cathedral to his final resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery is lined with half a million mourners, almost one fifth of the country’s population at the time, and many of whom likely differed with him on his Treaty vote.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theorists have put forward a number of suspects as having executed or ordered his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British Secret Intelligence Service, or Éamon de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.”

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gives the oration. In 2010, the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr. becomes the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the oration, the first serving head of government to do so. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery every year at Collins’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

RIP Big Fellow!


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The Censorship of Publications Act

The Censorship of Publications Act is passed on July 16, 1929. The laws enacted by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 are introduced in an era of political isolationism and cultural and economic protectionism. Ireland’s culture is very moral and religious. Catholicism, the religion of 93% of the population, is the fundamental philosophy behind the censorship laws.

A main aim of the new legislation is to prevent the introduction of unwholesome foreign influences like materialism, consumerism and immorality from abroad. Specifically, this means works that are considered to be indecent or obscene, newspapers whose content relies too much on crime, and works that promote the “unnatural” prevention of conception or that advocate abortion. Irish writers who are found offensive are officially regarded as agents of decadence and social disintegration who are striking at the roots of family life and moral decency. For example, Father P.J. Gannon thinks that the Act is “but a simple measure of moral hygiene, forced upon the Irish public by a veritable spate of filth never surpassed.” He thinks that all literature must provide “noble ground for noble emotion.” President Éamon de Valera feels that the arts in Ireland are to be encouraged when they observe the “holiest traditions,” but should be censored when they fail to live up to this ideal.

Although the new laws are typical of censorship laws in many other countries in the 1920s and 1930s, they are implemented with an eagerness which gradually alienates and embitters many Irish writers. It causes some writers to leave the country. The author Mervyn Wall explains that during the 1930s there is “a general intolerant attitude to writing, painting and sculpture. These were thought dangerous, likely to corrupt faith and morals…One encountered frequently among ordinary people bitter hostility to writers…Obscurantism had settled on the country like a fog, so of course anyone who had eyes to see and the heart to feel, was rebellious.”

The Academy of Letters established by William Butler Yeats attempts to fight censorship with solidarity among writers, but it achieves little in this field. The fight against literary censorship is fought mainly by isolated figures. Seán Ó Faoláin, perhaps the most vociferous critic of the censorship laws, writes, “Our Censorship…tries to keep the mind in a state of perpetual adolescence in the midst of all the influences that must, in spite of it, pour in from the adult world.”

Among the first thirteen books to be banned, announced in the Iris Oifigúil in May 1930, are Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and several books on sex and marriage by Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes. Surprisingly, none of James Joyce‘s writings are ever banned by the Board, while copies of his works are burned by the British Customs, and Ulysses is banned in the United States for several years.