seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Queen Victoria

queen-victoriaQueen Victoria dies at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on January 22, 1901, ending an era in which most of her British subjects know no other monarch.

With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, she is the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpasses her on September 9, 2015. She restores dignity to the English monarchy and ensures its survival as a ceremonial political institution. Edward VII accedes to the throne upon her death.

Born on May 24, 1819 in Kensington Palace, London, Victoria comes to the throne after the death of her uncle, King William IV, in 1837. As a young woman ascending to the throne, her future husband describes her “as one whose extreme obstinacy was constantly at war with her good nature.” Her first prime minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, becomes her close friend and adviser, and she succeeds in blocking his replacement by Tory leader Sir Robert Peel in 1839. Two years later, however, an election results in a Tory majority in the House of Commons, and she is compelled to accept Peel as prime minister. Never again does she interfere so directly in the politics of democratic Britain.

In 1839, her first cousin Albert, a German prince, comes to visit the English court at Windsor, and Victoria proposes to him five days after his arrival. Prince Albert accepts and they are married in February 1840. He soon becomes the dominant influence in her life and serves as her private secretary. Among his greatest achievements as Prince Consort is his organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first world’s fair, in the Crystal Palace in London. He also steers her support away from the Whigs to the conservative Tories. She later is a vocal supporter of Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party.

Victoria and Albert build royal residences at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and become increasingly detached from London. They have nine children, including Victoria, later the empress of Germany, and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In 1861, Albert dies and Victoria’s grief is such that she does not appear in public for three years. She never entirely gets over the loss and, until the end of her life, has her maids nightly lay out Albert’s clothes for the next day and in the morning replace the water in the basin in his room.

Disraeli coaxes Victoria out of seclusion, and she is impressed by his efforts to strengthen and expand the British Empire. In 1876, he has her made “empress of India,” a title which pleases her and makes her a symbol of imperial unity. During the last few decades of her life, her popularity, which had suffered during her long public absence, increases greatly. She never embraces the social and technological advances of the 19th century but accepts the changes and works hard to fulfill her ceremonial duties as head of state.

Following a custom she maintains throughout her widowhood, Victoria spends the Christmas of 1900 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs has rendered her lame and her eyesight is clouded by cataracts. Through early January, she feels weak and unwell, and by mid-January she is drowsy, dazed and confused. She dies in the early evening of Tuesday, January 22, 1901, at the age of 81. Her son and successor King Edward VII, and her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, are at her deathbed. Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turi, is laid upon her deathbed as a last request.

Victoria’s funeral is held on Saturday, February 2, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after two days of lying-in-state, she is interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park. When she dies, she has 37 surviving great-grandchildren, and their marriages with other monarchies give her the name “grandmother of Europe.”

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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers 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. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, 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 has 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. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

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

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, 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 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 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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Anne Letitia Dickson Elected UPNI Leader

anne-letitia-dicksonAnne Letitia Dickson is elected leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) on September 15, 1976, becoming the first woman to lead a political party in Ireland.

Born in London on April 18, 1928, Dickson moves with her family to Northern Ireland at an early age and is educated at Holywood and Richmond Lodge School. After service as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Advisory Board of the Salvation Army she becomes actively involved in politics for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Elected as chair of the Carrick Division Unionist Association she later becomes a member of the Newtownabbey Urban District Council, serving as Vice-Chair from 1967 to 1969.

Dickson is then elected as an Ulster Unionist politician for the Carrick constituency in the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont as a supporter of Prime Minister Terence O’Neill. After the dissolution of the Stormont Parliament, she is elected in the 1973 Assembly election for South Antrim as an Independent Unionist candidate having resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party in 1972.

After the Ulster Unionist party split in 1974 over the Sunningdale Agreement, Dickson joins the newly formed Unionist Party of Northern Ireland along with other supporters of former Northern Ireland prime minister Brian Faulkner. She retains her seat in South Antrim in the 1975 constitutional convention election. After the retirement of Brian Faulkner in 1976 she becomes leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to lead a major political party in Northern Ireland.

In 1979 Dickson contests the Belfast North constituency in the Westminster election, polling 10% of the vote, the best performance by a UPNI candidate in Northern Ireland, however her intervention is sufficient to split the moderate Unionist vote resulting in the seat being gained by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Unionist Party of Northern Ireland disbands in 1981 after poor results in the local government elections and Dickson retires from active politics. Subsequently she is chair of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council from 1985 to 1990.


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Patrick Magee Found Guilty of Grand Brighton Hotel Bombing

patrick-joseph-mageePatrick Joseph Magee of Belfast is found guilty on June 10, 1986, of planting a bomb at the Grand Brighton Hotel in 1984 which kills five people but misses its primary target, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The bombing is testament to the ingenuity of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its bomb makers.

The 30-pound bomb is planted behind a bath in a room on the sixth floor more than three weeks prior to the Prime Minister’s visit. Timed to go off on the final day of the conference, it explodes in the early morning hours of October 12, 1984 and nearly wipes out most of Thatcher’s cabinet, killing five prominent Conservatives and injuring thirty-four.

The bomb destroys a bathroom that Mrs. Thatcher had been in just a few minutes earlier.

Magee stays in the hotel four weeks previously under the false name of Roy Walsh, during the weekend of September 14-17, 1984. He plants the bomb, which includes a long-delay timer, in the bathroom wall of his room, number 629. Magee becomes the primary suspect when forensic officers find his palm print on a hotel registration card following the blast.

Magee is arrested in the Queen’s Park area of Glasgow on June 22, 1985 with other members of an active service unit, including Martina Anderson, while planning other bombings.

Sentenced to a minimum 35 years in jail, he is released from prison in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement early release program. Magee is one of many on both sides of the conflict whose release raises differing emotions.

In one of the more compelling twists associated with the Northern Ireland troubles, Magee works diligently since his release to ease tensions in Northern Ireland and develops a strong working relationship with Jo Berry, daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP who was killed in the Grand Brighton Hotel blast. They first meet publicly in November 2000 in an effort at achieving reconciliation. They have met publicly on more than one hundred occasions since that date.


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Signing of the Good Friday Agreement

After nearly two years of talks, the Good Friday Agreement, a major political development in the Northern Ireland peace process of the 1990s, is signed by Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Good Friday, April 10, 1998 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement brings to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.”  Northern Ireland’s present devolved system of government is based on the Agreement.

The Agreement is made up of two inter-related documents: (1) a multi-party agreement by most of Northern Ireland’s political parties and (2) an international agreement between the British and Irish governments called the British-Irish Agreement.

The Agreement sets out a complex series of provisions relating to a number of areas including the status and system of government of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom (Strand 1), the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (Strand 2), and the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom (Strand 3).

Issues relating to civil and cultural rights, decommissioning of weapons, justice and policing are central to the Agreement.

The Agreement is approved by voters across the island of Ireland in two referendums held on May 22, 1998. The people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland need to approve the Agreement in order for it to come into effect. In Northern Ireland, voters are asked whether they support the multi-party agreement. In the Republic of Ireland, voters are asked whether they will allow the state to sign the agreement and allow necessary constitutional changes to facilitate it.

The British-Irish Agreement comes into force on December 2, 1999. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the only major political group in Northern Ireland to oppose the Good Friday Agreement.