seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of James Plunkett, Novelist & Playwright

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, known by the pen name James Plunkett, Irish novelist, playwright, and short-story writer, dies in Dublin on May 28, 2003. His works, which deal with Ireland’s political and labour problems, contain vivid portraits of working-class and middle-class Dubliners.

Plunkett is born in Sandymount, Dublin on May 21, 1920 and grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personæ of his oeuvre. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, a Christian Brothers school located on Synge Street in Dublin. He leaves school at the age of seventeen. He later studies violin and viola at the Dublin College of Music and plays professionally in Dublin. He serves for a time as an official in the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

Plunkett’s best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the Dublin lock-out of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on James Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. Plunkett is a member of Aosdána.

James Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home on May 28, 2003, just a week after his 83rd birthday. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium in Dublin.

A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in honour of James Plunkett.

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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.


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“The Riordans” Ends 15 Year Run

the-riordans-title-cardThe Riordans, a drama about life in a rural Irish village and the most successful serial in the history of Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), running from 1965 to 1979, comes to an end on May 11, 1979. It is the second Irish soap opera made by RTÉ (then called Telefís Éireann).

In 1964 the fledgling Telefís Éireann launches Tolka Row, a soap opera set in a working class part of Dublin. Its success is immediate, with its actors becoming household names. One year later, aware that Ireland is still a largely rural country, and of the immense popularity of rural-based radio shows on RTÉ Radio (then called Radio Éireann), Telefís Éireann decides to create a new rural soap opera, set on a family farm. Located in Dunboyne, The Flathouse, owned by the Connolly family, is the setting for this programme.

The show is called The Riordans after the name of the central family, who are two middle-aged parents, Tom Riordan and his wife Mary Riordan, together with their oldest son, Benjy and other siblings, including brother Michael and sister Jude, all of whom except Benjy have left farming for other careers and have more adventurous personal lives.

The Riordans is set in the fictional townland of Leestown in County Kilkenny and proves to be a revolutionary television programme, both in Ireland and internationally. Its most dramatic innovation is in the use of Outside Broadcast Units (OBUs) to film most of each episode on location in the countryside. This is a marked innovation. Previously soap operas had all been studio-based, with even supposed exterior filming all done with studio sets built in sound stages. This breaks the mould of broadcasting in the soap opera genre and inspires the creation of its British equivalent, Emmerdale Farm (now called Emmerdale) by Yorkshire Television in 1972. In 1975 The Riordans begins to be filmed and transmitted in colour, having been available in monochrome only up to then.

The show undergoes a number of changes in the mid-1970s, most notably moving from a half-hour to one-hour format, as well as a change in theme tune. The decision of actor Tom Hickey to leave the series causes some problems. His character, Benjy is not killed off but goes abroad “on the missions.” While the show has declined somewhat from its heyday, it still regularly battles with The Late Late Show to top the TAM ratings. The production team is surprised when one episode, which unusually departs from the 1970s and focuses on Tom Riordan as a young man in the 1930s at a family céilí, is critically acclaimed by the media and many older viewers, who view it as an accurate representation of life on an Irish farm in the 1930s and 1940s.

With its considerable popularity, large cast of respected actors and high production values, and its central location on the schedules of RTÉ 1, few expect the show to be axed, let alone so suddenly. There is considerable surprise, and a lot of criticism, when the new Director of Programming at RTÉ, Muiris Mac Conghail, decides that the show has run its course and so axes it in May 1979. Part of the justification is cost as it is one of RTÉ’s most expensive shows to produce.

(Pictured: The Riordans title card)


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The Ordination of Sinéad O’Connor

sinead-oconnorSinéad O’Connor, Irish singer-songwriter also known as Magda Davitt, is ordained as a priest in Lourdes on April 22, 1999 by Bishop Michael Cox of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, an Independent Catholic group not in communion with the Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church considers ordination of women to be invalid and asserts that a person attempting the sacrament of ordination upon a woman incurs excommunication. The bishop had contacted her to offer ordination following her appearance on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, during which she tells the presenter, Gay Byrne, that had she not been a singer, she would have wished to have been a Catholic priest. After her ordination, she indicates that she wishes to be called Mother Bernadette Mary.

In a July 2007 interview with Christianity Today, O’Connor states that she considers herself a Christian and that she believes in core Christian concepts about the Trinity and Jesus Christ. She says, “I think God saves everybody whether they want to be saved or not. So when we die, we’re all going home… I don’t think God judges anybody. He loves everybody equally.” In an October 2002 interview, she credits her Christian faith in giving her the strength to live through, and then overcome the effects of, her child abuse.

On March 26, 2010, O’Connor appears on CNN‘s Anderson Cooper 360° to speak out about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal in Ireland. Two days later she has an opinion piece published in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post in which she writes about the scandal and her time in a Magdalene asylum as a teenager. Writing for the Sunday Independent she labels the Vatican as “a nest of devils” and calls for the establishment of an “alternative church,” opining that “Christ is being murdered by liars” in the Vatican. Shortly after the election of Pope Francis she describes the office of the Pope as an “anti-Christian office.”

Asked whether from her point of view, it is therefore irrelevant who is elected to be Pope, O’Connor replies, “Genuinely I don’t mean disrespect to Catholic people because I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, all of those, but I also believe in all of them, I don’t think it cares if you call it Fred or Daisy, you know? Religion is a smokescreen, it has everybody talking to the wall. There is a Holy Spirit who can’t intervene on our behalf unless we ask it. Religion has us talking to the wall. The Christ character tells us himself: you must only talk directly to the Father; you don’t need intermediaries. We all thought we did, and that’s OK, we’re not bad people, but let’s wake up… God was there before religion; it’s there [today] despite religion; it’ll be there when religion is gone.”


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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Birth of Journalist Eoghan Corry

eoghan-corryEoghan Corry, Irish journalist and author regarded as the most extensively traveled writer in Ireland, averaging over 30 countries a year, is born in Dublin on January 19, 1961.

Corry is the third of four children of Patrick Corry (1916–1971) from Kilmacduane, Cooraclare and Anne Corry (1929–2009) from Clahanmore, Milltown Malbay, both from County Clare. He grows up in Ardclough, Straffan, County Kildare.

Corry is educated at Scoil Mhuire, Clane, at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and University College Dublin (UCD). His first published work, as a teenager, is poetry in English and the Irish language in literary magazines and the New Irish Writing section of The Irish Press.

He begins his journalistic career as a sportswriter with The Irish Times and Sunday Tribune where he wins several awards and becomes sports editor. Determined to pursue a career outside of sports journalism, he joins The Sunday Press as a feature writer in 1985 and becomes features editor of The Irish Press in 1986, bringing younger writers and a more contemporary, polemical and literary style to the paper. He revives the literary and travel sections of the paper and is an adjudicator of the Dublin Theatre Festival awards.

When The Irish Press closes in 1995 he becomes Features Editor of the short-lived Evening News, storylines the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) museum in Croke Park in 1998 and is founding editor of High Ball magazine. Since then he has been a columnist, first with The Sunday Business Post and then with the Evening Herald and Irish Independent. As a journalism lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology he tells students that “journalism is about pissing people off.”

Since 2002 Corry has edited Ireland’s biggest circulation travel publication, Travel Extra. He has fronted travel shows broadcast in Ireland and the Middle East and is a regular commentator on travel affairs to Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) and TG4, and an occasional guest contributor to BBC Northern Ireland. He writes the ten-part series GAA@125, screened on Irish television station TG4 in 2009. He appears on Tonight with Vincent Browne from time to time to preview the next day’s newspapers.

Corry is awarded a lifetime “contribution to the industry” award at the Irish Travel Industry Awards in Dublin on January 22, 2016. He receives the Business Travel Journalist of the year award in London in October 2015. Previous awards include Irish sportswriter of the year, young journalist of the year, Seamus Kelly award, MacNamee award for coverage of Gaelic Games and is short listed for sports book of the year.


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Death of Mary Raftery, Investigative Journalist

mary-rafteryMary Frances Thérèse Raftery, Irish investigative journalist, filmmaker and writer, dies in Dublin on January 10, 2012.

Raftery is born in Dublin on December 21, 1957. Her father, Adrian, is in the Irish foreign service, and she spends much of her childhood abroad. Though she enters University College Dublin to study engineering, she is derailed by an interest in journalism and never finishes her degree.

Raftery starts her investigative journalism career with In Dublin magazine in the 1970s, before moving on to Magill magazine and then to the Irish television channel Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) in 1984. Her documentary series States of Fear is broadcast on RTÉ in 1999. A book she writes later that year called Suffer the Little Children adds more detail to her claim that the Irish childcare system between the 1930s and 1970s was guilty of widespread persecution and abuse.

In 2000, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is established by the Irish Government to examine the evidence with its report published in May 2009. Her programme “Cardinal Secrets” is broadcast as a Prime Time special on RTÉ in 2002. It leads to the setting up of the Murphy Commission of Investigation into clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin which published the Murphy Report in 2009. Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International Ireland says, “Ms. Raftery’s work transformed Ireland. Without the work that Mary did as a journalist (on the abuse of children), I don’t think much of this would have surfaced.”

Raftery is nominated for “NNI National Journalist of the Year” in 2011 for her work in exposing clerical abuse of children.

Mary Frances Thérèse Raftery dies of ovarian cancer at the age of 54 at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on January 10, 2012. She is survived by her mother, three siblings, her husband and her son.