seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Gerry Rafferty, Singer, Songwriter & Musician

Gerald Rafferty, Scottish singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, is born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on April 16, 1947. His solo hits in the late 1970s include “Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line” and “Night Owl,” as well as “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which is recorded with his band Stealers Wheel in 1973.

Rafferty is the third son of Irish miner and lorry driver Joseph Rafferty and his Scottish wife Mary Skeffington. His abusive alcoholic father dies when Gerry is only sixteen years old. He grows up in a council house on the town’s Glenburn estate and attends St. Mirin’s Academy. Inspired by his Scottish mother, who teaches him both Irish and Scottish folk songs, and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he starts writing his own material. In 1963 he leaves St. Mirin’s Academy and works in a butcher’s shop and as a civil service clerk while also playing with the local group Maverix on weekends.

In the mid-1960s Rafferty earns money busking on the London Underground. In 1966 he meets fellow musician Joe Egan and they are both members of the pop band the Fifth Column. In 1969 he becomes the third member of the folk-pop outfit the Humblebums, which also features comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. He and Connelly record two well-received albums on the Transatlantic Records label as a duo.

Rafferty releases his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, in 1972. That same year he and Egan form the group Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel has a huge hit with the jaunty and witty song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which peaks at #6 on the Billboard pop charts. Stealers Wheel has a lesser Top 40 hit with “Star” ten months later and eventually breaks up in 1975.

In 1978 Rafferty hits pay dirt with his second solo album, City to City, which soars to #1 on the Billboard album charts and sells over five million copies worldwide. The album also begets the hit song “Baker Street.” This haunting and poetic ballad is an international smash that goes to #2 in the United States, #3 in the United Kingdom, #1 in Australia, and #9 in the Netherlands.

Rafferty’s third album, Night Owl, likewise does well. Moreover, he has additional impressive chart successes with the songs “Right Down the Line,” “Home and Dry,” “Days Gone Down,” and “Get It Right Next Time.” Alas, a handful of albums he records throughout the 1980s and 1990s all prove to be commercial flops. He sings the vocal on the song “The Way It Always Starts” for the soundtrack of the movie Local Hero.

Rafferty is married to Carla Ventilla from 1970 to 1990. He records his last album, Another World, in 2000 and releases the compilation CD, Life Goes On, in 2009.

Rafferty has problems with alcoholism that directly contributes to his untimely death. In November 2010, he is admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he is put on a life support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, he rallies for a short time, and doctors believe he might recover. He dies, however, of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on January 4, 2011.

A requiem mass is held for Rafferty at St. Mirin’s Cathedral in Paisley on January 21, 2011. The mass is streamed live over the Internet. Politicians in attendance are the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MSP, Wendy Alexander MSP, Hugh Henry MSP, and Robin Harper MSP. The musicians present include Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, former bandmates Joe Egan and Rab Noakes, Barbara Dickson, and Graham Lyle. The eulogy is given by Rafferty’s longtime friend John Byrne. His remains are then cremated at the Woodside Crematorium in Paisley and his ashes scattered on Iona. He is survived by his daughter, granddaughter Celia, and brother Jim.


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

The Milltown Cemetery attack takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the large funeral of three Provisional Irish Republican Army members killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, Michael Stone, attacks the mourners with hand grenades and pistols.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three had allegedly been preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but the deaths outrage republicans as the three were unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes. Tensions are high as the security forces flood the neighbourhoods where they had lived, to try to prevent public displays honouring the dead. For years, republicans have complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which have led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Michael Stone is a loyalist, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who had been involved in several killings and other attacks, and who describes himself as a “freelance loyalist paramilitary.” He learns that there will be little security force presence at the funerals, and plans “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside.” He says his attack is retaliation for the Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier, when eleven Protestants had been killed by an IRA bomb at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony. He claims that he and other UDA members considered planting bombs in the graveyard, but abandon the plan because the bombs might miss the republican leaders.

The funeral service and Requiem Mass go ahead as planned, and the cortege makes its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead. Stone claims that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners and mingled with the large crowd, although one witness claims to have seen him enter from the M1 motorway with three other people.

As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones. Stone begins jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He periodically stops to shoot and throw grenades at his pursuers.

Three people are killed while pursuing Stone – Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30), also known as Kevin Brady. During the attack, about 60 people are wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded is a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy. Some fellow loyalists say that Stone made the mistake of throwing his grenades too soon. The death toll would likely have been much higher had the grenades exploded in mid-air, “raining lethal shrapnel over a wide area.”

A white van that had been parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway suddenly drives off as Stone flees from the angry crowd. There is speculation that the van is part of the attack, but the RUC says it was part of a police patrol, and that the officers sped off because they feared for their lives. Stone says he had arranged for a getaway car, driven by a UDA member, to pick him up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the driver allegedly “panicked and left.” By the time he reaches the motorway, he has seemingly run out of ammunition. He runs out onto the road and tries to stop cars, but is caught by the crowd, beaten, and bundled into a hijacked vehicle. Armed RUC officers in Land Rovers quickly arrive, “almost certainly saving his life.” They arrest him and take him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event is recorded by television news cameras.

That evening, angry youths in republican districts burn hijacked vehicles and attack the RUC. Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—deny responsibility. Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals.”

Three days later, during the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, in civilian clothes and in a civilian car drive into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Many of those present believe the soldiers are loyalists intent on repeating Stone’s attack. An angry crowd surrounds and attacks their car. Corporal Wood draws his service pistol and fires a shot into the air. The two men are then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by the IRA. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it is filmed by television news cameras.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. Many hardline loyalists see him as a hero and he becomes a loyalist icon. After his conviction, an issue of the UDA magazine Ulster is devoted to Stone, stating that he “stood bravely in the middle of rebel scum and let them have it.” Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Gaol, he spends all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

In November 2006, Stone is charged with attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the Parliament Buildings at Stormont while armed. He is subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years imprisonment. He is released on parole in 2021.


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Death of Eileen Desmond, Labour Party Politician

eileen-desmondEileen Christine Desmond (née Harrington), Irish Labour Party politician who serves as Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare from 1981 to 1982, dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. She serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1969, 1973 to 1981 and 1981 to 1987. She serves as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Munster constituency from 1979 to 1984. She is a Senator for the Industrial and Commercial Panel from 1969 to 1973.

Desmond is born in Kinsale, County Cork on December 29, 1932. She is educated locally at the Convent of Mercy in Kinsale, where she is one of only two girls in her class to sit the Leaving Certificate examination. Before entering politics she works as a civil servant with the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. She marries Dan Desmond in 1958.

Desmond is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a by-election on March 10, 1965, due to the death of her husband who had been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 1948. Her victory in the Cork Mid constituency leads Taoiseach Seán Lemass to dissolve the 17th Dáil and call a general election. She is elected for the second time in a year, but loses her seat at the 1969 general election. However she is then elected to the 12th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel, where she serves until her re-election to the 20th Dáil at the 1973 general election.

Desmond is elected to the European Parliament at the 1979 European Parliament election for the Munster constituency. However her time in Europe is short-lived, as she returns to domestic politics when she is offered a position as Minister and the chance to impact upon national legislation. At the 1981 general election she switches her constituency to Cork South-Central. A Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition comes to power and she is appointed Minister for Health and Social Welfare.

Desmond’s cabinet appointment is historic, as she is only the second woman to be a member of cabinet since the foundation of the state in 1922, and the first in any Fine Gael or Labour Party cabinet. Countess Markievicz had held the cabinet post of Minister for Labour in the revolutionary First Dáil in 1919, but only one woman had held cabinet office after the foundation of the state, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn of Fianna Fáil who was appointed as Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Desmond retires from full-time politics at the 1987 general election for health reasons. She dies suddenly in Cork, County Cork on January 6, 2005. Her funeral Mass takes place at Our Lady and St. John’s Church, Carrigaline with burial following in Crosshaven Cemetery.