seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Launch of the SS Canberra

ss-canberraThe SS Canberra, an ocean liner in the P&O fleet which later operates on cruises, is launched in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 16, 1960. She is built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast at a cost of £17,000,000.

The ship is named on March 17, 1958, after the federal capital of Australia, Canberra. Her launch is sponsored by Dame Pattie Menzies, GBE, wife of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies. She enters service in May 1961 and begins her maiden voyage in June.

At the end of 1972 she is withdrawn and refitted to carry 1,500 single class passengers on cruises. Unusually, this transition from an early life as a purpose built ocean liner to a long and successful career in cruising, occurs without any major external alterations, and with only minimal internal and mechanical changes over the years.

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invades the Falkland Islands, which initiates the Falklands War. At the time, SS Canberra is cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. The next day, her captain, Dennis Scott-Masson, receives a message asking his time of arrival at Gibraltar, which is not on his itinerary. When he calls at Gibraltar, he learns that the Ministry of Defence had requisitioned SS Canberra for use as a troopship. SS Canberra sails to Southampton, Hampshire where she is quickly refitted, sailing on April 9 for the South Atlantic.

SS Canberra anchors in San Carlos Water on May 21 as part of the landings by British forces to retake the islands. Although her size and white colour make her an unmissable target for the Argentine Air Force, the liner is not badly hit in the landings as the Argentine pilots tend to attack the Royal Navy frigates and destroyers instead of the supply and troop ships. After the war, Argentine pilots claim they were told not to hit SS Canberra, as they mistook her for a hospital ship.

SS Canberra then sails to South Georgia Island, where 3,000 troops are transferred from Queen Elizabeth 2. They are landed at San Carlos on June 2. When the war ends, SS Canberra is used as a cartel to repatriate captured Argentine soldiers, landing them at Puerto Madryn, before returning to Southampton to a rapturous welcome on July 11.

After a lengthy refit, SS Canberra returns to civilian service as a cruise ship. Her role in the Falklands War makes her very popular with the British public, and ticket sales after her return are elevated for many years as a result. Age and high running costs eventually catch up with her though, as she has much higher fuel consumption than most modern cruise ships. Although Premier Cruise Line makes a bid for the old ship, P&O had already decided that they do not want SS Canberra to operate under a different flag.

SS Canberra is withdrawn from P&O service in September 1997 and sold to ship breakers for scrapping on October 10, 1997, leaving for Gadani ship-breaking yard in Pakistan on October 31, 1997. Her deep draft means that she cannot be beached as far as most ships, and due to her solid construction the scrapping process takes nearly a year instead of the estimated three months, being totally scrapped by the end of 1998.

The SS Canberra appears in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever as the liner where Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd try to kill Bond. In 1997, singer/songwriter Gerard Kenny releases the single “Farewell Canberra” which is specially composed for the final voyage.


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Birth of Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean

Tom Crean

Thomas “Tom” Crean, Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer, is born on February 25, 1877 in the farming area of Gurtuchrane near the village of Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.

Crean leaves the family farm to enlist in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. In 1901, while serving on Ringarooma in New Zealand, he volunteers to join Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s 1901–04 Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, thus beginning his exploring career.

He is a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Captain Scott’s 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition. This sees the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen and ends in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition, Crean’s 35 statute miles solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans leads to him receiving the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.

After his Terra Nova experience, Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture is as second officer on Ernest Shackleton‘s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, on Endurance. After Endurance becomes beset in the pack ice and sinks, Crean and the ship’s company spend months drifting on the ice before a journey in boats to Elephant Island. He is a member of the crew which makes an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.

Crean’s contributions to these expeditions seals his reputation as a polar explorer and earns him a total of three Polar medals. After the Endurance expedition, he returns to the navy. When his naval career ends in 1920 he moves back to County Kerry. In his home town of Annascaul, Crean and his wife Ellen live quietly and unobtrusively and open a pub called The South Pole Inn.

In 1938 Crean becomes ill with a ruptured appendix. He is taken to the nearest hospital in Tralee, but as no surgeon is available to operate, he is transferred to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where his appendix is removed. Because of the delay of the operation an infection develops and after a week in the hospital he dies on July 27, 1938, shortly after his sixty-first birthday. He is buried in his family’s tomb at the cemetery in Ballynacourty.

Crean’s name is commemorated in at least two places – 8,630 foot Mount Crean in Victoria Land and the Crean Glacier on South Georgia. A one-man play, Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer, has been widely performed since 2001 by its author Aidan Dooley, including a special showing at the South Pole Inn, Annascaul, in October 2001. In July 2003, a bronze statue of Crean is unveiled across from his pub in Annascaul. It depicts him leaning against a crate whilst holding a pair of hiking poles in one hand and two of his beloved sled dog pups in the other.


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Death of John Holland, Irish Engineer

john-philip-hollandJohn Philip Holland, Irish engineer who develops the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the first Royal Navy submarine, HMS Holland 1, dies in Newark, New Jersey on August 12, 1914.

Holland, the second of four siblings, all boys, is born on February 24, 1841 in a coastguard cottage in Liscannor, County Clare, where his father, John Philip Holland, Sr., is a member of the British Coastguard Service. His mother, a native Irish speaker from Liscannor, Máire Ní Scannláin, is John Holland’s second wife. His first wife, Anne Foley Holland, believed to be a native of Kilkee, dies in 1835. The area is heavily Irish-speaking and Holland learns English properly only when he attends the local English-speaking St. Macreehy’s National School, and from 1858, in the Christian Brothers in Ennistymon.

Holland joins the Irish Christian Brothers in Limerick and teaches in CBS Sexton Street in Limerick and many other centres in the country, including North Monastery CBS in Cork, St. Joseph’s CBS in Drogheda, and as the first Mathematics teacher in Coláiste Rís in Dundalk. Due to ill health, he leaves the Christian Brothers in 1873 and emigrates to the United States. Initially working for an engineering firm, he returns to teaching again for an additional six years in St. John’s Catholic school in Paterson, New Jersey.

While a teacher in Cork, Holland reads an account of the battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and USS Merrimack in the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. He realizes that the best way to attack such ships would be through an attack beneath the waterline. He draws a design, but when he attempts to obtain funding, he is turned away. After his arrival in the United States, Holland slips and falls on an icy Boston street and breaks a leg. While recuperating from the injury in a hospital, he uses his time to refine his submarine designs and is encouraged by a priest, Isaac Whelan.

In 1875, his first submarine designs are submitted for consideration by the U.S. Navy, but are turned down as unworkable. The Fenians, however, continue to fund Holland’s research and development expenses at a level that allows him to resign from his teaching post. In 1881, Fenian Ram is launched, but soon after, Holland and the Fenians part company on bad terms over the issue of payment within the Fenian organization, and between the Fenians and Holland. The submarine is now preserved at Paterson Museum in New Jersey.

Holland continues to improve his designs and works on several experimental boats, prior to his successful efforts with a privately built type, launched on May 17, 1897. This is the first submarine having power to run submerged for any considerable distance, and the first to combine electric motors for submerged travel and gasoline engines for use on the surface. The submarine is purchased by the U.S. Navy on April 11, 1900, after rigorous tests and is commissioned on October 12, 1900 as USS Holland (SS-1). Six more of her type are ordered and built at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The company that emerges from under these developments is called The Electric Boat Company, founded on February 7, 1899. Isaac Leopold Rice becomes the company’s first President with Elihu B. Frost acting as vice president and chief financial officer. The company eventually evolves into the major defense contractor General Dynamics.

The USS Holland design is also adopted by others, including the Royal Navy in developing the Holland-class submarine. The Imperial Japanese Navy employs a modified version of the basic design for their first five submarines, although these submarines are at least 10 feet longer at about 63 feet. These submarines are also developed at the Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. Holland also designs the Holland II and Holland III prototypes. The Royal Navy ‘Holland 1’ is on display at the Submarine Museum in Gosport, England.

After spending 56 of his 73 years working with submersibles, John Philip Holland dies on August 12, 1914 in Newark, New Jersey. He is interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.


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Birth of Peter O’Toole, Stage & Film Actor

peter-o-toolePeter Seamus O’Toole, British stage and film actor of Irish descent, is born on August 2, 1932, in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Some sources give his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway. Records from the General Registry Office in Leeds confirm that O’Toole is born in the north England town in 1932.

O’Toole grows up in Leeds and is educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He is a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post in his teens and makes his amateur stage debut at Leeds Civic Theatre. After serving two years in the Royal Navy, he acts with the Bristol Old Vic Company from 1955 to 1958 and makes his London debut as Peter Shirley in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara (1956). He appears with the Shakespeare Memorial Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in 1960 in highly praised performances as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and he plays the lead in Hamlet for the inaugural production of the Royal National Theatre in London in 1963. A prominent film star by this point in his career, he continues to appear on stages throughout the world to great acclaim. He is named associate director of the Old Vic in 1980.

O’Toole makes his motion picture debut in Kidnapped in 1960 and two years later becomes an international star for his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962). In 1964 he plays Henry II of England in Becket, and he has the title role in Lord Jim (1965). He appears as Henry II again in The Lion in Winter (1968), a film notable for the witty verbal sparring matches between O’Toole and costar Katharine Hepburn. The Ruling Class (1972), a controversial black comedy that has become a cult classic, casts O’Toole as a schizophrenic English earl with a messiah complex.

Personal problems contribute to a decline in his popularity during the 1970s, but he makes a strong comeback in the early 1980s with three well-received efforts. He portrays a duplicitous and domineering movie director in The Stunt Man (1980), and his performance as the Roman commander Lucius Flavius Silva in the acclaimed television miniseries Masada (1981) is hailed as one of the finest of his career. His most popular vehicle during this period is My Favorite Year (1982), an affectionate satire on the early days of television, in which he plays Alan Swann, a faded Errol Flynn-type swashbuckling screen star with a penchant for tippling and troublemaking.

O’Toole subsequently maintains his status with fine performances in such films as the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987), the cult favourite Wings of Fame (1989), and Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997), in which he portrays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Notable screen roles in the 21st century included King Priam in the historical epic Troy (2004), an aging romantic in Venus (2006), the voice of a haughty food critic in the animated Ratatouille (2007), and a priest in the historical drama For Greater Glory (2012). In addition, in 2008 he portrays Pope Paul III in the TV series The Tudors.

In 1992 O’Toole publishes a lively memoir, Loitering with Intent: The Child. A second volume, Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice, appears in 1996. He is nominated for an Academy Award eight times — for Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, and Venus — but never wins. In 2003 he is awarded an honorary Oscar. He receives an Emmy Award for his performance as Bishop Pierre Cauchon in the television miniseries Joan of Arc (1999).

O’Toole dies on December 14, 2013 at Wellington Hospital in St. John’s Wood, London, at the age of 81. His funeral is held at Golders Green Crematorium in London on December 21, 2013, where his body is cremated in a wicker coffin. His ashes are planned to be taken to Connemara, Ireland. They are being kept at the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, by President Michael D. Higgins, an old friend of O’Toole. His family has stated their intention to fulfill his wishes and take his ashes to the west of Ireland.


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Capture of Gustavus Conyngham, the Dunkirk Pirate

gustavus-conynghamIrish-born United States Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, “The Dunkirk Pirate,” is captured by the British Royal Navy in the waters off New York on April 27, 1779.

Conyngham is born in County Donegal in 1747 and emigrated to British America in 1763 in search of a better life. He settles in Philadelphia in order to work for his cousin Redmond Conyngham in the shipping industry. When the American Revolutionary War begins in 1775 he immediately sailed to France to try to procure supplies needed for the war effort.

The British become aware of Conyngham’s plans and manage to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. After the loss of his ship, he heads back to France, hoping to connect with an ally to the United States. It is there he meets Benjamin Franklin, who helps him in his adventures many times in the future. They form a lasting relationship, and Conyngham eventually awards Franklin the nickname “the Philosopher” for his intellectual fortitude and resourcefulness. Franklin is entrusted with several commissions of the Continental Navy, and on March 1, 1777 Conyngham is appointed Captain of the lugger Surprise.

Conyngham scores a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he is commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the USS Revenge. He begins a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet “The Dunkirk Pirate.”

In 1778 Conyngham sets sail for the West Indies and terrorizes British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he sets sail again his luck runs out and his ship is captured by the British vessel HMS Galatea on April 27, 1779. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors.

After two failed escape attempts, Conyngham tunnels his way out of Mill Prison in Plymouth and manages to make his way to the continent. He joins John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He is captured by the British again in March 1780 and spends another year in Mill Prison.

After the war Conyngham fails in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from the United States Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It is said that he assists in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812.

Gustavus Conyngham dies in Philadelphia seven years later on November 27, 1819. Nearly a century later, John Sanford Barnes, a retired navy captain and naval historian, acquires a cache of autographs and documents from a sale by Charavay of Paris. In the collection is Conyngham’s commission from Benjamin Franklin. Barnes publishes his discovery in September 1902, proving that the “Dunkirk Pirate” had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

(Pictured: Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Continental Navy. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976, based on a miniature by Louis Marie Sicardi. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.)


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Death of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

jean-joseph-amable-humbertGeneral Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, French soldier and French Revolution participant who leads a failed invasion of Ireland to assist Irish rebels in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, dies on January 3, 1823 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Born in the townland of La Coâre Saint-Nabord, outside Remiremont Vosges, Humbert is a sergeant in the National Guard of Lyon. He rapidly advances through the ranks to become brigadier general on April 9, 1794 and fights in the Western campaigns before being allocated to the Army of the Rhine.

In 1794, after serving in the Army of the Coasts of Brest, Humbert serves under Louis Lazare Hoche in the Army of the Rhin-et-Moselle. Charged to prepare for an expedition against Ireland, he takes command of the Légion des Francs under Hoche, sailing in the ill-fated Expédition d’Irlande against Bantry Bay in 1796, and is engaged in actions at sea against the Royal Navy. Contrary weather and enemy action force this expedition to withdraw. The trip home ends in a naval battle, the Action of 13 January 1797, during which Humbert, on the French ship Droits de l’Homme (1794), narrowly escapes death. As the ship is destroyed and sinks, hundreds of men perish, but Humbert is among the last to escape.

On his return to France, Humbert serves in the Army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, before being appointed to command the troops in another attempt to support a rising in Ireland in 1798. His command chiefly consists of infantry of the 70th demi-brigade with a few artillerymen and some cavalry of the 3rd Hussars, however by the time he arrives off the Irish coast the United Irish rising has already suffered defeat. The expedition is able to land in Ireland at Killala on Thursday August 23, 1798, meeting with initial success in the Battle of Castlebar where he routs the Irish Militia. Humbert subsequently declares a Republic of Connacht, with hopes of taking Dublin. However, Humbert’s small force is defeated at the Battle of Ballinamuck by the Irish Royal Army and he is taken as a prisoner of war by the authorities. The British send the French officers home in two frigates and then massacre their Irish supporters. Humbert makes no attempt to save the Irish who bravely supported him.

Humbert is shortly repatriated in a prisoner exchange and appointed in succession to the Armies of Mayence, Danube and Helvetia, with which he serves at the Second Battle of Zurich. He then embarks for Santo Domingo and participates in several Caribbean campaigns for Napoleon Bonaparte before being accused of plundering by General Brunet. It is also rumored that he engages in an affair with Pauline Bonaparte, the wife of his commanding officer Charles Leclerc. He is returned to France by order of General Leclerc in October 1802, for “prevarications, and liaison relationships with organisers of the inhabitants and with leaders of brigands.” A committed Republican, his displeasure at Napoleon’s Imperial pretensions lead to him being dismissed in 1803 and he retires to Morbihan in Brittany.

In 1810, after brief service in the Army of the North, Humbert emigrates to New Orleans, where he makes his acquaintance with French pirate Jean Lafitte. In 1813, Humbert joins the revolutionary Juan Bautista Mariano Picornell y Gomila in an unsuccessful attempt to foment rebellion in Spanish Mexico, but the effort fails. In 1814, Humbert again leaves New Orleans and joins the rebelling forces of Buenos Aires, briefly commanding a corps, before returning home. Humbert last fights the British at the Battle of New Orleans, as a volunteer private soldier in U.S. ranks, in the War of 1812, wearing his Napoleonic uniform. General Andrew Jackson thanks him for his assistance there after the American victory in January 1815. Thereafter Humbert lives peacefully as a schoolteacher until his death on January 3, 1823.

A monument to General Humbert depicting Mother Ireland stands on Humbert Street, Ballina, County Mayo. In 1989, sculptor Carmel Gallagher unveils a bust of General Humbert in Killala, Ireland, to mark the upcoming bicentennial of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.