seamus dubhghaill

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


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Final Republican & Loyalist Prisoners Released from Maze Prison

maze-prison-releaseThe final seventy-eight republican and loyalist prisoners are released from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on July 28, 2000 as the final phase of the Good Friday peace accord scheme to release 428 inmates early.

Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.

One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”

Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”

After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.

On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.

The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.

A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”

In January 2013, plans are approved by the Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, for the site to be redeveloped as showgrounds as the result of an application by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society with the objective of relocating Balmoral Show from its current location in Belfast. The site is now known as Balmoral Park.

In October 2019, the European Union withdraws £18m that had been approved to develop a peace centre, due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

(Pictured: IRA prisoners walk out through the Maze turnstile, BBC News Online, July 28, 2000)


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Death of George Best, Northern Irish Footballer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 80George Best, Northern Irish professional footballer, dies on November 25, 2005 due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he required following a 2002 liver transplant.

Best is born on May 22, 1946 and grows up in Cregagh, east Belfast. In 1957, he passes the eleven-plus and goes to Grosvenor High School, but he soon plays truant as the school specialises in rugby. He then moves to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, reuniting him with friends from primary school and allowing him to focus on football. He plays for Cregagh Boys Club. He grows up supporting Glentoran F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C..

Best spends most of his club career at Manchester United. Named European Footballer of the Year in 1968, he is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. A highly skillful winger, considered by several pundits to be one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport, he receives plaudits for his playing style, which combines pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders.

In international football, Best is capped 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. A combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 means that he never plays in the finals of a major tournament. He considers his international career as being “recreational football,” with the expectations placed on a smaller nation in Northern Ireland being much less than with his club. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup. The Irish Football Association describes him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland.”

With his good looks and playboy lifestyle, Best becomes one of the first media celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle” in 1966, but his extravagant lifestyle leads to various personal problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffers from for the rest of his life. These issues affect him on and off the field, often causing controversy. Although conscious of his problems, he is publicly not contrite about them. He says of his career, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars – the rest I just squandered.” After football, Best spends some time as a football analyst, but his financial and health problems continue into his retirement.

Best is diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000. His liver is said to be functioning at only 20%. In 2001, he is admitted to hospital with pneumonia. In August 2002, he has a successful liver transplant at King’s College Hospital in London.

On October 3, 2005, Best is admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver. In the early hours of November 25, 2005, treatment is stopped. Later that day he dies, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure. He is interred beside his mother in a private ceremony at Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.


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Death of Richard Harris, Actor & Singer

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, Irish actor and singer, dies in London from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pneumonia on October 25, 2002.

Harris is born to a farming family on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, County Limerick. He is the son of Mildred Josephine (Harty) and Ivan John Harris. He is an excellent rugby player with a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ends his aspirations to a rugby career. He becomes fascinated with the theater and skips a local dance one night to attend a performance of Henry IV. He is hooked and goes on to learn his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by several years in stage productions.

Harris makes his film debut in 1959 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. His second film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), quickly scores regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Harris’ breakthrough performance is as the quintessential “angry young man” in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), for which he receives an Academy Award nomination. He then appears in the World War II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next shows up in Hawaii (1966) and plays King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He takes the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which becomes something of a cult film and spawns two sequels.

As the 1970s progress, Harris continues to appear regularly on screen, however, the quality of the scripts vary from above average to woeful. His credits during this period include directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971), the western The Deadly Trackers (1973), the big-budget “disaster” film Juggernaut (1974), the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).

The 1980s kick off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade has him appearing in some very forgettable productions.

However, the luck of the Irish once again shines on Harris’ career and he scores rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for The Field (1990). He then locks horns with Harrison Ford as an Irish Republican Army sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and gets one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). He is firmly back in vogue and rewards his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune comes his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he becomes known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role is as “Lucius Sulla” in Julius Caesar (2002).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002 after spending his final three days in a coma. His body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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Birth of Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne

robert-blair-paddy-mayneRobert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, British Army soldier, solicitor, Ireland rugby union international, amateur boxer, and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS), is born in Newtownards, County Down on January 11, 1915.

Mayne attends school at Regent House School, a school for students age 4 to 18. While at Regent he discovers his skill and love for the game of rugby. He also enjoys cricket and golf and becomes a marksman with the rifle club. He goes on to Queen’s University Belfast to study law. At university he takes up boxing and becomes the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He also wins the Scrabo Golf Club President’s cup in 1937. He graduates from Queen’s University in 1939.

During 1938, Mayne travels to Africa on the 1938 British Lions Tour to South Africa. He plays on a team that tours around Africa playing other local clubs. While traveling, it is discovered that Mayne has a wild side and on various occasions finds himself in trouble. His “go to” is to trash the hotel rooms of his teammates. The team includes some of the best players from around Ireland and Britain.

In 1939, with outbreak of World War II, Mayne joins the Supplementary Reserves in Newtownards and receives a commission in the Royal Artillery. He serves in several units in Ireland and England, generally with light and heavy anti-aircraft units. He volunteers for the No. 11 (Scottish) Commando unit which is sent to the Middle East. There he sees action during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. Specifically during the Battle of the Litani River, he draws attention from Captain David Stirling who is forming the new Special Air Service (SAS). Sterling recruits Mayne for the new SAS while he is in jail for striking his commanding officer.

From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne is involved in several raids behind enemy lines with the SAS. He uses jeeps to go to various Axis bases and begin blowing up planes and fuel dumps. It is claimed that he personally destroyed 100 planes during these missions. In addition to serving in the Middle East, he serves as well in Sicily, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and France. In most of these locations he works with the resistance behind the enemy lines. In France he helps to train the French Resistance.

By the end of the war, Mayne has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and has also received the British Army’s Distinguished Service Order with three bars, which means he received the award four times. After the war he joins the British Antarctic Survey in the Falkland Islands. He returns home to Newtownards when back issues, which started while he was serving in the Middle East, become more difficult for him.

Mayne is initiated into Eklektikos Lodge No. 542 in Newtownards in 1945. He is a very enthusiastic mason and joins a second lodge in Newtownards, Friendship Lodge No. 447. On the evening of December 13, 1955, he attends a meeting of Friendship Lodge and then joins some of his masonic brothers at a local bar. At about 4:00 AM on December 14, he is found dead in his Riley RM roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle.

At his funeral hundreds of mourners turn out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel is preserved for many years by an old school friend before it is presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it is displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.


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Death of Sportswriter Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan, Irish sportswriter, dies in Dublin on August 4, 2012. Despite only progressing to national journalism at the age of 46, he becomes “the greatest and the best-loved Irish sports journalist of all.”

Houlihan is born on December 6, 1925, in Castleisland, County Kerry. Over a lengthy career, Houlihan covers many Irish and international sporting events, from Gaelic football and hurling finals, to soccer and rugby World Cups, the Olympic Games and numberless race meetings inside and outside Ireland.

Houlihan is a journalist with the Irish Press group writing for The Irish Press, Evening Press and sometimes The Sunday Press, until the group’s demise in 1995. He writes the “Tributaries” column and Evening Press back sports page “Con Houlihan” column.

Houlihan dies on the morning of August 4, 2012 in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin. Often considered one of Ireland’s finest writers, he leaves behind a legacy of immense sports journalism that spans over 60 years. A minute’s silence is observed in his memory ahead of Kerry GAA‘s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final defeat to Donegal GAA at Croke Park the following day. His last column, in which he wishes Irish Olympic boxer Katie Taylor well, is published the day after his death. His funeral takes place on August 8, 2012.

Ireland’s president, Michael D. Higgins, leads the tributes to Houlihan, describing him as a “most original writer, with a unique style based on his extensive knowledge of literature, politics, life and sport.” He adds, “He had that special quality and ability to identify with the passion, pain and celebration of Irish community life.”

A bronze bust of Houlihan is unveiled in his hometown of Castleisland in 2004. In 2011, another sculpture is erected outside The Palace bar in Dublin.


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Birth of Actor Richard Harris

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, director, and writer, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 1, 1930. He is brought up in a middle class and staunchly Roman Catholic family.

Harris is schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent College. He is a talented rugby player, however his athletic career is cut short when he comes down with tuberculosis in his teens. After recovering from tuberculosis, Harris moves to Britain, wanting to become a director. Unable to find any suitable training courses, he enrolls in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) to learn acting.

Harris makes his film debut in 1958 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. Harris’ first starring role is in the film This Sporting Life (1963), as a bitter young coal miner, Frank Machin, who becomes an acclaimed rugby league football player. For his role, Harris wins Best Actor in 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination. He also wins notice for his role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Major Dundee (1965), as an Irish immigrant who becomes a Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War.

Harris performs the role of King Arthur in the film adaptation of the musical play Camelot (1967). He continues to appear on stage in this role for many years, including a successful Broadway run in 1981–1982. In 1970 British exhibitors vote him the 9th most popular star at the UK box office.

Other film performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informant in the coal-mining tale The Molly Maguires (1970), also starring Sean Connery. Harris stars in Cromwell (1970), a film based on the life of Oliver Cromwell who leads the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s.

Harris’ film career collapses after the late 1970s and in the next decade he is rarely seen on screen, although he continues to act on stage. During his career Harris appears in two films which win the Academy Award for Best Picture. First, as the gunfighter “English Bob” in the Western Unforgiven (1992); second, as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator (2000).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002, at the age of 72. He was in a coma in his final three days. Harris’ body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.