seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Central Hotel Fire

A fire breaks out at the Central Hotel at the seaside resort of Bundoran, County Donegal, on August 8, 1980, killing ten people including both locals and holiday makers.

Just after midnight on Friday, August 8, 1980, a call is made to the emergency services after a fire has been discovered in a small corridor to the back of the main bar, and spreading towards the main staircase used by the hotel’s guests. The fire breaks out at the height of the summer season, with sixty guests, mainly couples and families, booked in on the night, while a function is also taking place in the main dance hall of the hotel.

Initially, the town’s own fire brigade is dispatched, and is to be aided by other units from across the northwest including Ballyshannon, Donegal, Killybegs, Letterkenny and Manorhamilton. As panic spreads throughout the town, many locals and holiday makers rush to the hotel in an effort to rescue some of those who have been trapped inside, with people jumping from the upper floors of the building into blankets held by those below.

The fire spreads rapidly and burns so intensely that cars parked on the street outside burst into flames. Ambulances are sent from Ballyshannon and Sligo to bring the many injured to hospital, while the fire brigade fights the blaze throughout the night.

The fire brigade and Garda forensic experts launch an investigation into the blaze, as the remains of the hotel smoulder for several days afterwards. The fire kills five adults and five children, including the entire Brennan family from Naas, County Kildare, while the body of a Belfast baby, Nicola Lamont, is never found in the rubble.

Despite calls from the victims’ families and Dáil Éireann debates for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fire, similar to that held after the Stardust fire several months later, none is ever held. Calls for an investigation are made again in 2002, when Fine Gael Senator Jim Higgins calls for the Garda handling of the fire to be investigated as part of the Morris Tribunal, an enquiry into police corruption in County Donegal. Higgins says that the fire warrants inclusion in the tribunal’s work as claims had been made by the owner of the hotel that Gardaí had tampered with the evidence. However, the terms of reference are not extended to include the fire.

The tragedy is covered as part of the RTÉ television series Disaster in the summer of 2007.

At the time of the tragedy, it is one of the worst fires in Irish history. The Bundoran fire is not commemorated physically for a long time, although in the aftermath of the RTÉ programme the town council votes in favour of a memorial plaque to the ten victims. There is reluctance to place a plaque on the site of the fire from both councillors and members of the new hotel’s board. The site of the Central Hotel lay vacant for several years, but is now occupied by the Grand Central Hotel and Apartments.

However, on Sunday, August 8, 2010, a memorial to those who died in the hotel fire is unveiled in the town, exactly 30 years after the tragedy. Families and relatives of the victims attend prayer services in two churches and an unveiling of the memorial bench with the names of the victims inscribed on it.

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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.


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Birth of George Sigerson, Physician & Writer

george-sigersonGeorge Sigerson, Irish physician, scientist, writer, politician, and poet, is born at Holy Hill, near Strabane in County Tyrone on January 11, 1836. He is a leading light in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century in Ireland.

Sigerson is the son of William and Nancy (née Neilson) Sigerson and has three brothers, James, John and William, and three sisters, Ellen, Jane, and Mary Ann. He attends Letterkenny Academy but is sent by his father, who developed the spade mill and who played an active role in the development of Artigarvan, to complete his education in France.

He studies medicine at the Queen’s College, Galway, and Queen’s College, Cork, and takes his degree in 1859. He then goes to Paris where he spends some time studying under Jean-Martin Charcot and Duchenne de Boulogne. Sigmund Freud is one of his fellow students.

Sigerson returns to Ireland and opens a practice in Dublin, specializing in neurology. He continues to visit France annually to study under Charcot. His patients included Maud Gonne, Austin Clarke, and Nora Barnacle. He lectures on medicine at the Catholic University of Ireland and is professor of zoology and later botany at the University College Dublin.

His first book, The Poets and Poetry of Munster, appears in 1860. He is actively involved in political journalism for many years, writing for The Nation. Sigerson and his wife Hester are by now among the dominant figures of the Gaelic Revival. They frequently hold Sunday evening salons at their Dublin home to which artists, intellectuals, and rebels alike attend, including John O’Leary, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Roger Casement, and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh. Sigerson is a co-founder of the Feis Ceoil and President of the National Literary Society from 1893 until his death. His daughter, Dora, is a poet who is also involved in the Irish literary revival.

Nominated to the first Seanad Éireann of the Irish Free State, Sigerson briefly serves as the first chairman on December 11-12, 1922 before the election of James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy. Sigerson dies at his home at 3 Clare Street, Dublin, on February 17, 1925, at the age of 89, after a short illness. On February 18, 1925, the day after his death, the Seanad Éireann pays tribute to him.

The Sigerson Cup, the top division of third level Gaelic football competition in Ireland is named in his honour. Sigerson donates the salary from his post at UCD so that a trophy can be purchased for the competition. In 2009, he is named in the Sunday Tribune‘s list of the “125 Most Influential People In GAA History.” The cup is first presented in 1911, with the inaugural winners being UCD GAA.


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Birth of Irish Playwright Brian Patrick Friel

brian-patrick-frielBrian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer, and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, is born on January 9, 1929, at Knockmoyle, near Omagh, County Tyrone. Prior to his death, he had been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, and referred to as an “Irish Chekhov” and “the universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared favourably to those of contemporaries such as Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, and Tennessee Williams.

Friel is the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and councillor on Londonderry Corporation, the local city council in Derry. Friel’s mother, Mary McLoone, is postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal. The family moves to Derry when Friel is ten years old. There, he attends St. Columb’s College, the same school attended by Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Seamus Deane, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann, and Paul Brady.

Friel receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48), and qualifies as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Training College in Belfast. He marries Anne Morrison in 1954, with whom he has four daughters and one son. Between 1950 and 1960, he works as a math teacher in the Derry primary and intermediate school system, taking leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer, living off his savings. In the late 1960s, the Friels move from 13 Malborough Street, Derry to Muff, County Donegal, eventually settling outside Greencastle, County Donegal.

Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a more than half-century spanning career that culminates in his election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly featured on Broadway throughout this time. In 1980, Friel co-founds Field Day Theatre Company and his play Translations is the company’s first production. With Field Day, Friel collaborates with Seamus Heaney, 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney and Friel first become friends after Friel sends the young poet a letter following the publication of Death of a Naturalist.

Friel is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature, and the Irish Academy of Letters. He is appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and serves until 1989. In later years, Dancing at Lughnasa reinvigorates Friel’s oeuvre, bringing him Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It is also adapted into a film, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by Frank McGuinness.

After a long illness Friel dies at the age of 86 in the early morning of Friday, October 2, 2015 in Greencastle, County Donegal.


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Establishment of the Irish Free State

free-state-executive-councilThe Irish Free State (Irish: Saorstát Éireann), an independent state established under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921, comes into being on December 6, 1922. The treaty ends the three-year Irish War of Independence between the forces of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and British Crown forces.

The Free State is established as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations. For one day, it encompasses all thirty-two counties of Ireland. Northern Ireland, which is comprised of the six northernmost counties, exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the new state on December 7.

The Free State government consists of the Governor-General, the representative of the king, and the Executive Council, which replaces both the revolutionary Dáil Government and the Provisional Government set up under the Treaty. W. T. Cosgrave, who had led both of these governments since August 1922, becomes the first President of the Executive Council. The legislature consists of Dáil Éireann, the lower house, and Seanad Éireann, also known as the Senate. Members of the Dáil are required to take an Oath of Allegiance, swearing fidelity to the king. The oath is a key issue for opponents of the Treaty, who refuse to take the oath and therefore do not take their seats. Pro-Treaty members, who form Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, hold an effective majority in the Dáil from 1922 to 1927, and thereafter rule as a minority government until 1932.

In the first months of the Free State, the Irish Civil War is waged between the newly established National Army and the anti-Treaty IRA, who refuse to recognise the state. The Civil War ends in victory for the government forces, with the anti-Treaty forces dumping its arms in May 1923. The anti-Treaty political party, Sinn Féin, refuses to take its seats in the Dáil, leaving the relatively small Labour Party as the only opposition party. In 1926, when Sinn Féin president Éamon de Valera fails to have this policy reversed, he resigns from Sinn Féin and founds Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil enters the Dáil following the 1927 general election, and enters government after the Irish general election of 1932, when it becomes the largest party.

De Valera abolishes the Oath of Allegiance and embarks on an economic war with Britain. In 1937 he drafts a new constitution, which is passed by a referendum in July of that year. The Free State comes to an end with the coming into force of the new constitution on December 29, 1937. Under the new constitution the Irish state is named Ireland.

(Pictured: The Executive Council of the Irish Free State, October 1928)


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The Remembrance Day Bombing

remembrance-day-bombingThe Remembrance Day bombing, also known as the Enniskillen bombing or Poppy Day massacre, takes place on November 8, 1987 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes near the town’s war memorial during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, which is being held to commemorate British military war dead. Eleven people, many of them old age pensioners, are killed and 63 are injured.

The bomb explodes as a parade of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers is making its way to the memorial and as people wait for the ceremony to begin. It blows out the wall of the Reading Rooms, where many of the victims are standing, burying them under rubble and hurling masonry towards the gathered crowd. Bystanders rush to free those trapped in the rubble.

Eleven people, all Protestant, are killed by the Provisional IRA that day, including three married couples. The dead are Wesley and Bertha Armstrong, Kitchener and Jessie Johnston, William and Agnes Mullan, John Megaw, Georgina Quinton, Marie Wilson, Samuel Gault, and Edward Armstrong. Armstrong is a serving Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer and Gault has recently left the force. Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie dies in the blast and who is himself injured, goes on to become a peace campaigner and member of Seanad Éireann. The twelfth fatality, Ronnie Hill, dies after spending 13 years in a coma. Sixty-three people are injured, including thirteen children. Ulster Unionist politicians Sam Foster and Jim Dixon are among the crowd. Dixon receives extensive head injuries but recovers. A local businessman captures the immediate aftermath of the bombing on video camera. His footage, showing the effects of the bombing, is broadcast on international television.

A few hours after the blast, the IRA calls a radio station and says it has abandoned a 150-pound bomb in Tullyhommon, twenty miles away, after it failed to detonate. That morning, a Remembrance Sunday parade, which includes many members of the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, has unwittingly gathered near the Tullyhommon bomb. Soldiers and RUC officers were also there, and the IRA says it attempted to trigger the bomb when soldiers were standing beside it. The bomb is defused by security forces and is found to have a command wire leading to a “firing point” across the border.

The IRA apologises, saying it had made a mistake and that the target had been the UDR soldiers who were parading to the memorial. The bombing leads to an outcry among politicians in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says, “It’s really desecrating the dead and a blot on mankind.” The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Tom King, denounces the “outrage” in the House of Commons, as does the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Lenihan, in Dáil Éireann. Seanad Éireann Senator Maurice Manning speaks of people’s “total revulsion.” It also facilitates the passing of the Extradition Act, which makes it easier to extradite IRA suspects from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom.

The bombing is seen by many Northern Irish Protestants as an attack on them, and loyalist paramilitaries ″retaliate″ with attacks on Catholic civilians. The day after the bombing, five Catholic teenagers are wounded in a shooting in Belfast, and a Protestant teenager is killed by the Ulster Defence Association after being mistaken for a Catholic. In the week after the bombing, there are fourteen gun and bomb attacks on Catholics in Belfast.

The Remembrance Day bombing has been described as a turning point in the Troubles and an incident that shook the IRA “to its core.”


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Irish Free State Admitted to League of Nations

league-of-nations-delegationThe Irish Free State is admitted into the League of Nations on September 10, 1923.

In 1922, Éamon de Valera speaks at a League of Nations meeting and is critical of Article 10 of the League Covenant which preserves the existing of territorial integrity of member states. This article prevents Ireland from gaining membership in the League of Nations, because it is a territory of the United Kingdom, who is a member state. However, it does not clarify what rights dominion states have and if they can have their own seat. This means that when the Constitution of the Irish Free State goes into effect, the Irish government does not know what type of role it can play in the League of Nations and if, at that point, it is possible to become a member. The League of Nations final decision is that Ireland can not become a member until it’s constitution is officially enacted and it officially becomes a free state.

The Constitution of the Irish Free State is enacted on December 6, 1922, and is recognized as an official international instrument. This allows Ireland to submit an application for entry into the League of Nations.

The applications process goes smoothly until the spring of 1923 when the Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, complains that only Dáil Éireann, the lower house, has approved the application. A previous decision has made the application an Executive Council decision, and under the Provisional Government, the Seanad has approved the application process. With this approval, the Executive Council continues the application process, however, the new Seanad is upset about their lack of input. This problem is settled when the Attorney-General creates the League of Nations (Guarantee) Bill, which gives both Houses an opportunity to discuss and approve the application.

With this approval in September, Ireland is admitted as a full and equal member to the League of Nations on September 10, 1923, giving it access to the rest of the world. This membership means that Ireland now has representatives in one place, who can meet with other representatives, instead of sending delegates to each country. One location not only saves time, but money. Early Irish foreign policy is driven by the need to stress the country’s legal status as a platform from which to pursue a fuller foreign policy. With admission to the League of Nations this is now possible. Ireland’s acceptance into the League of Nations helps create legitimacy for the new nation.

(Pictured: Irish Delegation to the League of Nations, 1923)