seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Irish Republican Army Bombings in Central London

regent-street-london-1977At least seven bombs explode in Central London on January 29, 1977. One person is injured. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) later claims responsibility.

Hundreds of police seal off the Oxford Street area as Selfridges department store is set ablaze and one man is injured. The explosions occur over a two-mile area within 50 minutes. The bombs wreck buildings in Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Wardour Street, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and burying a taxi under the rubble, injuring the driver. Another man is trapped in a basement in Selfridges after the blast.

The attacks come less than 72 hours before the IRA commemoration of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Londonderry and, according to the police, bear all the hallmarks of the IRA. The bombs, left in doorways of shops and offices, are similar to those used in fire bomb attacks on the centre of Belfast and Londonderry over the previous four years.

Hundreds of police are drafted into the Oxford Street area within minutes of the first blast, shortly after midnight. Police using sniffer dogs examine hundreds of cars stretched along Oxford Street and residents are warned to evacuate by police and fire officers using bullhorns. Dozens of fire engines respond to the resulting blaze in the huge department store.

A two-mile area around Oxford Street is cordoned off by police road-blocks shortly after the first explosions. Scotland Yard and the Fire Brigade are unable to keep pace with the bombs and fires as news reports flood in.

The first explosions occur in Wardour Street where two bombs blow out the front of a publishing office and a travel agency, hurling glass and furniture into the street. Within 20 minutes, three other bombs explode in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Poland Street and in the side-streets of Soho. The fire brigade simultaneously fights two major fires within a mile of each other, in Selfridges and in a building in Berwick Street, Soho. Debris from the bombs is littered around as bomb squad officers and police patrols begin examining all suspicious cars and packages in the area. Several bomb squad officers are standing within yards of a building when the fourth bomb, fortunately a small one, goes off.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Jock Wilson, joins Bomb Squad officers in a special mobile control unit. A senior police officer says that many of the bombs are crammed through letter-boxes in the business premises. However, the bomb at Selfridges is placed in the basement, police believe, on previous afternoon.

(Pictured: Police cordon off Regent Street following IRA bombs in the West End, London, January 1977. Photograph: ANL/REX/Shutterstock)