seamus dubhghaill

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


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President Mary Robinson Meets Queen Elizabeth II

robinson-elizabeth-visit-1993Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, becomes the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch when she visits Queen Elizabeth II on May 27, 1993.

For much of the 20th century, relations between Ireland and its nearest neighbour are cool. Temperatures drop significantly over the economic war in the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality in World War II. The sense of unfinished business permeates diplomacy during the Troubles, but by 1990 there is significant warmth in trade, tourism, business and even politics.

The newly elected Robinson makes a big play of reaching out to Irish emigrants and sees the opportunity to help Anglo-Irish relations. And so, on her 49th birthday, she pops in for tea with the British head of state.

None of Robinson’s predecessors had set foot in Britain, other than to change planes. Even when President Patrick Hillery is invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, he is advised by the Government of Ireland to decline the invitation.

But Robinson decides she will not be pushed around, and successfully insists she be allowed to join other heads of state at the opening of a European bank in London. Next she asks the government if she might be able to travel to the University of Cambridge to deliver a speech and receive an honorary degree. It is only after he reluctantly agrees that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey realises that the Chancellor of the University is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Robinson meets the royal, the world remains on its axis, and a precedent is set. “Partly because I’ve never been fazed by royalty of any kind, least of all the British royal family, I felt entirely relaxed,” she recalls in her authorised biography.

Robinson next meets the prince at a memorial service for the victims of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in Warrington, where she is applauded as she leaves the church. Soon, she is meeting royals all over the place, at rugby matches and memorial ceremonies, and in a television interview says that she would like to meet the Queen.

By February 1993, Haughey has been replaced by Albert Reynolds and he grants permission for Robinson to travel for a strictly personal visit. The visit does not happen in a vacuum – Reynolds is in secret discussions with Republicans that would end in the IRA ceasefire – and the Taoiseach is keen not to give any suggestion that this is a State visit, which would require a reciprocal visit.

Robinson’s party arrives at Buckingham Palace at 4:55 PM on May 27 where they are greeted by the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes. Robinson’s staff pushes the Palace to allow press photographers, reckoning that a historic moment should be captured.

Robinson, in an Ib Jorgensen fuchsia suit, later donated to Madame Tussauds waxworks, and her husband Nick are brought up to the first floor to meet the Queen for a friendly and informal tea party that lasts 30 minutes. They sip a blend of Chinese and India tea in Minton cups, exchange signed photographs of themselves, and discuss the prospects for peace. The President also hands over an extra present of a hand-turned wooden cup from Spiddal.

Afterwards, the ground-breaking photographs are taken and published all over the world, including the front page of the Irish Independent. “Palace Talks Prepare Way for State Visit” runs the lead headline over a piece by Bernard Purcell and Gene McKenna. They go on, reporting the President as saying the visit is “symbolic of the maturing relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

In 1996 President Robinson’s 15th visit to Britain is upgraded to an Official Visit, and she leaves office the following year.

Robinson’s successor, Mary McAleese, takes things further, and meets Queen Elizabeth II several times in London and at World War I commemorations on the continent. In May 2011 McAleese welcomes Queen Elizabeth II on her four-day State Visit to Ireland and in April 2014 President Michael D. Higgins makes the first State Visit to the UK.

(Pictured: President Mary Robinson with the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1993. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland | “Flashback 1993: The first Irish head of state meeting with a British monarch” by Ger Siggins, Independent.ie, May 22, 2016)


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Death of Máire Ni Scolai, Singer & Actress

maire-ni-scolaiMáire Ni Scolai, Irish language singer and actress, dies on June 29, 1985.

Ní Scolaí is born in May 24, 1909 in Dublin. She is the daughter of Michael Scully, a commercial traveler and Mary Scully (née Kavanagh). She attends the Central Model Schools, were she learns Irish through the pilot Irish language courses. She studies Irish further at Ring College, County Waterford. She moves to Galway with her sister Mona as a young adult, and begins teaching Irish singing and dancing. With the Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc, she plays a number of leading roles. In Micheál Mac Liammóir‘s 1928 production of Diarmaid agus Gráinne, she plays Gráinne.

Ní Scolaí’s interpretation of traditional Irish songs gains her fame, and she sings many times on 2RN as well as radio in France, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. She trains as a mezzo-soprano and licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, London, and is noted as one of the few people who combines classical music with sean-nós singing successfully. She wins awards at feiseanna such as Feis Chonnacht and Feis Shligigh, later becoming a judge. She is also an award winner at Aonach Tailteann, as well at the Welsh Eisteddfod, the Scottish mòd, the Manx Tynwald, and the Breton Bretagne celebrations. She performs at London’s Covent Garden and Queen’s Hall. She travels around Gaeltacht areas in Ireland to collect and save songs that might have otherwise been lost. The traditional singers she collects from included Cáit Uí Chonláin in Spiddal and Labhras “Binn” Ó Cadhla. HMV records and releases her performances of Seacht ndolas na Maighduine Mhuire, Caoineadh na dtrí Muire, and Eibhlín a Rún.

On September 9, 1931 she marries Liam Ó Buachalla at University Church, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. She dies on June 29, 1985, and is buried in Galway.

(Pictured: Ciarán Mac Mathúna and Máire Ní Scolaí (1976))


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Lord Killanin Becomes President of the International Olympic Committee

Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin, journalist, author, and sports official, becomes the first Irish president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on August 23, 1972.

Morris is born in London on July 30, 1914, the son of Irish Catholic Lt. Col. George Henry Morris who is from Spiddal in County Galway. The Morrises are one of the fourteen families making up the “Tribes of Galway.”

Morris is educated at Summerfields, St. Leonards-on-Sea, Eton College, the Sorbonne in Paris and then Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he is President of the renowned Footlights dramatic club. He succeeds his uncle as Baron Killanin in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1927, which allows him to sit in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster as Lord Killanin upon turning 21. In the mid-1930s, he begins his career as a journalist on Fleet Street, working for the Daily Express, the Daily Sketch and subsequently the Daily Mail.

In November 1938, Lord Killanin is commissioned into the Queen’s Westminsters, a territorial regiment of the British Army, where he is responsible for recruiting fellow journalists, including future The Daily Telegraph editor Bill Deedes, and friends who are musicians and actors. He reaches the rank of major and takes part in the planning of D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy in 1944, acting as brigade major for the 30th Armoured Brigade, part of the 79th Armoured Division. He is appointed, due to the course of operations, a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). After being demobilised, he goes to Ireland. He resigna his TA commission in 1951.

In 1950, Lord Killanin becomes the head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), and becomes his country’s representative in the IOC in 1952. He becomes senior vice-president in 1968, and succeeds Avery Brundage, becoming President-elect at the 73rd IOC Session (August 21–24) held in Munich prior to the 1972 Summer Olympics. He takes office soon after the Games.

During Lord Killanin’s presidency, the Olympic movement experiences a difficult period, dealing with the financial flop of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the boycotts of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Denver, originally selected to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, withdraws and has to be replaced by Innsbruck. The cities of Lake Placid, New York and Los Angeles are chosen for 1980 Winter Olympics and 1984 Summer Olympics by default due to a lack of competing bids. He resigns just before the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and his position is taken over by Juan Antonio Samaranch. He is later unanimously elected Honorary Life President.

Lord Killanin serves as Honorary Consul-General of Monaco in Ireland from 1961 to 1984 and as Chairman of the Race Committee for Galway Racecourse from 1970 to 1985. A keen horse racing enthusiast, he also serves as a steward of the Irish Turf Club on two occasions and on the National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. In his business life Lord Killanin is a director of many companies including Irish Shell, Ulster Bank, Beamish & Crawford and Chubb Ireland. He is a founder member of An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) and is chairman of the National Monuments Advisory Council until his death.

Lord Killanin dies at his home in Dublin on April 25, 1999 at the age of 84 and, following a bilingual funeral Mass at St. Enda’s Church in Spiddal, County Galway, he is buried in the family vault in the New Cemetery, Galway.

(Pictured: Lord Killanin by Bert Verhoeff / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)