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


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”

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Assassination of Senator Billy Fox

senator-billy-foxBilly Fox, Protestant Irish politician and a Fine Gael member of Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1973, and of Seanad Éireann from 1973 until his death, is assassinated on March 12, 1974 by Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen who are carrying out a raid on his girlfriend’s farmhouse. Five members of the Provisional IRA are convicted of involvement in his murder.

Late on the night of Monday, March 11, 1974, about a dozen gunmen arrive at the home of Fox’s girlfriend, Marjorie Coulson. She lives there with her parents and brother, and Fox regularly visits on Monday evenings. The farmhouse is in the rural townland of Tircooney in County Monaghan, near the border with Northern Ireland. The gunmen search the farmhouse and demand the occupants hand over weapons. Shortly after midnight, as this is taking place, Fox drives down the laneway and is stopped by some of the gunmen who are outside. He runs, but is shot and killed by a single gunshot through the upper torso. The gunmen then order everyone out of the house, set it on fire, and escape.

The next day, the Ulster Freedom Fighters claim that it had killed Fox because he had links to the Provisional IRA. The IRA issues a statement saying that it is not involved. However, shortly after the shooting, five men from County Monaghan are charged with Fox’s murder and IRA membership. They are convicted in May 1974 and sentenced to penal servitude for life. One of those convicted tells the court they had raided the farm because they received a tip-off that Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) weapons were being stored there. He says there was an agreement that no shots were to be fired. His understanding is that Fox had taken some of the men by surprise and they had shot to wound, not recognizing him.

It is reported that the tip-off had come from another local family and was the result of a grudge. IRA members are already suspicious that the UVF is receiving local help, following an incident in November 1973. Loyalist gunmen had bombed a house at nearby Legnakelly and shot one of the occupants, a republican activist. In its statement on Fox’s killing, the IRA says, “We have repeatedly drawn attention to the murderous acts of a group of former B Specials from County Fermanagh…led by serving officers of the British Army.” The author, Tim Pat Coogan, however, suggests that members of the Official IRA are responsible for killing Fox.

The Seanad adjourns for a week as a mark of respect. About 500 people attend Fox’s funeral at Aughnamullen, including Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the Irish president, Erskine Childers. Fox is the first member of the Oireachtas to be killed since Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins by the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army in 1927. When John Bruton first becomes a Teachta Dála (TD) in 1969 he shares an office with Fox. He says that he is still angry at the murder. The RTÉ documentary Rumours from Monaghan report in detail on the circumstances of Fox’s killing. Because Fox is a Protestant, some suggest that the motive for the killing was sectarian.

One of those convicted for Fox’s killing, Sean Kinsella, later escapes from Portlaoise Prison. He is later convicted of arms offences and attempted murder in England. He is released by the Irish government under the Good Friday Agreement.

The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Aughnamullen is named in his memory.


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Bill Whelan Receives IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award

bill-whelanTaoiseach Bertie Ahern presents Irish composer and musician Bill Whelan with the IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award at Dublin Castle on March 2, 2001. Such big names as The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Jean Butler, Jim Sheridan, Paul McGuinness and Moya Doherty join him to celebrate the award.

Whelan is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, is a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that becomes a full-length stage production and spawns a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music and also wins him a Grammy Award. It is released as a single in the United Kingdom in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995. He also composes a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.

Whelan is a native of Limerick and is educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, he has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album), Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton’s Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of William Butler Yeats‘s plays for Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and his film credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother’s Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.


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Birth of Daniel Corkery, Writer & Academic

daniel-corkeryDaniel Corkery, Irish politician, writer and academic, is born in Cork, County Cork on February 14, 1878. He is unquestionably best known as the author of The Hidden Ireland, his 1924 study of the poetry of eighteenth-century Irish Language poets in Munster.

Corkery is educated at the Presentation Brothers and St. Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin where he trains as a teacher. He teaches at Saint Patrick’s School in Cork but resigns in 1921 when he is refused the headmastership. Among his students are the writer Frank O’Connor and the sculptor Seamus Murphy.

After leaving St. Patrick’s, Corkery teaches art for the local technical education committee, before becoming inspector of Irish in 1925, and later Professor of English at University College Cork in 1930. Among his students in UCC are Seán Ó Faoláin and Seán Ó Tuama. He is often a controversial figure in academia for his “nativist” views on Irish literature, views which result in conflict with many Irish Language scholars, most notably Pádraig de Brún and his niece Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Ó Tuama, however, is frequently a staunch defender of Corkery’s reputation.

In his late twenties Corkery learns Irish and this brings him into contact with leading members of the Irish Language revival movement, including Terence MacSwiney, T. C. Murray and Con O’Leary, with whom he founds the Cork Dramatic Society in 1908. His plays Embers and The Hermit and the King are performed by the society. Later plays are staged at the famous Abbey Theatre, including The Labour Leader (1919) and The Yellow Bittern (1920).

Corkery is also a writer of short stories, including the collections A Munster Twilight (1916), The Hounds of Banba (1920), The Stormy Hills (1929), and Earth Out of Earth (1939), and a novel, The Threshold of Quiet (1917).

Corkery also writes non-fiction works, including The Hidden Ireland (1924), a highly influential work about the riches of eighteenth-century Irish poetry. In this he attempts to reconstruct a worldview preserved by Gaelic poets amongst the poor and oppressed Catholic peasantry of the Penal Laws era, virtually invisible in the Anglo-Irish tradition that has dominated the writing of Irish history. “An instant, influential classic,” writes Patrick Walsh, “its version of the past provided powerful cultural underpinning to the traditional nationalist history that became, in the 1930s, the educational orthodoxy of the new state.”

Corkery serves as a member of Seanad Éireann from 1951 to 1954 when he is nominated by the Taoiseach.

Daniel Corkery dies on December 31, 1964. His papers are held in the Boole Library of University College Cork.


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Irish Phone Tapping Scandal

bruce-arnold-geraldine-kennedyThe Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, reveals on January 20, 1983 that the previous Fianna Fáil administration has been involved in tapping the phones of journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold.

On December 18, 1982, The Irish Times security correspondent Peter Murtagh breaks the news that the telephone of Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy have been tapped officially with warrants signed by former Minister for Justice Seán Doherty. This is revealed after the November 1982 elections which the outgoing government had lost.

Incoming Minister for Justice Michael Noonan orders an investigation and on January 20, 1983 announcs findings that the previous Fianna Fáil government had authorised illegal phone tapping of the journalists Geraldine Kennedy, Bruce Arnold and Vincent Browne. The phone tapping warrants are initiated by Séan Doherty while serving as Minister for Justice in discussion with Deputy Garda Commissioner Joseph Ainsworth. Normally phone tapping is used to investigate serious crime or threats to the security of the state but the reverse happens in this case, Minister Noonan announces.

The phone of Bruce Arnold is tapped from May 10 to July 12, 1982. The application is stated to be for security purposes, with a departmental record claiming he is “anti-national.”

The phone of Geraldine Kennedy is tapped from July 28 to November 16, 1982 with a renewal on October 27 on the grounds that it is “yielding results.” For the tap on Kennedys’ phone a new category of “national security” is created for the warrant.

The incoming cabinet meets on January 18-19, 1983 and an initial draft of a decision expresses loss of confidence in Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Joseph Ainsworth and that they consider removing them from office, though this is removed from the final draft. On January 20, 1983 the cabinet meets again and notes the intentions of both Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to retire.

Deputy Garda Commissioner Lawrence Wren finds that neither Bruce Arnold or Geraldine Kennedy have been connected with criminal or subversive activities or people involved with same, that the request for the warrants had not come from the Gardaí but from then minister Séan Doherty and that copies of the recordings had been supplied to minister Doherty.

Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold sue and win for the phone tapping and Vincent Browne settles out of court for earlier phone tapping.

Nearly a decade after the scandal broke, Seán Doherty announces at a press conference that he had shown transcripts of recordings to Charles Haughey in 1982 while the latter was still Taoiseach. Until the press conference, Doherty had denied this. This leads to Haughey’s resignation as Taoiseach.

(Pictured: Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy leaving the High Court after the judgment awarding them £20,000)


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Birth of Edward Pakenham, 6th Earl of Longford

Francis Pakenham, 7th Earl of LongfordEdward Arthur Henry Pakenham, 6th Earl of Longford and an Irish peer, politician, and littérateur, is born on December 29, 1902. Also known as Eamon de Longphort, he is a member of the fifth Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, in the 1940s.

Pakenham is the elder son of Thomas Pakenham, 5th Earl of Longford and Mary, Countess of Longford, née Child-Villiers. He is the only one of the Pakenham children on whom his mother dotes, apparently because he is to succeed to the earldom on his father’s death and because he is always in delicate health.

As a pupil at Eton College, where he twice received the Wilder Divinity Prize, Pakenham succeeds to the earldom when his father is killed in action at the Battle of Gallipoli on August 21, 1915. He is an Irish Nationalist since his days at Eton, taking inspiration from the Easter Rising in 1916 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. He learned Irish and adopted the name Eamon de Longphort.

Pakenham becomes an undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford and meets his future wife, Christine Patti Trew, an Oxford “undergraduette.” They are married on July 18, 1925. His political views make him unpopular at both Eton and Christ Church, where he is famously put in “Mercury,” the pond containing a statue of Mercury in Tom Quad.

Pakenham becomes Chairman of the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1930 and continues to work for the theatre until 1936, when he founds the Longford Players. His plays include Ascendancy, The Melians, The Vineyard, and Yahoo. An excellent linguist and Classical scholar, he translates Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Le Malade Imaginaire, L’école des femmes, Tartuffe, Le Barbier de Séville, Agamemnon and Oedipus Rex and adapts the novella Carmilla for the stage.

Pakenham also has several volumes of poetry published, some at the expense of his mother when he is still at Eton, but he is not considered to have been a very good poet.

Pakenham is an Anglo-Catholic who never leaves the Church of Ireland. On November 13, 1946 he is nominated by the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, as a member of 5th Seanad Éireann, filling a vacancy caused by the death of Professor William Magennis. He is not re-appointed to the 6th Seanad.

Pakenham often collaborates with his wife with whom he is also responsible for redecorating Pakenham Hall, now Tullynally Castle, in Chinese style. Pakenham Hall is often the scene of gatherings of Oxford-educated intellectuals such as John Betjeman, Evelyn Waugh, and Maurice Bowra.

Edward Pakenham dies without issue on February 4, 1961, and is succeeded by his younger brother Frank. He is buried at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.


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The Downing Street Declaration

major-and-reynoldsTaoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Albert Reynolds, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, sign the Downing Street Declaration (DSD) on December 15, 1993, at the British Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street. The joint declaration stipulates that, if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) stops its campaign for three months, Sinn Féin will be allowed to join all-party talks.

The declaration affirms both the right of the people of Ireland to self-determination, and that Northern Ireland will be transferred to the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom only if a majority of its population is in favour of such a move. It also includes, as part of the prospective of the so-called “Irish dimension,” the principle of consent that the people of the island of Ireland, have the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.

The latter statement, which later becomes one of the points of the Good Friday Agreement, is key to produce a positive change of attitude by the republicans towards a negotiated settlement. The joint declaration also pledges the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promises that parties linked with paramilitaries, such as Sinn Féin, can take part in the talks, so long as they abandon violence.

The declaration, after a meeting between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and American congressman Bruce Morrison, which is followed by a joint statement issued by Adams and John Hume, is considered sufficient by the Provisional Irish Republican Army to announce a ceasefire on August 31, 1994 which is then followed on October 13 by an announcement of a ceasefire from the Combined Loyalist Military Command.

(Pictured: (L to R) John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland)