seamus dubhghaill

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


1 Comment

The Film Premiere of “Angela’s Ashes”

Despite the controversy over the book, people in Frank McCourt‘s hometown of Limerick turn out in huge numbers to attend the sold-out film premiere of Angela’s Ashes on January 12, 2000. A simultaneous premiere takes place in Dublin.

The 1999 drama film is based on McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, published in 1996. An international co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, it is co-written and directed by Alan Parker, and stars Emily Watson, Robert Carlyle, Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens, and Michael Legge, the latter three playing the young, middle aged, and older Frank McCourt, respectively.

Although set in Limerick, many street scenes are filmed in Cork. For example, the “fleas in the mattress” scene is filmed at Farren Street, Blackpool, and other scenes are shot at Roche’s Buildings, Lower John Street and Barrack Street.

With an estimated $25 million budget, the film grosses only $13,042,112 in the United States, making it a box-office bomb.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 52%, based on reviews from 87 critics, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The site’s consensus states: “In spite of its attempts to accurately record Frank McCourt’s memoirs, the onscreen adaptation fails to capture any of the drama or humor of his life.” On Metacritic, the film has a score of 54 out of 100, based on reviews from 32 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.”

Michael Legge is praised for his portrayal of the adolescent Frank. In particular, he is said to excel in his role as an innocent teenager growing up with typical coming of age rites involving sexuality, maturity and peer pressure in a Catholic Irish setting.

Despite the low approval ratings with the critics, the film captures several awards: Best Picture and Best Costume Design at the Irish Film & Television Awards, Best Director at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Best Original Score from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, and Best Actress (Emily Watson) from the London Film Critics’ Circle.

(Pictured: Film poster for Angela’s Ashes, © Paramount Pictures)


Leave a comment

Founding of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA, Irish: Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann), an Irish republican socialist paramilitary group, is founded at the Spa Hotel in Lucan, Dublin, on December 10, 1974, during the 30-year period of conflict known as “the Troubles.” The group seeks to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and create a socialist republic encompassing all of Ireland. With membership estimated at 80–100 at their peak, it is the paramilitary wing of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), which is founded the same day. The IRSP’s foundation is made public but the INLA’s is kept a secret until the group can operate effectively.

The INLA is founded by former members of the Official Irish Republican Army who oppose that group’s ceasefire. It is initially known as the “People’s Liberation Army” or “People’s Republican Army.” The INLA wages a paramilitary campaign against the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Northern Ireland. It is also active to a lesser extent in the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and Continental Europe. High-profile attacks carried out by the INLA include the Droppin Well bombing (1982), the Shankill Road killings (1994) and the assassinations of Airey Neave (1979) and Billy Wright (1997). However, the INLA is smaller and less active than the main republican paramilitary group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). It is also weakened by feuds and internal tensions. Members of the group use the covernames People’s Liberation Army, People’s Republican Army, and Catholic Reaction Force for attacks its volunteers carry out but for which the INLA does not want to claim responsibility. The INLA becomes a proscribed group in the United Kingdom on July 3, 1979, under the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act.

After a 24-year armed campaign, the INLA declares a ceasefire on August 22, 1998. In August 1999, it states that “There is no political or moral argument to justify a resumption of the campaign.” On October 11, 2009, speaking at the graveside of its founder Seamus Costello in Bray, the INLA formally announces an end to its armed campaign, stating the current political framework allows for the pursuit of its goals through peaceful, democratic means and begins decommissioning its weapons.

The IRSP supports a “No First Strike” policy, that is allowing people to see the perceived failure of the Northern Ireland peace process for themselves without military actions.

The INLA is a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000 and an illegal organisation in the Republic of Ireland.

(Pictured: INLA logo consisting of the Starry Plough and the Flag of Ireland with a red star and a fist holding an AK-47-derivative rifle)


Leave a comment

Birth of Billy O’Callaghan, Short Fiction Writer & Novelist

Billy O’Callaghan, Irish short fiction writer and novelist, is born in Cork, County Cork, on December 9, 1974. He is best known for his short-story collection The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind, which is awarded the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story in 2013 and his widely translated novel My Coney Island Baby, which is shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature‘s Encore Award.

O’Callaghan grows up in the village of Douglas, where he still lives today.

His first collection of short stories, In Exile, is published by Mercier Press in 2008. This is followed a year later by a second collection, In Too Deep, also published by Mercier Press. In 2013, his third collection, The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind, is published by New Island Books. His short stories have been published in literary journals around the world and translated into several other languages. His work has been broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1‘s The Book On One, Sunday Miscellany and the Francis McManus Short Story Award series.

In 2017, the American literary journal Ploughshares publishes O’Callaghan’s story A Death in the Family as a Ploughshares Solo.

O’Callaghan’s first novel, The Dead House, is published in Ireland by Brandon, an imprint of The O’Brien Press, in 2017, and in North America by Arcade Publishing in 2018.

His novel, My Coney Island Baby, is published in 2019, by Jonathan Cape (UK) and Harper (USA), as well as in French by Éditions Grasset as Les amants de Coney Island, translated by Carine Chichereau, Dutch by Ambo Anthos as Mijn lief op Coney Island, translated by Lette Vos, German by btb Verlag as Die Liebenden von Coney Island, translated by Sibylle Schmidt, Czech by Nakladatelství Paseka as Náš Coney Island, translated by Petr Eliáš, Catalan by L’Altra Editorial as Els amants de Coney Island, translated by Ferran Ràfols Gesa, Italian by Guanda Editore as My Coney Island Baby, translated by Ada Arduini, Hungarian by Jelenkor as Szerelmem, Coney Island, translated by Zoltán Pék, and in Turkish by Othello Kitap as Coney Island Bebeğim, translated by Serkan Toy.

A new short story collection, The Boatman and Other Stories, is published in January 2020 by Jonathan Cape (UK) and Harper Perennial (USA).

A new novel, Life Sentences, is published in 2021 by Jonathan Cape (UK) and in Czech by Nakladatelství Paseka as Doživotí, translated by Petr Eliáš, and in 2022 in the United States by David R. Godine.

In November 2013, The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind wins the inaugural Short Story of the Year Award at the 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award. Down by the River is selected in 2014 as Ireland’s representative in the ongoing UNESCO City of Literature project. The Boatman is a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award. In June 2020, My Coney Island Baby is shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award.


Leave a comment

Birth of Lady Louisa Conolly

Lady Louisa Conolly, an English-born Irish noblewoman, is born on December 5, 1743, perhaps at Goodwood House in Westhampnett, Chichester, West Sussex, England. She is the third of the famous Lennox sisters and is notable among them for leading a wholly uncontroversial life filled with good works.

Born Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, she and her sisters are portrayed in Stella Tillyard‘s book Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox and in the BBC television series based on it. The Lennox sisters are the daughters of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and Lady Sarah Cadogan. The 2nd Duke’s father, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, is an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England.

Conolly is still a child when her parents die within a year of each other in 1750 and 1751. After this, she is brought up by her much older sister Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster, in Kildare. In 1758, at age 15, she marries Thomas Conolly (1738–1803), grand-nephew of William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Her husband, a wealthy landowner and keen horseman, is also a successful politician who is elected to Parliament as early as 1759. The couple lives in the Palladian mansion Castletown House in County Kildare, the decoration of which she directs throughout the 1760s and 1770s. The Conolly summer residence, Cliff House, on the banks of the River Erne between Belleek, County Fermanagh, and Ballyshannon, County Donegal, is demolished as part of the Erne Hydroelectric scheme, which constructs the Cliff and Cathaleen’s Fall hydroelectric power stations. Cliff hydroelectric power station is constructed on the site of Cliff House and is commissioned in 1950.

The Conollys, themselves unhappily childless, at that point take up the welfare of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds as a lifelong project, contributing both money and effort towards initiatives which enable foundlings and vagabonds to acquire productive skills and support themselves. They develop one of the first Industrial Schools where boys learn trades, and she takes active personal interest in mentoring the students. In middle age, she also virtually adopts her niece Emily Napier (1783–1863), the daughter of her sister Lady Sarah Lennox. Emily, who spends long months with her aunt in Kildare, marries Sir Henry Bunbury, 7th Baronet, and moves to Suffolk, although she remains close to her aunt until her death.

Thomas Conolly dies on April 27, 1803. Upon his death, a major part of his estates, which includes Wentworth Castle, passes to a distant relative, Frederick Vernon. Conolly receives the Castletown House and estate, as also certain liquid investments and valuable urban properties, which enable her to live in comfort and continue her activities until her own death on August 6, 1821, of an abscess on her hip. She wills these substantial properties to a great-nephew, Edward Michael Pakenham, grandson of Thomas’ sister Harriet, later the MP for Donegal.

In 1999, a 6-part miniseries called Aristocrats, based on the lives of Conolly and her sisters, airs in the UK.

(Pictured: “Lady Louisa Conolly” by George Romney, 1776)


Leave a comment

Death of Paddy O’Byrne, Radio Broadcaster & Actor

Paddy O’Byrne, Irish radio broadcaster and actor who becomes one of the best-known radio personalities in South Africa, dies on December 4, 2013, in Mullingar, County Westmeath.

O’Byrne is born on December 8, 1929, in Killiney, a suburb of Dublin, the son of John O’Byrne, KC, and Marjorie (née McGuire). He attends St. Mary’s College, Dublin, Castleknock College and University College Dublin (UCD), where he earns a degree in Legal and Political Science. In 1952, he is called to the King’s Inns. In 1954, he abandons a legal career in favour of the performing arts, joining the George Mitchell Singers in London but has a “day job” working for an insurance company. During the summer season in Llandudno, Wales, he meets and later marries a singer and dancer from Dublin named Vicky Fitzpatrick. They have three children, Jane, John, and Dominic.

O’Byrne emigrates to the Union of South Africa in 1958. In 1961, he wins a competition called The Voice of South Africa, thereby gaining a contract with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and a new career. As is commonly the case at the time, both among Irish actors abroad as well as many South Africans in the theatre and broadcast media, he uses Received Pronunciation for his professional speaking voice.

In 1980, when the radio station Talk Radio 702 is launched in Johannesburg, O’Byrne is the first announcer heard on it. He also works for Radio Today and Radio Veritas, a Roman Catholic station, in Johannesburg and for Fine Music Radio in Cape Town. He also works for the BBC on Radio 2 and Capital Radio in the United Kingdom, during the 1970s and 1980s.

O’Byrne is also an actor, and narrates five films, while in South Africa. He is one of a series of actors who play the science-fiction character Mark Saxon in the original radio drama No Place to Hide, originally created by South African author Monty Doyle.

O’Byrne and his family move to Mullingar in 2001, but he continues to do broadcasts for Irish classical-music radio station RTÉ lyric fm, and his programmes for Fine Music Radio are recorded there and transmitted to South Africa for broadcast. He retires in 2004.

In 2010, at the MTN Radio Awards Gala, in Johannesburg, O’Byrne is honoured for his contribution to South African broadcasting, being named one of the inaugural inductees into the Radio Hall of Fame.

O’Byrne narrates two movies from The Gods Must Be Crazy film series, as well as Animals Are Beautiful People.

O’Byrne dies in Mullingar at the age of 83 on December 4, 2013.


Leave a comment

The Shankill Butchers First “Cut-Throat Killing”

The Shankill Butchers, an Ulster loyalist gang, undertakes its first “cut-throat killing” on November 25, 1975. Many of the members of the gang are members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) that is active between 1975 and 1982 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The Shankill Butchers gang is based in the Shankill area and is responsible for the deaths of at least 23 people, most of whom are killed in sectarian attacks. The gang is notorious for kidnapping, torturing and murdering random or suspected Catholic civilians. Each victim is beaten ferociously and has their throat hacked with a butcher knife. Some are also tortured and attacked with a hatchet. The gang also kills six Ulster Protestants over personal disputes, and two other Protestants mistaken for Catholics.

The commander of the Shankill Butchers gang is Lenny Murphy. He is the youngest of three sons of Joyce (née Thompson) and William Murphy from the loyalist Shankill Road area of Belfast. At school he is known as a bully and threatens other boys with a knife or with retribution from his two older brothers. Soon after leaving school at 16, he joins the UVF. He often attends the trials of people accused of paramilitary crimes, to become well acquainted with the laws of evidence and police procedure.

On September 28, 1972, Murphy shoots and kills William Edward “Ted” Pavis at the latter’s home in East Belfast. Pavis is a Protestant whom the UVF say has been selling weapons to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Murphy and an accomplice, Mervyn Connor, are arrested shortly afterwards and held on remand in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol. After a visit by police to Connor, fellow inmates suspect that he might cut a deal with the authorities with regard to the Pavis killing. On April 22, 1973, Connor dies by ingesting a large dose of cyanide. Before he dies, he writes a confession to the Pavis murder, reportedly under duress from Murphy. Murphy is brought to trial for the Pavis murder in June 1973. The court hears evidence from two witnesses who had seen Murphy pull the trigger and had later picked him out of an identification parade. The jury acquits him due in part to Murphy’s disruption of the line-up. His freedom is short-lived as he is arrested immediately for a number of escape attempts and imprisoned, then interned, for three years.

In May 1975, Murphy is released from prison. He spends much of his time frequenting pubs on the Shankill Road and assembling a paramilitary team that will enable him to act with some freedom at a remove from the UVF leadership (Brigade Staff). His inner circle consists of two “personal friends.” These are a “Mr. A” and John Murphy, one of Lenny’s brothers, referred to as “Mr. B.” Further down the chain of command are his “sergeants,” William Moore and Bobby “Basher” Bates, a UVF man and former prisoner.

Moore, formerly a worker in a meat-processing factory, had stolen several large knives and meat-cleavers from his old workplace, tools that are later used in more murders. Another prominent figure is Sam McAllister, who uses his physical presence to intimidate others. On October 2, 1975, the gang raids a drinks premises in nearby Millfield. On finding that its four employees, two females and two males, are Catholics, Murphy shoots three of them dead and orders an accomplice to kill the fourth. By now Murphy is using the upper floor of the Brown Bear pub, at the corner of Mountjoy Street and the Shankill Road near his home, as an occasional meeting-place for his unit.

On November 25, 1975, using the city’s sectarian geography to identify likely targets, Murphy roams the areas nearest the Catholic New Lodge in the hope of finding someone likely to be Catholic to abduct. Francis Crossen, a 34-year-old Catholic man and father of two, is walking towards the city centre at approximately 12:40 a.m. when four of the Butchers, in Moore’s taxi, spot him. As the taxi pulls alongside Crossen, Murphy jumps out and hits him with a lug wrench to disorient him. He is dragged into the taxi by Benjamin Edwards and Archie Waller, two of Murphy’s gang. As the taxi returns to the safety of the nearby Shankill area, Crossen suffers a ferocious beating. He is subjected to a high level of violence, including a beer glass being shoved into his head. Murphy repeatedly tells Crossen, “I’m going to kill you, you bastard,” before the taxi stops at an entry off Wimbledon Street. Crossen is dragged into an alleyway and Murphy, brandishing a butcher knife, cuts his throat almost through to the spine. The gang disperses. Crossen, whose body is found the following morning by an elderly woman, is the first of three Catholics to be killed by Murphy in this “horrific and brutal manner.” “Slaughter in back alley” is the headline in the city’s major afternoon newspaper that day. A relative of Crossen says that his family was unable to have an open coffin at his wake because the body was so badly mutilated.

Most of the gang are eventually caught and, in February 1979, receive the longest combined prison sentences in United Kingdom legal history. However, gang leader Lenny Murphy and his two chief “lieutenants” escape prosecution. Murphy is murdered in November 1982 by the Provisional IRA, likely acting with loyalist paramilitaries who perceive him as a threat. The Butchers brought a new level of paramilitary violence to a country already hardened by death and destruction. The judge who oversaw the 1979 trial describes their crimes as “a lasting monument to blind sectarian bigotry.”


Leave a comment

Birth of Novelist Pamela Hinkson

Pamela Hinkson, novelist, is born on November 19, 1900, in Ealing, London, England, the only daughter among five children of Katharine Tynan Hinkson, novelist and poet, and Henry Albert Hinkson, a novelist, barrister, and classical scholar.

Married in 1893, Hinkson’s parents initially settle in England, where he studies law and is called to the Inner Temple in 1902. After suffering the loss of their first two sons in infancy, they have two more sons in addition to their daughter, Pamela. During this time her mother earns the main family income, and it is likely that she determines their return to Ireland in 1911. The Hinksons initially settle in Dalkey, County Dublin, before moving to a house called Clarebeg in Shankill. When Henry Hinkson is appointed resident magistrate for south Mayo (Castlebar) in October 1914, the family moves to Claremorris, County Mayo.

Hinkson is educated privately in England and on the Continent, and in Ireland attends a local convent day-school. She is exposed to her mother’s literary milieu which includes prominent writers of the Irish revival, including George William Russell, James Stephens, and Padraic Colum. Her mother’s memoir, The Years of the Shadow (1919), recalls Pamela’s developing talent for writing poetry and her predilection for war themes, as evidenced by The Blind Soldier, one of her first published poems. By the time she turns her hand to short stories, her earnings from writing enable her to buy the latest fashions.

Two key events that consumed Hinkson’s life and later spark her creativity are World War I and the Easter Rising. H. G. Wells describes in the foreword to his war novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916) a conversation he had with her when she was 12, recalling how she had boldly set him straight on the “Irish question.” Her parents send her away to boarding school in County Wicklow in the hope that she will be distracted from her gloomy preoccupations, which are accentuated by the absence of her brothers, serving in the British Army. After the war she is deeply concerned by the redundancy experienced by demobilised and often maimed soldiers and contributes to the welfare work of the Irish servicemen’s Shamrock Club in London. These issues inform two early novels, The Victors (1925) and Harvest (1926), both written in the guise of an ex-serviceman under the pseudonym “Peter Deane.” By masking her identity, she avoids the possibility of her works being discredited because of her gender and lack of first-hand experience of war. Subsequently she writes under her own name for thirty years.

In contrast to her close relationship with her mother, Hinkson deeply dislikes her father. With the exception of her beloved brother Giles A. Hinckson, a correspondent for The Times in Buenos Aires and Santiago, she never meets a man who matches her high ideals. Though briefly engaged to be married, she is ultimately disillusioned by all men, dismissing them as she had her father. After his death early in 1919, she and her mother are left in financial difficulties, and have to resort to friends and boarding houses for accommodation. Without the financial means to embark on a university degree, she remains at her mother’s side. Though she continues to write, she leads a somewhat stifled life. From 1922 onwards they spend several years on the Continent.

Hinkson’s first novel, The End of All Dreams (1923), addresses the decline of the “big house” amid the revolutionary upheavals of recent Irish history, a theme to which she returns in later works, such as The Deeply Rooted (1935) and her last book, The Lonely Bride (1951). During the 1920s she writes much girls’ school fiction, while her novel Wind from the West (1930) is informed by a period spent in France, where she works as a governess. Her transcription of the memoirs of Lady Fingall (Elizabeth Burke-Plunkett), published under the title Seventy Years Young (1937), illustrates the decline of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. Informed by war and the Irish troubles, her novels characteristically are solemn, and reflect her ambivalent relationship with Ireland. Inspired by the Irish landscape, but never an ardent supporter of Irish independence, she maintains an abiding attachment to England.

The death of Hinkson’s mother in 1931 is a devastating blow that triggers her most forceful and first truly successful novel, The Ladies’ Road (1932). Documenting the lives of the Irish and English ascendancies before, during, and after World War I, this novel, without being explicitly autobiographical, contains many motifs that resonate with her own life story. When published in the United States in 1946 it proves a massive success, selling 100,000 copies in the Penguin Books edition, a rare feat for a World War I novel appearing immediately after World War II. Other notable works are The Light on Ireland (1935) and her sketches of Irish life, Irish Gold (1939), written while she lodges with friends near Lough Derg, County Tipperary.

Hinkson’s visit to India in the late 1930s as a guest of the viceroy, which she recounts in Indian Harvest (1941), results in her appointment to the Ministry of Information in London (1939–45). She lectures on India in the United States during World War II, and also lectures to British troops and local audiences in Germany (1946–47), broadcasts on radio, and contributes to The Observer, The Spectator, New Statesman, The Manchester Guardian, and Time and Tide. Her novel Golden Rose (1944), written in London during The Blitz, romanticises the British colonial presence in India. Forthright in the expression of her numerous strongly held opinions, she argues ardently and controversially for women’s rights, animal welfare, and retention of Northern Ireland in the UK. Devout in her Catholicism, she is none the less critical of certain Catholic precepts.

Hinkson returns to Ireland in 1959 where she suffers poor health for twenty years until her death in Dublin on May 26, 1982.

(From: “Hinkson, Pamela” by Jessica March, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish poet Seán Mac Falls

Irish poet Seán Mac Falls is born on November 18, 1957. Belonging to no group or movement and operating outside of literary fashions, his brand of symbolist poetry can, at first reading, appear difficult. His use of allusion, startling diction and subtle punning display submerged metaphor in his work. The overall effect is a fresh implementation of Imagism.

Mac Falls has written seven books of poetry and several chapbooks. His first collection of poems, 20 Poems (2001), wins praise from Yale University critic Harold Bloom and Oxford University don John Carey, who compares the poet to W. B. Yeats. Several of the poems are Pushcart Prize nominations and are reprinted in eminent magazines in the United States and United Kingdom, including Poet Lore, The Lyric, Agenda, The London Magazine and Stand Magazine.

Mac Falls publishes a second book, entitled The Blue Falcon, in 2005. His latest book of verse is titled Garden Theology (2022).

At the age of fifty, a reflective time in his life, Mac Falls purchases an historic, 100-year-old farm house property on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, overlooking Vancouver Island on the Salish Sea, with a sweeping view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Mount Baker. He is seeking a “Gentle House” with the peace and solitude he seeks in which to write. In the ensuing years he desires to share this experience and, looking ahead, establish an artist residency.

In order to preserve and extend the space that proves so generative, Mac Falls’s gift to the writing community is a place for poets, playwrights, painters, filmmakers and songwriters to co-mingle and create and collaborate.

Mac Falls, in collaboration with the esteemed non-profit Tupelo Press, establishes Gentle House as a retreat and ongoing residency for artists with an original founding gift, the property, cottages and a substantial poetry library. During 2022-23, Gentle House will transition to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary arts organization. Gentle House continues to subsist on the generosity of Mac Falls’s founding gift, supplemented by a fundraising program that began in earnest in 2021, and is growing each year.


Leave a comment

Birth of Neil Hannon, Northern Irish Singer & Songwriter

Edward Neil Anthony Hannon, Northern Irish singer and songwriter, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, on November 7, 1970. He is the creator and front man of the chamber pop group The Divine Comedy, and is the band’s sole constant member. He is the writer of the theme tunes for the television sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd.

Hannon is the son of Brian Hannon, a Church of Ireland minister in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and later Bishop of Clogher. He spends some of his youth in Fivemiletown, County Tyrone, before moving with his family to Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, in 1982. While there he attends Portora Royal School.

Hannon enjoys synthesizer-based music as a youngster. He identifies The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) as “the first music that really excited [him].” In the late 1980s he develops a fondness of the electric guitar, becoming an “indie kid.”

Hannon is founder and mainstay of The Divine Comedy, a band which achieves their biggest commercial success in the last half of the 1990s with the albums Casanova (1996), A Short Album About Love (1997), and Fin de Siècle (1998). He continues to release albums under The Divine Comedy name, the most recent being Office Politics (2019). In 2000 he and Joby Talbot contribute four tracks for Ute Lemper‘s collaboration album, Punishing Kiss.

In 2004 Hannon plays alongside the Ulster Orchestra for the opening event of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2005, he contributes vocals to his long-time collaborator Joby Talbot’s soundtrack for the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In 2006 it is announced that Hannon is to lend his vocal ability to the Doctor Who soundtrack CD release, recording two songs – “Love Don’t Roam” for the 2006 Christmas special, “The Runaway Bride“, and a new version of “Song For Ten”, originally used in 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion.” On January 12, 2007, The Guardian website’s “Media Monkey” diary column reports that Doctor Who fans from the discussion forum on the fan website Outpost Gallifrey are attempting to organise mass downloads of the Hannon-sung “Love Don’t Roam,” which is available as a single release on the UK iTunes Store. This is in order to attempt to exploit the new UK Singles Chart download rules, and get the song featured in the Top 40 releases.

The same year Hannon adds his writing and vocal talents to the Air album Pocket Symphony, released in the United States on March 6, 2007. He is featured on the track “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping,” for which he writes the lyrics. This song had been originally written for and sung by Charlotte Gainsbourg on her album, 5:55. Though it is not included in its 2006 European release, it is added as a bonus track for its American release on April 24, 2007.

Hannon wins the 2007 Choice Music Prize for his 2006 album, Victory for the Comic Muse. He wins the 2015 Legend Award from the Oh Yeah organisation in Belfast.

Hannon is credited with composing the theme music for the sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd, the former theme composed for the show and later reworked into “Songs of Love,” a track on The Divine Comedy’s breakthrough album Casanova. Both shows are created or co-created by Graham Linehan. A new Divine Comedy album, Bang Goes the Knighthood, is released in May 2010.

Hannon has collaborated with Thomas Walsh, from the Irish band Pugwash, to create a cricket-themed pop album under the name The Duckworth Lewis Method. The first single, “The Age of Revolution,” is released in June 2009, and a full-length album is released the following week. The group’s second album, Sticky Wickets, comes out in 2013.

Hannon contributes to a musical version of Swallows and Amazons, writing the music while Helen Edmundson writes the book and lyrics, which premiers in December 2010 at the Bristol Old Vic.

In April 2012 Hannon’s first opera commission, Sevastopol, is performed by the Royal Opera House. It is part of a program called OperaShots, which invites musicians not typically working within the opera medium to create an opera. Sevastopol is based upon Leo Tolstoy‘s Sevastopol Sketches. Hannon’s second opera for which he writes music, In May, premiers in May 2013 in Lancaster and is shown in 2014 with overwhelming success.

The world premiere of “To Our Fathers in Distress,” a piece for organ, is performed on March 22, 2014, in London, at the Royal Festival Hall. It is inspired by Hannon’s father, Rt. Revz. Brian Hannon, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Hannon’s partner is Irish musician Cathy Davey. The couple live in the Dublin area. He is previously married to Orla Little, with whom he has a daughter, Willow Hannon. With Davey, Hannon is a patron of the Irish animal charity My Lovely Horse Rescue, named after the Father Ted Eurovision song for which he wrote the music.

Politically, Hannon describes himself as being “a thoroughly leftie, Guardian-reading chap, but of the champagne socialist variety.”


Leave a comment

The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.