seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Feargal Sharkey, Singer & Music Industry Executive

Seán Feargal Sharkey, a singer from Northern Ireland most widely known as the lead vocalist of punk rock band The Undertones in the 1970s and 1980s, and for solo works in the 1980s and 1990s, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on August 13, 1958.

Sharkey joins The Undertones shortly after their formation in 1975. They have several UK hits, with songs such as “Teenage Kicks,” “Here Comes the Summer,” “My Perfect Cousin,” “Wednesday Week” and “It’s Going to Happen!” The band splits in 1983 citing musical differences, with Sharkey pursuing a solo career and other members of the band forming That Petrol Emotion the following year.

Before his solo career takes off, Sharkey is also the singer of the one-shot group The Assembly with ex-Yazoo and Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke (pre-Erasure). In 1983 their single “Never Never” is a No. 4 hit in the UK Singles Chart.

Sharkey’s debut single is a collaboration with Madness member Cathal Smyth titled “Listen to Your Father.” The single is released on Madness’s label Zarjazz in 1984, reaching No. 23 in the UK chart. The track is performed on Top of the Pops with members of Madness.

Sharkey’s solo work is significantly different from the post-punk offerings of The Undertones. His best-known solo material is the 1985 UK chart-topping single penned by Lone Justice frontwoman Maria McKee, “A Good Heart,” which goes to No. 1 in several countries including the UK in late 1985. He also has a UK Top 5 hit in 1986 with “You Little Thief.” His eponymous debut album reaches No. 12 in the UK Albums Chart.

Following on from his second album Wish in 1988, Sharkey achieves further success in 1991 with his UK Top 30 album Songs From The Mardi Gras, which produces the No. 12 hit single “I’ve Got News for You.”

Starting in the early 1990s Sharkey moves into the business side of the music industry, initially as A&R for Polydor Records, and then as managing director of EXP Ltd. He is appointed a member of the Radio Authority for five years from December 1998 to December 2003.

When the Undertones reunite in 1999, Sharkey is offered the opportunity to rejoin the group but turns down the offer. His position as lead vocalist/frontman for the Undertones is taken by fellow Derry native Paul McLoone, who is also a radio presenter for the Irish national and independent radio station, Today FM.

Sharkey becomes chairman of the UK Government task force the ‘Live Music Forum’ in 2004, to evaluate the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on the performance of live music, and gives public evidence before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on November 11, 2008.

In 2008, Sharkey is appointed as the CEO of British Music Rights, replacing Emma Pike. In October 2008, he becomes head of UK Music, an umbrella organisation representing the collective interests of the UK’s commercial music industry. He has become prominent in criticising the use of Form 696 by the Metropolitan Police requiring event promoters to provide data on performers and audiences. He resigns from UK Music on November 11, 2011.

In 2011 Sharkey makes a one-off appearance in a set named Erasure + Special Guests singing “Never Never.” He states that he has not sung live for 20 years and that Vince Clarke is the only person he would have returned for.

Sharkey appears on BBC Radio Newcastle, interviewed by Simon Logan on the afternoon show on August 7, 2013. He speaks about his career and his decision to retire from the stage. “I’ve had an absolutely brilliant career… It’s time to get off the stage and make room for [new artists].”

Sharkey is awarded the “Scott Piering Award” by the radio industry in 2004, the “Bottle Award” at the International Live Music Conference in 2006, and an Honorary “Doctor of Arts” by the University of Hertfordshire in 2008. In 2009 he enters The Guardian‘s MediaGuardian 100 at number 56. In 2010 he appears in Wired‘s The Wired 100 at number 45. The same year he receives a Doctor of Letters honoris causa from the University of Ulster in recognition of his services to music.

Sharkey is appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to music.


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Birth of Justice Catherine McGuinness

Catherine McGuinness (née Ellis), retired Irish judge, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 14, 1934. She serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland from 2000 to 2006, a Judge of the High Court from 1996 to 2000, a Judge of the Circuit Court from 1994 to 1996 and a Senator for the University of Dublin from 1979 to 1981 and between 1983 and 1987. She is appointed by President Michael D. Higgins to the Council of State from 1988 to 1990 and 2012 to 2019.

McGuinness is President of the Law Reform Commission from 2007 to 2009. In May 2013, she is appointed Chair of the National University of Ireland Galway Governing Authority.

McGuinness is educated in Alexandra College, Trinity College Dublin and the King’s Inns. In the 1960s she works for the Labour Party. She is called to the Irish Bar in 1977 at age 42. In 1989, she is called to the Inner Bar.

In 1979, McGuinness is elected as an independent candidate to Seanad Éireann at a by-election on December 11, 1979 as a Senator for the University of Dublin constituency, following the resignation of Senator Conor Cruise O’Brien, taking her seat in the 14th Seanad. She is re-elected at the 1981 elections to the 15th Seanad, and in 1983 to the 17th Seanad, where she serves until 1987, losing her seat to David Norris. She is appointed to the Council of State on May 2, 1988 by President Patrick Hillery and serves until 1990.

McGuinness is appointed a judge of the Circuit Court in 1994, the first woman to hold that office in Ireland. In 1996, she is appointed to the High Court and remains there until her appointment to the Supreme Court in January 2000.

In November 2005, McGuinness is appointed Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. She is also appointed President of the Law Reform Commission in 2005, and holds that position until 2011.

In April 2009, McGuinness is awarded a “Lord Mayor’s Award” by Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne “for her contribution to the lives of children and families in the city through her pioneering work.” In September 2010, she is named as one of the “People of the Year” for “her pioneering, courageous and long-standing service to Irish society.” In November 2012, she wins the Irish Tatler Hall of Fame Award.

In addition to her judicial career, McGuinness serves on the Employment Equality Agency, Kilkenny Incest Investigation, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the National Council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland and the Irish Universities Quality Board. In June 2011, she becomes patron of the Irish Refugee Council. In November 2011, she is appointed Chairperson of the “Campaign for Children.”

McGuinness has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster, the National University of Ireland, the University of Dublin, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In February 2013, she accepts the Honorary Presidency of Trinity College, Dublin’s Free Legal Advice Centre.

In January 2014, McGuinness is appointed by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, to chair the expert panel to oversee the preparation of reports on the best underground route options to compare with the Grid Link and Grid West high voltage power lines in Ireland. In March 2015, McGuinness receives an Alumni Award from Trinity College Dublin.

McGuinness is married to broadcaster and writer Proinsias Mac Aonghusa from 1954 until his death in 2003 and has three children. She resides in Blackrock, Dublin.


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.


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Birth of Phil Coulter, Songwriter & Producer

phil-coulter

Phil Coulter, musician, songwriter and record producer, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on February 19, 1942. He is one of the most eclectic and accomplished arranger/musicians to emerge from Ireland during the 1960s.

Coulter spends his secondary school years at St. Columb’s College. He later studies music and French at the Queen’s University Belfast. During his time at Queen’s he takes up songwriting, composing the hit Foolin’ Time for the Capitol Showband. His talents are swiftly captured by leading entrepreneur Phil Solomon. Initially working with such showbands as the Cadets and Pacific, he continues to compose for the Capitol Showband and even pens their 1965 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Walking the Streets in the Rain. In the meantime, Coulter works on Solomon’s other acts, including Twinkle, who enjoys a major UK hit with the Coulter-arranged Terry. He also contributes to Them’s song catalogue, with the driving I Can Only Give You Everything.

After leaving the Solomon stable in 1967, Coulter, now based in London, forms a partnership with Bill Martin, which becomes one of the most successful of its era. The duo is particularly known for their ability to produce instantly memorable pop hits, and achieve international fame after penning Sandie Shaw’s 1967 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Puppet on a String. They barely miss repeating that feat the following year with Cliff Richard’s stomping Congratulations.

Coulter subsequently leads his own country to victory in the contest by arranging Dana’s 1970 winner, All Kinds of Everything. That same year, Coulter/Martin are commissioned to write Back Home, the official song for the England national football team, which proves a lengthy UK number 1. As well as his pop outings, which include writing My Boy and an album’s worth of material for Richard Harris, he maintains his connection with the Irish folk scene, via his work with another of Solomon’s acts, The Dubliners. He also produces three albums for the groundbreaking Planxty and works with The Fureys.

During the mid-1970s, Coulter and Martin are called in to assist the Bay City Rollers, and subsequently compose a string of hits for the Scottish teenyboppers, including Remember (Sha-La-La), Shang-a-Lang, Summerlove Sensation, Saturday Night, and All Of Me Loves All Of You. During the same period, they enjoy three Top 10 hits with Kenny and reach the top again in 1976 with Slik’s Forever and Ever. He also produces several records by comedian Billy Connolly, including 1975’s UK number 1 D.I.V.O.R.C.E..

After his partnership with Martin ends in the late 1970s, Coulter specializes in orchestral recordings, which prove hugely successful in Irish communities. Albums such as Classic Tranquillity and Sea Of Tranquillity (both 1984), Words And Music (1989), American Tranquillity (1994), Celtic Horizons (1996), and collaborations with flautist James Galway and Roma Downey, also enjoy major international success, and Coulter is a regular fixture in the upper regions of the U.S. New Age album chart.

Coulter’s production credits during the 1990s include work for Sinéad O’Connor and Boyzone. His lengthy career, as producer, arranger, songwriter and performer, is all the more remarkable for encompassing such contrasting musical areas from folk and orchestral to straightforward Tin Pan Alley pop.

Despite his successes, Coulter suffers several family tragedies. His son is born with Down syndrome and dies at the age of three. The song Scorn Not His Simplicity is written in his memory. His brother also dies tragically in a drowning incident in Ireland, which briefly causes him to retreat from the music business. He records the anthemic Home From The Sea with the Lifeboat Chorus as a tribute.

Coulter has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster (1988), Dublin Institute of Technology (2006), and The Open University (2018).


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Birth of Poet John Harold Hewitt

john-harold-hewittPoet John Harold Hewitt is born in Belfast on October 28, 1907. He is the most significant Belfast poet to emerge prior to the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets that includes Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.

After attending Agnes Street National School, Hewitt attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution from 1919 to 1920 before moving to Methodist College Belfast, where he is a keen cricketer. In 1924, he starts an English degree at Queen’s University Belfast, obtaining a BA in 1930, which he follows by obtaining a teaching qualification from Stranmillis College, Belfast.

From November 1930 to 1957, Hewitt holds positions in the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery. His radical socialist ideals prove unacceptable to the Belfast Unionist establishment and he is passed over for promotion in 1953. Instead in 1957 he moves to Coventry, a city still rebuilding following its devastation during World War II. He is appointed Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum where he works until retirement in 1972.

Hewitt is appointed the first writer-in-residence at Queen’s University Belfast in 1976. His collections includes The Day of the Corncrake (1969) and Out of My Time: Poems 1969 to 1974 (1974). He is also made a Freeman of the City of Belfast in 1983, and is awarded honorary doctorates at the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast.

Hewitt has an active political life, describing himself as “a man of the left,” and is involved in the British Labour Party, the Fabian Society and the Belfast Peace League. He is attracted to the Ulster dissenting tradition and is drawn to a concept of regional identity within the island of Ireland, describing his identity as Ulster, Irish, British and European. He officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) Offices on May Day 1985.

John Hewitt dies in Belfast on June 22, 1987. His life and work are celebrated in two prominent ways – the annual John Hewitt International Summer School and, less conventionally, the John Hewitt Bar and Restaurant, a Belfast pub is named after him. The bar is named after him as he officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which owns the establishment. It is a popular meeting place for local writers, musicians, journalists, students and artists. Both the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and the Belfast Film Festival use the venue to stage events.


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The Islandmagee Witch Trial

islandmagee-witch-trialEight women from Islandmagee, County Antrim, in what is today Northern Ireland, are imprisoned and pilloried on March 31, 1711 for “bewitching” a woman named Mary Dunbar, who has experienced strange fits and visions. The Islandmagee witch trial takes place in 1710–1711 on Islandmagee and is believed to be the last witch trial to take place in Ireland.

In March 1711, in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, eight women are put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft. The women are put in stocks and then jailed for one year. The trial is the result of a claim by Mrs. James Haltridge that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, throwing Bibles, going into fits every time a clergyman came near her and vomiting household items such as pins, buttons, nails, glass and wool.” Assisted by local authorities, Dunbar picks out eight women she claims are witches that have attacked her in spectral form.

During the trial, Mary Dunbar is dumb and unable to give evidence. Evidence is given by twenty individuals, of whom four are clergymen of the Presbyterian church. The trial lasts from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM. For the accused, it is said they are industrious, attend public worship, some having latterly received the sacrament. Judge Upton says, “real witches could not assume or retain the form of religion by frequenting worship. The jury should not find them guilty on the sole testimony of the visionary images of the afflicted person.” Judge Macartney believes they might, from the evidence, bring them in guilty and they do.

According to Andrew Sneddon, history lecturer at University of Ulster, “Mary Dunbar was making up the whole thing.” Sneddon writes that “Mary Dunbar learned the part of a demoniac from accounts about Salem or Scotland, or someone told her about it. Remember, this was a time when people were pouring in from Scotland.”

Records of what happened to Mary Dunbar or those convicted of witchcraft are apparently lost when the Public Records Office in question is burned down in June 1922 during the Battle of Dublin in the Irish Civil War.

A memorial to the eight women convicted is proposed by the author Martina Devlin. However the memorial is objected to by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) councillor Jack McKee who believes the plaque could become a “shrine to paganism” and furthermore states that he is not convinced the women were not guilty and that he believes the proposal to be “anti-god.”


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Birth of Frank McGuinness, Playwright & Poet

Frank McGuinness, award-winning Irish playwright and poet, is born in Buncrana, a town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal on July 29, 1953. As well as his own works, which include The Factory Girls, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and Dolly West’s Kitchen, he is recognised for a “strong record of adapting literary classics, having translated the plays of Jean Racine, Sophocles, Henrik Ibsen, Federico García Lorca, and August Strindberg to critical acclaim.”

McGuinness is educated locally and at University College Dublin, where he studies Pure English and medieval studies to postgraduate level.

He first comes to prominence with his play The Factory Girls, but establishes his reputation with his play about World War I, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which is staged in Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and internationally. The play makes a name for him when it is performed at Hampstead Theatre, drawing comments about McGuinness’s Irish Catholic background. It wins numerous awards including the London Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright for McGuinness and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. He has also written new versions of classic dramas, including works by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and Euripides, adapting the literal translations of others. In addition, he writes the screenplay for the film Dancing at Lughnasa, adapting the stage play by fellow Ulsterman Brian Friel.

McGuinness’s first poetry anthology, Booterstown, is published in 1994. Several of his poems have been recorded by Marianne Faithfull, including Electra, After the Ceasefire and The Wedding.

McGuinness previously lectured in Linguistics and Drama at the University of Ulster, Medieval Studies at University College, Dublin and English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Then he is a writer-in-residence lecturing at University College Dublin before being appointed Professor of Creative Writing in the School of English, Drama and Film there in 2007.


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Kidnapping of Writer Brian Keenan

Irish writer Brian Keenan is taken hostage in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 11, 1986.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time include Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid-1980s Keenan returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by Islamic Jihad. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by his hands and feet when taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both British and Irish passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap the government also provides support to Keenan’s two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release.

Keenan is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since being released 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city. He now lives in Dublin.

(Pictured: Brian Keenan arrives at Dublin Airport after his release from captivity in Beirut in August 1990)