seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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).


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.”


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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)