seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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Birth of Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish Stage Actor

Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish stage actor, is born in Birkenhead, England, on December 24, 1891. During his nearly 45 year acting career he tours Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States. For almost 35 years he tours as actor-manager of his own theatrical company performing the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights.

McMaster is born as Andrew McMaster, the son of Liverpool-born Andrew McMaster (1855–1940), a master stevedore, and Alice Maude née Thompson (1865–1895). A number of sources make the erroneous claims, based on details supplied by McMaster himself, that he is born in 1893 or 1894 or even 1895 in County Monaghan in Ireland but, according to the Birth Register and the 1901 United Kingdom Census, he is actually born in 1891 in Birkenhead, England. Like his future brother-in-law Micheál Mac Liammóir, who is born in London as Alfred Willmore but claims to have been born in Cork to Gaelic-speaking parents, McMaster reinvents himself as Irish and claims for himself the town of Monaghan as his birthplace, and Warrenpoint, County Down, as the scene of his earliest memories.

At the age of nineteen McMaster gives up a career in banking to pursue one on the stage. He moves to Ireland and tours the country with the O’Brien-Ireland theatrical company from 1910 to 1914. Success quickly follows with his appearance as Jack O’Hara in Paddy the Next Best Thing at the Savoy Theatre (1920). From 1921 he tours Australia in this and other plays, and in 1925 forms his own company, the McMaster Intimate Theatre Company, a ‘fit-up‘ company to tour in the works of Shakespeare, mainly in Ireland but also in Britain and Australia, touring with his theatrical company until 1959. One of the last actor-managers “of the old school – and an epitome of the type,” on occasions he persuades a ‘big name’ to act with his company as a draw for audiences. Frank Benson (1928), Sara Allgood (1929) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell appear with him.

In 1933 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon McMaster appears as Hamlet opposite Esme Church as Gertrude, Coriolanus, Macduff in Macbeth, Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. His greatest roles are as Othello and as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, to which he adds King Lear in 1952. Just before World War II he and his company appear at the Chiswick Empire in a Shakespeare season. He tours the United States as James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956. Having ‘a great organ voice,’ Harold Pinter, who acts in his company in Ireland from 1951 to 1953 and calls him ‘perhaps the greatest actor-manager of his time,’ later describes McMaster as ‘evasive, proud, affectionate, shrewd, merry.’ In his brief biography Mac (1968), Pinter recalls, “Mac gave about a half dozen magnificent performances of Othello while I was with him… At his best he was the finest Othello I have see. [He] stood dead in the centre of the role, and the great sweeping symphonic playing would begin, the rare tension and release within him, the arrest, the swoop, the savagery, the majesty and repose.”

McMaster’s only film role is an uncredited appearance as the Judge in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960).

In 1924 McMaster marries the actress and designer Marjorie Willmore (1894–1970), the sister of Micheál Mac Liammóir. They have two children, the actors John Christopher McMaster (1925–1995) and Mary-Rose McMaster (1926–2018).

Anew McMaster dies at the age of 70 at his home in Dublin on August 24, 1962. He is buried with his wife in Deans Grange Cemetery in County Dublin.

McMaster trains a generation of actors who tour with his company and go on to achieve success as actors. These include Pauline Flanagan, Milo O’Shea, T. P. McKenna, Kenneth Haigh, Henry Woolf, Harold Pinter, Donal Donnelly and Patrick Magee. It is while they are touring with McMaster’s company that the actor and dramatist Micheál Mac Liammóir and the actor and producer Hilton Edwards first meet and begin their lifelong partnership.

McMaster’s biography, A Life Remembered: A Memoir of Anew McMaster by his daughter Mary-Rose McMaster, is published in 2017. Harold Pinter also publishes a short biography, Mac, in 1968.


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Jack Lynch Resigns as Taoiseach of Ireland

Jack Lynch, Irish politician and Taoiseach of Ireland from 1966 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1979, resigns as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979.

In 1946, Lynch has his first involvement in politics when he is asked by his local Fianna Fáil cumann to stand for Dáil Éireann in a by-election. Over the next 35 years he serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (1951-54), Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands (1951-54), Minister for the Gaeltacht (March 1957-June 1957), Minister for Education (1957-59), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1959-65), Minister for Finance (1965-66), Leader of Fianna Fáil (1966-79), Leader of the Opposition (1973-77), and 5th Taoiseach of Ireland (1977-79).

The year 1979 proves to be the year in which Lynch finally realises that his grip on power has slipped. The first direct elections to the European Parliament take place in June and see the electorate severely punishing the ruling Fianna Fáil party. A five-month postal strike also led to deep anger amongst people all over the country. On 27 August 1979, the Provisional Irish Republican Army assassinates Earl Mountbatten of Burma in County Sligo. On the same day the IRA kills 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint in County Down.

A radical security review and greater cross-border co-operation are discussed with the new British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. These discussions lead Síle de Valera, a backbench TD, to directly challenge the leadership in a speech at the Liam Lynch commemoration at Fermoy, County Cork, on September 9. Although Lynch quickly tries to impose party discipline, attempting to discipline her for opposing party policy at a parliamentary party meeting held at September 28, de Valera correctly points out that she had not opposed the party policy regarding the North which called for the declaration of the British intent to withdraw from the north. The result is embarrassing for Lynch.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September proves to be a welcome break for Lynch from the day-to-day running of the country. In November, just before he departs on a visit to the United States he decides that he will resign at the end of the year. This would allow him to complete his term as President of the European Community. The defining event which makes up his mind is the news that Fianna Fáil had lost two by-elections on November 7 in his native Cork (Cork City and Cork North-East).

In addition during the trip Lynch claims in an interview with The Washington Post that a five-kilometre air corridor between the border had been agreed upon during the meeting with Thatcher to enhance security co-operation. This is something highly unsavory to many in Fianna Fáil. When Lynch returns he is confronted openly by Síle de Valera, Dr. Bill Loughnane, a noted hardline Republican backbencher, along with Tom McEllistrim, a member of Charles Haughey‘s gang of five, at a parliamentary party meeting. Lynch stated that the British do not have permission to overfly the border. Afterwards Loughnane goes public with the details of the meeting and accuses Lynch of deliberately misleading the party. An attempt to remove the whip from Loughnane fails.

At this stage Lynch’s position has become untenable, with supporters of Haughey caucusing opinion within the party. George Colley, the man whom Lynch sees as his successor, comes to him and encourages him to resign sooner. Colley is convinced that he has enough support to defeat the other likely candidate, Charles Haughey, and that Lynch should resign early to catch his opponents on the hop. Lynch agreed to this and resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil on December 5, 1979, assured that Colley has the votes necessary to win. However, Haughey and his supporters have been preparing for months to take over the leadership and Lynch’s resignation comes as no surprise. He narrowly defeats Colley in the leadership contest and succeeds Lynch as Taoiseach.

Lynch remained on in Dáil Éireann as a TD until his retirement from politics at the 1981 Irish general election.


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Birth of Forrest Reid, Novelist & Critic

forrest-reidForrest Reid, novelist, literary critic and translator, is born in Belfast on June 24, 1875. He is, along with Hugh Walpole and J. M. Barrie, a leading pre-war novelist of boyhood. He is still acclaimed as the greatest of Ulster novelists and is recognised with the award of the 1944 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Young Tom.

Reid is the youngest son of a Protestant family of twelve, six of whom survive. His mother, his father’s second wife, comes from an aristocratic Shropshire family. Although proud of this ancestry, he finds the strict Protestant ethics of his immediate family constricting. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, after which he is initially apprenticed into the Belfast tea-trade before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he reads medieval and modern languages, and is influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster. His first book, The Kingdom of Twilight, is published in 1904. Following graduation in 1908, he returns to Belfast to pursue a writing career.

As well as his fiction, Reid also translates poems from the Greek Anthology. His study of the work of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Study, has been acclaimed as one of the best critical studies of that poet. He also writes the definitive work on the English woodcut artists of the 1860s, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). His collection of original illustrations from that time is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Reid is a close friend of Walter de la Mare, whom he first meets in 1913, and about whose fiction he publishes a perceptive book in 1929. He is also an influence on novelist Stephen Gilbert, and has good connections to the Bloomsbury Group of writers. He is a founding member of the Imperial Art League (later the Artists League of Great Britain) and is also a close friend of Arthur Greeves, the artist known to be C. S. Lewis‘s best friend. Greeves paints several portraits of Reid, now all in the possession of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Reid publishes articles in many magazines, including Uladh, The Westminster Review and the Ulster Review, and he reviews books for The Manchester Guardian. Apostate, an autobiography, is published in 1926, and its sequel, Private Road, is published in 1940. He is a founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Forrest Reid dies on January 4, 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Though Reid’s books are not necessarily well known today, he has been labelled “the first Ulster novelist of European stature,” and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness (1912), and James Joyce‘s seminal novel of growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914). Reid’s fiction, which often uses submerged narratives to explore male beauty and love, can be placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature in the 20th century.

A ‘Forrest Reid Collection’ is held at the University of Exeter, consisting of first editions of all Reid’s works and books about him. Many of his original manuscripts are in the archives of the Belfast Central Library. In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast catalogues a large collection of Forrest Reid documentary material including many letters from E. M. Forster.

In 1952 Forster travels to Belfast to unveil a plaque commemorating Forrest Reid’s life at 13 Ormiston Crescent.


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The Armagh Rail Disaster

armagh-rail-disasterThe Armagh rail disaster occurs on June 12, 1889 near Armagh, County Armagh, when a crowded Sunday school excursion train fails to negotiate a steep incline. The steam locomotive is unable to complete the climb and the train stalls. The train crew decides to divide the train and take the front portion forward, leaving the rear portion on the running line. The rear portion has inadequate brakes and rolls back down the gradient, colliding with a following train. Eighty people are killed and 260 are injured, about a third of them children. It is the worst rail disaster in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, and remains Ireland’s worst railway disaster ever.

Armagh Sunday school organises a day trip to the seaside resort of Warrenpoint, a distance of about 24 miles. A special Great Northern Railway of Ireland train is arranged for the journey, intended to carry about eight hundred passengers. The railway route is steeply graded and curved.

Asked to provide a train to take 800 excursionists, the locomotive department at Dundalk sends fifteen vehicles however instructions provided to the engineer are that the train is to consist of thirteen vehicles. The engineer objects to the use of fifteen vehicles. Witnesses say that the engineer asks for a second engine if the additional carriages are added but his request is refused by the station master as no additional engines are available.

Initially, the train progresses up the steep gradient at about 10 mph but stalls about 200 yards from the top of the gradient. To prevent the train from rolling back, the brakes are applied. The chief clerk directs the train crew to divide the train and proceed with the front portion to Hamilton’s Bawn station about two miles away, leaving it there and returning for the rear portion.

After uncoupling the rear portion, the engineer attempts to proceed on with the front portion. Initially, it rolls back slightly, jolting the rear portion which begins to roll back and gathers speed down the steep gradient back towards Armagh station. The train crew reverses the front portion and tries to catch the rear portion but this proves to be impossible.

The line is operated on a time interval system so there is no means at Armagh of knowing that the line is not clear. The following scheduled passenger train leaves Armagh after the required 20-minute interval. It is proceeding up the gradient at about 25 mph when the engineer sees the approaching runaway vehicles at a distance of about 500 yards. He brakes his train and has reduced speed to 5 mph at the moment of collision. The two rearmost vehicles of the excursion train are utterly destroyed, and the third rearmost is very badly damaged.