seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

balmoral-furniture-showroom-bombingThe Balmoral Furniture Company bombing, a paramilitary attack, takes place on December 11, 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bomb explodes without warning outside a furniture showroom on the Shankill Road in a predominantly unionist area, killing four civilians, two of them babies.

At 12:25 PM on December 11, 1971, when the Shankill Road is packed with Saturday shoppers, a green car pulls up outside the Balmoral Furniture Company at the corner of Carlow Street and Shankill Road. The shop is locally known as “Moffat’s” although Balmoral Furniture Company is its official name. One of the occupants gets out of the car and leaves a box containing a bomb on the step outside the front door. The person gets back into the car and it speeds away. The bomb explodes moments later, bringing down most of the building on top of those inside the shop and on passersby outside.

Four people are killed as a result of the massive blast, including two babies, Tracey Munn (age 2 years) and Colin Nichol (age 17 months), who both die instantly when part of the wall crashes down upon the pram they are sharing. Two employees working inside the shop are also killed, Hugh Bruce (age 70 years) and Harold King (age 29 years). Unlike the other three victims, who are Protestant, King is a Catholic. Bruce, a former soldier and a Corps of Commissionaires member, is the shop’s doorman and is nearest to the bomb when it explodes. Nineteen people are injured in the bombing, including Tracey’s mother. The building, which was built in the Victorian era, has load-bearing walls supporting upper floors on joists. It is unable to withstand the blast and collapses, adding to the devastation and injury count.

The bombing causes bedlam in the crowded street. Hundreds of people rush to the scene where they form human chains to help the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary  (RUC) free those trapped beneath the rubble by digging with their bare hands. Peter Taylor describes the scene as “reminiscent of the London Blitz” in World War II .

It is widely believed that the bombing is carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation for the McGurk’s bar bombing one week earlier, which killed 15 Catholic civilians. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the McGurk’s bombing.

The Balmoral Furniture Company bombing is one of the catalysts that spark the series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists, republicans and the security forces that make the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of The Troubles .

(Pictured: Fireman is shown removing the body of one of the victims of the bombing at the Balmoral Furniture Showroom, December 11, 1971)

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The Closing of Ellis Island

Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors on November 12, 1954, after processing more than 12 million immigrants, including an estimated two million Irish, since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s.

On January 2, 1892, 15-year-old Annie Moore, from County Cork, becomes the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designates as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Prior to the opening of Ellis Island the processing of immigrants has been handled by individual states.

Not all immigrants who sail into New York have to go through Ellis Island. First- and second-class passengers submit to a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they pass through customs. People in third class, though, are transported to Ellis Island, where they undergo medical and legal inspections to ensure they do not have a contagious disease or some condition that might make them a burden to the government. Only two percent of all immigrants are denied entrance into the United States.

Immigration to Ellis Island peaks between 1892 and 1924, during which time the 3.3-acre island is enlarged with landfill and additional buildings are constructed to handle the massive influx of immigrants. During the busiest year of operation, 1907, over 1 million people are processed at Ellis Island.

With the United States’ entrance into World War I, immigration declines and Ellis Island is used as a detention center for suspected enemies. Following the war, Congress passes quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduces the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enables immigrants to be processed at U.S. consulates abroad. After 1924, Ellis Island switches from a processing center to serving other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, is released and Ellis Island officially closes.

Beginning in 1984, Ellis Island undergoes a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in U.S. history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens to the public and today is visited by almost 2 million people every year.


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De Valera Rejects Churchill’s Statement About Irish Ports

In a statement before Dáil Éireann on November 7, 1940, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera rejects Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill’s statement about Irish ports stating that there can be no question of handing over Irish ports for use by British forces while the country is partitioned. This move helps ensure Ireland’s neutrality during World War II.

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom on November 5, Churchill bemoans the fact that the Irish ports had been returned to the Free State government in 1938:

“The fact that we cannot use the South and West Coasts of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect the trade by which Ireland as well as Great Britain lives, is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed on our shoulders, broad though they be.”

De Valera responds to Churchill’s statement two days later, on November 7:

“I would have refrained from making any comment upon it were it not that it has been followed by an extensive Press campaign by Britain itself, and re-echoed in the United States of America, the purport of the campaign being that we should surrender or lease our ports to Britain for the conduct of the war…

We have chosen the policy of neutrality in this war because we believed that it was the right policy for our people. It is the policy which has been accepted, not merely by this House, but by our people as a whole, and nobody who realises what modern war means, and what it means particularly for those who have not sufficient air defences, will have the slightest doubt that that policy was the right one, apart altogether from any questions of sympathy on one side or the other…

There can be no question of the handing over of these ports so long as this State remains neutral. There can be no question of leasing these ports. They are ours. They are within our sovereignty, and there can be no question, as long as we remain neutral, of handing them over on any condition whatsoever. Any attempt to bring pressure to bear on us by any side—by any of the belligerents—by Britain—could only lead to bloodshed.”


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Birth of Eoin O’Duffy, Political Activist & Police Commissioner

Eoin O’Duffy, Irish political activist, soldier, police commissioner and organizer of the infamous Blueshirts, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, on October 20, 1892.

O’Duffy does an apprenticeship as an engineer in Wexford before working as an engineer and architect in Monaghan. In 1919 he becomes an auctioneer. He is a leading member of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ulster in the 1910s. In 1912 he is appointed secretary of the Ulster provincial council. He is also a member of Harps’ Gaelic Football Club.

O’Duffy joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1917 and is the leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the IRA during the Irish War of Independence and in this capacity becomes Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1922. He is one of the Irish activists who along with Michael Collins accepts the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights as a general in the Irish Civil War on the pro-Treaty side.

Professionally, O’Duffy becomes the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the new Irish Free State, after the Civic Guard Mutiny and the subsequent resignation of Michael Staines. He holds this post until 1933, when he is dismissed by Éamon de Valera. In his political life O’Duffy is an early member of Sinn Féin, founded by Arthur Griffith. He is elected as a Teachta Dála (TD) for his home county of Monaghan during the 1921 election.

After a split in 1923 he becomes associated with Cumann na nGaedheal and becomes head of a veterans group then known as the Army Comrades Association. O’Duffy changes its name to “National Guard” and begins to stage fascist-style rallies and adopts a fascist salute. Its members begin to wear blue uniform shirts and become known as the Blueshirts. When government opposition groups form Fine Gael in September 1933, he becomes its first president, reaching the apex of his political power.

Subsequently, the government bans O’Duffy’s National Guard, as well as the group he creates to replace it, the Young Ireland Association, which he in turn replaces with the League of Youth, but their blue shirts indicate its continued fascist ideology. Fine Gael’s other leaders soon tire of his inflammatory rhetoric and the frequent violent behavior of the Blueshirts, but are still surprised when their opposition causes him to resign his party leadership in September 1934. He is then ousted as leader of the Blueshirts as well, but does retain a small loyal following.

An anti-communist, O’Duffy is attracted to the various authoritarian nationalist movements on the Continent. In 1936, he raises the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War as an act of Catholic solidarity and is inspired by Benito Mussolini‘s Italy to found the National Corporate Party. He offers to Nazi Germany the prospect of raising an Irish Brigade to fight in Operation Barbarossa during World War II on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, but this is not taken up.

Eoin O’Duffy takes no further part in Irish politics and dies in Dublin on November 30, 1944. In spite of his later politics, he is given a state funeral for his earlier contributions to the Irish government. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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German U-Boat Visits Dingle, County Kerry

In one of the more intriguing episodes of World War II, German U-Boat U-35, under the command of Kapitan Werner Lott, disembarks 28 men from the Greek cargo ship Diamantis at Dingle, County Kerry, on October 4, 1939.

On the afternoon of October 3, the Diamantis is torpedoed by U-35 and sinks 40 miles west of the Scilly Islands. Because the lifeboats are not suited for use in the bad weather, Lott decides to take all crew members aboard and lands them the next day at Dingle.

The realities of World War II reach the shores of the Dingle Peninsula as a crowd of local people are amazed when they see a German submarine coming within 10 yards of the shore at Ventry. What they do not know at the time is that they are witnessing a most humane and unwarlike act by the German captain on board the submarine.

Twenty-eight Greek sailors from the Diamantis are landed at Ventry, two at a time in a small lifeboat. The submarine pulls away, none of the German crew having set foot on neutral Irish soil. The Greeks are brought to a local farmhouse owned by Thomas Cleary and his mother Joan.

In 1984, Werner Lott makes a nostalgic first trip to Dingle and even meets Jimmy Fenton of Ballymore, one of the locals who had witnessed the drama of that night.

“I was about 11 at the time and I remember we had just come home from school when the excitement began. I had to run about a quarter of a mile to the harbour when I spotted the sub. I think the first person there was a local customs man called Browne.”

After all this time the German captain hears how grateful the Greeks are to him. “Their English was bad but they kept saying ‘German gut man’,” says Fenton.

In a major interview, Captain Lott, who is reared in an African colony where his father is one of the first white doctors, describes how he came so close to Dingle shore during World War II, how he was shortly afterwards taken prisoner himself and how a life long friendship with Lord Louis Mountbatten began.

(Pictured: Jimmy Fenton with Werner Lott in 1984, at the point where U-35 landed the 28 Greek sailors at Ventry Harbor, Ireland in October 1939 courtesy of u-35.com | Content courtesy of https://stairnaheireann.net/2016/10/04/1939-in-one-of-the-more-intriguing-episodes-of-world-war-ii-german-u-boat-35-under-the-command-of-kapitan-werner-lott-disembarked-28-men-at-dingle-co-kerry-from-the-greek-cargo-ship-diaman-2/)


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Commissioning of the USS The Sullivans

The United States Navy commissions the Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537), on September 30, 1943. The ship commemorates the tragedy of the five Sullivan brothers (George, Francis, Joseph, Madison, and Albert), descendants of an Irish immigrant, who are killed November 13, 1942 after their ship, USS Juneau (CL-52), is hit by a Japanese torpedo at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Only ten of the almost 700 crew survive. This is the greatest military loss by any one American family during World War II. The ship is also the first ship commissioned in the Navy that honors more than one person.

The Sullivans is originally laid down as Putnam on October 10, 1942 at San Francisco by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation. She is initially renamed Sullivan until President Franklin D. Roosevelt changes the name to The Sullivans to clarify that the name honors all five Sullivan brothers. The name is made official on February 6, 1943 and launches on April 4, 1943. The ship is sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, the mother of the five Sullivan brothers. The Sullivans is commissioned on September 30, 1943 with Commander Kenneth M. Gentry in command.

Following a shakedown cruise, The Sullivans gets underway with USS Dortch (DD-670) and USS Gatling (DD-671) on December 23, 1943, arriving at Pearl Harbor five days later. After service in both World War II and the Korean War, USS The Sullivans is assigned to the United States 6th Fleet and is a training ship until she is decommissioned in 1965.

The Sullivans receives nine service stars for World War II service and two for Korean service. On January 7, 1965, The Sullivans is decommissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and she remains in reserve into the 1970s. In 1977, she and cruiser USS Little Rock (CL-92) are processed for donation to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, New York. The ship now serves as a memorial and is open for public tours. The ship is declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.