seamus dubhghaill

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


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“Riverdance” Performed for the First Time

riverdance-1994Riverdance, a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish music and dance and featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley and a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, is performed for the first time on April 30, 1994, as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin.

Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded, and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which is hosted by Ireland. At the time, Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny compose the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece is performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. Whelan has previously produced EastWind, an album by Planxty member Andy Irvine with Davy Spillane whose cross between Irish and Southeastern European folk music proves an influence on Riverdance. Thirteen years later, Bill Whelan is invited to do the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and composes Riverdance. In the book The Humours of Planxty by Leagues O’Toole, Whelan says, “It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance.”

The 1994 performance earns a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. As a result of this success, Riverdance is invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London, in the presence of Prince Charles on November 28, 1994.

At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest’s Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance is named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.

An audio recording of Riverdance enters the Irish Singles Chart at number one on May 5, 1994, and remains there throughout the summer, eventually totalling a record eighteen weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance is released by the Irish broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann under the title Riverdance for Rwanda with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.

The success of the Eurovision performance leads husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decide to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan’s composition. In November 1994, tickets are sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opens at the Point Theatre on February 9, 1995. The show runs for five weeks and is a sell out with over 120,000 tickets sold. It stars the original lead dancers from the Eurovision performance as well as many from the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance.

Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions.

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Rebels Surrender Ends the 1916 Easter Rising

pearse-surrenders-to-loweThe Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army rebels headquartered at the General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, after days of shelling, are forced to abandon their headquarters when fire caused by the shells spreads to the GPO. James Connolly, Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, has been incapacitated by a bullet wound to the ankle and has passed command on to Patrick Pearse. Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, is killed in a sortie from the GPO. The rebels tunnel through the walls of the neighbouring buildings in order to evacuate the Post Office without coming under fire and take up a new position at 16 Moore Street.

On Saturday, 29 April, 1916, from the new headquarters on Moore Street, after realising that they will not break out of this position without further loss of civilian life, Pearse issues an order for all companies to surrender. Pearse surrenders unconditionally to Brigadier-General William Henry Muir  Lowe (photo). The surrender document reads:

“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms.”

The other posts surrender only after Pearse’s surrender order, carried by nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell, reaches them. Sporadic fighting, therefore, continues into Sunday, April 30, when word of the surrender is received by the other rebel garrisons. Command of British forces has passed from Lowe to General John Maxwell, who arrives in Dublin just in time to accept the surrender. Maxwell is made temporary military governor of Ireland.

The surrender signals the end of the 1916 Easter Rising, the most significant campaign in the struggle for Irish independence since the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The Rising leaves large parts of the city decimated and results in thousands of casualties. It is also, unambiguously, a spectacular military failure. And yet it is the spark that lights the fuse on the Irish War of Independence which, within five years, forces the British government to the negotiating table to discuss the terms of Irish independence.

Martial law, which was declared in Dublin by British authorities, remains in effect in Ireland through the fall of 1916.

The 1916 Easter Rising results in at least 485 deaths, according to the Glasnevin Trust. More than 2,600 are wounded, including at least 2,200 civilians and rebels, at least 370 British soldiers, and 29 policemen. The vast majority of the Irish casualties are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in the aftermath of the fighting. British families come to Dublin Castle in May 1916 to reclaim the bodies of British soldiers and funerals are arranged. Soldiers whose bodies are not claimed are given military funerals in Grangegorman Military Cemetery.


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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.


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Birth of Cecil Day-Lewis, Poet & Poet Laureate of the U.K.

Cecil Day-Lewis, poet, novelist, critic, and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 to 1972, is born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, on April 27, 1904. He also writes mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake and is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis is the son of Frank Day-Lewis, Church of Ireland Rector of the parish, and Kathleen Blake. His father takes the surname “Day-Lewis” as a combination of the surnames of his own birth father (Day) and his adoptive father (Lewis). After the death of his mother in 1906, Day-Lewis is brought up in London by his father, with assistance of an aunt, spending summer holidays with relatives in County Wexford. He is educated at Sherborne School and at Wadham College, Oxford. In Oxford, Day-Lewis becomes part of the circle gathered around W. H. Auden and helps him to edit Oxford Poetry 1927. His first collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, appears in 1925.

In 1928, Day-Lewis marries Constance Mary King, the daughter of a Sherborne teacher, and works as a schoolmaster in three schools, including Larchfield School in Helensburgh, Scotland. During the 1940s he has a long and troubled love affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann. His first marriage is dissolved in 1951, and he marries actress Jill Balcon, daughter of Michael Balcon.

During World War II he works as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information, an institution satirised by George Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. During this time his work is now no longer as heavily influenced by Auden and he develops a more traditional style of lyricism. Some critics believe that he reaches his full stature as a poet in Word Over All (1943), when he finally distances himself from Auden. After the war he joins the publisher Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor.

In 1946, Day-Lewis is a lecturer at Cambridge University, publishing his lectures in The Poetic Image (1947). He later teaches poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of Poetry from 1951 until 1956. He is the Norton Professor at Harvard University from 1962 to 1963, and is appointed Poet Laureate in 1968, in succession to John Masefield.

Day-Lewis is chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Member of the Irish Academy of Letters, and a Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London.

Cecil Day-Lewis dies of pancreatic cancer on May 22, 1972, at Lemmons, the Hertfordshire home of Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard, where he and his family are staying. Being a great admirer of Thomas Hardy, he arranges to be buried as close as possible to the author’s grave at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford, Dorset.


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The Battle of Mount Street Bridge

mount-street-bridgeSome of the bloodiest fighting of the 1916 Easter Rising occurs one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Mount Street Bridge on Wednesday, April 26, 1916.

Some of the rebel positions in Dublin are isolated and are bombarded from a distance. They barely see a British soldier during the six days of the Rising. The fighting is much more bloody when the British assault Volunteer positions dominating the routes into the city. In such instances, street fighting, snipers, and sudden close range cross-fires are prevalent. This happens mainly at three locations, Mount Street Bridge, South Dublin Union/Marrowbone Lane, and North King Street.

At Mount Street, on the approach to the city centre from the port at Kingstown, now known as Dun Laoghaire, a Volunteer outpost manned by only 17 men under the command of Lieutenant Michael Malone and armed with rifles and hand guns, faces the frontal assault of a reinforcement column of British troops.

The reinforcement column meets its first resistance when it pauses at Carisbrook House. They respond to sniper fire by riddling the house, though it does not contain any Volunteers. The column, however, is thus alerted that Volunteers are in the area. They go no more than 500 yards further when they come under sustained fire from two Volunteers in 25 Northumberland Road. It takes five hours of sustained firing to dislodge the defenders. Ten British soldiers fall at the first volley. Volunteers in the other outposts nearby also begin picking off the attackers who are exposed to their fire.

Finally, the house is rushed and Volunteer Lieutenant Malone is shot dead. The other Volunteer in the house, Section Commander James Grace, succeeds in hiding himself behind a cooker and escapes the area several hours later. He is arrested a few days later.

While the British soldiers attack 25 Northumberland Road, they also move against the Schoolhouse and the Parochial Hall, which is located between 25 Northumberland Road and Clanwilliam House. The Parochial Hall is held by four men, P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian, and J. McGrath. The Volunteers continue a fierce firefight until flames drive them from their stations.

The fight at Clanwillaim House continues as British soldiers try in vain to cross Mount Street Bridge. When the house is eventually engulfed in flames and their ammunition spent, the surviving four Volunteers escape over the back wall. When the final charge comes, one officer throws a grenade at one of the remaining intact windows but it bounces back and explodes, killing him.

Up to 250 British soldiers are killed or wounded and their morale shattered by the gallant band of Volunteers around Mount Street and the British advance is delayed by a day. The fighting at Mount Street results in almost two thirds of British casualties in Easter week. Four Volunteers, Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds, and Patrick Doyle, lose their lives in the battle. Five others escape arrest, while four are captured, including Joe Clarke.

Clarke and his comrades from the other outposts are first brought to Ladd Lane Barracks, before joining the other captured Volunteers and those who surrender at the end of the week. Eventually, they are transported to British jails to serve their sentence or to be interned.


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The Kilmainham Treaty Signed by Parnell and Gladstone

land-league-posterThe Kilmainham Treaty, an informal agreement between Liberal British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and the Irish nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, is signed on April 25, 1882.

The agreement extends the terms of the Second Land Act of 1881, with which Gladstone intends to make broad concessions to Irish tenant farmers. But the Act has many weaknesses and fails to satisfy Parnell and the Irish Land League because it does not provide a regulation for rent-arrears or rent-adjustments in the case of poor harvests or deteriorated economic conditions.

After the Second Land Act becomes law on August 22, 1881, Parnell, in a series of speeches in September and October, launches violent attacks on Chief Secretary for Ireland William Forster and even on Gladstone. Gladstone warns him not to frustrate the Act, but Parnell repeats his contempt for the Prime Minister. On October 12, the Cabinet, fully convinced that Parnell is bent on ruining the Act, takes action to have him arrested in Dublin the next day.

Parnell is conveyed to Kilmainham Gaol, where he joins several other prominent members of the Land League who have also protested against the Act and been jailed. There, together with William O’Brien, he enacts the No Rent Manifesto campaign. He is well aware that some in the Liberal Cabinet, in particular Joseph Chamberlain, are opposed to the mass internment of suspects then taking place across Ireland under the Protection of Person and Property Act 1881. The repressions do not have the desired effect, with the result that Forster becomes isolated within the Cabinet, and coercion becomes increasingly unpopular with the Liberal Party.

In gaol Parnell begins to turn over in his mind the possibility of coming to an arrangement with the Government. He has been corresponding with Katharine O’Shea who engages her husband, Captain William O’Shea, in April 1882 to act as a go-between for negotiations on behalf of Parnell. O’Shea contacts Gladstone on May 5 having been informed by Parnell that should the Government settle the rent-arrears problem on the terms he proposes, he is confident that he can curtail outrages. He further urges for the quick release of the League’s organizers in the West who will then work for pacification. This shocks Forster but impresses Gladstone.

Accordingly on May 2, Gladstone informs the House of Commons of the release of Parnell and the resignation of Forster. Gladstone always denies there has been a “Kilmainham Treaty,” merely accepting that he “had received informations.” He keeps his side of the arrangement by subsequently having the Arrears of Rent Act 1882 enacted. The government pays the landlords £800,000 in back rent owed by 130,000 tenant farmers.

Calling the agreement a “treaty” shows how Parnell manages to place a spin on the agreement in a way that strengthens Irish nationalism, since he manages to force concessions from the British while in gaol. Since real treaties are usually signed between two states, it leads to the idea that Ireland could become independent from Britain. After the “treaty” is agreed, those imprisoned with Parnell are released from gaol. This transforms Parnell from a respected leader to a national hero.

The Phoenix Park Murders, in which two top British officials in Ireland are assassinated, take place four days later and undo much of the goodwill generated by it in Britain. Though strongly condemned by Parnell, the murders show that he cannot control nationalist “outrages” as he has undertaken to do.


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The Beginning of the 1916 Easter Rising

proclamation-of-independenceThe Easter Rising, also known as the Easter Rebellion, begins in Dublin 100 years ago today and lasts for six days. The Rising, organised by seven members of the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is launched to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom is heavily engaged in World War I. It is the most significant uprising in Ireland since the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the first armed action of the Irish revolutionary period.

Shortly before midday, members of the Irish Volunteers, led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse and joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 women of Cumann na mBan, seize key locations in Dublin and proclaim an Irish Republic. The rebels’ plan is to hold Dublin city centre, a large, oval-shaped area bounded by the Grand Canal to the south and the Royal Canal to the north, with the River Liffey running through the middle.

The rebels march to the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, and occupy the building and hoist two republican flags. Pearse stands outside and reads the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

Elsewhere in Dublin, some of the headquarters battalion under Michael Mallin occupy St. Stephen’s Green, where they dig trenches and barricade the surrounding roads. The 1st battalion, under Edward “Ned” Daly, occupy the Four Courts and surrounding buildings, while a company under Seán Heuston occupies the Mendicity Institution across the River Liffey from the Four Courts. The 2nd battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh, occupies Jacob’s Biscuit Factory. The 3rd battalion, under Éamon de Valera, occupy Boland’s Mill and surrounding buildings. The 4th battalion, under Éamonn Ceannt, occupy the South Dublin Union and the distillery on Marrowbone Lane. From each of these garrisons, small units of rebels establish outposts in the surrounding area.

There are isolated actions in other parts of Ireland, with attacks on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Ashbourne, County Meath and in County Galway, and the seizure of the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Due to a last-minute countermand issued on Saturday, April 22, by Volunteer leader Eoin MacNeill, the number of rebels who mobilise is much lower than expected.

The British Army brings in thousands of reinforcements as well as artillery and a gunboat. There is fierce street fighting on the routes into the city centre, where the rebels put up stiff resistance, slowing the British advance and inflicting heavy casualties. Elsewhere in Dublin, the fighting mainly consists of sniping and long-range gun battles. The main rebel positions are gradually surrounded and bombarded with artillery.

With much greater numbers and heavier weapons, the British Army suppresses the Rising, and Pearse agrees to an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29. Almost 500 people are killed during Easter Week. About 54% are civilians, 30% are British military and police, and 16% are Irish rebels. More than 2,600 are wounded. Many of the civilians are killed as a result of the British using artillery and heavy machine guns, or mistaking civilians for rebels. Others are caught in the crossfire in a crowded city. The shelling and the fires leave parts of inner city Dublin in ruins.

After the surrender the country remains under martial law. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom have played no part in the Rising, with 1,800 of them being sent to internment camps or prisons in Britain. Most of the leaders of the Rising are executed following courts-martial. The Rising brings physical force republicanism back to the forefront of Irish politics, which for nearly 50 years has been dominated by constitutional nationalism. It, and the British reaction to it, leads to increased popular support for Irish independence. In December 1918, republicans, represented by the reconstituted Sinn Féin party, win a landslide victory in the general election to the British Parliament. They do not take their seats, but instead convene the First Dáil and declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which ultimately leads to the Irish War of Independence.