seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Alice Taylor, Writer & Novelist

alice-taylorAlice Taylor, best-selling Irish writer and novelist particularly known for her nostalgia works looking back at life in a small village, is born on February 28 , 1938, on a farm in Lisdangan, Newmarket in northern County Cork.

Taylor is educated at Drishane Convent. She works in Bandon before marrying Gabriel Murphy. They have four sons and one daughter. When she marries she moves to Innishannon in the southern part of the county in 1961. There she runs a guesthouse, the local post office, and a shop.

In 1984 she edits and publishes a local magazine, Candlelight, and in 1986 she publishes an illustrated collection of her poetry. However it is the launch of her book To School Through the Fields, published in May 1988, which brings her fame. She has numerous interviews on national shows including RTÉ Radio‘s Gay Byrne Show and The Late Late Show. The next books are equally successful and have been sold internationally. Since then she has moved on to novels which have also become best sellers.

Her husband dies in 2005. Taylor remains very connected to the village of Innishannon where she continues to live. Since her eldest son has taken over responsibility for the shop, she has been able to devote more time to her writing. One of the programs she has been involved in is the restoration of the old Innishannon Tower.

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Birth of Major General Thomas Conway

thomas-conwayThomas Conway, a major general in the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Cloghane, County Kerry, on February 27, 1735. He becomes involved with the alleged Conway Cabal with Horatio Gates and later serves with Émigré forces during the French Revolutionary War.

Conway is born to James Conway and his wife Julieanne Conway. As a child, he immigrates to France with his parents. At 14, he enrolls in the Irish Brigade of the French Army and rises rapidly to the rank of colonel by 1772.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War he volunteers to the Continental Congress for service with the American rebels in 1777. Based on an introduction from Silas Deane, the Congress appoints him a brigadier general on May 13, and sends him on to George Washington.

Conway commands the leading brigade on the American right flank at the Battle of Germantown, and is justly praised for his actions. However, Washington opposes his promotion to major general, believing that many American-born officers with longer and valuable service deserve the rank. This, and Conway’s condescending attitude, lead to continued friction between the men. Congress appoints Conway a major general anyway in December 1777, and makes him inspector general of the army.

When his name is used politically, it is used to describe the infighting known as the Conway Cabal. During the affair, he has written a letter to General Horatio Gates in which he refers to Washington as a “weak general.” The letter is intercepted by Washington and his backers after its delivery is botched by Brigadier General James Wilkinson, and is brought before the Congress for inquiry. When the contents of the letter are made public, Conway loses his command as a result. He tries a ploy that had worked before his promotion, and submits his resignation to Congress in March 1778. This time, however, it is accepted, so he is forced to leave the Continental Army. John Cadwalader shoots him in a duel on July 4, 1778. When he recovers, he writes an apology to Washington and returns to France.

Conway later returns to the French Army. In 1787 he receives promotion to Maréchal-de-camp (Major General) and an appointment as Governor of French colonies in India.

In 1793 he fights with royalist forces in opposition to French Revolution in southern France. Their loss forces him to become an exile from his adopted country.

During the French Revolution he is condemned to death. He is saved only by an appeal to Great Britain, against which he had fought in the American Revolution, but is compelled to flee from France for his life. He supposedly returns to Ireland and remains there until his death.

After that Conway disappears from history. He is believed to have died about 1800 in poverty and exile.


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William Smith O’Brien Pardoned from Deportation

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, leader of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, is pardoned from his deportation to Van Diemen’s Land on February 26, 1854, on the condition of exile from Ireland.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien serves as Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic Emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, along with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England.

In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land, which is Tasmania in present-day Australia.

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by Captain Ellis of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel, who had been transported prior to the rebellion. The cottages which O’Brien lives in on Maria Island and Port Arthur have been preserved in their 19th century state as memorials.

Having emigrated to the United States, Ellis is tried by another Young Irelanders leader, Terence MacManus, at a lynch court in San Francisco for the betrayal of O’Brien. He is freed for lack of evidence.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to The Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, Wales on June, 16, 1864.


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Birth of Neil Patrick Jordan, Screenwriter & Director

neil-patrick-jordanNeil Patrick Jordan, film director, screenwriter, novelist, and short-story writer, is born in County Sligo on February 25, 1950. His first book, Night in Tunisia, wins a Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1979. He wins an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Crying Game (1992). He also wins the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival for The Butcher Boy (1997).

Jordan is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny. Later, Jordan attends University College Dublin, where he studies Irish history and English literature. He is raised a Catholic and is quite religious during the early stages of his life. Regarding his current beliefs, he states that “God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein‘s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.”

When John Boorman is filming Excalibur in Ireland, he recruits Jordan as a “creative associate.” A year later Boorman is executive producer on Jordan’s first feature, Angel, a tale of a musician caught up in the Troubles, starring Stephen Rea who subsequently appears in almost all of Jordan’s films to date. During the 1980s, he directs films that win him acclaim, including The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa, both made in England. The Company of Wolves becomes a cult favorite.

As a writer/director, Jordan has a highly idiosyncratic body of work, ranging from mainstream hits like Interview with the Vampire to commercial failures like We’re No Angels to a variety of more personal, low-budget arthouse pictures. He is also the driving force behind the cable TV series The Borgias.

Unconventional sexual relationships are a recurring theme in Jordan’s work, and he often finds a sympathetic side to characters that audiences would traditionally consider deviant or downright horrifying. His film The Miracle, for instance, follows two characters who struggle to resist a strong, incestuous attraction, while The Crying Game makes complicated, likable characters out of an IRA volunteer and a transgender woman. Interview with the Vampire, like the Anne Rice book it is based on, focuses on the intense, intimate interpersonal relationship of two undead men who murder humans nightly, accompanied by an equally lusty vampire woman who is eternally trapped in the body of a little girl. While Lestat (Tom Cruise) is depicted in an attractive but villainous manner, his partner Louis (Brad Pitt) and the child vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are meant to capture the audience’s sympathy despite their predatory nature.

In addition to the unusual sexuality of Jordan’s films, he frequently returns to the Troubles of Northern Ireland. The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto both concern a transgender character, both concern the Troubles, and both feature frequent Jordan leading man Stephen Rea. The two films, however, are very different, with The Crying Game being a realistic thriller/romance and Breakfast on Pluto a much more episodic, stylized, darkly comic biography. Jordan also frequently tells stories about children or young people, such as The Miracle and The Butcher Boy. While his pictures are most often grounded in reality, he occasionally directs more fantastic or dreamlike films, such as The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, and In Dreams.

The critical success of Jordan’s early pictures lead him to Hollywood, where he directs High Spirits and We’re No Angels. Both are critical and financial disasters. He later returns home to make the more personal The Crying Game, which is nominated for six Academy Awards. Jordan wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Its unexpected success leads him back to American studio filmmaking, where he directs Interview with the Vampire. He also directs the crime drama The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.

Jordan also writes and directs the Irish-made film Ondine (2009), starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda-Curuś. He also directs Byzantium, an adaptation of the vampire play of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, and Jonny Lee Miller.

Jordan lives in Dalkey, which is a part of the larger town of Dún Laoghaire.


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Birth of Engineer John Philip Holland

john-philip-hollandJohn Philip Holland, Irish engineer who develops the first submarine to be formally commissioned by the U.S. Navy, and the first Royal Navy submarine, HMS Holland 1, is born on February 24, 1841.

Holland, the second of four siblings, all boys, is born in a coastguard cottage in Liscannor, County Clare, where his father, John Philip Holland, Sr., is a member of the British Coastguard Service. His mother, a native Irish speaker from Liscannor, Máire Ní Scannláin, is John Holland’s second wife. His first wife, Anne Foley Holland, believed to be a native of Kilkee, dies in 1835. The area is heavily Irish-speaking and Holland learns English properly only when he attends the local English-speaking St. Macreehy’s National School, and from 1858, in the Christian Brothers in Ennistymon.

Holland joins the Irish Christian Brothers in Limerick and teaches in CBS Sexton Street in Limerick and many other centres in the country, including North Monastery CBS in Cork, St. Joseph’s CBS in Drogheda, and as the first Mathematics teacher in Coláiste Rís in Dundalk. Due to ill health, he leaves the Christian Brothers in 1873 and emigrates to the United States. Initially working for an engineering firm, he returns to teaching again for an additional six years in St. John’s Catholic school in Paterson, New Jersey.

While a teacher in Cork, Holland reads an account of the battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and USS Merrimack in the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. He realizes that the best way to attack such ships would be through an attack beneath the waterline. He draws a design, but when he attempts to obtain funding, he is turned away. After his arrival in the United States, Holland slips and falls on an icy Boston street and breaks a leg. While recuperating from the injury in a hospital, he uses his time to refine his submarine designs and is encouraged by a priest, Isaac Whelan.

In 1875, his first submarine designs are submitted for consideration by the U.S. Navy, but are turned down as unworkable. The Fenians, however, continue to fund Holland’s research and development expenses at a level that allows him to resign from his teaching post. In 1881, Fenian Ram is launched, but soon after, Holland and the Fenians part company on bad terms over the issue of payment within the Fenian organization, and between the Fenians and Holland. The submarine is now preserved at Paterson Museum in New Jersey.

Holland continues to improve his designs and works on several experimental boats, prior to his successful efforts with a privately built type, launched on May 17, 1897. This is the first submarine having power to run submerged for any considerable distance, and the first to combine electric motors for submerged travel and gasoline engines for use on the surface. The submarine is purchased by the U.S. Navy on April 11, 1900, after rigorous tests and is commissioned on October 12, 1900 as USS Holland (SS-1). Six more of her type are ordered and built at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The company that emerges from under these developments is called The Electric Boat Company, founded on February 7, 1899. Isaac Leopold Rice becomes the company’s first President with Elihu B. Frost acting as vice president and chief financial officer. The company eventually evolves into the major defense contractor General Dynamics.

The USS Holland design is also adopted by others, including the Royal Navy in developing the Holland-class submarine. The Imperial Japanese Navy employs a modified version of the basic design for their first five submarines, although these submarines are at least 10 feet longer at about 63 feet. These submarines are also developed at the Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. Holland also designs the Holland II and Holland III prototypes. The Royal Navy ‘Holland 1’ is on display at the Submarine Museum in Gosport, England.

After spending 56 of his 73 years working with submersibles, John Philip Holland dies on August 12, 1914 in Newark, New Jersey. He is interred at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey.


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The Cavan Orphanage Fire

cavan-orphanage-fireThe Cavan Orphanage fire occurs on the night of February 23, 1943 at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cavan, County Cavan. Thirty-five children and one adult employee die as a result. Much of the attention after the fire surrounds the role of the Poor Clares, the order of nuns who run the orphanage and the local fire service.

The Poor Clares, an enclosed contemplative order, found a convent in Cavan in 1861 in a large premises on Main Street. In 1868, they open an orphanage. At the time young petty criminals could be educated and learn a trade in a reformatory, however, orphaned and abandoned children are not accorded the same opportunity. The Industrial Schools Act 1868 seeks to address this by the establishment of the Industrial school system. In 1869, a school, attached to the convent, is established and becomes known as the St. Joseph’s Orphanage & Industrial School.

Fire breaks out in the early morning hours of February 23, 1943, in the basement laundry and is not noticed until about 2 AM. The subsequent investigation attributes the fire to a faulty flue. The sight of smoke coming out of the building alerts people on Main Street. They go to the front entrance and attempt to gain entry. Eventually they are let in by one of the girls but, not knowing the layout of the convent, they are unable to find the girls.

By this time all of the girls have been moved into one Dormitory. At this point it would have been possible to evacuate all of the children but instead the nuns persuade the local people to attempt to extinguish the fire. Two men, John Kennedy and John McNally, go down to the laundry to try to put the fire out. The flames are now too intense for this to be possible and McNally only survives by being carried out by Kennedy.

By now it is no longer possible for the girls to get out through the main entrance or the fire escape. The local fire brigade arrives but their equipment is not sufficient for the fire. Wooden ladders are not long enough to reach the dormitory windows. In the absence of any other solution, girls are encouraged to jump. Three do so, though with injuries, however most are too frightened to attempt it. A local electricity worker, Mattie Hand, arrives with a long ladder and a local man, Louis Blessing, brings five girls down. One child leaves by way of the interior staircase while it is still accessible. One child makes it down the exterior fire escape. One child escapes by way of a small ladder held on the roof of the shed. The fire completely engulfs the dormitory and the remaining girls perish.

cavan-orphanage-graveOver concerns about the causes of the fire and the standard of care, a Public Inquiry is set up. The report’s findings state that the loss of life occurs due to faulty directions being given, lack of fire-fighting training, and an inadequate rescue and fire-fighting service. It also notes inadequate training of staff in fire safety and evacuation, both at the orphanage and local fire service. This finding has been disputed by many. It is alleged that the nuns prevent firefighters from entering the building for fear that they might see the girls in a state of undress.

Due to the nature of the fire, the remains of the dead girls are placed in eight coffins and buried in Cullies cemetery in Cavan. A memorial plaque is erected in 2010 just inside the convent gates at Main Street, Cavan. The plaque is anonymously donated to the Friends of the Cavan Orphanage Victims group.

(Pictured lower right: The grave containing the remains of the 36 victims)


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First Performance of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

lady-windermeres-fanOscar Wilde‘s four-act comedy Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is first produced on February 22, 1892 at the St. James’s Theatre in London. The play is first published in 1893. Like many of Wilde’s comedies, it bitingly satirizes the morals of society.

The story concerns Lady Windermere, who suspects that her husband is having an affair with another woman. She confronts him with it but although he denies it, he invites the other woman, Mrs. Erlynne, to his wife’s birthday ball. Angered by her husband’s supposed unfaithfulness, Lady Windermere decides to leave her husband for another lover. After discovering what has transpired, Mrs. Erlynne follows Lady Windermere and attempts to persuade her to return to her husband and in the course of this, Mrs. Erlynne is discovered in a compromising position. It is then revealed Mrs. Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, who abandoned her family twenty years before the time the play is set. Mrs. Erlynne sacrifices herself and her reputation to save her daughter’s marriage.

By the summer of 1891 Wilde has already written three plays, Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua find little success, and Salome is censored. Unperturbed, he decides to write another play but turns from tragedy to comedy. He goes to the Lake District in the north of England, where he stays with a friend and later meets Robert Ross. Numerous characters in the play appear to draw their names from the north of England: Lady Windermere from the lake and nearby town Windermere (though Wilde had used “Windermere” earlier in Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime), the Duchess of Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lord Darlington from Darlington. Wilde begins writing the play at the prodding of Sir George Alexander, the actor manager of St. James’s Theatre. The play is finished by October 1891. Alexander likes the play, and offers him an advance of £1,000 for it. Wilde, impressed by his confidence, opts to take a percentage instead, from which he earns £7,000 in the first year alone.

Alexander is a meticulous manager and he and Wilde begin exhaustive revisions and rehearsals of the play. Both are talented artists with strong ideas about their art. Wilde, for instance, emphasises attention to aesthetic minutiae rather than realism. He resists Alexander’s suggested broad stage movements, quipping that “Details are of no importance in life, but in art details are vital.” These continue after the opening night, when at the suggestion of both friends and Alexander, Wilde makes changes to reveal Mrs. Erylnne’s relationship with Lady Windermere gradually throughout the play, rather than reserving the secret for the final act. Despite these artistic differences, both are professional and their collaboration is a fruitful one.

There exists an extant manuscript of the play and it is held in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California in Los Angeles.