seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)

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Death of Poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Recipient

Seamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, dies in Dublin on August 30, 2013. He is the 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney is born near Castledawson, County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. The family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. After attending Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in the early 1960s and begins to publish poetry. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. Heaney is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and, in 2012, a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky has stated that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he enters the hospital for a medical procedure, but dies at 7:30 the following morning before it takes place. His funeral is held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of September 2, 2013, and he is buried in the evening in the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael reveals at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died. Shortly after Heaney’s death, graffiti artist Maser paints a mural in Dublin referencing this message.

On September 1, the day after his death, a crowd of 81,553 spectators applaud Heaney for three minutes at a semi-final match of the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. His funeral is broadcast live the following day on RTÉ television and radio and is streamed internationally at RTÉ’s website. RTÉ Radio 1 Extra transmits a continuous broadcast, from 8:00 AM until 9:15 PM on the day of the funeral, of his Collected Poems album, recorded in 2009. His poetry collections sell out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.


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Death of Samuel Nielson, Society of United Irishmen Founder Member

Samuel Neilson, one of the founder members of the Society of United Irishmen and the founder of its newspaper the Northern Star, dies in Poughkeepsie, New York on August 29, 1803.

Neilson is born in Ballyroney, County Down, the son of Presbyterian minister Alexander, and Agnes Neilson. He is educated locally. He is the second son in a family of eight sons and five daughters. At the age of 16, he is apprenticed to his elder brother, John, in the business of woollen drapery in Belfast. Eight years later he establishes his own business.

Despite his commercial success, Neilson is naturally drawn to politics and is early on a member of the reformist Irish Volunteers movement. In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, he suggests to Henry Joy McCracken the idea of a political society of Irishmen of every religious persuasion. He establishes the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast. The following year he launches the newspaper of the United Irishmen, the Northern Star, which effectively throws away his fortune. As its editor he is a high-profile target for the authorities and is prosecuted for libel several times, being twice imprisoned between 1796 and 1798.

Along with several other state prisoners, Neilson is released in February 1798 following several petitions by influential friends, on grounds of bad health. Upon release he immediately involves himself in the United Irishmen aligning with the radicals among the leadership who are pressing for immediate rebellion and oppose the moderates who wish to wait for French assistance before acting.

The United Irishmen are however, severely penetrated by informants who keep Dublin Castle abreast of their plans and discussions. In March 1798, information of a meeting of the United Irish executive at the house of Oliver Bond leads to the arrest of most of the leadership, leaving Neilson and Lord Edward FitzGerald as the only figures of national importance still at liberty. They decide to press ahead as soon as possible and settled on May 23 as the date for the rebellion to begin.

As the date looms closer, the authorities go into overdrive to sweep up the rump leadership and on May 18 Lord Edward is betrayed in his hiding place and critically wounded while resisting capture. Neilson, now with responsibility for finalising plans for the looming rebellion, decides that Fitzgerald is too valuable to do without, and decides to try and rescue him from Newgate Prison in Dublin. Wary of confiding his plans too early for fear of betrayal, Neilson goes on a reconnaissance of the prison but is spotted by chance by one of his former jailers and after a fierce struggle, he is overpowered and dragged into the prison.

Neilson is indicted for high treason and held in Kilmainham Gaol with other state prisoners for the duration of the doomed rebellion outside. After the execution of Oliver Bond, and the brothers John and Henry Sheares, Neilson and the remaining prisoners agree to provide the authorities with details of the organisation of the United Irishmen, plans for the rebellion, etc. in return for exile.

Following the suppression of the rebellion, Neilson is transferred to Fort George in Inverness-shire, Scotland, and in 1802 he is deported to the Netherlands. From there he makes his way to the United States, arriving in December 1802, and settling in Poughkeepsie, New York.  He has little time to enjoy his liberty  before his  sudden death on August 29, 1803 of yellow fever, or possibly a stroke.

Nielson is not idle during his short life in America as he completes plans to start a new evening newspaper in Poughkeepsie and also has plans in the works to establish a version of the Society of United Irishmen in the United States. Since his death, his remains have been moved to three different cemeteries before coming to rest in the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in 1880.

(Photograph: (c) National Museums Northern Ireland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)


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The Funeral of Michael Collins

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is laid to rest in Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery on August 28, 1922.

Collins is shot and killed by anti-Treaty ambushers as his Free State Army convoy approaches Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads in County Cork, on August 22, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass on August 28, 1922 takes place at Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. According to a report in The New York Times, the seven mile journey from the cathedral to his final resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery is lined with half a million mourners, almost one fifth of the country’s population at the time, and many of whom likely differed with him on his Treaty vote.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theorists have put forward a number of suspects as having executed or ordered his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British Secret Intelligence Service, or Éamon de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.”

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gives the oration. In 2010, the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr. becomes the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the oration, the first serving head of government to do so. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery every year at Collins’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

RIP Big Fellow!


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Launch of the RMS Oceanic

RMS Oceanic, the White Star Line‘s first liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, is launched on August 27, 1870, arriving in Liverpool, England for her maiden voyage on February 26, 1871.

Three sister ships are constructed in rapid succession: RMS Atlantic, SS Baltic, and SS Republic. All are of the same approximate dimensions with differences in tonnage.

Powered by a combination of steam and sail, RMS Oceanic has twelve boilers generating steam for a single four-cylinder compound steam engine. A single funnel exhausts smoke and four masts carry sails. The hull is constructed of iron and divided into eleven watertight compartments. Passenger accommodations are located on the two decks concealed within the hull. RMS Oceanic can carry 166 First Class passengers, referred to as Saloon Passengers in the day and 1,000 Steerage Passengers, along with a 143-man crew. White Star spares no expense in her construction, and the contemporary press describes the ship as an “imperial yacht.”

RMS Oceanic leaves Liverpool for her maiden voyage on March 2, 1871 carrying only 64 passengers, under Captain Sir Digby Murray. Not long after departing, she has to return because of overheated bearings. Her voyage restarts on March 16. From that point onward, RMS Oceanic is a success for The White Star Line.

In January, 1872, RMS Oceanic undergoes a refit, during which a large forecastle is added to help prevent the bow being inundated during high seas. Two new boilers are added to increase steam pressure and thus engine power, and the four masts are shortened.

RMS Oceanic continues sailing with the White Star line on the Liverpool to New York City route until March 11, 1875, when she is chartered to the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company, for service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. White Star provides the officers, while the crew is Chinese. The ship itself remains in White Star colours, but flies the O&O flag. During the repositioning voyage from Liverpool to Hong Kong, RMS Oceanic sets a speed record for that route. Later, she also sets a speed record for Yokohama to San Francisco in December 1876, and then breaks her own record over that route in November, 1889, with a time of 13 days, 14 hours and 5 minutes.

On August 22, 1888, RMS Oceanic collides with the coastal liner SS City of Chester just outside the Golden Gate. The SS City of Chester sinks, killing 16 on board.

On January 7, 1890, Nellie Bly boards RMS Oceanic in Yokohama to cross the Pacific as part of her voyage Around the World in Seventy-Two Days. She arrives in San Francisco on January 21, 1890, which is a day behind schedule as a result of rough weather.

In 1895, RMS Oceanic is returned to White Star, which plans to put her back into service. She is sent back to Harland and Wolff for re-engining, but when the ship is inspected closely, it is found to be uneconomical to perform all the work needed. Instead, RMS Oceanic is sold for scrap, leaving Belfast for the last time on February 10, 1896, under tow, for a scrapyard on the River Thames.


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Death of Frank Harris, Novelist & Journalist

Frank Harris, British editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, dies on August 26, 1931. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris is born James Thomas Harris on February 14, 1855, in Galway, County Galway, to Welsh parents. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. Harris is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb.

From New York Harris moves to the American Midwest, settling in Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, Harris makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas state bar association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the last-named being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, Harris decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 he edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in the Great War. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and to keep the Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his autobiography My Life and Loves. It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of Harris’ purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. Years later, Time Magazine reflects in its March 21, 1960 issue “Had he not been a thundering liar, Frank Harris would have been a great autobiographer….he had the crippling disqualification that he told the truth, as Max Beerbohm remarked, only ‘when his invention flagged’.” A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts at playwriting are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice at the age of 75 on August 26, 1931. He is subsequently buried at Cimetière Caucade in the same city. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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Birth of Eugene O’Growney, Priest & Scholar

Eugene O’Growney, Irish priest and scholar, and a key figure in the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century, is born on August 25, 1863 at Ballyfallon, Athboy, County Meath.

The Irish language has largely retreated from Meath when O’Growney is born, and neither of his parents speak it. He becomes interested in the language when he chances upon the Irish lessons in the nationalist newspaper Young Ireland. He has help at first from a few old people who speak the language, and while at Maynooth, where he continues his studies for the priesthood from the year 1882, he spends his holidays in Irish-speaking areas in the north, west and south. He gets to know the Aran Islands and writes about them in the bilingual Gaelic Journal (Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge), which he is later to edit. He is ordained in 1888. His proficiency in the language leads him to be appointed in the re-established Chair of Irish at Maynooth in 1891. He is editor of the Gaelic Journal between 1894 and 1899 and during his tenure ensures that more material is published in Irish.

For O’Growney language, nationality and religion are closely linked. In 1890, writing in the Irish Ecclesiastical Review, he describes literature in Irish as “the most Catholic literature in the world.” He is aware, however, of its other aspects, adding that “even if Irish were to perish as a spoken language, it would remain valuable from the pure literature point of view.”

His Simple Lessons in Irish, first published in the newspaper The Weekly Freeman, proves so popular that they are published in booklet form. There are five books in the series and 320,000 copies have been sold by 1903. In a foreword he states:

“The following course of simple lessons in Irish has been drawn up chiefly for the use of those who wish to learn the old language of Ireland, but who are discouraged by what they have heard of its difficulties… But the difficulties of Irish pronunciation and construction have always been exaggerated. A I myself was obliged to study Irish as a foreign language, and as I have been placed in circumstances which have made me rather familiar with the language as now spoken, I have at least a knowledge of the difficulties of those who, like myself, have no teacher.”

O’Growney is a founding member of the Gaelic League, which is created in Dublin in 1893 “for the purpose of keeping the Irish language spoken in Ireland,” and later becomes its vice-president.

In 1894, failing health causes him to go to Arizona and California, where he dies in Los Angeles on October 18, 1899. Some years later, with the aid of Irish sympathisers in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland. His funeral, held on September 26, 1903 at the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by 6,000 people, including members of the trade guilds, clerics, politicians, members of the nationalist Gaelic Athletic Association and students. He is buried at Maynooth.

(Pictured: Statue of Fr. Eugene O’Growney on the grounds of St. James’ Church in Athboy, courtesy of http://www.athboyparish.ie)