seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.

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UCC Students Protest Henry Kissinger Visit

kissingers-arrival-in-dublinFormer United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visits University College Cork (UCC) on February 27, 2002 where he is confronted by more than 400 angry students protesting his presence.

The protesters chant and wave banners bearing the slogan “The Milosevic of Manhattan” prior to the arrival of the 56th U.S. Secretary of State, who was in office during the controversial administration of Richard Nixon. Kissinger says he is pleased to discover that even in Ireland people are not indifferent to him. However, he denies being a war criminal claiming it is an insult to human intelligence for protesters in Cork to compare him with Slobodan Milošević.

“These people are throwing around allegedly criminal charges without a shred of real evidence. I don’t know who they represent but I wish their knowledge equalled their passion.”

Kissinger, who is visiting the university to deliver a speech at an MBA Association of Ireland business conference, says he has never replied to derogatory remarks in the media. He adds, “I consider them (the accusations) fundamentally beneath contempt. They are based on distortions and misrepresentations.”

The focus of Kissinger’s address is on United States foreign policy particularly in aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Kissinger says the international scene is experiencing an extraordinary period of change for which there is no historical precedent. One of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. administration, he says, is to bring countries together to prevent the spread of biological and chemical weapons.

Kissinger’s visit is condemned by human rights organisations who claim he flouted international law in his dealings with Bangladesh, Chile and East Timor. Cork Sinn Féin councillor Jonathan O’Brien tells an earlier council meeting that Kissinger is not welcome in the city, and calls on UCC to cancel his invitation.


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Bank of Ireland Suspends Gold Payments

godley-bank-note-1834The Bank of Ireland suspends gold payments on February 26, 1797. In the late 18th century, cash is king, whether it be gold or silver. If one has no gold or silver, one has no goods, unless one is a member of the 10,000 or so landed aristocratic families who are allowed to run up debts.

At the end of the 18th century Britain is at war with France. The British government requires gold above all to conduct its war with Napoleon. There is not enough to go around. There is not enough gold in the vaults of the Bank of England to adequately fund the war, much less for sending any of it to Ireland. Therefore, in 1797 the Bank of Ireland is obliged to stop issuing gold that it does not have and rather rely on well established banknotes to keep money in circulation. A few weeks later the stance taken by the Bank is approved of by Irish legislators in the Irish Parliament.

The withdrawal of gold and the increased issuing of notes leads to the establishment of a number of private banks in Ireland who are allowed to issue their own notes. In 1799 there are eleven private banks. By 1803, this number has increased to forty-one. Many of these banks subsequently fail and destroy the lives of their customers. The partners who run these financial institutions are identified on the banknotes they issue. Therefore their clients can see the names, but not the addresses, of the men who have financially destroyed them when they fall into liquidation.


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)


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Death of General Daniel Florence O’Leary

daniel-florence-olearyDaniel Florence O’Leary (Irish: Dónall Fínín Ó Laoghaire), a military general and aide-de-camp under Simón Bolívar, dies in Bogotá, Colombia on February 24, 1854.

O’Leary is born around 1800 in Cork, County Cork. His father is Jeremiah O’Leary, a butter merchant. Little is known of his early life.

In 1817, O’Leary travels to London to enlist in a regiment being formed by Henry Wilson. Wilson is recruiting officers and NCOs to go to South America and form a Hussar regiment in service to Simón Bolívar, who goes on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.

O’Leary sails for Venezuela with Wilson near the end of 1817, arriving in March 1818. Unlike many of the Irish who fight for Simón Bolívar in his many campaigns to win South American independence, he has not served in the Napoleonic Wars. He first meets Bolívar away from the front shortly his arrival and Bolívar is apparently impressed with the young Irish officer.

In March 1819, O’Leary sees his first action and is promoted to captain. In July, after Bolívar’s famous crossing through the Casanare Swamps and over the Andes, he receives a saber wound in the battle of Pantano de Vargas but he quickly recovers and takes part in the Battle of Boyacá on August 9. Shortly after this, he becomes aide-de-camp to Bolívar. Two years later, after much more fighting, Venezuela is freed.

During the next few years, as the fight continues to free the rest of South American from Spanish domination, O’Leary performs many dangerous missions for “The Liberator,” rising ever higher in his esteem. He continues to serve Bolívar well through the political and military intrigues that follow the freeing of South America from the Spanish.

After Bolívar’s death in December 1830, O’Leary disobeys orders to burn the general’s personal documents and is exiled to Jamaica by the new Venezuelan government. There he writes extensive memoirs that are later edited by his son, Simon Bolivar O’Leary, and published in the 1870s and 1880s. Simon is the eldest of six children O’Leary has with his South American wife. He also writes his own very extensive memoirs, spanning thirty-four volumes, of his time fighting in the revolutionary wars with Bolívar.

In 1833, O’Leary is able to return to Venezuela. He holds a number of diplomatic posts for the Venezuelan government for the next 20 years, and on at least two occasions is able to visit his boyhood home of Cork.

Daniel O’Leary dies in Bogotá on February 24, 1854. The Venezuelans name a plaza after him in Caracas. In 1882, they obtain permission to take O’Leary’s body from Bogotá to Caracas, where it is laid to rest in the National Pantheon of Venezuela to lie forever in death next to the man he had served so faithfully in life, Don Simón Bolívar. A bust and plaque honouring O’Leary are presented by the Venezuelan Government to the people of Cork and unveiled on May 12, 2010 by the Venezuelan Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Samuel Moncada.


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Birth of Playwright Tom Murphy

thomas-murphyTom Murphy, Irish playwright who has worked closely with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and with Druid Theatre, Galway, is born in Tuam, County Galway on February 23, 1935.

Murphy attends the local Archbishop McHale College and later becomes a metalwork teacher. He begins writing in the late 1950s, saying, “In 1958, my best friend said to me, why don’t we write a play? I didn’t think it was an unusual question, because in 1958 everyone in Ireland was writing a play.” His second play, A Whistle in the Dark, is written in his Tuam kitchen on his free Friday and Saturday nights. It is entered into a competition for amateur plays, which it wins, and is eventually performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London in 1961. It causes considerable controversy both there and in Dublin when it is later given its Irish premiere at the Abbey having initially been rejected by its artistic director.

Though Murphy is religious as a boy, education by the Christian Brothers leaves him largely irreligious. His 1975 play The Sanctuary Lamp is produced in the Abbey Theatre and receives a hostile reception due to its anti-Catholic nature, with theatregoers walking out and much negative criticism in the media.

Considered by many to be Ireland’s greatest living playwright, a title also often given to Brian Friel prior to his death in 2015, Murphy is honoured by the Abbey Theatre in 2001 by a retrospective season of six of his plays. His plays include the historical epic Famine (1968) which deals with the Irish Potato Famine between 1846 and spring 1847, the anti-clerical The Sanctuary Lamp (1975), The Gigli Concert (1983) and for many his masterpiece, the lyrical Bailegangaire and the bar-room comedy Conversations on a Homecoming (both 1985).

Murphy’s work is characterised by a constant experimentation in form and content from the apparently naturalistic A Whistle in the Dark to the surreal The Morning After Optimism and the spectacularly verbal The Gigli Concert. Recurring themes include the search for redemption and hope in a world apparently deserted by God and filled with suffering. Although steeped in the culture and mythology of Ireland, Murphy’s work does not trade on familiar clichés of Irish identity, dealing instead with Dostoyevskian themes of violence, nihilism and despair while never losing sight of the presence of laughter, humour and the possibilities of love and transcendence.


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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.