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


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Birth of Arthur Griffith, Founder of Sinn Féin

arthur-griffithArthur Joseph Griffith, writer, newspaper editor and politician who founded the political party Sinn Féin, is born in Dublin on March 31, 1871. He leads the Irish delegation at the negotiations that produce the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, and serves as President of Dáil Éireann from January 1922 until his death in August 1922.

Griffith, a Roman Catholic, is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. He works for a time as a printer before joining the Gaelic League, which is aimed at promoting the restoration of the Irish language.

After a short spell in South Africa, Griffith founds and edits the Irish nationalist newspaper The United Irishman in 1899. In 1904, he writes The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland, which advocates the withdrawal of Irish members from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the setting up of the institutions of government at home, a policy that becomes known as Sinn Féin (ourselves). On November 28, 1905, he presents “The Sinn Féin Policy” at the first annual Convention of the National Council. The occasion is marked as the founding date of the Sinn Féin party. Although the organization is still small at the time, Griffith takes over as president of Sinn Féin in 1911.

Griffith is arrested following the Easter Rising of 1916, despite not having taken any part in it. On his release, he works to build up Sinn Féin, which wins a string of by-election victories. At the party’s Ardfheis (annual convention) in October 1917, Sinn Féin becomes an unambiguously republican party, and Griffith resigns the presidency in favour of the 1916 leader Éamon de Valera, becoming vice-president instead. Griffith is elected as a member of parliament (MP) in June 1918, and is re-elected in the 1918 general election, when Sinn Féin wins a huge electoral victory over the Irish Parliamentary Party and, refusing to take their seats at Westminster, set up their own constituent assembly, Dáil Éireann.

In the Dáil, Griffith serves as Minister for Home Affairs from 1919 to 1921, and Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1921 to 1922. In September 1921, he is appointed chairman of the Irish delegation to negotiate a treaty with the British government. After months of negotiations, he and the other four delegates sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which creates the Irish Free State, but not as a republic. This leads to a split in the Dáil. After the Treaty is narrowly approved by the Dáil, de Valera resigns as president and Griffith is elected in his place. The split leads to the Irish Civil War.

Griffith enters St. Vincent’s Nursing Home, Leeson Street, Dublin, during the first week of August 1922, following an acute attack of tonsillitis. He is confined to his room by his doctors, who had observed signs of what they thought might be a subarachnoid hemorrhage. It is difficult to keep him quiet and he resumes his daily work in the government building. When about to leave for his office shortly before 10:00 AM on August 12, 1922, he pauses to retie his shoelace and falls down unconscious. He regains consciousness, but collapses again with blood coming from his mouth. Three doctors render assistance, but to no avail. Father John Lee of the Marist Fathers administers extreme unction, and Griffith expires as the priest recites the concluding prayer. The cause of death, cerebral hemorrhage, is also reported as being due to heart failure. He dies at the age of 51, ten days before Michael Collins‘ assassination in County Cork and two months after the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery four days later.

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Death of Writer John McGahern

john-mcgahernJohn McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, dies in Dublin on March 30, 2006. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death and in its obituary The Guardian describes him as “arguably the most important Irish novelist since Samuel Beckett.”

Born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, his mother runs the farm (with some local help) while maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. His mother subsequently dies of cancer in 1944, when the young McGahern is ten years old resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the aforementioned Garda barracks, Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having traveled daily to complete his second level education, he continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following on from his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, he begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste (Belgrove) primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd. He is dismissed from Scoil Eoin Báiste on the order of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He is first published by the London literary and arts review, X magazine, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his abandoned first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaksi, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Censorship of Publications Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

John McGahern dies from cancer in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006, at the age of 71. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church, Aughawillan alongside his mother.


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Launch of “The Irish Times”

the-irish-timesThe Irish Times, an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper, is launched at 4 Lower Abbey Street in Dublin on March 29, 1859. The first appearance of a newspaper using the name The Irish Times occurs in 1823 but it closes in 1825. The title is revived as a thrice weekly publication by Major Lawrence E. Knox. It is originally founded as a moderate Protestant Irish nationalist newspaper, reflecting the politics of Knox, who stands unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League. In its early days, its main competitor is the Dublin Daily Express.

Though formed as a Protestant nationalist paper, within two decades and under new owners it becomes the voice of British unionism in Ireland. It is no longer marketed as a unionist paper, but rather presents itself politically as “liberal and progressive,” as well as promoting neoliberalism on economic issues. The editorship of the newspaper from 1859 until 1986 is controlled by the Anglo-Irish Protestant minority, only gaining its first nominal Irish Catholic editor 127 years into its existence.

The paper’s most prominent columnists include writer and arts commentator Fintan O’Toole and satirist Miriam Lord. The late Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald is once a columnist. Senior international figures, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, have written for its op-ed page. Its most prominent columns have included the political column Backbencher, by John Healy, Drapier, an anonymous piece produced weekly by a politician giving the ‘insider’ view of politics, Rite and Reason, a weekly religious column edited by ‘religious affairs’ editor Patsy McGarry, and the long-running An Irishman’s Diary. An Irishman’s Diary is written by Patrick Campbell in the forties (under the pseudonym ‘Quidnunc’), by Seamus Kelly from 1949 to 1979 (also writing as ‘Quidnunc’) and more recently by Kevin Myers. After Myers’ move to the rival Irish Independent, An Irishman’s Diary has usually been the work of Frank McNally. On the sports pages, Philip Reid is the paper’s golf correspondent.

One of its most popular columns is the biting and humorous Cruiskeen Lawn satire column written, originally in Irish, later in English, by Myles na gCopaleen, the pen name of Brian O’Nolan who also writes books using the name Flann O’Brien. Cruiskeen Lawn is an anglicised spelling of the Irish words crúiscín lán, meaning “full little jug.” Cruiskeen Lawn makes its debut in October 1940, and appears with varying regularity until O’Nolan’s death in 1966.

The editor is Paul O’Neill who succeeds Kevin O’Sullivan on April 5, 2017. The deputy editor is Deirdre Veldon. The Irish Times is published every day except Sundays and employs 420 people.


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield”

the-vicar-of-wakefieldThe Vicar of Wakefield, a novel written from 1761 to 1762 by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith is first published on March 27, 1766. It is one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians.

Soon after Goldsmith had completed the novel, his landlady arrests him for being delinquent on his rent. He summons one of his closest friends, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who takes the novel and sells it to bookseller and publisher Francis Newbery for sixty pounds. Johnson returns and gives Goldsmith the money which he uses to pay his landlady. Newbery holds the novel for two years before releasing it for publication. It is later illustrated by English illustrator Arthur Rackham for the 1929 edition.

In literary history books, The Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar’s values are apparently not compatible with the real “sinful” world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill’s help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose’s suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.

The novel is mentioned in George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, Stendhal‘s The Life of Henry Brulard, Arthur Schopenhauer‘s The Art of Controversy, Jane Austen‘s Emma, Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein, Sarah Grand‘s The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë‘s The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott‘s Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit.

Silent film adaptations of the novel are produced in 1910, in 1913, and in 1916.


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Death of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, dies in Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.

Plunkett, the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne, is born on October 24, 1854. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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Birth of James Agar, 1st Viscount Clifden

agar-ellis-armsJames Agar, 1st Viscount Clifden, Irish peer and politician, is born on March 25, 1734. He holds the office of one of the joint Postmasters General of Ireland.

Agar is the second son of Henry Agar, a former MP for Gowran, and Anne Ellis, and is probably born at Gowran Castle in County Kilkenny. On March 20, 1760 he marries Lucia Martin, widow of Henry Boyle-Walsingham. Together they have three children; Henry-Welbore Agar-Ellis (b. January 22, 1761), John Ellis (b. December 31, 1763), and Charles-Bagnell (b. August 13, 1765).

Agar is made a Baron Clifden on July 27, 1776 and Viscount Clifden on January 12, 1781 and on August 13, 1794 becomes Baron Mendip. His younger brother is Charles Agar, first Earl of Normanton (1736–1809), who becomes the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.

In addition to being a Member of Parliament (MP) for Gowran, for which he sits three times, from 1753 to 1761, again from 1768 to 1769 and finally from 1776 to 1777, Agar controls three other borough seats through the strength of his family holdings. He represents Kilkenny County between 1761 and 1776 and Thomastown between 1768 and 1769. He holds the post of joint Postmaster General of Ireland with William Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby between 1784 and 1789.

James Agar dies on January 1, 1789. His eldest son, Henry-Welbore Agar-Ellis, becomes 2nd Viscount Clifden and Baron Mendip.

(Pictured: Arms of Agar-Ellis: 1st and 4th quarter: a cross sable charged with five crescents argent for Ellis; 2nd and 3rd quarter: azure with a lion rampant for Agar)