seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Fall of Athlone

siege-of-athloneThe fall of Athlone occurs on June 30, 1691 during the Williamite War in Ireland. Despite the bravery of legendary Sergeant Custume and others, severely outnumbered, the Connacht side of the town falls. The remainder of the Irish garrison retreats to Limerick.

The first assault on Athlone comes in 1690 after the defeat of the Irish at the Battle of the Boyne. General Douglas, leading a substantial force of possibly ten thousand consisting mostly of Ulster regiments, is the Williamite commander. When he arrives at Athlone he is confident that he will quickly conquer the town for King William III. However, he had not reckoned on the spirited defence of Athlone by Colonel Richard Grace. Grace, who is at that time over seventy years of age and a veteran of the Irish Confederate Wars and Governor of Athlone, refuses to surrender. After a week the Williamite army retreats.

In 1691, determined to capture Athlone, the Williamites return with their full army of almost 25,000 men. The army is under the command of a Dutch general, Goderd de Ginkell. The Jacobite forces are under the command of a French general, the Marquis de St. Ruth. The Williamites breach the town wall and capture the Leinster town. The Jacobites, in a desperate attempt to keep the enemy at bay, break down several arches of the bridge and the Williamites quickly attempt to repair them. Sergeant Custume leads his men onto the bridge to dislodge the Williamite repair work. They succeed in doing so before meeting their death at the hands of enemy fire.

Ironically the capture of Athlone comes when the Williamites discover the ford that gave Athlone its name and in a surprise attack dislodge the Jacobites and take the castle by storm resulting in wholesale carnage and slaughter. For his services to King William III, but certainly not to Athlone, Ginkle is given the title Earl of Athlone. The bravery of Sergeant Custume has not been forgotten as the military barracks in Athlone is called Custume Barracks in his honour, the only barracks in Ireland named after a non-commissioned officer. A street adjoining the town bridge is named Custume Place.


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Death of Máire Ni Scolai, Singer & Actress

maire-ni-scolaiMáire Ni Scolai, Irish language singer and actress, dies on June 29, 1985.

Ní Scolaí is born in May 24, 1909 in Dublin. She is the daughter of Michael Scully, a commercial traveler and Mary Scully (née Kavanagh). She attends the Central Model Schools, were she learns Irish through the pilot Irish language courses. She studies Irish further at Ring College, County Waterford. She moves to Galway with her sister Mona as a young adult, and begins teaching Irish singing and dancing. With the Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc, she plays a number of leading roles. In Micheál Mac Liammóir‘s 1928 production of Diarmaid agus Gráinne, she plays Gráinne.

Ní Scolaí’s interpretation of traditional Irish songs gains her fame, and she sings many times on 2RN as well as radio in France, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. She trains as a mezzo-soprano and licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, London, and is noted as one of the few people who combines classical music with sean-nós singing successfully. She wins awards at feiseanna such as Feis Chonnacht and Feis Shligigh, later becoming a judge. She is also an award winner at Aonach Tailteann, as well at the Welsh Eisteddfod, the Scottish mòd, the Manx Tynwald, and the Breton Bretagne celebrations. She performs at London’s Covent Garden and Queen’s Hall. She travels around Gaeltacht areas in Ireland to collect and save songs that might have otherwise been lost. The traditional singers she collects from included Cáit Uí Chonláin in Spiddal and Labhras “Binn” Ó Cadhla. HMV records and releases her performances of Seacht ndolas na Maighduine Mhuire, Caoineadh na dtrí Muire, and Eibhlín a Rún.

On September 9, 1931 she marries Liam Ó Buachalla at University Church, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. She dies on June 29, 1985, and is buried in Galway.

(Pictured: Ciarán Mac Mathúna and Máire Ní Scolaí (1976))


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John Kennedy’s Address to Oireachtas

jfk-address-to-oireachtasUnited States President John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Houses of the Oireachtas in Dublin on June 28, 1963, on the third day of his Irish visit. It follows a visit earlier in the day to Cork where he is greeted like a rock star.

Kennedy makes a surprising mistake when speaking to a packed Dáil Éireann about one of the most momentous days for the Irish Brigade during the American Civil War. Somehow, Kennedy gets his dates and geography mixed up when he says, “The 13th day of September, 1862, will be a day long remembered in American history. At Fredericksburg, Maryland, thousands of men fought and died on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War.” The date of the Battle of Fredericksburg where so many Irish are slaughtered is December 13 rather than September 13 as Kennedy states. Also, Fredericksburg is in Virginia and not Maryland.

Kennedy is accompanied on this European trip, which includes the famous Ich bin ein Berliner, speech by his counselor and speech writer Ted Sorensen, a master wordsmith and fastidious researcher who seems to have erred in the writing of the speech. It is unlikely that Kennedy mispronounced “December” as the transcript of the speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum includes the incorrect dates. No one in Dáil Éireann appears to notice Kennedy’s error.

Aside from this mistake, the speech is uplifting and motivating to an Irish nation that is still young. Kennedy says:

“This has never been a rich or powerful country, and yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.

This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: Other people, he said “see things and . . . say ‘Why?’ . . . But I dream things that never were – and I say: ‘Why not?’” ”

The complete audio version of Kennedy’s speech can be heard on the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum website.


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Marie Kean

Compressed by jpeg-recompressMarie Kean, actress of stage and screen whose career spanned over 40 years, is born in the village of Rush, County Dublin on June 27, 1918. The Stage calls her one of Ireland’s most impressive actresses, and “an artist of considerable emotional depth and theatrical command.”

Kean grows up in Rush and is educated at Loreto College, North Great George’s Street, Dublin. She learns her craft at the Gaiety School of Acting and is part of the Abbey Theatre company until 1961.

Kean’s leading role as the kindly matriarch, Mrs. Kennedy, in the RTÉ Radio serial drama, The Kennedys of Castleross, makes her famous throughout Ireland. She stars in the programme for the duration of its 18-year run.

In 1968, Kean wins a Jacob’s Award for her performance as Winnie in RTÉ television’s production of Samuel Beckett‘s play Happy Days, a role she had previously performed on stage and which she describes later as her favourite part. Among her other television roles is that of Mrs. Conn Brickley, Bridget’s mother, in an episode of The Irish R.M. called “The Boat’s Share.”

Kean’s many stage appearances include performances in the plays of John Millington Synge, Seán O’Casey and Brian Friel. She takes the lead role of Maggie Polpin in the 1969 world première of John B. Keane‘s play Big Maggie at the Cork Opera House. In 1978 she wins the State of New York best actress award for her performance in what has become Keane’s most successful play.

Arguably her most memorable film role is as Barry’s scheming mother in Stanley Kubrick‘s Barry Lyndon. She also plays a bigoted Irish shopkeeper in David Lean‘s Ryan’s Daughter. Her final movie appearance is in John Huston‘s The Dead (1987), in which she plays the part of Mrs. Malins.

Marie Kean dies in Donnybrook, Dublin at the age of 75 on December 30, 1993. Her husband, William Mulvey, predeceases her in 1977.


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Paintings Again Stolen from Russborough House

russborough-house-theft-2001A pair of paintings valued at more than £3,000,000 are stolen by an armed gang from Russborough House in County Wicklow on June 26, 2001. The stolen paintings are Thomas Gainsborough‘s Madame Baccelli, the more valuable of the pair, and Bernardo Belotto‘s Scene of Florence.

Three masked men burst their way into the house after ramming the front door with a Mitsubishi at midday. After grabbing the paintings the men set fire to their getaway vehicle and attempt to hijack a car at gunpoint but its driver refuses to give it up. They are last seen running from the scene.

Chief Superintendent Sean Feely says that there were people in the house at the time of the robbery but no one was hurt. He adds that, because they are so well known, the paintings will be near impossible to sell. Raymond Keaveney, the Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, describes the theft as “an outrage.”

The robbery is a case of history repeating itself for Russborough House, twenty miles from Dublin, which has been the scene of two previous major art thefts.

In 1974, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) gang which includes Dr. Rose Dugdale, the British heiress, steal 19 paintings, valued at IR£8 million, from Russborough House which, at the time, is the home of the late Sir Alfred Beit, a member of the De Beers diamond family, and his wife. The couple are bound and gagged during the raid. The paintings are later found in County Cork. Dugdale and the others involved are ultimately jailed.

In 1986, a 13-strong gang headed by Martin Cahill, the Dublin crime chief who is later shot dead by the IRA, steals 18 works including some of those taken and recovered in the earlier raid. The paintings taken on this occasion include those by Johannes Vermeer, Gabriël Metsu, Francisco Goya, Thomas Gainsborough and Peter Paul Rubens. All but three of the paintings are recovered over a period of years at a number of locations, including London, Belgium, Holland and Turkey, after apparent unsuccessful attempts to sell them. The Gainsborough painting stolen on June 26 was also taken in the 1986 raid.

The Beit collection is made over to the Irish nation and many of the works are still on display at Russborough House.

(Pictured: The Mitsubishi used to ram the entrance of Russborough House sits near the front steps. The thieves torch this car before fleeing in another car. Note the gas can to the right of the car.)


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Douglas Hyde Inaugurated First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar from County Roscommon, is inaugurated as the first President of Ireland on June 25, 1938.

Hyde is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State‘s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. He is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. He sets a precedent by reciting the Presidential Declaration of Office in Irish. His recitation, in Roscommon Irish, is one of a few recordings of a dialect of which Hyde is one of the last speakers. Upon inauguration, he moves into the long vacant Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, since known as Áras an Uachtaráin.

Hyde’s selection and inauguration receive worldwide media attention and is covered by newspapers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, and Egypt. Adolf Hitler “orders” the Berlin newspapers “to splash” on the Irish presidential installation ceremony. However, the British government ignores the event. The Northern Ireland Finance Minister, John Miller Andrews, described Hyde’s inauguration as a “slight on the King” and “a deplorable tragedy.”

Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office.

In April 1940 Hyde suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.


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Birth of Forrest Reid, Novelist & Critic

forrest-reidForrest Reid, novelist, literary critic and translator, is born in Belfast on June 24, 1875. He is, along with Hugh Walpole and J. M. Barrie, a leading pre-war novelist of boyhood. He is still acclaimed as the greatest of Ulster novelists and is recognised with the award of the 1944 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Young Tom.

Reid is the youngest son of a Protestant family of twelve, six of whom survive. His mother, his father’s second wife, comes from an aristocratic Shropshire family. Although proud of this ancestry, he finds the strict Protestant ethics of his immediate family constricting. He is educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, after which he is initially apprenticed into the Belfast tea-trade before going to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he reads medieval and modern languages, and is influenced by the novelist E. M. Forster. His first book, The Kingdom of Twilight, is published in 1904. Following graduation in 1908, he returns to Belfast to pursue a writing career.

As well as his fiction, Reid also translates poems from the Greek Anthology. His study of the work of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Study, has been acclaimed as one of the best critical studies of that poet. He also writes the definitive work on the English woodcut artists of the 1860s, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). His collection of original illustrations from that time is housed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Reid is a close friend of Walter de la Mare, whom he first meets in 1913, and about whose fiction he publishes a perceptive book in 1929. He is also an influence on novelist Stephen Gilbert, and has good connections to the Bloomsbury Group of writers. He is a founding member of the Imperial Art League (later the Artists League of Great Britain) and is also a close friend of Arthur Greeves, the artist known to be C. S. Lewis‘s best friend. Greeves paints several portraits of Reid, now all in the possession of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

Reid publishes articles in many magazines, including Uladh, The Westminster Review and the Ulster Review, and he reviews books for The Manchester Guardian. Apostate, an autobiography, is published in 1926, and its sequel, Private Road, is published in 1940. He is a founder member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Forrest Reid dies on January 4, 1947 in Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Though Reid’s books are not necessarily well known today, he has been labelled “the first Ulster novelist of European stature,” and comparisons have been drawn between his own coming of age novel of Protestant Belfast, Following Darkness (1912), and James Joyce‘s seminal novel of growing up in Catholic Dublin, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914). Reid’s fiction, which often uses submerged narratives to explore male beauty and love, can be placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature in the 20th century.

A ‘Forrest Reid Collection’ is held at the University of Exeter, consisting of first editions of all Reid’s works and books about him. Many of his original manuscripts are in the archives of the Belfast Central Library. In 2008, Queen’s University Belfast catalogues a large collection of Forrest Reid documentary material including many letters from E. M. Forster.

In 1952 Forster travels to Belfast to unveil a plaque commemorating Forrest Reid’s life at 13 Ormiston Crescent.