seamus dubhghaill

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


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Funeral of Tom McEllistrim, Fianna Fáil TD

fianna-fail-logoPresident Mary McAleese and former Taoiseach Charles Haughey are among the many people to pay tribute at the funeral of Kerry North Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) and former minister, Tom McEllistrim, on February 27, 2000.

Born in Boherbee, County Kerry on January 15, 1926, McEllistrim is the son of the Fianna Fáil politician and Irish War of Independence veteran, Tom McEllistrim. He succeeds his father when he is elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for the Kerry North constituency at the 1969 general election. At the 1977 general election he is elected along with his running mate Kit Ahern. This is the first time that Fianna Fáil wins two seats in the three seat Kerry North constituency. McEllistrim, who is given much credit for this feat, is disappointed not to receive a promotion to a Minister of State.

McEllistrim becomes disillusioned with the Taoiseach and party leader Jack Lynch from then and begins to believe that Charles Haughey is the right candidate for the party leadership. He believes that Lynch is about to retire and is particularly uncomfortable at the thought of George Colley succeeding Lynch. Like his father before him he believes Colley is not right for the role of leader of the party. He is particularly vocal with regard to party policy towards Northern Ireland and, as he sees it, Lynch’s apparent lack of sympathy towards the northern nationalist community.

McEllistrim is a member of the so-called “gang of five” along with Seán Doherty, Mark Killilea Jnr, Jackie Fahey and Albert Reynolds who start a lobbying campaign in favour of Haughey on the backbenches of the party. After Lynch loses two by-elections in his native County Cork he resigns as party leader in December 1979. The leadership contest is called two days later and is a two-way race between Haughey and Colley. Haughey wins the leadership contest by a decisive margin and McEllistrim is rewarded by being appointed Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works. He serves as a Minister of State again in 1982, this time at the Department of Fisheries and Forestry.

McEllistrim loses his seat at the 1987 general election by four votes to Dick Spring. After being nominated to Seanad Éireann he regains his seat at the 1989 general election but does not retain it at the 1992 general election when he loses to constituency colleague Denis Foley.

McEllistrim dies aged 74 on February 25, 2000. His son, Tom McEllistrim, is a TD for Kerry North from 2002 to 2011.


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Ciaran Carty Hails Irish Language Film “Poitín”

ciaran-cartyOn February 26, 1978, film critic Ciaran Carty hails the Irish language film Poitín for its deromanticization of the west.

Poitín is partially conceived as a response to The Quiet Man, also set in the coastal area of Connemara, and its sentimental portrayal of the Irish landscape. Poitín tells of a small community centered on a home-distiller of Irish moonshine whiskey, or poteen.

In Gaelic dialogue, using local actors, with Cyril Cusack as the moonshiner, it shifts between a humorous, whimsical account of two men’s bumbling attempts at theft and a harsh series of revenges. Director Bob Quinn, a strong advocate of Gaelic culture, calls it “a horror story told amusingly.” Carty suggests that Quinn “implicitly deromanticizes the Robert Flaherty image of the rugged West as a place of primal dignity where man does noble battle with the elements.”

Since incurring the wrath of his first editor in 1960 by making Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho his film of the year, Carty has consistently championed the arts, developing a career as one of Ireland’s leading critics and broadcasters. He serves as deputy editor of the Sunday Independent (1961–65) before becoming arts editor for the Sunday Tribune (1985–2011). Since 1988 he has edited the New Irish Writing page for both the Tribune and the Irish Independent, and is curator of the prestigious annual Hennessy Literary Awards. He is the author of Confessions of a Sewer Rat (1995), a two-volume biography of the artist Robert Ballagh (1985, 2011), and has co-edited, with Dermot Bolger, two anthologies of Hennessy fiction (1995, 2006).


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Birth of Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean

Tom Crean

Thomas “Tom” Crean, Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer, is born on February 25, 1877 in the farming area of Gurtuchrane near the village of Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.

Crean leaves the family farm to enlist in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. In 1901, while serving on Ringarooma in New Zealand, he volunteers to join Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s 1901–04 Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, thus beginning his exploring career.

He is a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Captain Scott’s 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition. This sees the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen and ends in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition, Crean’s 35 statute miles solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans leads to him receiving the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.

After his Terra Nova experience, Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture is as second officer on Ernest Shackleton‘s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, on Endurance. After Endurance becomes beset in the pack ice and sinks, Crean and the ship’s company spend months drifting on the ice before a journey in boats to Elephant Island. He is a member of the crew which makes an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.

Crean’s contributions to these expeditions seals his reputation as a polar explorer and earns him a total of three Polar medals. After the Endurance expedition, he returns to the navy. When his naval career ends in 1920 he moves back to County Kerry. In his home town of Annascaul, Crean and his wife Ellen live quietly and unobtrusively and open a pub called The South Pole Inn.

In 1938 Crean becomes ill with a ruptured appendix. He is taken to the nearest hospital in Tralee, but as no surgeon is available to operate, he is transferred to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where his appendix is removed. Because of the delay of the operation an infection develops and after a week in the hospital he dies on July 27, 1938, shortly after his sixty-first birthday. He is buried in his family’s tomb at the cemetery in Ballynacourty.

Crean’s name is commemorated in at least two places – 8,630 foot Mount Crean in Victoria Land and the Crean Glacier on South Georgia. A one-man play, Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer, has been widely performed since 2001 by its author Aidan Dooley, including a special showing at the South Pole Inn, Annascaul, in October 2001. In July 2003, a bronze statue of Crean is unveiled across from his pub in Annascaul. It depicts him leaning against a crate whilst holding a pair of hiking poles in one hand and two of his beloved sled dog pups in the other.


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Birth of Samuel Lover, Songwriter, Novelist & Painter

samuel-lover-1Samuel Lover, Irish songwriter, composer, novelist, and a painter of portraits, chiefly miniatures, is born at 60 Grafton Street in Dublin on February 24, 1797. He is also known as “Ben Trovato” (“well invented”) and is the grandfather of Victor Herbert. He is noted as saying, “When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen.”

Lover goes to school at Samuel Whyte’s at 79 Grafton Street, now home to Bewley’s café. By 1830 he is secretary of the Royal Hibernian Academy and lives at 9 D’Olier Street. In 1835 he moves to London and begins composing music for a series of comic stage works. To some of them, like the operetta Il Paddy Whack in Italia (1841), he contributes both words and music, for others he merely contributes a few songs.

Lover produces a number of Irish songs, of which several – including The Angel’s Whisper, Molly Bawn, and The Four-leaved Shamrock – attain great popularity. He also writes novels, of which Rory O’Moore and Handy Andy are the best known, and short Irish sketches which, with his songs, he combines into a popular entertainment called Irish Nights or Irish Evenings. With the latter, he tours North America between 1846 and 1848. He joins with Charles Dickens in founding Bentley’s Magazine.

Lover’s grandson is composer Victor Herbert whose mother is Lover’s daughter Fanny. Herbert is best remembered for his many successful musicals and operettas that premier on Broadway. As a small child he lives with the Lovers in a musical environment following the divorce of his mother.

Samuel Lover dies on July 6, 1868 in Saint Helier on the island of Jersey. A memorial in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin summarises his achievements:

“Poet, painter, novelist and composer, who, in the exercise of a genius as distinguished in its versatility as in its power, by his pen and pencil illustrated so happily the characteristics of the peasantry of his country that his name will ever be honourably identified with Ireland.”


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Birth of Sculptor Jerome Connor

jerome-connorJerome Connor, recognized world-class Irish sculptor, is born on February 23, 1874 in Coumduff, Annascaul, County Kerry.

In 1888, Connor emigrates to Holyoke, Massachusetts. His father is a stonemason, which leads to Connor’s jobs in New York as a sign painter, stonecutter, bronze founder and machinist. Inspired by his father’s work and his own experience, he would steal his father’s chisels as a child and carve figures into rocks.

It is believed Connor possibly assisted in the manufacture of bronzes such as the Civil War monument in Town Green in South Hadley, Massachusetts erected in 1896 and The Court of Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., completed in 1898.

Connor joins the Roycroft arts community in 1899 where he assists with blacksmithing and later starts creating terracotta busts and reliefs. Eventually he is recognized as Roycroft’s sculptor-in-residence.

After four years at Roycroft, Connor then works with Gustav Stickley and becomes well known as a sculptor being commissioned to create civic commissions in bronze for placement in Washington, D.C., Syracuse, East Aurora, New York, San Francisco, and in his native Ireland. In 1910, he establishes his own studio in Washington, D.C. From 1902 until his death, he produces scores of designs ranging from small portrait heads to relief panels to large civic commissions realized in bronze.

Connor is a self-taught artist who is highly regarded in the United States where most of his public works can be seen. He appears to be heavily influenced by the work of Irish American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He uses the human figure to give expression to emotions, values and ideals. Many of the commissions he receives are for civic memorials and secular figures which he casts in bronze, a pronounced departure from the Irish tradition of stone carved, church sponsored works.

Connor’s best known work is Nuns of the Battlefield located at the intersection of Rhode Island Avenue NW, M Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. It serves as a tribute to the over six hundreds nuns who nursed soldiers of both armies during the American Civil War, and is one of two monuments in the District that represent women’s roles in the Civil War. The sculpture is authorized by the United States Congress on March 29, 1918 with the agreement that the government will not fund it. The Ancient Order of Hibernians raises $50,000 for the project and Connor is selected since he focuses on Irish Catholic themes, being one himself. Connor, however, ends up suing the Order for nonpayment.

Connor works in the United States until 1925 at which time he moves to Dublin and opens his own studio but suffers from lack of financial support and patrons. In 1926 he is contacted by Roycroft and asked to design and cast a statue of Elbert Hubbard who, with his wife Alice, had died in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. It is unveiled in 1930 and today stands on the lawn of East Aurora’s Middle School across the street from the Roycroft Chapel building.

While working on the Hubbard statue, Connor receives a commission to create a memorial for all the RMS Lusitania victims. It is to be erected in Cobh, County Cork where many of the victims are buried. The project is initiated by the New York Memorial Committee, headed by William Henry Vanderbilt whose father, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, perished on the RMS Lusitania. He dies before the memorial is completed and based on Connor’s design its installation falls to another Irish artist.

Jerome Connor dies on August 21, 1943 of heart failure and reputably in poverty. There is a now a “Jerome Connor Place” in Dublin and around the corner there is a plaque in his honour on Infirmary Road, overlooking Dublin’s Phoenix Park, his favourite place.


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Lord Randolph Churchill’s Speech at Ulster Hall

Generated by IIPImageConservative Party politician Lord Randolph Churchill, father of Winston Churchill, gives what many consider one of the single most destructive speeches in Irish history, inciting militant loyalists at Ulster Hall in Belfast on February 22, 1886.

The Conservative Party in Ulster launches an anti-Home Rule campaign in February 1886. It joins with the Orange Order to organise a huge political rally which is addressed by Lord Churchill.

Protestants in Ulster are very concerned about the prospect of Irish Home Rule. They fear that an Irish parliament will put rural agricultural interests before the needs of the industrial North-East. They believe a Dublin parliament will introduce tariffs which will damage industries in the north. They also fear that they will be discriminated against because of their religion, outnumbered in a Dublin parliament by Catholic representatives.

Churchill has shown disdain for Ulster Unionists up until this time, in private at least, telling Lord Salisbury, “these foul Ulster Tories have always ruined our party,” but as 1886 begins he sees an opportunity to exploit their fears for political gain. He decides that should Prime Minister William Gladstone “went for Home Rule (for Ireland), the Orange Card would be the one to play. Please God may it turn out the ace of trumps and not the two.” This quote leads one to believe he has few real convictions regarding the issue.

“Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right,” Lord Churchill proclaims to a crowd before he even arrives at Ulster Hall.

Lord Churchill, gives a rousing speech at the rally. During his speech, he plays on Protestant fears of Dublin “Catholic” rule and encourages Ulster Protestants to organize against Home Rule so it does not come upon them “as a thief in the night.” As a result, the Ulster Protestants begin to form paramilitary drilling units.

Churchill achieves a short term political gain by his playing of the Orange Card, but his most lasting legacy is the unfounded fear of Irish Catholics that he helps to implant in the minds of Ulster Protestants, a tragedy for both traditions on the island. Those fears remain evident over a century later.


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Death of Paul Funge, Painter & Arts Enthusiast

paul-fungePaul Funge, internationally respected painter and arts enthusiast, dies at Loughlinstown Hospital in the south Dublin suburb of Loughlinstown on February 21, 2011 after a short illness.

A native of Gorey, County Wexford, Funge is a founder of the Project Arts Centre in Dublin and the founder of Gorey Arts Centre in 1970. He is also a founder of the Belltable Arts Centre in Limerick while the regional arts officer for the midwest. In addition he establishes the Gorey Arts Festival, a three-week summer arts festival, and runs it for more than fifteen years. He is remembered as the man who brought U2 to play at the Gorey Arts Festival in the days before they became an international success.

A painter of portraits and landscapes, Funge teaches art in many schools including Clongowes Wood College and Newbridge College. He also lectures at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), the University of California, and Kunsthistorisch Instituut in Amsterdam. He is also an inspector for art in the Department of Education for a number of years.

As a portrait artist Funge’s sitters included U2’s Adam Clayton, Frank McGuinness and Colm Tóibín as well as many ministers and academics.

Funge suffers a fall before Christmas 2010, badly fracturing his leg and he is admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital. On January 6, he transfers from Vincent’s to recuperate at a nursing home in Bray. In early February he takes a turn and develops chest problems. His condition deteriorates and he is admitted to the ICU in Loughlinstown Hospital. Initially he appears to be making a reasonable recovery, but his condition deteriorates again in the days prior to his death.

Following Funge’s death, Eamon Carter, director of Gorey School of Art, pays tribute to him as a visionary who felt passionate about decentralising the arts to areas outside of Dublin.

Carter adds that it had just been announced that the Gorey School of Art is linking up with NCAD to provide a masters in fine arts and it is sad that in the week it receives such good news it also receives the sad news of Funge’s death. “I’m saddened that he wasn’t here to see that because he would have been chuffed obviously,” he said.