seamus dubhghaill

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

Leave a comment

The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.


Leave a comment

Joshua Dawson Sells the Mansion House

mansion-house-dublinOn December 25, 1715, Joshua Dawson, Irish public servant, land developer and politician, sells the Mansion House with its gardens and park to Dublin Corporation for £3,500 plus 40 shillings per annum and a “loaf of double refined sugar of six pounds weight” which is to be paid to the Dawsons every Christmas.

Dawson is born in 1660 at the family seat, which becomes Castledawson, County Londonderry, the son of Thomas Dawson, Commissary of the Musters of the Army in Ireland. He resides in County Londonderry and Dublin. His ancestral family had owned land and lived in the area where, in 1710, he founds Dawson’s Bridge, named after the bridge over the River Moyola, which becomes present-day Castledawson. In his estate he builds Moyola House in 1713.

Dawson is appointed clerk to the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Matthew Prior, in 1697. In that role he petitions for the establishment of a Paper & Patent Office. He becomes the Collector of Dublin in 1703, and holds the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland to the Lords Justices from 1710 under Queen Anne. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Irish House of Commons for Wicklow Borough from 1705 to 1714.

Dawson develops an area of Dublin in 1705-1710 which includes the setting out and construction of the streets of Dawson Street, Anne Street, Grafton Street and Harry Street. These streets are named after, respectively, himself, Queen Anne (widow of William III), and Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the son of Charles II and cousin of Queen Anne. This development includes the construction of the Mansion House in Dawson Street in 1710 which is purchased in 1715 to be the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, which it has remained for 300 years.

(Pictured: Mansion House, official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin)

Leave a comment

The Cork Opera House Fire

cork-opera-house-fire-1955The Cork Opera House is destroyed by fire on December 12, 1955. It is originally built in 1855, and is built on a template that the architect had used for the exhibition buildings at the Irish Industrial Exhibition. Since then it survives the burning of much of Cork by British forces in 1920.

“The final curtain has fallen. The Cork Opera House is no more. A hundred years of stage history has come to an end. Never had the last moments of any drama, played on this stage, such an audience as last night’s farewell one. In heavy rain, a vast crowd stood silently as flames enveloped a proud landmark in our city. They watched it from the short first burst of fire on its roof until the building crumbled before their eyes.”

So reads the main news in The Cork Examiner on Tuesday, December 13, 1955, after the disastrous fire tore at the heartstrings of the people of Cork, leaving the city without a major theatre for the first time in 250 years. It is the boast of the Opera House that its tradition is continuous. When fighting in the South was at its bitterest, even when most of Cork was burned down, the Opera House kept running, only closing for pantomime rehearsals and in Holy Week. It is during the rehearsals for the forthcoming Christmas pantomime that the fatal fire starts. Fortunately, all people are evacuated, but the building built entirely from wood does not stand a chance from the merciless fire. What begins as an electrical fault blazes into an inferno within minutes. Soon the skyline of the city is lit up as the fire does its worst.

Ten years later, on February 23, 1963, the tender of Messrs. O’Shea, South Mall is accepted for the rebuilding of the Opera House. A month later the work begins and the foundation stone is laid by Lord Mayor Seán Casey on June 21, 1963. The citizens watch the building construction with keen interest as the new building gradually takes shape. Finally the day arrives for the casting aside of hoardings and scaffoldings.

Immediately controversy begins regarding the much disputed North-Wall. Unfavorable comment and criticism is levelled at the lack of architectural or artistic embellishment on the exterior of the new building and the square, squat tower on top of the roof designed to ease set changing. This is a very natural reaction as the old Opera House had a very special place in the hearts of Corkonians of every generation during its existence. Most of the criticism is uninformed, for few are aware of the difficulties, financially and technically, that the project incurred. Despite the criticism about the exterior appearance, everyone who has an opportunity to inspect the interior of the theatre can find no fault. There is nothing but praise for the design, the decor, the layout of the seating accommodation and, above all, the intimate atmosphere which has been a traditional part of the venerable old building, and which is now faithfully preserved in the new.


Leave a comment

The Opening of the Gaiety Theatre

The Gaiety Theatre, a theatre on South King Street in Dublin off Grafton Street and close to St. Stephen’s Green, opens on November 27, 1871 with John Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, as guest of honour and a double bill of the comedy She Stoops to Conquer and a burlesque version of La Belle Sauvage. Designed by architect Charles J. Phipps and built in under seven months, it specialises in operatic and musical productions, with occasional dramatic shows.

The Gaiety is extended by theatre architect Frank Matcham in 1883, and, despite several improvements to public spaces and stage changes, it retains several Victorian era features and remains Dublin’s longest-established, continuously producing theatre.

Patrick Wall and Louis Elliman purchase the theatre in 1936 and run it for several decades with local actors and actresses. They sell it in 1965, and in the 1960s and the 1970s the theatre is run by Fred O’Donovan and the Eamonn Andrews Studios, until Joe Dowling, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, becomes director of the Gaiety in the 1980s. In the 1990s Groundwork Productions take on the lease and the theatre is eventually bought by the Break for the Border Group. The Gaiety is purchased by music promoter Denis Desmond and his wife Caroline in the late 1990s, who undertake a refit of the theatre. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism also contributes to this restoration fund.

Performers and playwrights associated with the theatre have been celebrated with hand-prints cast in bronze and set in the pavement beneath the theatre canopy. These handprints include those of Luciano Pavarotti, Brendan Grace, Maureen Potter, Twink, John B. Keane, Anna Manahan, Niall Tóibín and Brian Friel.

The theatre plays host to the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, the first to be staged in Ireland, during the Gaiety’s centenary year. Clodagh Rodgers, a contestant in that particular contest, later presents her RTÉ television series The Clodagh Rodgers Show from the theatre in the late 1970s.

The Gaiety is known for its annual Christmas pantomime and has hosted a pantomime every year since 1874. Actor and director Alan Stanford directs both Gaiety productions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Irish entertainer June Rodgers stars in the Gaiety pantomime for years, until she begins to headline the equally established Olympia Theatre panto. The Gaiety shows have included Irish performers that appeal to home grown audiences, including a number of Fair City actors. Pantomimes in the 21st century have included versions of Mother Goose (2006), Beauty and the Beast (2007), Cinderella (2008), Jack and the Beanstalk (2009), Aladdin (2010), Robinson Crusoe (2011/12), Peter Pan (2013/14), Red Riding Hood (2014/15).


Leave a comment

Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sculptor Seamus Murphy

Seamus Murphy, Irish sculptor and stone carver best known for designing the Church of the Annunciation, Blackpool, Cork, is born near Mallow, County Cork on July 15, 1907.

Murphy is the son of James Murphy, a railway employee, and Margaret Sheehan of Little Island, County Cork. He attends Saint Patrick’s School on Gardiner’s Hill. In 1921 he enrolls as a part-time student at the Crawford School of Art, Emmet Place, Cork. In 1922 he finds work as an apprentice stone-carver at John Aloysius O’Connell’s Art Marble Works, Watercourse Road, Blackpool. There he specialises in architectural and foliage carving while continuing his studies at Crawford by night.

Murphy studies at the Académie Colarossi and at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris in 1932-1933 where he is befriended by the Irish American sculptor Andrew O’Connor. He opens his studio/workshop on Watercourse Road, Blackpool, Cork in 1934.

He is elected associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1944, elected a full member in 1954, and appointed Royal Hibernian Academy Professor of Sculpture in 1964.

Also in 1944, he married Maighread Higgins, daughter of the Cork sculptor Joseph Higgins, and they go on to have three children – the knitwear designer Bebhinn Marten, the novelist Orla Murphy and the painter and De Dannan member Colm Murphy.

Murphy designs the Church of the Annunciation on Great William O’Brien Street in Blackpool, Cork, for William Dwyer in 1945. The stonework in the church is mostly by Murphy himself. It is officially dedicated on October 7, 1945.

Seamus Murphy dies in Cork on October 2, 1975. He is buried in Rathcooney, County Cork.

Examples of Murphy’s unique carvings of statues, gravestones, monuments and plaques can be seen around Cork and Ireland, including a signed panel of the four evangelists outside the entrance of the church of Our Lady and Saint John in Carrigaline, County Cork.


Leave a comment

Birth of Thomas Henry Wyatt, Anglo-Irish Architect

Thomas Henry Wyatt, Anglo-Irish architect, is born at Lough-Glin House, County Roscommon, on May 9, 1807.

Wyatt has a prolific and distinguished career, being elected President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1870–1873) and being awarded its Royal Gold Medal for Architecture in 1873. His reputation during his lifetime is largely as a safe establishment figure, and critical assessment has been less favourable more recently, particularly in comparison with his younger brother, the better known Matthew Digby Wyatt.

Wyatt’s father, Matthew Wyatt (1773–1831), is a barrister and police magistrate for Roscommon and Lambeth. Wyatt is presumed to have moved to Lambeth with his father in 1825 and then initially embarks on a career as a merchant sailing to the Mediterranean, particularly Malta.

Wyatt marries his first cousin Arabella Montagu Wyatt (1807–1875). She is the second daughter of his uncle Arthur who is agent to the Duke of Beaufort. This consolidates his practice in Wales. He lives at and practises from 77 Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury, London.

Wyatt’s early training is in the office of Philip Hardwick where he works until 1832, and is involved in work on Goldsmith’s Hall, Euston Station and the warehouses at St. Katharine Docks.

Wyatt begins practice on his own account in 1832 when he is appointed District Surveyor for Hackney, a post he holds until 1861. By 1838 he has acquired substantial patronage from the Duke of Beaufort, the Earl of Denbigh and Sidney Herbert and David Brandon join him as partner. This partnership lasts until 1851. Wyatt’s son Matthew (1840–1892) becomes his father’s partner in 1860.

Wyatt works in many styles ranging from the Italianate of Wilton through to the Gothic of many of his churches. His practice is extensive with a large amount of work in Wiltshire largely as a result of his official position and the patronage of the Herbert family and in Monmouthshire through the Beaufort connection.

Thomas Henry Wyatt dies at his Great Russell Street home on August 5, 1880, leaving an estate of £30,000. He is buried at St. Lawrence’s Church, Weston Patrick.