seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Jazz Guitarist Louis Stewart

louis-stewartLouis Stewart, Irish jazz guitarist, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on January 5, 1944.

Stewart grows up in Dublin. He begins playing guitar when he is thirteen, influenced by guitarists Les Paul and Barney Kessel. He begins his professional career performing in Dublin showbands. In 1968 he wins an award as best soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Soon after, he spends three years with Benny Goodman.

Stewart records his debut album, Louis the First, in Dublin, and then records in London with Billy Higgins, Peter Ind, Sam Jones, Red Mitchell, and Spike Robinson. From the mid to late 1970s he works with George Shearing, touring the United States, Brazil, and playing European festivals, and recording eight albums, including several in a trio with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen. He also appears on albums by Joe Williams and J. J. Johnson.

In 1981, ahead of his debut in the United States as a leader, The New York Times states, “Mr. Stewart seems to have his musical roots in be-bop. He leans toward material associated with Charlie Parker and he spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving.” In a review of Stewart’s 1995 album Overdrive, AllMusic states, “Louis Stewart is one of the all-time greats, and it is obvious from the first notes he plays on any occasion.”

Stewart receives an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1998. In 2009, he is elected to Aosdána, an Irish affiliation of people engaged in literature, music, and visual arts that was established by the Arts Council of Ireland in 1981 to honour those whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland.

In late 2015, Stewart is diagnosed with cancer. He dies nine months later, on August 20, 2016, at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross at the age of 72.

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Fungie Statue Unveiled

fungie-statueA bronze life-size statue of Fungie, also known as the Dingle Dolphin, is unveiled in a special millennium ceremony in Dingle, County Kerry on January 2, 2000.

Fungie is a common bottlenose dolphin who lives in very close contact with humans in Dingle Bay. According to locals he is first seen in the harbour in 1983, and continues to seek out human contact over thirty years later. Dolphins have been known to live to 48 years of age. Fungie is a 13-foot male fully grown bottlenose dolphin weighing in at around 500 pounds.

Fungie is known to interact playfully with swimmers, surfers, kayakers and divers in the water. There have not been any recorded cases of Fungie being aggressive towards humans. Although it is normal for social animals like dolphins to live in close contact with each other, it is still a rare occurrence for them to seek out human contact, and Fungie is the first recorded occurrence of a dolphin interacting positively with humans in the wild in Ireland. Fungie has been observed eating garfish, something not previously known to be eaten by dolphins.


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.


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Birth of Martin Archer Shee, Portrait Painter

martin-archer-sheeSir Martin Archer Shee, portrait painter and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1769.

Shee is born into an old Irish Catholic family, the son of Martin Shee, a merchant, who regards the profession of a painter as an unsuitable occupation for a descendant of the Shees. He nevertheless studies art in the Royal Dublin Society and comes to London. There, in 1788, he is introduced by Edmund Burke to Joshua Reynolds, on whose advice he studies in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1789 Shee exhibits his first two pictures, the “Head of an Old Man” and “Portrait of a Gentleman.” Over the next ten years he steadily increases in practice. In 1798 he is chosen an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1800 he is elected a Royal Academician. He moves to George Romney‘s former house at 32 Cavendish Square and sets up as his successor.

Shee continues to paint with great readiness of hand and fertility of invention, although his portraits are eclipsed by more than one of his contemporaries, and especially by Thomas Lawrence. His earlier portraits are carefully finished, easy in action, with good drawing and excellent discrimination of character. They show an undue tendency to redness in the flesh painting, a defect which is still more apparent in his later works, in which the handling is less square, crisp and forcible. In addition to his portraits, he executes various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture “Prospero and Miranda,” and the “Daughter of Jephthah.”

In 1805 Shee publishes a poem consisting of Rhymes on Art, and a second part follows in 1809. Lord Byron speaks well of it in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He publishes another small volume of verse in 1814, entitled The Commemoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other Poems, but this is less successful. He also produces a tragedy, Alasco, set in Poland. The play is accepted at Covent Garden, but is refused a licence, on the grounds that it contains treasonable allusions, and Shee angrily resolves to make his appeal to the public. He carries out his threat in 1824, but Alasco is still on the list of unacted dramas in 1911. He also publishes two novels – Oldcourt (1829, in three volumes) and Cecil Hyde (1834).

On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, Shee is chosen president of the Royal Academy in his stead and shortly afterwards receives a knighthood. In 1831 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In an examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836 concerning the functions of the Royal Academy, he ably defends its rights. He continues to paint until 1845, when illness makes him retire to Brighton. He is deputised for at the Academy by J. M. W. Turner, who had appointed him a trustee of the projected Turner almshouse.

From 1842–1849, Shee is the first president of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Martin Archer Shee dies in Brighton, Sussex, England on August 13, 1850 and is buried in the western extension to St. Nicholas’ Churchyard in Brighton. His headstone remains but has been laid flat and moved to the perimeter of the site.


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.


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Birth of Daniel O’Donnell, Singer & Presenter

daniel-o-donnellDaniel Francis Noel O’Donnell, singer, television presenter and philanthropist affectionately known as “Wee Daniel,” is born in Kincasslagh, County Donegal on December 12, 1961. After rising to public attention in 1983 he has since become a household name in Ireland and Britain. He has also had considerable success in the United States and Australia. In 2012, he becomes the first artist to have a different album in the British charts every year for 25 consecutive years.

Known for his close relationship with his fanbase, and his charismatic and engaging stage presence, O’Donnell’s music has been described as a mix of country and Irish folk. He has had twenty UK Top 40 albums as well as fifteen Top 40 singles and has sold 10 million records to date. He is widely considered a “cultural icon” in Ireland, and is often parodied in the media.

During his school years, O’Donnell considers pursuing a career in banking. Despite this, a career in music is also always a possibility. As a youngster, O’Donnell performs in the local religious choir. In 1980, he goes to Galway to pursue business studies, however, he never settles down and by Christmas he is in his sister Margo‘s band.

Not getting enough opportunities to perform solos with the band, in 1983 O’Donnell decides to record his own record. On February 9, 1983, he records his first single, Johnny McCauley‘s My Donegal Shore, with £1,200 of his own money, selling all the copies himself. Later that year, he forms his own musical group, Country Fever. After the group disbands, he forms The Grassroots. In 1985, the manager of the Ritz label, Mick Clerkin, sees him perform and introduces him to Sean Reilly, who remains as his manager to this day.

Under Reilly’s management, O’Donnell starts to sell concerts out in England on a regular basis. By January 1992, he has hit rock bottom with exhaustion. After a three-month recovery break, he returns to the stage, this time at the Point Theatre, Dublin.

By the mid-1990s, O’Donnell has become a household name across Ireland and Great Britain. He appears on popular television shows in both countries and wins various awards. Among the accolades, he is named Donegal Person of the Year in 1989, which he still rates as the best award. He is given the Irish Entertainer of the Year award in 1989, 1992 and 1996. His first chart hit single in the UK is in 1992 with I Just Want to Dance With You (later covered by George Strait). This also leads to his first-ever appearance on Top of the Pops.

During his lengthy career, O’Donnell has made friends with his childhood idols, including Cliff Richard and Loretta Lynn. He has also forged a close professional relationship with the Irish songstress Mary Duff, who regularly tours with O’Donnell.

On November 4, 2002, O’Donnell marries Majella McLennan from Thurles, whom he had met on holiday in Tenerife three years previously. The couple lives in Meenbanad, County Donegal, and spend time at their second home in Tenerife.


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Death of Christie Hennessy, Folk Singer-Songwriter

christie-hennessyChristie Hennessy, Irish folk singer-songwriter, dies in London on December 11, 2007. Although Hennessy is unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, he still writes his own songs such as “Roll back the Clouds” and “All the lies that you told me.”

Hennessy is born in Tralee, County Kerry on November 19, 1945. His first guitar is made, especially for him, from a tea chest when he is six years old by his friend Jerry Quirke. He leaves school at the age of eleven.

Hennessy’s first job is as a messenger boy, and it is then that he discovers that it is important to be able to read. He is unable to read or write due to severe dyslexia, but still enjoys his library of books. He later works on building sites in London.

In 1972 Hennessy releases his first record, The Green Album, on Westwood, a small label. With scant publicity or promotion, the album makes little impact and only 500 copies of the record are pressed. He returns to labouring on building sites in the UK and does not release another album for twenty years. When he does, his 1992 release The Rehearsal outsells U2 in Ireland, eventually attaining triple platinum status. His following albums, A Year in the Life and Box also sell extremely well in Ireland.

A renowned songwriter as well as performer, Hennessy writes several songs that become hits for other singers including Don’t Forget your Shovel, made famous by Christy Moore, and All the Lies that You Told Me, recorded by Frances Black. He also composes the theme tune and incidental music for the BBC TV series Get Well Soon written by Ray Galton (of Steptoe & Son fame) and composes and writes a musical/feature film about his native Ireland, Two Stops to Paradise.

In 2005, Christy Moore’s rendition of Hennessy’s Don’t Forget Your Shovel is referenced in a UK Number One single JCB by Nizlopi. It is further referenced in the video for the same song. As the line is sung, the characters in the JCB pass a shop called “Christie’s Shovels.”

Hennessy returns to the studio in 2007, one final time to record an album with both Luka Bloom and Christy Moore sharing vocals on one of the tracks.

Christie Hennessy dies on December 11, 2007 in a London hospice, at the age of 62. He is reported to have died from pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, which has been attributed to his younger years spent working on building sites in London where he was exposed to asbestos dust. Just before he dies he had been touring in Ireland but had to cancel due to the illness. His ashes are buried in Old Rath Cemetery, Tralee. A commemorative statue of Christie is erected in Central Plaza, just off the town square in Tralee in November 2009.