seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Ronan Tynan, Singer & Former Paralympic Athlete

Ronan Tynan, Irish tenor singer and former Paralympic athlete, is born in Dublin on May 14, 1960. He is a member of The Irish Tenors re-joining in 2011 while continuing to pursue his solo career since May 2004. In the United States, audiences know him for his involvement with that vocal group and for his renditions of “God Bless America.” He is also known for participating in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Paralympics.

Although born in Dublin, Tynan’s family home is in Johnstown, County Kilkenny. He is born with phocomelia, causing both of his lower legs to be underdeveloped. Although now 6’4″ tall, his legs are unusually short, his feet are splayed outward, and he has three toes on each foot.  He is one of a set of twins, his twin brother Edmond dying at 11 months old. At age 20, he has his legs amputated below the knee following a back injury in a car accident. The injury to his back makes it impossible for him to continue using prosthetic legs without the amputation.  Within weeks of the accident, he is climbing stairs at his college dormitory on artificial legs. Within a year, he is winning in international competitions in track and field athletics. He represents Ireland in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Paralympics, winning four golds, two silvers, and one bronze medal. Between 1981 and 1984, he wins 18 gold medals from various competitions and sets 14 world records.

In the following years, Tynan becomes the first person with a disability to be admitted to the National College of Physical Education in Limerick. He works for about two years in the prosthetics industry, then goes to Trinity College, Dublin, becomes a physician specialising in Orthopedic Sports Injuries, and graduates in 1993. Encouraged to also study voice by his father Edmund, Tynan wins a series of voice competition awards and joins The Irish Tenors.

A devout Roman Catholic, Tynan has appeared on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). At the invitation of the Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, he sings at the Archbishop’s installation Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 15, 2009.

Tynan performs in several events attended by President George W. Bush, including Ronald Reagan’s state funeral, George H. W. Bush‘s 80th birthday, the prayer service marking George W. Bush’s second inauguration, the St. Patrick’s Day reception with Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the 2008 President’s Dinner, and George H. W. Bush’s state funeral.

Tynan sings “God Bless America” at sporting event venues, such as Yankee Stadium and on several occasions prior to games involving the National Hockey League‘s Buffalo Sabres including a performance before 71,217 fans at the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic along with Sabres anthem singer Doug Allen, who performs the Canadian national anthem, on January 1, 2008, when the Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has not performed for the Sabres since Terry Pegula purchased the team in 2011. Most recently, he sings “On Eagle’s Wings” at the 2017 Memorial Day Concert.

In 2004 Tynan sings the “Theme from New York, New York” at the Belmont Stakes where Smarty Jones fails in his attempt to win the Triple Crown. Less than a week later he is at the Washington National Cathedral for former United States President Ronald Reagan’s state funeral, where he sings “Amazing Grace” and Franz Schubert‘s “Ave Maria.”

Tynan sings for George H. W. Bush at Bush’s Houston home on the day of the president’s death on November 30, 2018. The first song is “Silent Night,” while the second is a Gaelic song. Bush’s friend and former aide James Baker says that while Tynan is singing “Silent Night,” “believe it or not, the president was mouthing the words.”

While a real estate agent and prospective buyer Dr. Gabrielle Gold-von Simson are looking at an apartment in Tynan’s building on Manhattan‘s East Side, Tynan makes what is construed to be an anti-semitic remark. Shortly after this, the New York Yankees cancel Tynan’s performance of “God Bless America” for Game 1 of the 2009 American League Championship Series on October 16, 2009 because of the incident.

According to Tynan’s version of the event, two Jewish women came to view an apartment in his building. Some time afterwards, another real estate agent shows up with a potential client. The agent jokes to Tynan “at least they’re not (Boston) Red Sox fans.” Tynan replies, “As long as they’re not Jewish,” referring to the exacting women he had met earlier. The prospective client, Jewish pediatrician Dr. Gabrielle Gold-Von Simson, takes umbrage and says, “Why would you say that?” Tynan replies, “That would be scary,” and laughs, referring to the previous incident. He subsequently apologises for his remark. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) accepts his apology. He performs at an ADL event in Manhattan soon thereafter.

Only July 4, 2010 Tynan performs “God Bless America” for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park with the support of some in the local Jewish community.


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Death of Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Painter, Printmaker, Critic & Writer

Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Irish painter, printmaker, critic and writer dies in Dublin on May 11, 1969.

Salkeld is born in Assam, India on July 9, 1904. His parents are Henry Lyde Salkeld, a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and Blanaid Salkeld (née Mullen), a poet. He returns to Ireland with his mother in 1910 following the death of his father in 1909. He attends Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford, and the Dragon School in Oxford, England. He wins a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, North Northhamptonshire, but returns to Dublin where he enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919 to study under Seán Keating and James Sleator. He marries Irma Taesler in Germany in 1922. They have two daughters, Celia and Beatrice. The latter marries Brendan Behan in 1954.

Salkeld works in tempera and oil, as well as etching and wood engraving. In 1921 he travels to Germany to study under Ewald Dulberg at the Kassell Kunstschule. He attends the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf in May 1922, and is exhibited at the Internationale Kunstausstellung. Upon his return to Dublin in 1924, he holds his first solo exhibition in the Society of Dublin Painters gallery. He becomes a member of the Dublin Painters in 1927. With Francis Stuart, he co-edits the first two issues of To-morrow in 1924. His studio is in a converted labourer’s cottage at Glencree, County Wicklow. He also exhibits with the New Irish Salon and the Radical Painters’ Group.

Salkeld wins the 1926 Royal Dublin Society‘s Taylor scholarship, and has his first exhibited work with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1929. He lives in Berlin for a year in 1932. He exhibits in Daniel Egan’s Gallery in Dublin in 1935. He has a wide circle of literary friends, including Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien. In O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the character of Michael Byrne is designed for Salkeld, reflecting his debilitating alcoholism. He also teaches at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, teaching artists such as Reginald Gray.

From 1937 to 1946 Salkeld runs a private press called Gayfield Press. This is co-founded with his mother, and operates from a garden shed at their home, 43 Morehampton Road. The press is a small Adana wooden hand press. He illustrates her 1938 The Engine Left Running, as well as Ewart Milne‘s Forty North Fifty West (1938) and Liam O’Flaherty‘s Red Barbara and Other Stories (1928). In 1951, he loans the press to Liam and Josephine Miller to found the Dolmen Press.

Salkeld’s most famous public work is his 1942 three-part mural in Davy Byrne’s pub. He is a co-founder of the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s in his capacity as a pianist. In 1946 he is appointed an associate member of the RHA. In 1953 his play Berlin Dusk is staged at 37 Theatre Club, Dublin. During the 1950s he is a broadcaster with Radio Éireann as well as a director of cultural events for An Tóstal. He dies on May 11, 1969 in St. Laurence’s Hospital, Dublin.

The National Gallery of Ireland holds a portrait by Salkeld of his daughter, Celia.

(Pictured: “The Climber” by Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, oil on canvas)


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Birth of Composer Siobhán Cleary

Siobhán Cleary, composer, is born in Dublin on May 10, 1970. Her most successful compositions are her orchestral works Alchemy and Cokaygne and her choral piece Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett. Her opera Vampirella is first performed in Dublin in March 2017. She is a member of Aosdána.

Cleary starts to compose from an early age, often writing pieces while she is supposed to be practising at the piano. When she begins to study music at Maynooth University, she is initially inspired by Luciano Berio‘s Sinfonia, and soon afterwards by the works of the Irish composer Gerald Barry, the Frenchman Olivier Messiaen and the Hungarian György Ligeti. She continues her studies at Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. In addition, she follows courses in composition with the Italian composer Franco Donatoni and the Dutchman Louis Andriessen and receives private tuition from the American Tom Johnson and the South African Kevin Volans. She also studies film scoring with the Italian composer Ennio Morricone and the American Don Brandon Ray.

Inspired by the alchemists’ Opus Alchymicum which describes how cheaper metals are transmuted into gold, Cleary’s orchestral work Alchemy (2001) is, like the stages in the Opus, presented in four parts: it evolves from the slow nigrendo, the moderate albedo, the strong citronatus, and the burning rubedo. The work is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in January 2002.

Cleary’s tone poem Cokaygne (2009), which, like Alchemy, is commissioned by RTÉ for the National Symphony Orchestra, is based on a poem and old sources which evoke a land of extreme luxury and contentment. The elaborately orchestrated piece is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in November 2009, Vladimir Altschuler conducting. It is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra once again in June 2016, this time under the baton of Alan Buribayev.

Cleary’s choral work Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett (2010), commissioned by the Cork International Choral Festival, is first performed in April 2011 by Chamber Choir Ireland directed by Paul Hillier. The work is based on a series of tongue twisters and other strange combinations of words popular in various European languages and dialects, moving from Italy, through Germany and Spain, finishing in Ireland. In 2013, it is performed twice by Chamber Choir Ireland in Dublin and Cork in connection with Ireland’s presidency of the European Union. The journalist and music critic Terry Blain comments on the choir’s “dazzingly virtuosic performance” in Belfast in 2013, qualifying the piece as “a tour de force of 21st century vocal chicanery, a clever and richly entertaining composition.” Theophilus Thistle is also performed the same year in the United States as part of the “Imagine Ireland” festival.

The chamber opera Vampirella with a libretto by Katy Hayes is first performed by students from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre in March 2017. Based on a short story by Angela Carter telling how a young English soldier is seduced by a vampire countess, it is directed by Conor Hanratty and conducted by Andrew Synnott. Michael Dervan of The Irish Times finds the electronic sounds in the score particularly effective, commenting, “Perhaps this is a case of a genuinely electronic opera trying to break out of a more conventional mold.”

In 1996, Cleary receives a young artists award from Pépinières européennes pour jeunes artistes, followed in 1997 by the first prize in the Arklow Music Festival Composers’ Competition. In 2008, she is invited to become a member of Aosdána, an Irish association of creative artists.


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Birth of Roddy Doyle, Novelist, Dramatist & Screenwriter

Roddy Doyle, novelist, dramatist and screenwriter known for his unvarnished depiction of the working class in Ireland, is born in Dublin on May 8, 1958. His distinctively Irish settings, style, mood, and phrasing make him a favourite fiction writer in his own country as well as overseas.

Doyle grows up in a middle-class family in Kilbarrack. His mother, Ita Bolger Doyle, is a first cousin of the short story writer Maeve Brennan. After majoring in English and geography at University College Dublin, he teaches those subjects for fourteen years at Greendale Community School, a Dublin grade school. During the summer break of his third year of teaching, he begins writing seriously. In the early 1980s he writes a heavily political satire, Your Granny’s a Hunger Striker, but it is never published.

Doyle publishes the first editions of his comedy The Commitments (1987; film 1991) through his own company, King Farouk, until a London-based publisher takes over. The work is the first installment of his internationally acclaimed The Barrytown Trilogy novels, which also include The Snapper (1990; film 1993), and The Van (1991; film 1996). The series centres on the ups and downs of the never-say-die Rabbitte family, who temper the bleakness of life in an Irish slum with familial love and understanding.

Doyle’s fourth novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), wins the 1993 Booker Prize. Set in the 1960s in a fictional working-class area of northern Dublin, the book examines the cruelty inflicted upon children by other children. The protagonist, 10-year-old Paddy Clarke, fears his classmates’ ostracism, especially after the breakup of his parents’ marriage. In 1994 he writes the BBC miniseries Family, which generates heated controversy throughout conservative Ireland. The program sheds harsh light on a family’s struggle with domestic violence and alcoholism and portrays the bleaker side of life in a housing project, the same venue he had used in the more comedic Barrytown novels. The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996) and its sequel, Paula Spencer (2006), concern the ramifications of domestic abuse and alcoholism.

A Star Called Henry (1999) centres on an Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier named Henry Smart and his adventures during the Easter Rising. Smart’s further adventures are detailed in Oh, Play That Thing (2004), which follows him as he journeys through the United States, and The Dead Republic (2010), which chronicles his return to Ireland. In Smile (2017) a lonely middle-aged man looks back on his life, especially his troubled childhood. His next novel, Love (2020), follows two old friends as they spend a night drinking and looking back at their lives. The Deportees and Other Stories (2007), Bullfighting (2011), and Life Without Children (2021) are short-story collections. He also writes a number of books for children, including Wilderness (2007) and A Greyhound of a Girl (2011).

In 1987 Doyle marries Belinda Moller, granddaughter of former Irish President Erskine Childers. They have three children – Rory, Jack and Kate.

In the television series Father Ted, the character Father Dougal Maguire‘s unusual sudden use of (mild) profanities, such as saying “I wouldn’t know, Ted, you big bollocks!,” is blamed on his having “been reading those Roddy Doyle books again.”


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Birth of Political Cartoonist Ian Knox

Ian Knox, political cartoonist for The Irish News, is born on May 4, 1943 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He also draws cartoons for the BBC Northern Ireland political show Hearts and Minds.

Knox trains as an architect at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland from 1963 to 1967 and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh from 1967 to 1968, and works as an architect before establishing himself as a cartoonist. He works in animation from 1970 to 1975 for Halas & Batchelor in London, Potterton Productions in Montreal, and Kotopoulis Productions in Toronto. He then joins Red Weekly and Socialist Challenge as a political cartoonist, as well as contributing to various children’s comics for IPC Media from 1975 to 1988.

Knox signs much of his political work “Blotski,” and he and Republican News cartoonist Brian Moore, better known as “Cormac,” work together as “Kormski,” drawing the anti-clerical strip “Dog Collars” for Fortnight magazine. Since 1989 he has been the editorial cartoonist for The Irish News, a nationalist newspaper based in Belfast. Since 1996 he has contributed the “As I See It” feature to Hearts and Minds on BBC2 Northern Ireland. From 1997 to 1998 he is political cartoonist for Ireland on Sunday.

Knox cites Ronald Searle, David Low, John Glashan, Victor Weisz, Steve Bell, Pat Oliphant and Charles Addams among those who have influenced him.


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Birth of Mary Ward, Astronomer, Microscopist, Author & Artist

Mary Ward (née King), Irish naturalist, astronomer, microscopist, author, and artist, is born in Ballylin near present-day Ferbane, County Offaly, on April 27, 1827. She is killed in 1869 when she falls under the wheels of an experimental steam car built by her cousins, thereby becoming the first person known to be killed by a motor vehicle.

King is the youngest child of the Reverend Henry King and his wife Harriette. She and her sisters are educated at home, as are most girls at the time. However, her education is slightly different from the norm because she is of a renowned scientific family. She is interested in nature from an early age, and by the time she is three years old she is collecting insects.

King is a keen amateur astronomer, sharing this interest with her cousin, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who builds the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a reflecting telescope with a six-foot mirror which remains the world’s largest until 1917. She is a frequent visitor to Birr Castle, producing sketches of each stage of the process. Along with photographs made by Parson’s wife, Mary Rosse, her sketches are used to aid in the restoration of the telescope.

King also draws insects, and the astronomer James South observes her doing so one day. She is using a magnifying glass to see the tiny details, and her drawing so impresses him that he immediately persuades her father to buy her a microscope. A compound microscope made by Andrew Ross is purchased for £48 12s 8d. This is the beginning of a lifelong passion. She begins to read everything she can find about microscopy, and teaches herself until she has an expert knowledge. She makes her own slides from slivers of ivory, as glass is difficult to obtain, and prepares her own specimens. The physicist David Brewster asks her to make his microscope specimens, and uses her drawings in many of his books and articles.

Universities and most societies do not accept women at the time, but King obtains information any way she can. She writes frequently to scientists, asking them about papers they had published. During 1848, Parsons is made president of the Royal Society, and visits to his London home allows her to meet many scientists.

King is one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society. The others are Queen Victoria and Mary Somerville, a scientist for whom Somerville College at the University of Oxford is named.

On December 6, 1854, King marries Henry Ward of Castle Ward, County Down, who in 1881 succeeds to the title of Viscount Bangor. They have three sons and five daughters, including Maxwell Ward, 6th Viscount Bangor. Her best-known descendants are her grandson, Edward Ward, the foreign correspondent and seventh viscount, and his daughter, the Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward.

When Ward writes her first book, Sketches with the microscope (privately printed in 1857), she apparently believes that no one will print it because of her gender or lack of academic credentials. She publishes 250 copies of it privately, and several hundred handbills are distributed to advertise it. The printing sells during the next few weeks, which prompts a London publisher to take the risk and contract for future publication. The book is reprinted eight times between 1858 and 1880 as A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope. A new full-colour facsimile edition at €20 is published in September 2019 by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, with accompanying essays.

Her books are A Windfall for the Microscope (1856), A World of Wonders, Revealed by the Microscope (1857), Entomology in Sport, and Entomology in Earnest (1857, with Lady Jane Mahon), Microscope Teachings (1864), Telescope Teachings (1859). She illustrates her books and articles herself, as well as many books and papers by other scientists.

Ward is the first known automobile fatality. William Parsons’ sons had built a steam-powered car and on August 31, 1869, she and her husband are traveling in it with the Parsons boys, Richard Clere Parsons and the future steam turbine pioneer Charles Algernon Parsons, and their tutor, Richard Biggs. She is thrown from the car on a bend in the road at Parsonstown (present-day Birr, County Offaly). She falls under its wheel and dies almost instantly. A doctor who lives near the scene arrives within moments, and finds her cut, bruised, and bleeding from the ears. The fatal injury is a broken neck. It is believed that the grieving family destroys the car after the crash.

Ward’s microscope, accessories, slides and books are on display in her husband’s home, Castle Ward, County Down. William Parsons’ home at Birr Castle, County Offaly, is also open to the public.


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Death of Molly Keane, Novelist & Playwright

Molly Keane, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, dies on April 22, 1996 in Ardmore, County Waterford.

Keane is born Mary Nesta Skrine on July 20, 1904 in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare. Her mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin House on the banks of the River Slaney, a few miles southeast of Bunclody, County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family, and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bed bound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Keane meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which (including Good Behaviour and Time After Time) have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She is a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, and, following the failure of a play, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is loaned to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages Keane to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Following the death of her husband, Keane moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. She dies on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore at the age of 91. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Death of Rosamond Praeger, Artist & Sculptor

Sophia Rosamond Praeger, Irish artist, sculptor, illustrator, poet and writer, dies at Rock Cottage, County Down, Northern Ireland, on April 17, 1954.

Praeger is born on April 15, 1867 in Holywood, County Down. She is the daughter of Willem Emilius Praeger, a Dutch linen merchant who had settled in Ireland in 1860, and Marie Patterson. She has five brothers, of who Robert goes on to become a distinguished naturalist. Within months of her birth the family moves to Woodburn House, Croft Road, Holywood, where they have as a neighbour Rev. Charles McElester, a Non-subscribing Presbyterian minister who runs a day school in his church. She both attends this school, and later teaches there. She receives her secondary education at Sullivan Upper School, Holywood, the Belfast School of Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. Before returning to Ireland to open a studio in Belfast and then in Holywood, she studies art in Paris.

Praeger writes and illustrates children’s books, but achieves fame with her sculpture The Philosopher which is exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, bought by an American collector, and is now on display in the Colorado Springs Museum and Art Gallery. She mostly works in plaster, but also uses stone, marble, terracotta and bronze, and her work includes relief panels, memorial plaques and stones. She exhibits in London and Paris, at the Royal Hibernian Academy, as well as at the Irish Decorative Art Association Exhibitions. She is a member of the Guild of Irish Art Workers.

Among Praeger’s other works are The Wai, Johnny the Jig, These Little Ones, St. Brigid of Kildare and The Fairy Fountain. For the Causeway School near Bushmills, County Antrim, she carves Fionnula the Daughter of Lir in stone. She models a heraldic figure for the Northern Bank in Donegall Square West, Belfast, and bronze plaques for the front door of the Carnegie library, Falls Road, Belfast, as well as the angels on Andrews Memorial Hall in Comber, County Down, and some work in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. She illustrates three books for her brother, Robert Praeger. She is President of the Royal Ulster Academy, an honorary Fellow of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and she receives an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1939 she is awarded the MBE.

Praeger maintains her studio in Hibernian Street, Holywood, up until 1952, at the age of 85. She dies at Rock Cottage, County Down, on April 17, 1954. She is buried in the Priory Cemetery, Holywood. Her work in included in the collections of the Ulster Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland, and some private collections around the world

(From: “Sophia Rosamond Praeger (1867 – 1954): Sculptor” by Kate Newmann and Richard Froggatt, Dictionary of Ulster Biography, http://www.newulsterbiography.co.uk)


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Birth of Gerry Rafferty, Singer, Songwriter & Musician

Gerald Rafferty, Scottish singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, is born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on April 16, 1947. His solo hits in the late 1970s include “Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line” and “Night Owl,” as well as “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which is recorded with his band Stealers Wheel in 1973.

Rafferty is the third son of Irish miner and lorry driver Joseph Rafferty and his Scottish wife Mary Skeffington. His abusive alcoholic father dies when Gerry is only sixteen years old. He grows up in a council house on the town’s Glenburn estate and attends St. Mirin’s Academy. Inspired by his Scottish mother, who teaches him both Irish and Scottish folk songs, and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he starts writing his own material. In 1963 he leaves St. Mirin’s Academy and works in a butcher’s shop and as a civil service clerk while also playing with the local group Maverix on weekends.

In the mid-1960s Rafferty earns money busking on the London Underground. In 1966 he meets fellow musician Joe Egan and they are both members of the pop band the Fifth Column. In 1969 he becomes the third member of the folk-pop outfit the Humblebums, which also features comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. He and Connelly record two well-received albums on the Transatlantic Records label as a duo.

Rafferty releases his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, in 1972. That same year he and Egan form the group Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel has a huge hit with the jaunty and witty song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which peaks at #6 on the Billboard pop charts. Stealers Wheel has a lesser Top 40 hit with “Star” ten months later and eventually breaks up in 1975.

In 1978 Rafferty hits pay dirt with his second solo album, City to City, which soars to #1 on the Billboard album charts and sells over five million copies worldwide. The album also begets the hit song “Baker Street.” This haunting and poetic ballad is an international smash that goes to #2 in the United States, #3 in the United Kingdom, #1 in Australia, and #9 in the Netherlands.

Rafferty’s third album, Night Owl, likewise does well. Moreover, he has additional impressive chart successes with the songs “Right Down the Line,” “Home and Dry,” “Days Gone Down,” and “Get It Right Next Time.” Alas, a handful of albums he records throughout the 1980s and 1990s all prove to be commercial flops. He sings the vocal on the song “The Way It Always Starts” for the soundtrack of the movie Local Hero.

Rafferty is married to Carla Ventilla from 1970 to 1990. He records his last album, Another World, in 2000 and releases the compilation CD, Life Goes On, in 2009.

Rafferty has problems with alcoholism that directly contributes to his untimely death. In November 2010, he is admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he is put on a life support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, he rallies for a short time, and doctors believe he might recover. He dies, however, of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on January 4, 2011.

A requiem mass is held for Rafferty at St. Mirin’s Cathedral in Paisley on January 21, 2011. The mass is streamed live over the Internet. Politicians in attendance are the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MSP, Wendy Alexander MSP, Hugh Henry MSP, and Robin Harper MSP. The musicians present include Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, former bandmates Joe Egan and Rab Noakes, Barbara Dickson, and Graham Lyle. The eulogy is given by Rafferty’s longtime friend John Byrne. His remains are then cremated at the Woodside Crematorium in Paisley and his ashes scattered on Iona. He is survived by his daughter, granddaughter Celia, and brother Jim.


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Death of Nelly O’Brien, Miniaturist, Artist & Activist

Ellen Lucy or Nelly O’Brien, Irish miniaturist, landscape artist, and Gaelic League activist, dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting her brother Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London.

O’Brien is born Ellen Lucy O’Brien on June 4, 1864, at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick. She is the eldest child of Edward William O’Brien and Mary O’Brien (née Spring Rice). Her siblings are Lucy and Dermod, with Dermod also becoming an artist. Her father is a landowner, and her mother is a sculptor and painter and sister of Thomas Spring Rice. Her grandfather is William Smith O’Brien.

While a young child, O’Brien spends two years living on the French Riviera from 1866 to 1868. Her mother later dies of tuberculosis, and the three children are raised by their aunt, the writer and nationalist, Charlotte Grace O’Brien. Their father remarries in 1880, to Julia Marshall, with whom he has two sons and two daughters.

O’Brien attends school in England from 1879, and later enrolls to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. She meets Walter Osborne through her brother Dermod, and considers herself engaged to him, but Osborne dies on April 24, 1903. A portrait of O’Brien by Osborne is held in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

O’Brien returns to Ireland, and begins to paint miniatures on ivory using a magnifying glass. She also paints watercolour landscapes. Her first exhibition with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) is in 1896, where she shows three works including Sketch near Malahide. She exhibits with the RHA on and off until 1922. During some of her time in Dublin, she lives with her half-brother, Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien, on Mount Street.

As part of an exhibition of Irish painters, O’Brien exhibits a number of portrait miniatures at the London Guildhall in 1904. The 1906 Oireachtas na Gaeilge features a number of her paintings, and in the same year she becomes honorary secretary of a newly established art committee. At the MunsterConnacht exhibition in Limerick of 1906, she exhibits a miniature of William Smith O’Brien amongst her 12 works on show. She produces many portraits, including one of Douglas Hyde, which is exhibited by the RHA in 1916.

O’Brien is an early member of the Gaelic League, being present at its first Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1897, and founding the Craobh na gCúig gCúigí (Branch of the Five Provinces). In 1905, she writes a long letter in defence of Douglas Hyde and the Gaelic League in The Church of Ireland Gazette. She holds meetings of Craobh na gCúig gCúigí in her flat at 7 St. Stephen’s Green every Saturday night in 1907. In 1911, she founds Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí (O’Curry Irish College) in Carrigaholt, County Clare, which is named in honour of Eugene O’Curry, with the help of her cousin and friend Mary Spring Rice.

One of her ultimate goals is to create a national Irish church, which would unite Protestants and Catholics through the Irish language. To this end, she establishes the Irish Guild of the Church with Seoirse de Rút in 1914. The aim of the organisation is to provide a communal union for members of the Church of Ireland who are dedicated to “Irish Ireland” ideals.

Acting as a representative for the Gaelic League, she travels to the United States with Fionan MacColuim in 1914 to 1915, to fund raise and promote Irish art and industries. At Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí, she stresses the importance of the Irish language in the home, as well as the skills of housewives and those in domestic service in strengthening the language and Irish culture.

O’Brien notes that she initially thought that the 1916 Easter Rising was “in the nature a demonstration against conscription as it had been announced that the volunteers would resist disarmament.” She is staying with the Hydes at 1 Earlsfort Place during the Rising, as her flat at College Park Chambers had been destroyed. She protests the conscription bill in Ireland as a mass meeting of women at the Mansion House in 1918. She launches the Gaelic Churchman in 1919 as the official publication of the Irish Guild of the Church. In one article entitled A plea for the Irish services, she promotes her campaign for Irish language services in Protestant churches. In her capacity of vice-president of the guild, she invites Éamon de Valera to attend one of their meetings in 1921.

O’Brien dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London. She is buried at the family plot in Cahirmoyle.

(Pictured: Nelly O’Brien by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792)