seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Henry Cousins, Playwright & Actor

james-h-cousinsJames Henry Cousins, Irish writer, playwright, actor, critic, editor, teacher and poet, is born in Belfast on July 22, 1873, a descendant of Huguenot refugees. He uses several pseudonyms including Mac Oisín and the Hindu name Jayaram.

Largely self-educated at night schools, Cousins works some time as a clerk and becomes private secretary and speechwriter to Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, the Lord Mayor of Belfast. In 1897 he moves to Dublin where he becomes part of a literary circle which includes William Butler Yeats, George William Russell and James Joyce. It is believed that he serves as a model for the Little Chandler character in Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners.

Cousins is significantly influenced by Russell’s ability to reconcile mysticism with a pragmatic approach to social reforms and by the teachings of Helena Blavatsky. He has a lifelong interest in the paranormal and acts as reporter in several experiments carried out by William Fletcher Barrett, Professor of physics at the University of Dublin and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

Cousins produces several books of poetry while in Ireland as well as acting in the first production of Cathleen ní Houlihan, under the stage name of H. Sproule, with the famous Irish revolutionary and beauty Maud Gonne in the title role. His plays are produced in the first years of the twentieth century in the Abbey Theatre, the most famous being “the Racing Lug”. After a dispute with W.B. Yeats, who objects to “too much Cousins,” the Irish National Theatre movement splits with two-thirds of the actors and writers siding with Cousins against Yeats.

Cousins also writes widely on the subject of Theosophy and in 1915 travels to India with the voyage fees paid for by Annie Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society. He spends most of the rest of his life in the sub-continent, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Keio University in Tokyo and another lecturing in New York. Towards the end of his life he converts to Hinduism. At the core of Cousins’s engagement with Indian culture is a firm belief in the “shared sensibilities between Celtic and Oriental peoples.”

While in India he becomes friendly with many key Indian personalities including poet Rabindranath Tagore, Indian classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Mahatma Gandhi. He is the person who brings change into the life of poetry of the great renowned Kannada poet and writer Kuvempu. He writes a joint autobiography with his wife Margaret Elizabeth Cousins, a suffragette and one of the co-founders of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and All India Women’s Conference (AIWC).

In his The Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo acclaims Cousins’ New Ways in English Literature as “literary criticism which is of the first order, at once discerning and suggestive, criticism which forces us both to see and think.” He also acknowledges that he learned to intuit deeper being alerted by Cousins’ criticisms of his poems. In 1920 Cousins comes to Pondicherry to meet the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

James Cousins dies on February 20, 1956 in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India at the age of 82.

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Birth of Chauncey Olcott, Actor, Singer & Songwriter

chauncey-olcottJohn Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott, American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, is born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1858. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), is a native of Killeagh, County Cork.

In the early years of his career Olcott sings in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell plays a major role in helping make him a Broadway star. When the producer Augustus Pitou approaches him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepts and performs pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.

Olcott combines the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He writes the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garrett O’Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborates with Ernest Ball and George Graff, Jr. in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o’ Dreams (1913). There are some twenty such works between 1894 and 1920.

Olcott is a good songwriter who captures the mood of his Irish American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals become very popular, such as “My Wild Irish Rose” from A Romance of Athlone, “Mother Machree” from Barry of Ballymore, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” from The Isle o’ Dreams. Sometimes he uses tunes from others, such as that of the title song from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).

In 1925, a serious illness forces Olcott to retire and he moves to Monte Carlo, Monaco where he dies of pernicious anemia on March 18, 1932. His body is brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Olcott’s life story is told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott. The film’s plot is based on the biography by Olcott’s widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).

In 1970, Olcott is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


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Live Aid

live-aid-logoLive Aid, a dual-venue benefit concert organised primarily by Dublin-born Bob Geldof, is held on July 13, 1985. The event is organised by Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox,” the event is held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (attended by about 100,000 people).

On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative take place in other countries, such as the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time. An estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watch the live broadcast. If accurate, this would be nearly 40% of the world population at the time.

In October 1984, images of millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia were shown in the UK in Michael Buerk‘s BBC News reports on the 1984 famine. The report shocks Britain, motivating its citizens to inundate relief agencies, such as Save the Children, with donations, and to bring the world’s attention to the crisis in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof also sees the report, and calls Midge Ure from Ultravox, and together they quickly co-write the song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in the hope of raising money for famine relief. Geldof then contacts colleagues in the music industry and persuades them to record the single under the title “Band Aid” for free. On November 25, 1984, the song is recorded at SARM West Studios in Notting Hill, London and is released four days later. It stays at number-one on the UK Singles Chart for five weeks, is Christmas number one, and becomes the fastest-selling single ever in Britain and raises £8 million, rather than the £70,000 Geldof and Ure had initially expected.

The 1985 Live Aid concert is conceived as a follow-up to the successful charity single. The idea to stage a charity concert to raise more funds for Ethiopia originally comes from Boy George, the lead singer of Culture Club. On Saturday, December 22, 1984, an impromptu gathering of some of the other artists from Band Aid join Culture Club on stage at the end of their concert at Wembley Stadium for an encore of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” George is so overcome by the occasion he tells Geldof that they should consider organising a benefit concert.

The concert begins at noon at Wembley Stadium in London. It continues at John F. Kennedy Stadium in the United States, starting at 8:51 EDT. The overall concert continues for just over 16 hours, but since many artists’ performances are conducted simultaneously in Wembley and JFK, the total concert’s length is much longer.

Throughout the concerts, viewers are urged to donate money to the Live Aid cause. Three hundred phone lines are manned by the BBC, so that members of the public can make donations using their credit cards. The phone number and an address that viewers can send cheques to are repeated every twenty minutes.

The following day, news reports state that between £40 and £50 million had been raised. It is now estimated that around £150m has been raised for famine relief as a direct result of the concerts. Geldof mentions during the concert that the Republic of Ireland had given the most donations per capita, despite being in the threat of a serious economic recession at the time. The single largest donation comes from the Al Maktoum, who is part of the ruling family of Dubai, who donates £1M during a phone conversation with Geldof.


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“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” Wins Four Tony Awards

the-beauty-queen-of-leenaneAfter being nominated in six categories, Galway’s Druid Theatre Company wins four Tony Awards on June 8, 1998 for its production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a 1996 comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

The play receives its world premiere when the Druid Theatre Company opens the production at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway on February 1, 1996. It then tours Ireland, stopping off in Longford, Kilkenny and Limerick. It transfers to London‘s West End, where it opens at the Royal Court Theatre on February 29, 1996.

The Druid production returns to Ireland to embark on an extensive national tour, playing in Galway, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Fermanagh, Donegal and Derry amongst others. The play returns to London where it is revived at the Duke of York’s Theatre on November 29, 1996 for several months.

The play is produced as part of Druid’s Leenane Trilogy, which includes two other plays by Martin McDonagh, in 1997 where it plays as part of another Irish and UK tour, which includes stops at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin and the Royal Court Theatre in London again.

The play receives its American premiere opening Off-Broadway on February 11, 1998, presented by the Atlantic Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theater. It transfers to the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway where it opens on April 14, 1998. It receives six Tony Award nominations, winning four for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Murphy), Best Actress (Marie Mullen), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Manahan), and Best Director (Garry Hynes), the first female recipient of a Tony Award for directing a play.

The play is produced in Australia in 1998 and again in 1999. The 1999 production is a tour by the Royal Court Theatre Company, appearing at the Adelaide Festival Centre (May – June 1999) and Wharf 1 (July 1999) and directed by Garry Hynes. The production returns to Ireland in 2000 as part of a final national tour.

The play is revived in July 2010 at the Young Vic Theatre in the West End, starring Irish actress Rosaleen Linehan. The production transfers to Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre where Linehan reprises her role opposite Derbhle Crotty. It then returns to the Young Vic for another run, closing in September 2011.

The Druid Theatre Company presents a revival in 2016–2017. The production starts in Ireland in Galway at the Town Hall Theatre in September 2016, and then tours to The Everyman in Cork, the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick and the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The play then tours in the United States starting in November 2016. The play runs at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in November 2016 then opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, running from January 11, 2017 to February 5. The production returns to Ireland, playing at The Gaiety Theatre from March 28 to April 15, 2017.


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Death of Musician William (Billy) Brown

william-billy-brownWilliam (Billy) Brown, a musician and artist from Northern Ireland, dies on June 6, 1999 of a heart attack at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. He is best remembered as a singer, saxophonist, and pianist with The Freshmen, one of Ireland’s most popular showbands of the 1960s and 1970s.

Brown is born in Larne, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. While studying at the Belfast College of Art he joins Billy McFarland’s Showband. Later he forms The Freshmen with some friends. Through Brown’s skillful arrangements, the band is able to reproduce sophisticated vocal harmonies in their covers of songs such as “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Carpet Man.”

Brown leaves The Freshmen in the mid-1970s to pursue other musical challenges, albeit with limited success. He later rejoins the band and, in 1977, they have one of their biggest hits with his composition, “Cinderella.” Following the breakup of The Freshmen, he has a minor solo hit in 1980 with his own song, “Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me.”

In his latter years, Brown develops his interest in wildlife, becoming a successful painter of nature scenes, as well as contributing his insights into the natural world on RTÉ 2fm‘s children’s show, Poporama.

Billy Brown dies of a heart attack on June 6, 1999, at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. In its obituary, the Irish Independent refers to him as “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.”

In a tribute to Brown following his death, Freshmen founder-member, Maurice Henry, describes his late friend’s pivotal role in the band:

“You could say Billy was The Freshmen and without his talent and innovative musical skills we would certainly not have achieved as much, either as a showband or in our recordings.”


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Death of Victor Herbert, Composer, Cellist and Conductor

victor-herbertVictor August Herbert, an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor, dies suddenly of a heart attack on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, begins its pre-Broadway run in New Haven, Connecticut.

Herbert is born in Dublin on February 1, 1859 to Protestants Edward Herbert and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, he and his mother move to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather is the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcome a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists into their home. He joins his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she marries a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he receives a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which includes musical training.

Herbert initially plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather is related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation is not good by the time Herbert is a teenager. Medical education in Germany is expensive, and so he focuses instead on music. He initially studies the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settles on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attends the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, he graduates with a diploma in 1879.

Although Herbert enjoys important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiere on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He is also prominent among the Tin Pan Alley composers and is later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produces two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.

In the early 1880s, Herbert begins a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he begins to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, move to the United States in 1886 when both are engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. He continues his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions are his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which enters the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904 and then founds the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducts throughout the rest of his life.

Herbert begins to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Some of the operettas that he writes after the turn of the 20th century are even more successful: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, he begins to compose musicals and contributes music to other composers’ shows. While some of these are well-received, he never again achieves the level of success that he enjoyed with his most popular operettas.

A healthy man throughout his life, Herbert dies suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 65 on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, began its pre-Broadway run in New Haven. He is survived by his wife and two children, Ella Victoria Herbert Bartlett and Clifford Victor Herbert. He is entombed in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Herbert and his music are celebrated in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, where he is portrayed by Walter Connolly and which also features Mary Martin. He is also portrayed by Paul Maxey in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. Many of Herbert’s own works are made into films, and his music has been used in numerous films and television shows. A Chicago elementary school is named for him. During World War II the Liberty ship SS Victor Herbert is built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.


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Birth of Sculptor John Henry Foley

john-henry-foleyJohn Henry Foley, sculptor often referred to as JH Foley, is born on May 24, 1818 at 6 Montgomery Street, Dublin, in what is then the city’s artists’ quarter. The street has since been renamed Foley Street in his honour. He is best known for his statues of Daniel O’Connell in Dublin and of Prince Albert for the Albert Memorial in London.

Foley’s father is a glassblower and his step-grandfather, Benjamin Schrowder, is a sculptor. At the age of thirteen he begins to study drawing and modelling at the Royal Dublin Society, where he takes several first-class prizes. In 1835 he is admitted as a student in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He exhibits there for the first time in 1839, and comes to fame in 1844 with his Youth at a Stream. Thereafter commissions provide a steady career for the rest of his life. In 1849 he is made an associate, and in 1858 a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1851, inspired by the recently closed Great Exhibition, the Corporation of London votes a sum of £10,000 to be spent on sculpture to decorate the Egyptian Hall in the Mansion House. Foley is commissioned to make sculptures of Caractacus and Egeria.

In 1864 he is chosen to sculpt one of the four large stone groups, each representing a continent, at the corners of George Gilbert Scott‘s Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. His design for Asia is approved in December of that year. In 1868, he is also asked to make the bronze statue of Prince Albert himself, to be placed at the centre of the memorial, following the death of Carlo Marochetti, who had originally received the commission, but had struggled to produce an acceptable version.

Foley exhibits at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1839 and 1861. Further works are shown posthumously in 1875. His address is given in the catalogues as 57 George St., Euston Square, London until 1845, and 19 Osnaburgh Street from 1847.

John Henry Foley dies at Hampstead, north London on August 27, 1874, and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral on September 4. He leaves his models to the Royal Dublin Society, where he had his early artistic education, and a large part of his property to the Artists’ Benevolent Fund. He does not see the Albert Memorial completed before his death. A statue of Foley himself, on the front of the Victoria and Albert Museum, depicts him as a rather gaunt figure with a moustache, wearing a floppy cap.

Following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, a number of Foley’s works are removed or destroyed without notice, because the persons portrayed are considered hostile to the process of Irish independence. They include those of Lord Carlisle, Lord Dunkellin (in Galway) and Field Marshal Gough in Phoenix Park. The statue of Lord Dunkellin is decapitated and dumped in the river as one of the first acts of the short-lived “Galway Soviet” of 1922.