seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Artist Margretta “Gretta” Bowen

greta-bowen-children-in-the-parkMargretta Bowen, self-taught Irish artist best known as Gretta Bowen, dies in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 8 1981. She starts painting late in life, around 1950, after her sons Arthur and George Campbell are already established as artists.

Born in Dublin in January 1880, Bowen lives most of her life in Belfast. She is married to Matthew Campbell, a veteran of the Second Boer War. They have three sons, Arthur, George and Stanley, who all go on to be highly talented artists, with George becoming particularly successful. After her husband death in 1925 she runs a laundrette and takes in lodgers to make ends meet.

Bowen comes to art late in her life. A few weeks before her seventieth birthday she finds paints left behind by her son Arthur and begins to experiment, apparently inspired to some extent by her sons. She uses her maiden name to apparently avoid any obvious connection with them.

Bowen clearly attracts notice early on despite her late start. In 1959, just five years after she takes up painting, she is given a solo exhibition by the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which continues to support her work when it subsequently becomes the Arts Council of Great Britain. An extensive and admiring review appears in The Times.

Bowen’s work is shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and the Oireachtas. She also holds one-person exhibitions at the Hendriks Gallery, the Bell Gallery and the Tom Caldwell Gallery. In 1979, at the age of 99, her works gain international fame. She exhibits at the first International Exhibition of Naïve Art in London.

Bowen dies at the age of 101 in Belfast on April 8, 1981.


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Shaw’s “Too True to Be Good” Premieres in New York City

george-bernard-shaw-2Too True to Be Good (1932), a comedy written by playwright George Bernard Shaw premieres at the Guild Theatre in New York City on April 4, 1932. Subtitled “A Collection of Stage Sermons by a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,” it moves from surreal allegory to the “stage sermons” in which characters discuss political, scientific and other developments of the day. The second act of the play contains a character, Private Napoleon Meek, based on Shaw’s friend T. E. Lawrence.

The play explicitly deals with the existential crisis that hit Europe after the end of World War I, especially the emergence of a “modernist” culture fueled by uncertainties created by Freudian psychology and Albert Einstein‘s new physics. The whole of the second and third acts of the play have often been interpreted as a dream of escape occurring in the mind of the feverish Patient (hence the talking Microbe‘s comment that the “real” action is over), and the Patient repeatedly says that what is happening is a dream.

The play is an early example of the formal experimentation with allegory and the absurd that become a feature of Shaw’s later work, having much in common with the later play The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, which is also set in an obscure island at the edge of the British Empire. Its absurdist elements later lead to its being viewed as a precursor to the work of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.

The idea that microbes, specifically bacteria, are somehow made sick by human illnesses is a belief that Shaw repeatedly promotes, claiming that disease produces mutations in bacteria, misleading doctors into the belief that “germs” cause disease. The play dramatises his theory that life-energy itself cures illness.

The play is first staged on Monday, February 29, 1932, at Boston‘s Colonial Theatre, by the Theatre Guild. After the April performance in New York it is followed in the same year by a production in Malvern, Worcestershire starring Beatrice Lillie, Claude Rains, and Leo G. Carroll.

The play receives a Broadway revival in 1963, directed by Albert Marre and starring Robert Preston, Lillian Gish, David Wayne, Cedric Hardwicke, Cyril Ritchard, Glynis Johns, and Eileen Heckart. This production features incidental music by Mitch Leigh, who later works with Marre on Man of La Mancha. It has also been presented at the Shaw Festival four times: in 1974, 1982, 1994, and 2006.


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Death of Francis Arthur Fahy, Songwriter & Poet

francis-arthur-fahyFrancis Arthur Fahy, Irish nationalist, songwriter and poet, dies on April 1, 1935. He is probably best remembered as the composer of the evergreen “The Ould Plaid Shawl”. He collaborates with various composers, including Alicia Adélaide Needham, an associate of the Royal Academy of Music.

Fahy is born in Kinvara, County Galway, on September 29, 1854 into a family of seventeen, eight of whom survive. His father, Thomas, comes from the Burren area and his mother, Celia Marlborough, is born near Gort, County Galway.

In 1896, Fahy becomes president of the emerging Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) in London, a position he holds until 1908. He is also a long time member of the London Irish Literary Society. Described as a small, brisk man, his enthusiasm and energy knows no bounds. His most memorable poems and songs include “The Ould Plaid Shawl,” “The Queen of Connemara,” the original “Galway Bay,” and “The Tide Full In.” His publications include The Child’s Irish Song Book (1881), The Irish Reciter (1882), Irish History in Rhyme (1882) and Irish Songs and Poems (1887).

Fahy retires from the Civil Service at the age of 65. He dies at the age of 81 on April 1, 1935.


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Birth of Robert Gibbings, Wood Engraver & Sculptor

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Robert John Gibbings, Irish artist and author most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history, is born into a middle-class family in Cork, County Cork on March 23, 1889. Along with Noel Rooke he is one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and is a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

Gibbings’ father, the Reverend Edward Gibbings, is a Church of Ireland minister. His mother, Caroline, is the daughter of Robert Day, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and president of The Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He grows up in the town of Kinsale where his father is the rector of St. Multose Church.

Gibbings studies medicine for three years at University College Cork before deciding to persuade his parents to allow him to take up art. He studies under the painter Harry Scully in Cork and later at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

During World War I Gibbings serves in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and is wounded at Gallipoli before eventually being invalided out of the army in 1918. He then resumes his studies in London.

Gibbings is very much at the centre of developments in wood engraving. He is a founder member and leading light of the Society of Wood Engravers, which he sets up with Noel Rooke in 1920. In 1922 he contributes two wood engravings, “Clear Waters” and “Hamrun,” to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Gerald Duckworth & Company and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. In 1923 he receives a commission for a set of wood engravings for The Lives of Gallant Ladies for the Golden Cockerel Press, his most important commission to date at 100 guineas.

Gibbings is working on the wood engravings The Lives of Gallant Ladies when Hal Taylor, the owner of the press, becomes very ill with tuberculosis and has to put it up for sale. He seeks a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors, to buy the press. He takes over in February 1924 and owns and runs the press until 1933.

Gibbings illustrates numerous books on travel and natural history, including Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and writes a series of bestselling river books, notably Sweet Thames Run Softly. He does a huge amount to popularise the subject of natural history, travelling extensively through Polynesia, Bermuda and the Red Sea to gather inspiration for his work.

Gibbings is the first man to draw underwater, the illustrations filling his Penguin classic Blue Angels and Whales. He is one of the first natural history presenters on the BBC.

In September 1955 Gibbings and his wife, Patience, purchase Footbridge Cottage, a tiny beehive of a cottage in Gibbings’s words, in Long Wittenham on the banks of the River Thames. Life there suits him, and he has a period of tranquility that he had not known previously. They live there until he dies of cancer in an Oxford hospital on January 19, 1958. He is buried in the churchyard at Long Wittenham. The grave is marked by a simple headstone featuring his device of a crossed quill and graver, carved by Michael Black, a young sculptor who is a friend of Gibbings.


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Birth of Charlotte Milligan Fox, Composer & Music Collector

charlotte-milligan-foxCharlotte Milligan Fox, Irish composer and music collector, is born on March 17, 1864 in Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland.

Milligan is the eldest of eleven children born to Methodist parents Seaton Milligan (1837–1916) and Charlotte Burns (1842–1916), with nine surviving including Alice Milligan and Edith Wheeler. All nine children enroll at Methodist College Belfast which provides a privileged and exceptional education. She studies classical piano and composition at the Royal College of Music in London and the Conservatoires of Frankfurt and Milan. Following her marriage to Charles Eliot Fox in 1892, she settles in London.

In 1904 Fox co-founds with Alfred Perceval Graves the Irish Folk Song Society, an offshoot of the Folk-Song Society formed in 1898. Its aim is to collect and publish Irish airs and ballads, in addition to holding lectures and concerts on the subject. She acts as the society’s honorary secretary. The rules of the Society are collected in volume 4 of the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society. The subscription is 5 shillings payable every January and committee meetings are held at the Rooms of the Irish Literary Society in London.

Fox is a musician in her own right and tours Ireland collecting folk songs and airs. She undertakes a series of tours of County Antrim between 1909 and 1910 with her sisters Edith Wheeler and Alice Milligan. The sisters record and transcribe songs by Irish singers, then publish articles and musical scores in The Journal of Irish Folk Song.

In 1910 Fox visits the east coast of the United States where the New York branch of the Irish Folk Song Society is formed. “The Bardic Recital” is produced on March 16 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. She collects and arranges the music for the play.

Fox rediscovers Edward Bunting‘s papers, and under the provision of her will they come to Queen’s University Belfast in 1916. From these papers she writes The Annals of the Irish Harpers. The publication of The Annals of the Irish Harpers stimulates a revival of interest in both the Irish harp and Edward Bunting. Alice Milligan nurses her sister prior to Fox’s death in London on March 25, 1916. An obituary of Charlotte Milligan Fox is in The Irish Booklover (1916). The Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (1917) has a poem in remembrance of Charlotte Milligan Fox. The same issue has a memoir of Fox by Alice Milligan and an appreciation of Fox by Alfred Perceval Graves.

During 2010 and 2011, the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.


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Birth of William Vincent Wallace, Composer & Musician

william-vincent-wallaceWilliam Vincent Wallace, Irish composer and musician, is born at Colbeck Street, Waterford, County Waterford on March 11, 1812. In his day, he is famous on three continents as a double virtuoso on violin and piano. Nowadays, he is mainly remembered as an opera composer of note, with key works such as Maritana (1845) and Lurline (1847/60), but he also writes a large amount of piano music that is much in vogue in the 19th century.

Wallace’s father, Spencer Wallace of County Mayo, becomes a regimental bandmaster with the North Mayo Militia based in Ballina. William is born while the regiment is stationed for one year in Waterford. The family returns to Ballina in 1816 and he spends his formative years there, taking an active part in his father’s band and already composing pieces by the age of nine for the band recitals.

Under the tuition of his father and uncle, Wallace writes pieces for the bands and orchestras of his native area. He becomes accomplished in playing various band instruments before the family leaves the Army in 1826, moving from Waterford to Dublin, and becoming active in music in the capital. He learns to play several instruments as a boy, including the violin, clarinet, organ, and piano. In 1830, at the age of 18, he becomes organist of the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Thurles, County Tipperary, and teaches music at the Ursuline Convent there. He falls in love with a pupil, Isabella Kelly, whose father consents to their marriage in 1832 on condition that Wallace become a Roman Catholic. The couple soon moves to Dublin where he is employed as a violinist at the Theatre Royal.

Economic conditions in Dublin deteriorate after the Acts of Union 1800 and the whole Wallace family decides to emigrate to Australia in 1835. Wallace’s party first lands at Hobart, Tasmania in late October, where they stay several months before moving on to Sydney in January 1836. The Wallaces open the first Australian music academy in April. Wallace has already given many celebrity concerts in Sydney, and, being the first virtuoso to visit the Colony, becomes known as the “Australian Paganini.” He is also active in the business of importing pianos from London, but his main activity involves many recitals in and around Sydney under the patronage of the Governor, General Sir Richard Bourke. The most significant musical events of this period are two large oratorio concerts on behalf of the organ fund at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1836 and 1838, which he directs, and which utilize all the available musical talent of the Colony, including the recently formed Philharmonic [Choral] Society.

In 1838, Wallace separates from his wife, and begins a roving career that takes him around the globe. In 1841, he conducts a season of Italian opera in Mexico City. Moving on to the United States, he stays in New Orleans for some years, where he is feted as a virtuoso on violin and piano, before reaching New York City, where he is equally celebrated, and publishes his first compositions (1843–44).

Wallace arrives in London in 1845 and makes various appearances as a pianist. In November of that year, his opera Maritana is performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with great success, and is later presented internationally. Maritana is followed by Matilda of Hungary (1847), Lurline (1847/60), The Amber Witch (1861), Love’s Triumph (1862) and The Desert Flower (1863). He also publishes numerous compositions for the piano.

In New York in 1843–1844, Wallace is associated with the early concert seasons of the New York Philharmonic Society, and in 1853 is elected an Honorary (Life) Member of the Society. In 1854, he becomes an American citizen after a marriage in New York to German-born pianist Hélène Stoepel, sister of composer Robert Stoepel. In later years, having returned to Europe for the premieres of his later operas, he develops a heart condition for which he receives treatment in Paris in 1864. He dies in poor circumstances at the Château de Bagen, Sauveterre-de-Comminges, in the Haute Garonne on October 12, 1865. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

(Pictured: William Vincent Wallace. Undated portrait by Mathew Brady, New York City, Library of Congress)


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Birth of Dónal Lunny, Irish Folk Musician & Producer

donal-lunnyDónal Lunny, Irish folk musician and producer, is born on March 10, 1947 in Tullamore, County Offaly. He plays left-handed guitar and bouzouki, as well as keyboards and bodhrán. As a founding member of popular bands Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, Coolfin, Mozaik, LAPD, and Usher’s Island, he has been at the forefront of the renaissance of Irish traditional music for over five decades.

Lunny attends secondary school at Newbridge College and, in 1963, joins the Patrician Brothers’ school for the Intermediate Certificate year. As a teenager, he joins an occasional trio called Rakes of Kildare, with his elder brother Frank and Christy Moore. They play mostly in pubs and are also booked for a couple of gigs, one at Hugh Neeson’s pub in Newbridge for Easter Monday in 1966.

In 1965, Lunny enrolls at Dublin‘s National College of Art & Design where he studies Basic Design and Graphic Design. He also develops an interest in metalwork leading him to become a skilled gold-and-silversmith, although he only practises the craft for a short time before devoting his energies fully to music. During his time in Dublin, he plays in a band called The Parnell Folk, with Mick Moloney, Sean Corcoran, Johnny Morrissey and Dan Maher.

When Moving Hearts breaks up in 1985, Lunny diversifies and becomes a producer. He is closely involved in the establishment of a new Irish record label, Mulligan Records (acquired in 2008 by Compass Records), and produces and plays on many of its early releases.

Lunny is the producer and music director of the soundtrack of Bringing It All Back Home, a BBC Television documentary series charting the influence of Irish music throughout the world. He produces albums for Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Sinéad O’Connor, Clannad, Maurice Lennon, Baaba Maal, and Five Guys Named Moe. He appears on the compilation albums The Gathering (1981) and Common Ground (1996). In 1994, he produces Irish Australian singer/songwriter Mairéid Sullivan’s first recording, Dancer.

Lunny pushes new boundaries with his band Coolfin (1998) which includes uilleann piper John McSherry. He appears at the 2000 Cambridge Folk Festival, and the album that commemorates it. In 2001 he collaborates with Frank Harte on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. He produces the album Human Child (2007) by Faeroese Eivør Pálsdóttir, which is published in two versions, one English and one Faeroese.

As an arranger, Lunny works for The Waterboys, Fairground Attraction and Eddi Reader. Journey (2000) is a retrospective album. During 2003–2005, he is part of the reunited Planxty concert tour. He also produces Jimmy MacCarthy‘s album entitled Hey-Ho Believe, which is released on November 12, 2010.

Lunny is the brother of musician and producer Manus Lunny. He has a son, Shane, whose mother is singer Sinéad O’Connor.

(Pictured: Dónal Lunny at the Craiceann Bodhrán Festival 2016, Inis Oirr)