seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.

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Birth of Sir Philip Crampton, Surgeon & Anatomist

philip-cramptonSir Philip Crampton, 1st Baronet, FRS, an eminent Irish surgeon and anatomist, is born in Dublin on June 7, 1777.

Crampton is the son of a dentist. He is a childhood friend of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the United Irishman, and a cousin, on his mother’s side, of Thomas Verner, Grand Master of the Orange Order. He joins the army when young and becomes an assistant surgeon. When he is appointed surgeon to the Meath Hospital in 1798 he is not yet fully qualified, and goes on to graduate in Glasgow in 1800. A few years later he also becomes assistant surgeon at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin and also builds up a large private practice at his house in Dawson St. He joins Peter Harkan in teaching anatomy in private lectures, forming the first private school of anatomy and surgery in the city.

Crampton becomes a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in Ireland for a treatise on the construction of eyes of birds, written in 1813. This is later published, with other writings, in the Dublin Journal of Medical Science.

In 1821, together with Sir Henry Marsh and Dr. Charles Johnston, Crompton founds the Pitt St. Institution, a children’s hospital in Pitt St. (now Balfe St.). This hospital is the first teaching children’s hospital in Ireland or Great Britain. The main objective of the hospital is to treat sick children in one of the poorest parts of Dublin, The Liberties.

Crompton resigns the chief-surgeoncy of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital when he is appointed surgeon-general to the forces in Ireland. He remains as consulting surgeon to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital and the Dublin Lying-In Hospital. He is three times president of the Dublin College of Surgeons and he is knighted in 1839.

Crompton is always interested in zoological science and plays an active part in founding the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland and is many times its president. He is also a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

Sir Philip Crampton dies at his residence, 14 Merrion Square, in Dublin on June 10, 1858.

The Crampton Memorial, at the junction of College St. with Pearse St. and D’Olier St., is erected from the design of sculptor John Kirk in 1862. It is of a curious design, consisting of a bust above a fountain and surmounted by a cascade of metal foliage. As it is slowly falling apart, it is removed in 1959. James Joyce references the monument in his novel Ulysses when Leopold Bloom passes the monument and thinks, “Sir Philip Crampton’s memorial fountain bust. Who was he?”


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Birth of Biblical Scholar James Henthorn Todd

james-henthorn-toddJames Henthorn Todd, biblical scholar, educator, and Irish historian, is born in Rathfarnham, a Southside suburb of Dublin, on April 23, 1805. He is noted for his efforts to place religious disagreements on a rational historical footing, for his advocacy of a liberal form of Protestantism, and for his endeavours as an educator, librarian, and scholar in Irish history.

Todd is the son of Charles Hawkes Todd, a professor of surgery, and Eliza Bentley, and is the oldest of fifteen children. Noted physician Robert Bentley Todd is among his younger brothers. His father dies a year after he receives a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin in 1825, diminishing his prospects for success. However, he is able to remain at the college by tutoring and editing a church periodical.

Todd obtains a premium in 1829, and two years later is elected Fellow, taking deacon’s orders in the same year. From that time until 1850, when he becomes a Senior Fellow, he is among the most popular tutors in Trinity College.

Todd takes priest’s orders in 1832. He begins publishing in earnest, including papers on John Wycliffe, church history, and the religious questions of his day. He is Donnellan Lecturer in 1838 and 1839, publishing works related to the Antichrist in which he opposes the views of the more extreme of his co-religionists who apply this term to the Roman Catholicism and the Pope. In 1840 he graduates Doctor of Divinity.

In 1837 Todd is installed Treasurer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and becomes Precentor in 1864. His style of preaching is described as simple and lucid, and his sermons interesting. He co-founds Saint Columba’s College in 1843, a school which promotes the Irish language for those who intend to take orders, as well as promoting the principles of the Church of Ireland.

In 1849 Todd is made Regius Professor of Hebrew at Trinity, and a Senior Fellow the following year. In 1852 he is appointed Librarian, and working alongside John O’Donovan and Eugene O’Curry, he classifies and arranges the collection of manuscripts. When his office receives money, he spends it on the acquisition of manuscripts and rare books, and he deserves much credit for the library’s high ranking as one of the chief libraries of Europe.

Todd’s secular achievements are no less remarkable. In 1840 he co-founds the Irish Archaeological Society and acts as its honorary secretary. He is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and strives actively to acquire transcripts and accurate accounts of Irish manuscripts from foreign libraries. He is honorary secretary from 1847 to 1855, and president from 1856 to 1861. In 1860 he is given an ad eundem degree at the University of Oxford.

Todd is a notable person among notable people. His work is widely respected and cited. Among his friends and acquaintances are lawyer and poet Sir Samuel Ferguson, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and Roman Catholic convert Edwin Wyndham-Quin, fellow historian William Reeves, artist Sir George Petrie, and the Stokes family (physician father William, future lawyer and Celticist son Whitley, and future antiquarian daughter Margaret).

James Henthorn Todd dies at his house in Rathfarnham on June 28, 1869 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


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Birth of Daniel Corkery, Writer & Academic

daniel-corkeryDaniel Corkery, Irish politician, writer and academic, is born in Cork, County Cork on February 14, 1878. He is unquestionably best known as the author of The Hidden Ireland, his 1924 study of the poetry of eighteenth-century Irish Language poets in Munster.

Corkery is educated at the Presentation Brothers and St. Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin where he trains as a teacher. He teaches at Saint Patrick’s School in Cork but resigns in 1921 when he is refused the headmastership. Among his students are the writer Frank O’Connor and the sculptor Seamus Murphy.

After leaving St. Patrick’s, Corkery teaches art for the local technical education committee, before becoming inspector of Irish in 1925, and later Professor of English at University College Cork in 1930. Among his students in UCC are Seán Ó Faoláin and Seán Ó Tuama. He is often a controversial figure in academia for his “nativist” views on Irish literature, views which result in conflict with many Irish Language scholars, most notably Pádraig de Brún and his niece Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Ó Tuama, however, is frequently a staunch defender of Corkery’s reputation.

In his late twenties Corkery learns Irish and this brings him into contact with leading members of the Irish Language revival movement, including Terence MacSwiney, T. C. Murray and Con O’Leary, with whom he founds the Cork Dramatic Society in 1908. His plays Embers and The Hermit and the King are performed by the society. Later plays are staged at the famous Abbey Theatre, including The Labour Leader (1919) and The Yellow Bittern (1920).

Corkery is also a writer of short stories, including the collections A Munster Twilight (1916), The Hounds of Banba (1920), The Stormy Hills (1929), and Earth Out of Earth (1939), and a novel, The Threshold of Quiet (1917).

Corkery also writes non-fiction works, including The Hidden Ireland (1924), a highly influential work about the riches of eighteenth-century Irish poetry. In this he attempts to reconstruct a worldview preserved by Gaelic poets amongst the poor and oppressed Catholic peasantry of the Penal Laws era, virtually invisible in the Anglo-Irish tradition that has dominated the writing of Irish history. “An instant, influential classic,” writes Patrick Walsh, “its version of the past provided powerful cultural underpinning to the traditional nationalist history that became, in the 1930s, the educational orthodoxy of the new state.”

Corkery serves as a member of Seanad Éireann from 1951 to 1954 when he is nominated by the Taoiseach.

Daniel Corkery dies on December 31, 1964. His papers are held in the Boole Library of University College Cork.


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Opening of the Belfast Academical Institution

belfast-academical-institutionThe Belfast Academical Institution, later the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, a grammar school in Belfast, is opened on February 1, 1814. Today, locally referred to as Inst, the school educates boys from ages 11 to 18. It is one of the eight Northern Irish schools represented on the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference. The school occupies an 18-acre site in the centre of the city on which its first buildings were erected.

The first demands for the school which would become “Inst” comes from a group of Belfast merchants and professional gentlemen. They insist that the existing Belfast Academy under William Bruce does not offer a “complete, uniform, and extensive system of education.” They hope that a new school will give more access to the “higher” branches of learning as well as to those which would fit youths for a practical commercial career. The foundation stone of Inst is laid, in pouring rain, on July 3, 1810 by George Augustus Chichester, 2nd Marquess of Donegall. Donegall owns much of the land in the Belfast area and grants the school a lease for the grounds at an annual rent of £22–5s–1d. The eminent English architect John Soane, who designed the new Bank of England in 1788, offers to draw up plans in 1809.

Construction begins in 1810. Money is collected to pay for the buildings by encouraging rich merchants and businessmen to subscribe one hundred guineas each for the privilege of being able to nominate one boy to receive free education at Inst. The roof of the main building is completed during the winter of 1811. The Institution is formally opened at 1:00 PM on February 1, 1814. William Drennan announces that the aim is to “diffuse useful knowledge, particularly among the middling orders of society, as a necessity, not a luxury of life.” He also refers to the particularly noble and rural setting of the school – in front a fair and flourishing town, and backed by a sublime and thought-inspiring mountain. Until the middle of the 19th century, the RBAI is both a school and a university, a dual function which the Belfast Academy never had.


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Formation of the Kildare Place Society

The Kildare Place Society, known officially as the Society for the Promotion of the Education of the Poor of Ireland, is formed on December 2, 1811, to maintain non-denominational schools and to promote the education of the poor. It is the most successful of all the voluntary educational agencies founded in the years prior to the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831.

Set up in 1811 explicitly to cater to the demand for education among the Catholic poor, the Kildare Place Society aims to provide a Bible-based but non-denominational education that is acceptable to Catholics. In 1816 the society petitions the Parliament of the United Kingdom and is awarded 10,000 pounds, an amount that is greatly increased over the following decade. This money allows the society to spread across the country and to establish the rudiments of a national system of primary education. The society aims to modernize the teaching profession with a training college and an inspectorate, decent schoolhouses, and regular salaries for teachers. It also produces reading material aimed at a popular audience, which competes very favorably with the much-derided chapbooks that are the staple of popular reading material at the time.

Despite the commitment of the founders, many of whom are members of the Society of Friends, to respect denominational differences, and despite the allocation of seats for Catholics on the board of trustees, the society is increasingly drawn into quarrels over the use of the Protestant Bible for educational purposes during the second decade of the 19th century.

Particularly significant is the influence of the evangelical members of the board, especially Chief Justice Thomas Lefroy, who insists on the compulsory use of the Bible “without note or comment” in the Kildare Place schools. This measure is openly and stridently criticized by the Reverend John MacHale in the famous Hierophilus Letters of 1820 and is the immediate cause of the resignations of Daniel O’Connell and Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry from the society’s board in 1821. This gesture is followed in short order by directives to Catholic parents to withdraw their children from the schools.

The substance of O’Connell’s and MacHale’s attacks on the Kildare Place Society is that its policies are in line with the more overtly proselytizing societies associated with the “Second Reformation” and are therefore unsuitable for Catholic children. The society does not survive the challenge. As a result of the ideological conflict over education, the government inaugurates a series of inquiries to determine what kind of educational system would be acceptable to the different denominations in Ireland, and the outcome is the establishment of the National Board of Education in 1831. Although the Kildare Place Society continues its work into the 1830s, its school system suffers an inevitable decline with the spread of the new national system.

(Pictured: The main offices of the Kildare Place Society in Kildare Place, Dublin)


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.