seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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Birth of Novelist Annie French Hector

Annie French Hector, a popular 19th-century novelist who writes under the pen name “Mrs. Alexander,” is born in Dublin on June 23, 1825.

Hector is the only child of Robert French, a Dublin solicitor. Her family claims to be descended from Irish gentry, the French family of Roscommon and Lord Annaly. On the paternal side, she is related to the poet Charles Wolfe and on her mother’s side, to the Shakespearian scholar, Edmund Malone. Her father loses his money in 1844 and moves first to Liverpool before settling in London.

Hector marries the explorer and archaeologist Alexander Hector in 1858 and together they have four children. She writes several novels during her early life, the first being Kate Vernon in 1854. However, her husband disapproves of her writing so she remains unpublished in his lifetime.

After Alexander Hector’s death in 1875, she uses his first name as her pseudonym and publishes over forty novels as “Mrs. Alexander,” many published by George and Richard Bentley. Among her books, all of which enjoy a wide popularity in the United States, are The Wooing O’t (1873), Ralph Wilton’s Weird (1875), Her Dearest Foe (1876), The Freres (1882), A Golden Autumn (1897), A Winning Hazard (1897), and Kitty Costello (1902).

Hector’s final novel, Kitty Costello, which presents an Irish girl’s introduction to English life and has autobiographic touches, is written when she is 77 years old and is barely completed at her death. A witty, clever talker, of quick sympathies and social instincts, Hector is in many ways abler and broader-minded than is shown in her writings. She dies in London, after suffering from neuritis for ten years, on July 10, 1902, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


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Assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson is shot and killed by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in London on June 22, 1922.

Wilson is born in County Longford and a long-time opponent of the Irish Home Rule movement. He joins the British army in 1884 and sees action during the Boer War. He is assigned to British army headquarters during the infamous Curragh incident and supports the near-mutiny of British officers who refuse to lead troops against Ulster opponents of home rule. He serves in France during the World War I and, when the war ends, continues his staunch support of the Unionist cause while serving as Chief of General Staff. He is a strong supporter of the coercion tactics of the British in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, even suggesting that the leaders of Sinn Féin be executed. He leaves the army when David Lloyd George decides not to renew his term as chief of staff and is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for North Down as a Conservative in 1922. In Parliament, he urges even stronger coercion methods than those then being carried out by the Black and Tans.

On June 22, 1922, two London-based volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, assassinate Wilson outside his house at 36 Eaton Place at approximately 2:20 PM. He is in full uniform as he is returning from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station at 1:00 PM. He has six wounds, two of them fatal wounds to the chest.

Stories later circulate that the first shot misses but rather than taking shelter in the house, he draws his sword and advances on his attackers, who are able to shoot and kill him. These stories often stress that he dies a martyr. His housemaid testifies that she found his drawn sword lying by his side. These details do not feature in the witness accounts by Reginald Dunne, which is smuggled out of prison, the inquest testimony of one of two road menders working nearby, and the taxi driver who had just dropped Wilson off. One of the road mender’s accounts, as published in the Daily Mail, mentions Wilson turning on his attackers with the words “you cowardly swine!” but this is believed to be a possible embellishment by the newspaper.

Two police officers and a chauffeur are also shot as the men attempt to avoid capture. They are then surrounded by a crowd and arrested by other policemen after a struggle. Dunne and O’Sullivan are convicted of murder and hanged on August 10, 1922. On the day Wilson’s killers were hanged, Currygrane, the family homesite in Ballinalee, County Longford is burned to the ground, possibly as a reprisal although possibly as an unrelated part of the unrest in that county.

Wilson’s widow blames the government for his death and is only persuaded to allow government representation at the funeral on the grounds that not to do so would be disrespectful to the King. Wilson’s funeral is a public affair attended by David Lloyd George and the cabinet, Ferdinand Foch, Robert Nivelle and Maxime Weygand from France as well as many of his former army colleagues including John French, Nevil Macready, Douglas Haig and William Robertson. He is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.


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Heroic Act of Charles Davis Lucas Earns First Victoria Cross

Charles Davis Lucas, a 20-year-old mate on the HMS Hecla in the Royal Navy, hurls a Russian shell, its fuse still burning, from the deck of his ship on June 21, 1854 during the Crimean War. For this action, he becomes the first recipient of the Victoria Cross in 1857.

Lucas is born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, County Armagh, on February 19, 1834. He enlists in the Royal Navy in 1848 at the age of 13, serves aboard HMS Vengeance, and sees action in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852–53 aboard the frigate HMS Fox at Rangoon, Pegu, and Dalla. By age 20, he has become a mate.

On June 21, 1854 in the Baltic Sea, HMS Hecla, along with two other ships, is bombarding Bomarsund, a fort in the Åland Islands off Finland. The fire is returned from the fort and, at the height of the action, a live shell lands on HMS Hecla‘s upper deck with its fuse still hissing. All hands are ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but Lucas with great presence of mind runs forward and hurls the shell into the sea where it explodes with a tremendous roar before it hits the water. Thanks to Lucas’s action no one on board is killed or seriously wounded by the shell and, accordingly, he is immediately promoted to lieutenant by his commanding officer. His act of bravery is the first to be rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

His later career includes service on HMS Calcutta, HMS Powerful, HMS Cressy, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Liffey and HMS Indus. He is promoted to commander in 1862 and commands the experimental armoured gunboat HMS Vixen in 1867. He is promoted to captain in 1867, before retiring on October 1, 1873. He is later promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1885. During his career he receives the India General Service Medal with the bar Pegu 1852, the Baltic Medal 1854–55, and the Royal Humane Society Lifesaving Medal.

In 1879 he marries Frances Russell Hall, daughter of Admiral William Hutcheon Hall, who had been captain of HMS Hecla in 1854. The couple has three daughters together. Lucas serves for a time as Justice of the Peace for both Kent and Argyllshire, and dies in Great Culverden, Kent on August 7, 1914. He is buried at St. Lawrence Church, Mereworth, Maidstone, Kent.

Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.


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The Battle of Foulksmills

During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Battle of Foulksmills, known locally as the Battle of Horetown and also known as the Battle of Goff’s Bridge, takes place on June 20, 1798 between advancing British forces seeking to stamp out the rebellion in County Wexford and a rebel army assembled to oppose them.

By June 19 the threat of the United Irish rebellion spreading outside County Wexford had been largely contained and Crown forces were positioned to move against rebel held territory. A force of about 1,500 men under Sir John Moore move out of New Ross towards Wexford as part of an overall encirclement operation in conjunction with General Gerard Lake‘s forces moving from the north.

Moore’s force is to link up and combine with the isolated garrison holding Duncannon before moving deeper into County Wexford, but after waiting several hours with no sign of their arrival, Moore decides to press ahead to the village of Taghmon alone. Upon nearing Goff’s Bridge at Foulkesmill, his scouts report a rapidly moving rebel force of some 5,000 moving along the road with the intent to give battle. Moore despatches a force of riflemen from the 60th Regiment to hold the bridge until artillery can be brought up in support.

The rebels however, led by Father Philip Roche, spot this move and move away from the road to the high ground on the left intending to outflank Moore’s force. The 60th are forced to engage the rebels on the roads, fields and forests of the area and the rebel flanking move briefly threatens to overturn Moore’s left. Moore has to personally rally his fleeing troops to hold the line and lead them in a successful counter-attack. As more troops begin to arrive the rebels are flushed out of their concealed positions, allowing the artillery to be brought into play and the rebels’ move is foiled. The rebels are gradually pushed back field by field but are able to withdraw the bulk of their force safely.

The road to Wexford is opened and the town recaptured by the Crown the next day but during this battle followers of rebel captain Thomas Dixon massacre up to 100 loyalist prisoners at Wexford bridge.

Casualties are estimated at 500 on the rebel side and 100 of the military.


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Establishment of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) is established in Dublin on June 19, 1940 by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera under the Institute for Advanced Studies Act, 1940. The Institute consists of three schools: the School of Theoretical Physics, the School of Cosmic Physics and the School of Celtic studies. The Institute under the act is empowered to “train students in methods of advanced research” but does not itself award degrees. Graduate students working under the supervision of Institute researchers can, with the agreement of the governing board of the appropriate school, be registered for a higher degree in any university worldwide.

Shortly after becoming Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera investigates the possibility of setting up an institute of higher learning. Being of mathematical background, de Valera is aware of the decline of the Dunsink Observatory, where Sir William Rowan Hamilton, regarded as Ireland’s most influential mathematician, has held the position of Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Following meetings with prominent academics in the fields of mathematics and astronomy, he comes to the conclusion that astronomy at Dunsink should be revived and an institute for higher learning should be established.

The Institute is initially located at 64 and 65 Merrion Square and consists of the School of Theoretical Physics and the School of Celtic Studies, to which the School of Cosmic Physics is added in 1947. It is modeled on the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which was founded in 1930. Most importantly, Erwin Schrödinger is interested in coming to Ireland, and this represents an opportunity not to be missed. The School of Celtic Studies owes its founding to the importance de Valera accords to the Irish language. He considers it a vital element in the makeup of the nation, and therefore important that the nation should have a place of higher learning devoted to this subject.

The founding of the Institute is somewhat controversial, since at the time only a minority are successfully completing elementary education, and university education is for the privileged. By this reasoning, the creation of a high-level research institute is a waste of scarce resources. However, Éamon de Valera is aware of the great symbolic importance such a body would have on the international stage for Ireland. This thinking influences much of de Valera’s premiership.

Work by the Geophysics section of the School of Cosmic Physics on the formation of the North Atlantic demonstrates that the Irish continental shelf extends much further than previously thought, thereby more than doubling the area of the seabed over which Ireland can claim economic exploitation rights under the international law of the sea. Fundamental work in statistical mechanics by the School of Theoretical Physics finds application in computer switching technology and leads to the establishment of an Irish campus company to exploit this intellectual property. The Institute has also in recent years been one of the main agents helping to set up a modern e-Infrastructure in support of all Irish research.

In 1968 the Royal Society recognises de Valera’s contribution to science in establishing the Institute by electing him to honorary fellowship.

Currently the Institute has its schools located at three premises on the Southside of Dublin at 10 Burlington Road, 31 Fitzwilliam Place and 5 Merrion Square. It also maintains a presence at Dunsink Observatory in north County Dublin.

(Pictured: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies School of Theoretical Physics, 10 Burlington Road, Dublin)


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.