seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Stephen Lucius Gwynn, Writer & Politician

stephen-lucius-gwynnStephen Lucius Gwynn, journalist, biographer, author, poet, Protestant Nationalist politician, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is born on February 13, 1864 in St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin, where his father John Gwynn, a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman, is a warden.

Gwynn spends his early childhood in rural County Donegal, which shapes his later view of Ireland. He is educated at St. Columba’s College and goes on to Brasenose College, Oxford, where, as scholar, in 1884 he is awarded first-class honours in classical moderations and in 1886 literae humaniores. During term holidays he returns to Dublin, where he meets several of the political and literary figures of the day.

After graduating Gwynn moves to France where he works as a schoolmaster for ten years. In December 1889 he marries his cousin Mary Louisa Gwynn. They have four sons and two daughters. Having dabbled in journalism since his student days, he moves to London in 1896 to pursue a career as a writer. He soon becomes a prominent figure in literary and journalistic circles.

In 1904 the Gwynns return to Ireland to live in Raheny, County Dublin. In November 1906 he wins a seat for Galway Borough, which he represents as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party until 1918. During this time he also becomes active with the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Revival.

At the outbreak of World War I, Gwynn gives his support to John Redmond that Irishmen should enlist in the British forces. At the age of fifty-one he enlists as a private in the 7th Leinster Regiment and is later commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers, attached to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is promoted to captain in 1915 and serves with his battalion at the battles of Ginchy and Guillemont during the Somme offensive and also at Messines in 1917, leaving the front line shortly afterwards.

Gwynn is appointed to the Dardanelles Commission in 1916, an investigation into the unsuccessful 1915 Gallipoli Campaign.

After the war Gwynn continues with his writing and political life. He receives honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland in 1940 and the University of Dublin in 1945. He dies on June 11, 1950 at his home in Terenure, Dublin and is buried at Tallaght cemetery.

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Birth of Thomas Clarke Luby, Irish Revolutionary

thomas-clarke-lubyThomas Clarke Luby, Irish revolutionary, author, journalist and one of the founding members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, is born in Dublin on January 16, 1822.

Luby is the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman from Templemore, County Tipperary, his mother being a Catholic. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin where he studies law and puts in the necessary number of terms in London and Dublin where he acquires a reputation as a scholar and takes his degree. He goes on to teach at the college for a time.

Luby supports the Repeal Association and contributes to The Nation newspaper. After the breach with Daniel O’Connell he joins the Young Irelanders in the Irish Confederation. He is deeply influenced by James Fintan Lalor at this time. Following the suppression of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, he with Lalor and Philip Gray attempt to revive the fighting in 1849 as members of the secret Irish Democratic Association. This, however, ends in failure.

In 1851 Luby travels to France, where he hopes to join the French Foreign Legion to learn infantry tactics but finds the recruiting temporarily suspended. From France he goes to Australia for a year before returning to Ireland. From the end of 1855 he edits the Tribune newspaper founded by John E. Pigot who had been a member of The Nation group. During this time he remains in touch with the small group of ’49 men including Philip Gray and attempts to start a new revolutionary movement. Luby’s views on social issues grow more conservative after 1848 which he makes clear to James Stephens whom he meets in 1856.

In the autumn of 1857 Owen Considine arrives with a message signed by four Irish exiles in the United States, two of whom are John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny. The message conveys the confidence they have in Stephens and asks him to establish an organisation in Ireland to win national independence. Considine also carries a private letter from O’Mahony to Stephens which is a warning, and which is overlooked by Luby and Stephens at the time. Both believe that there is a strong organisation behind the letter, only later to find it is rather a number of loosely linked groups. On December 23 Stephens dispatches Joseph Denieffe to America with his reply which is disguised as a business letter dated and addressed from Paris. In his reply Stephen’s outlines his conditions and his requirements from the organisation in America.

On March 17, 1858, Denieffe arrives in Dublin with the acceptance of Stephens’s terms by the New York Committee and the eighty pounds. On that very evening the Irish Republican Brotherhood is established in Peter Langan’s timber-yard in Lombard Street.

In mid-1863 Stephens informs his colleagues he wishes to start a newspaper, with financial aid from O’Mahony and the Fenian Brotherhood in America. The offices are established at 12 Parliament Street, almost at the gates of Dublin Castle. The first issue of the Irish People appears on November 28, 1863. The staff of the paper along with Luby are Charles J. Kickham and Denis Dowling Mulcahy as the editorial staff. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and James O’Connor have charge of the business office, with John Haltigan being the printer. John O’Leary is brought from London to take charge in the role of Editor.

On July 15, 1865 American-made plans for a rising in Ireland are discovered. Superintendent Daniel Ryan, head of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police at Dublin Castle, has an informer within the offices of the Irish People who supplies him with an “action this year” message on its way to the IRB unit in Tipperary. With this information, Ryan raids the offices of the Irish People on Thursday, September 15, followed by the arrests of Luby, O’Leary and O’Donovan Rossa. Kickham is caught after a month on the run. Stephens is also caught with the support of Fenian prison warders. The last number of the paper is dated September 16, 1865.

After his arrest and the suppression of the Irish People, Luby is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude. He is released in January 1871, but is compelled to remain away from Ireland until the expiration of his sentence.

Upon his release Luby goes first to the Continent and later settles in New York City. He lectures all over the country for years, and writes for a number of Irish newspapers on political topics. At the memorial meeting on the death of John Mitchel, he delivers the principal address in Madison Square Garden.

Thomas Clarke Luby dies at 109½ Oak Street, Jersey City, New Jersey of paralysis, on November 29, 1901 and is buried in a grave shared with his wife in Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City. His epitaph reads: “Thomas Clarke Luby 1822–1901 He devoted his life to love of Ireland and quest of truth.”


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Birth of Patrick MacGill, Poet & Novelist

patrick-macgillPatrick MacGill, journalist, poet and novelist, is born on December 24, 1889 in Glenties, County Donegal. He is known as “The Navvy Poet” because he works as a navvy before he begins writing.

During World War I, MacGill serves with the London Irish Rifles (1/18th Battalion, London Regiment) and is wounded at the Battle of Loos on October 28, 1915. He is recruited into Military Intelligence, and writes for MI 7b between 1916 and the Armistice in 1918. He writes a memoir-type novel called Children of the Dead End.

Patrick MacGill dies on November 22, 1963, the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

In early 2008, a docu-drama starring Stephen Rea is made about the life of Patrick MacGill, which is released in Ireland in 2009 as Child of the Dead End. One of the film’s locations is the boathouse of Edinburgh Canal Society at Edinburgh on the Union Canal, and one of its rowing boats.

An annual literary MacGill Summer School is held in Glenties in mid-July each year in his honour. A statue in his honour is on the bridge where the main street crosses the river in Glenties. He has three children, Christine, Patricia and Sheila MacGill.


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)


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Assassination of Ross McWhirter

ross-mcwhirterAlan Ross McWhirter, co-founder of The Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers, is murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on November 27, 1975.

McWhirter is the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret “Bunty” Williamson. He is born at Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England on August 12, 1925. Like his two brothers, he is educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946 he serves as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ross and his twin brother Norris become sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they found an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris McWhirter’s words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” In the same year they publish Get to Your Marks.

While building up their accounts, they both work as sports journalists. One of the athletes they know and cover is runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommends them to Hugh Beaver. After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoy testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agree to start work on the book that becomes The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first 198-page green volume is at the bookstalls, and in four more months it is the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller. Both brothers are regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They are noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continues on the programme after Ross’s death.

In the early 1960s, McWhirter is a Conservative Party activist and seeks, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others found the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

McWhirter advocates various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offers a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In doing so, he recognises that he might then be a target himself. This is considered a “bounty” by the IRA Army Council, a view that leads directly to the events that follow, although the idea is not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.

At 6:45 PM on November 27, 1975, McWhirter is shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom are members of what becomes known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He is shot with a .357 Magnum revolver at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. He is taken to Chase Farm Hospital but dies soon after being admitted. His killers are captured and charged with his and nine other murders. They are sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)


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Birth of Hugh Leonard, Dramatist, Writer & Essayist

hugh-leonardHugh Leonard, Irish dramatist, television writer and essayist, is born in Dublin on November 9, 1926. In a career that spans 50 years, he writes nearly 30 full-length plays, 10 one-act plays, three volumes of essays, two autobiographies, three novels and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.

After birth, Leonard is put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changes his name to John Keyes Byrne. For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of “Hugh Leonard” which he later adopts and becomes well known by, he invites close friends to call him “Jack.”

Leonard is educated at the Harold Boys’ National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter. He works as a civil servant for fourteen years. During that time he both acts in and writes plays for community theatre groups. His first play to be professionally produced is The Big Birthday, which is mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956. His career with the Abbey Theatre continues until 1994. After that his plays are produced regularly by Dublin’s theatres.

Leonard moves to Manchester for a while, working for Granada Television before returning to Ireland in 1970. There he settles in Dalkey.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard is the first major Irish writer to establish a reputation in television, writing extensively for television including original plays, comedies, thrillers and adaptations of classic novels for British television. He is commissioned by RTÉ to write Insurrection, a 50th anniversary dramatic reconstruction of the Easter Rising of 1916. His Silent Song, adapted for the BBC from a short story by Frank O’Connor, wins the Prix Italia in 1967. He writes the script for the RTÉ adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.

Three of Leonard’s plays have been presented on Broadway: The Au Pair Man (1973), which stars Charles Durning and Julie Harris, Da (1978) and A Life (1980). Of these, Da, which originates off-off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild theatre before transferring to the Morosco Theatre, is the most successful, running for 20 months and 697 performances, then touring the United States for ten months. It earns Leonard both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Play. It is made into a film in 1988, starring Martin Sheen and Barnard Hughes, who reprises his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance.

Leonard writes two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989). Some of his essays and journalism are collected in Leonard’s Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard is published. Until 2006 he writes a humorous weekly column, “The Curmudgeon,” for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He has a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.

Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displays an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O’Connor, he is asked if it galls him that Gay Byrne is now writing his old column. His reply is, “It would gall me more if he was any good at it.” He is a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In 1994, Leonard appears in a televised interview with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, an Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He has long been an opponent of political violence and a critic of the IRA. However, on the show and afterwards he is criticised for being “sanctimonious and theatrical” towards Adams. At one point he refers to Sinn Féin as “dogs.”

Hugh Leonard – Odd Man In, a film on his life and work is shown on RTÉ in March 2009. Leonard’s final play, Magicality, is not performed during his lifetime. A rehearsed reading of the second act is staged at the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in June 2012.

Hugh Leonard dies after a long illness on February 12, 2009 in his hometown of Dalkey at the age of 82, leaving €1.5 million in his will.