seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Padraic Fallon, Poet & Playwright

padraic-fallonPadraic Fallon, Irish poet and playwright, dies on October 9, 1974 in Aylesford, England.

Fallon is born in Athenry, County Galway on January 3, 1905. His upbringing and his early impressions of the town and the surrounding landscape are intimately described in his poetry. After passing the civil service exams in 1923 he moves to Dublin to work in the Customs House. In Dublin he becomes part of the circle of George William Russell (Æ) who encourages his literary ambitions and arranges for the publication of his early poetry. He forms close friendships with Seumas O’Sullivan, editor of The Dublin Magazine, the poets Austin Clarke, Robert Farren, F.R. Higgins and Patrick McDonagh, and later the novelist James Plunkett.

In 1939, Fallon leaves Dublin to serve as a Customs official in County Wexford, living in Prospect House, near Wexford with his wife, Dorothea (née Maher) and his six sons. During this time he becomes a close friend of the painter Tony O’Malley.

Fallon’s early poetry, short stories and literary criticism are published in The Dublin Magazine and The Bell. He is a regular contributor to Raidió Éireann in the 1940s and 1950s, serving variously as a journalist, scriptwriter and literary critic. A number of his short stories and early dramatic pieces are broadcast by the station during the 1940s. The first of his verse plays for radio, Diarmuid and Gráinne, is broadcast by Raidió Éireann in November 1950. This is followed by The Vision of Mac Conglinne (1953), Two Men with a Face (1953), The Poplar (1953), Steeple Jerkin (1954), The Wooing of Étain (1954), A Man in the Window (1955), Outpost (1955), Deirdre’s King (1956), The Five Stations (1957), The Hags of Clough (1957), The Third Bachelor (1958), At the Bridge Inn (1960) and Lighting up Time (1961).

Three plays adapted from Irish mythology, Diarmuid and Gráinne, The Vision of Mac Conglinne and Deirdre’s King, receive particular contemporary critical acclaim. The landscape, mythology and history of Ireland, interwoven with classical themes and religious symbolism, are frequent themes in his poetry and dramatic works. A number of Fallon’s radio plays are later broadcast on BBC Third Programme and, in translation, in Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary. The play The Seventh Step is staged at The Globe Theatre in Dublin in 1954. A second one, Sweet Love ’till Morn, is staged at the Abbey Theatre in 1971. He also writes dramatic pieces for television such as A Sword of Steel (1966) and The Fenians (1967), the latter produced by James Plunkett. In a number of his plays and radio dramas he cooperates with contemporary composers providing incidental music, an example being The Wooing of Étain (1954) with music by Brian Boydell.

Fallon retires from the Civil Service in 1963, returning to Dublin before moving to Cornwall in 1967 to live with his son, the sculptor Conor Fallon and his daughter-in-law, the artist Nancy Wynne-Jones. He and his wife return to Ireland in 1971. He spends his last years in Kinsale. He is visiting his son Ivan Fallon in Kent at the time of his death.

While Fallon’s poetry had previously appeared in The Dublin Magazine, The Bell, The Irish Times and a number of anthologies, his first volume of collected poetry, Poems, incorporating a number of previously unpublished poems, is not produced until 1974, months before his death. Three volumes of his poetry, edited by his son, the journalist and critic Brian Fallon, are published after his death: Poems and Versions in 1983, Collected Poems in 1990, and A Look in the Mirror and Other Poems in 2003. In 2005, three of his verse plays, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, The Poplar, and The Hags of Clough, are published in a single volume. A selection of his prose writings and criticism edited by Brian Fallon, A Poet’s Journal, is published in the same year.

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Birth of Peadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish Language Writer

peadar-toner-mac-fhionnlaoichPeadar Toner Mac Fhionnlaoich, Irish language writer during the Gaelic revival known as Cú Uladh (The Hound of Ulster), is born in Allt an Iarainn, County Donegal on October 5, 1857. He writes stories based on Irish folklore, some of the first Irish language plays, and regularly writes articles in most of the Irish language newspapers such as An Claidheamh Soluis.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is the son of Micheal McGinley and Susan Toner. He attends school locally until he is seventeen. He then attends Blackrock College in Dublin for two years. Upon leaving school he enters into the British Civil Service becoming an Inland Revenue Officer. In 1895 he marries Elizabeth Woods (Irish: Sibhéal Ní Uadhaigh) and they have twelve children. He speaks Irish from an early age and keeps an interest in the language throughout his life, first publishing an Irish language short story and poem in The Donegal Christmas Annual 1883. It is not until 1895 while living in Belfast that he becomes involved in the Gaelic Movement.

It is in Mac Fhionnlaoich’s Belfast home that the first meeting of the Ulster branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge takes place in 1895. From this point on he becomes very involved in Conradh na Gaeilge becoming the organisations president on several occasions.

Mac Fhionnlaoich is a member of Seanad Éireann from 1938 to 1942 when he is nominated by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera.

Mac Fhionnlaoich dies at the age of 84 on July 1, 1942 in Dublin. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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Death of Christy Brown, Writer & Painter

christy-brownChristy Brown, Irish writer and painter who has cerebral palsy and is able to write or type only with the toes of one foot, dies on September 7, 1981 in Parbrook, Somerset, England. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot (1954).

Brown is born into a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on June 5, 1932. He is one of 22 siblings of parents Bridget Fagan and Patrick Brown. After his birth, doctors discover that he has severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which leaves him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a hospital, his parents are unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During his adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt becomes aware of his story and begins to visit the Brown family regularly. She brings him books and painting materials as, over the years, he has shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He has also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, he had learned to both write and draw himself with his left leg, the only limb over which he has unequivocal control.

Brown quickly matures into a serious artist. Although he famously receives almost no formal schooling during his youth, he does attend St. Brendan’s School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan’s he comes in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovers that Brown is also a natural novelist and, later, helps use his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown’s struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.

When My Left Foot becomes a literary sensation, one of the many people who write letters to Brown is married American woman Beth Moore. Brown and Moore become regular correspondents and, in 1960, he holidays in North America and stays with Moore at her home in Connecticut. When they meet again in 1965 they began an affair. Brown journeys to Connecticut once more to finish his magnum opus, which he had been developing for years. He finally does so in 1967 with help from Moore, who introduces and administers a strict working regimen, mostly by denying him alcohol until a day’s work is completed. The book, Down All the Days, is published in 1970. It is an ambitious project drawn largely from a playful expansion of My Left Foot. It becomes an international best-seller, translated into fourteen languages. The Irish Times reviewer Bernard Share claims the work is “the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”

Down All the Days is followed by a series of other novels, including A Shadow on Summer (1972), Wild Grow the Lilies (1976) and A Promising Career (published posthumously in 1982). He also publishes three poetry collections: Come Softly to My Wake, Background Music and Of Snails and Skylarks. All the poems are included in The Collected Poems of Christy Brown.

Brown’s fame continues to spread internationally and he becomes a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he is able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister’s family. Though he and Beth had planned to marry and live together at the new home, and though Moore had informed her husband of these plans, it is around this time that he begins an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he meets at a party in London. He then terminates his affair with Moore and marries Carr at the Registry Office, Dublin, in 1972. They move to Stoney Lane, Rathcoole, County Dublin, to Ballyheigue, County Kerry and then to Somerset. He continues to paint, write novels, poetry and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, is based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considers a friend.

Brown’s health deteriorates after marrying Carr. He becomes mainly a recluse in his last years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr’s influence and perhaps abusive nature. He dies at the age of 49 on September 7, 1981 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body is found to have significant bruising, which leads many to believe that Carr had physically abused him. Further suspicions arise after Georgina Hambleton’s biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, reveals a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful. He is buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

A film adaptation of My Left Foot directed by Jim Sheridan is produced in 1989 from a screenplay by Shane Connaughton. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Brown and Brenda Fricker as his mother. Both win Academy Awards for their performances. The film also receives Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Anglo-Irish rock band The Pogues pay tribute to Christy Brown with a song titled “Down All the Days.” It is the seventh track on their 1989 recording Peace and Love. Similarly, U2 releases a song titled “Down All the Days” with the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. The Men They Couldn’t Hang also writes a song “Down All the Days” which appears on their Silver Town album also released in 1989.


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Death of Sir Richard Steele, Writer, Playwright & Politician

richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, dies in Carmarthen, Wales on September 1, 1729.

Steele is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672 to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William‘s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. He leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, 3rd Baron Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele is a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison become closely associated with Child’s Coffee-house in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he is serving in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction.

Steele writes a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, he writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband with contributions from Addison, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first appears on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. He writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his second wife’s homeland of Wales. He remains in Carmarthen after his wife’s death, dying there on September 1, 1729. He is buried there at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson)


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Birth of Sir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere

aubrey-hunt-de-vereSir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere, 2nd Baronet, Anglo-Irish poet and landowner, is born on August 28, 1788.

De Vere is the son of Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet and Eleanor Pery, daughter of William Pery, 1st Baron Glentworth. He is educated at Harrow School, where he is a childhood friend of Lord Byron, and Trinity College, Dublin. He marries Mary Spring Rice, the daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, and sister of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, in 1807. He succeeds to his father’s title in 1818.

The Hunt/de Vere family estate of 300 years (1657–1957), including the period of the de Vere Baronetcy of Curragh, is the present day Curraghchase Forest Park, in County Limerick. De Vere spends most of his life on the estate and is closely involved in its management. He suffers much trouble from his ownership of the island of Lundy, which his father, who was not much of a businessman, had unwisely purchased in 1802, and which becomes a heavy drain on the family’s finances. Sir Vere is never able to find a purchaser for Lundy, and it takes his son until 1834 to dispose of it.

De Vere stands for election in the 1820 General Election and comes in third with 2,921 votes.

De Vere changes his surname from Hunt to de Vere in 1832, in reference to his Earl of Oxford ancestors, dating back to Aubrey de Vere I, a tenant-in-chief in England of William the Conqueror in 1086. He serves as High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1811.

De Vere is a poet. William Wordsworth calls his sonnets the most perfect of the age. These and his drama, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama, are published by his son, the poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere, in 1875 and 1884.

De Vere produces numerous works over his lifetime. The most notable are Ode to the Duchess of Angouleme (1815), Julian the Apostate: A Dramatic Poem (1822), The Duke of Mercia: An Historical Drama [with] The Lamentation of Ireland, and Other Poems (1823), A Song of Faith: Devout Exercises and Sonnets and his most famous work, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama.

Sir Aubrey de Vere dies on July 5, 1846.


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Brian Keenan Released by Islamic Jihad

brian-keenanBrian Keenan, Northern Irish writer, is released by the Islamic Jihad Organization on August 24, 1990 after having spent 52 months as a hostage in Beirut, Lebanon. His works include the book An Evil Cradling, an account of the four and a half years he spends as a hostage.

Keenan is born into a working-class family in East Belfast on September 28, 1950. He leaves Orangefield High School early and begins work as a heating engineer. However, he continues an interest in literature by attending night classes and in 1970 gains a place at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Other writers there at the time included Gerald Dawe and Brendan Hamill. In the mid 1980s he returns to the Magee College campus of the university for postgraduate study. Afterwards he accepts a teaching position at the American University of Beirut, where he works for about four months.

On the morning of April 11, 1986 Keenan is kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad Organization. After spending two months in isolation, he is moved to a cell shared with the British journalist John McCarthy. He is kept blindfolded throughout most of his ordeal, and is chained by hand and foot when he is taken out of solitary.

The British and American governments at the time have a policy that they will not negotiate with terrorists and Keenan is considered by some to have been ignored. Because he is travelling on both Irish and British passports, the Irish government makes numerous diplomatic representations for his release, working closely with the Iranian government. Throughout the kidnap they also provide support to his two sisters, Elaine Spence and Brenda Gillham, who are spearheading the campaign for his release. He is released from captivity to Syrian military forces on August 24, 1990 and is driven to Damascus. There he is handed over by the Syrian Foreign Ministry to the care of Irish Ambassador, Declan Connolly. His sisters are flown by Irish Government executive jet to Damascus to meet him and bring him home to Northern Ireland.

An Evil Cradling is an autobiographical book by Keenan about his four years as a hostage in Beirut. The book revolves heavily around the great friendship he experiences with fellow hostage John McCarthy, and the brutality that is inflicted upon them by their captors. It is the 1991 winner of The Irish Times Literature Prize for Non-fiction and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.

Keenan returns to Beirut in 2007 for the first time since his release 17 years earlier, and describes “falling in love” with the city.

Brian Keenan now lives in Dublin.