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


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Death of Poet & Barrister Samuel Ferguson

sir-samuel-ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, dies in Howth, County Dublin on August 9, 1886. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson is born in Belfast on March 10, 1810. He lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.

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Death of Philologist Eugene O’Curry

eugene-ocurryEugene O’Curry, philologist and antiquary, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on July 30, 1862.

O’Curry is born at Doonaha, near Carrigaholt, County Clare, the son of Eoghan Ó Comhraí, a farmer, and his wife Cáit. Eoghan has spent some time as a traveling peddler and has developed an interest in Irish folklore and music. Unusual for someone of his background, he is literate and is known to possess a number of Irish manuscripts. It is likely that Eoghan is primarily responsible for his son’s education.

Having spent some years working on his father’s farm and as a school teacher, O’Curry moves to Limerick in 1824 and spends seven years working there at a psychiatric hospital. He marries Anne Broughton, daughter of John Broughton of Killaderry near Broadford, County Limerick on October 3, 1824. He is a supporter of Catholic emancipation and in 1828 writes a poem congratulating Daniel O’Connell on his election as an MP.

During this period O’Curry is establishing a reputation for his knowledge of the Irish language and Irish history, and, by 1834, is in correspondence with the antiquary John O’Donovan. He is employed, from 1835 to 1842, on O’Donovan’s recommendation, in the topographical and historical section of Ordnance Survey Ireland. O’Donovan goes on to marry O’Curry’s sister-in-law, Mary Anne Broughton, in 1840. O’Curry spends much of the remainder of his life in Dublin and earns his living by translating and copying Irish manuscripts. The catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the British Museum (1849) is compiled by him for a fee of £100. He is responsible for the transcripts of Irish manuscripts from which O’Donovan edits the Annals of the Four Masters between 1848 and 1851.

In 1851 O’Curry is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and, on the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854, he is appointed professor of Irish history and archaeology. He works with George Petrie on the Ancient Music of Ireland (1855). In 1852, he and O’Donovan propose the Dictionary of the Irish Language, which is eventually begun by the Royal Irish Academy in 1913 and finally completed in 1976.

O’Curry’s lectures are published by the university in 1860, and give a better knowledge of Irish medieval literature than can be obtained from any other one source. Three other volumes of lectures are published posthumously, under the title On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (1873). His voluminous transcripts, notably eight huge volumes of early Irish law, testify to his unremitting industry. The Celtic Society, of the council of which he is a member, publishes two of his translations of medieval tales.

Eugene O’Curry dies of a heart attack at his home in Dublin on July 30, 1862, and is survived by two sons and two daughters. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. O’Curry Road in the Tenters area of Dublin 8 is named in his honour.


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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 James Henry Cousins, Playwright & Actor

james-h-cousinsJames Henry Cousins, Irish writer, playwright, actor, critic, editor, teacher and poet, is born in Belfast on July 22, 1873, a descendant of Huguenot refugees. He uses several pseudonyms including Mac Oisín and the Hindu name Jayaram.

Largely self-educated at night schools, Cousins works some time as a clerk and becomes private secretary and speechwriter to Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, the Lord Mayor of Belfast. In 1897 he moves to Dublin where he becomes part of a literary circle which includes William Butler Yeats, George William Russell and James Joyce. It is believed that he serves as a model for the Little Chandler character in Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners.

Cousins is significantly influenced by Russell’s ability to reconcile mysticism with a pragmatic approach to social reforms and by the teachings of Helena Blavatsky. He has a lifelong interest in the paranormal and acts as reporter in several experiments carried out by William Fletcher Barrett, Professor of physics at the University of Dublin and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

Cousins produces several books of poetry while in Ireland as well as acting in the first production of Cathleen ní Houlihan, under the stage name of H. Sproule, with the famous Irish revolutionary and beauty Maud Gonne in the title role. His plays are produced in the first years of the twentieth century in the Abbey Theatre, the most famous being “the Racing Lug”. After a dispute with W.B. Yeats, who objects to “too much Cousins,” the Irish National Theatre movement splits with two-thirds of the actors and writers siding with Cousins against Yeats.

Cousins also writes widely on the subject of Theosophy and in 1915 travels to India with the voyage fees paid for by Annie Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society. He spends most of the rest of his life in the sub-continent, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Keio University in Tokyo and another lecturing in New York. Towards the end of his life he converts to Hinduism. At the core of Cousins’s engagement with Indian culture is a firm belief in the “shared sensibilities between Celtic and Oriental peoples.”

While in India he becomes friendly with many key Indian personalities including poet Rabindranath Tagore, Indian classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Mahatma Gandhi. He is the person who brings change into the life of poetry of the great renowned Kannada poet and writer Kuvempu. He writes a joint autobiography with his wife Margaret Elizabeth Cousins, a suffragette and one of the co-founders of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and All India Women’s Conference (AIWC).

In his The Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo acclaims Cousins’ New Ways in English Literature as “literary criticism which is of the first order, at once discerning and suggestive, criticism which forces us both to see and think.” He also acknowledges that he learned to intuit deeper being alerted by Cousins’ criticisms of his poems. In 1920 Cousins comes to Pondicherry to meet the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

James Cousins dies on February 20, 1956 in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India at the age of 82.


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Birth of Francis Elrington Ball, Author & Legal Historian

the-judges-in-ireland-1221-1921Francis Elrington Ball, Irish author and legal historian best known as F. Elrington Ball, is born in Portmarnock, County Dublin on July 18, 1863. He is best known for his work The Judges in Ireland 1221–1921 (1926).

A younger son of John Thomas Ball, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1875 to 1880, and his wife Catherine Elrington, Ball is unsuccessful in seeking election as a Unionist to Parliament at the United Kingdom general election, 1900 in South Dublin. His father had represented University of Dublin in Parliament from 1868 to 1875.

Ball is, however, best known for his scholarship, particularly for his work on Jonathan Swift, the local history of Dublin and on the history of the judiciary in Ireland from 1221 to 1921. The destruction of the Four Courts in 1922, during the Irish Civil War, and of the public records and legal archives it contained (especially those of the Irish Public Records Office) make his prior research into the history of the Irish judiciary up to 1921 particularly valuable to later scholars. The review published in the Irish Law Times & Solicitors’ Journal described it as “a truly marvellous condensation of judicial history involving the exhaustive study of a long period, the earlier part of which was hitherto obscure.” The same review characterised Ball as “a writer of great care and accuracy, whose work is always characterised by minute and diligent research.”

Ball also serves as a governor of the Blue Coat School, Oxmantown, Dublin. Francis Elrington Ball dies in 1928.


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Birth of William Maginn, Journalist & Writer

william-maginnWilliam Maginn, journalist and miscellaneous writer, is born in Cork on July 10, 1794.

Maginn becomes a contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine and, after moving to London in 1824, becomes for a few months in 1826 the Paris correspondent to The Representative, a paper started by John Murray, the publisher. When its short career is run, he helps to found in 1827 the ultra Tory Standard, a newspaper that he edits along with a fellow graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Stanley Lees Giffard. He also writes for the more scandalous Sunday paper, The Age.

In 1830 Maginn instigates and becomes one of the leading supporters of Fraser’s Magazine. His Homeric Ballads, much praised by contemporary critics, are published in Fraser’s between 1839 and 1842. In 1837, Bentley’s Miscellany is launched, with Charles Dickens as editor, and Maginn writes the prologue and contributes over the next several years a series of “Shakespeare Papers” that examine characters in counter-intuitive fashion. From “The Man in the Bell” (Blackwood’s, 1821) through “Welch Rabbits” (Bentley’s, 1842) Maginn is an occasional though skillful writer of short fiction and tales. His only novel, Whitehall (1827) pretends to be a historical novel set in 1820s England written in the year 2227. It is a droll spoof of the vogue for historical novels as well as the contemporary political scene.

In 1836, Maginn fights a duel with Grantley Berkeley, a member of Parliament. Berkeley had brutally assaulted magazine publisher James Fraser over a review Maginn wrote of Berkeley’s novel Berkeley Castle, and Maginn calls him out. Three rounds are fired but no one is struck.

One of the most brilliant periodical writers of his time, Maginn leaves little permanent work behind him. In his later years, his intemperate habits land him in debtor’s prison. When he emerges through the grace of the Insolvent Debtor’s Act he is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He writes until the end, including in the first volume of Punch, but he dies in extreme poverty in Walton-on-Thames, London on August 21, 1842, survived by his wife Ellen, and daughters Annie and Ellen, and son John. His nephew Francis Maginn, who is deaf, is a co-founder of the British Deaf and Dumb Association, now called the British Deaf Association (BDA).


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Death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

arthur-conan-doyleSir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, British writer and physician, most noted for creating the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and writing stories about him which are generally considered milestones in the field of crime fiction, dies of a heart attack in Crowborough, East Sussex, England, at the age of 71, on July 7, 1930.

Doyle is born at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22, 1859. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, is an Englishman of Irish Catholic descent and his mother, Mary (née Foley), is Irish Catholic. Charles dies in 1893, in the Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries, after many years of psychiatric illness. Supported by wealthy uncles, Doyle is sent to the Jesuit preparatory school Hodder Place, Stonyhurst, at the age of nine. He then goes on to Stonyhurst College until 1875. From 1875 to 1876, he is educated at the Jesuit school Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria. Doyle later rejects the Catholic faith and becomes an agnostic. He also later becomes a spiritualist mystic.

From 1876 to 1881 Doyle studies medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. While studying, he begins writing short stories. His first published piece, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, is printed in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal on September 6, 1879. After stints as a ship’s doctor and a failed medical practice with former classmate George Turnavine Budd, Doyle arrives in Portsmouth in June 1882 and sets up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice is slow to develop and while waiting for patients, Doyle again begins writing fiction. In 1890, Doyle studies ophthalmology in Vienna and moves to London.

Doyle’s first work featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, A Study in Scarlet, is published by Ward Lock & Co. in November 1886. The piece appears one year later in the Beeton’s Christmas Annual and receives good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald.

A sequel to A Study in Scarlet is commissioned and The Sign of the Four appears in Lippincott’s Magazine in February 1890, the last under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes are published in The Strand Magazine.

In December 1893, wanting to dedicate more time to historical novels, Doyle has Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunge to their deaths together down the Reichenbach Falls in the The Final Problem. Public outcry, however, leads him to feature Holmes in 1901 in the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes is ultimately featured in a total of 56 short stories, the last published in 1927, and four novels by Doyle.

Between 1888 and 1906, Doyle writes seven historical novels, which many critics regard as his best work. He also authors nine other novels and, later in his career between 1912 and 1929, five stories, two of novella length, featuring the irascible scientist Professor Challenger.

He twice stands for Parliament as a Liberal Unionist, in 1900 in Edinburgh Central and in 1906 in the Hawick Burghs, but he is not elected. In May 1903, he is appointed a Knight of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.

Doyle is a supporter of the campaign for the reform of the Congo Free State, led by the journalist E. D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. He becomes acquainted with Morel and Casement and, together with Bertram Fletcher Robinson, they inspire several characters in the 1912 novel The Lost World. When Casement is found guilty of treason against the Crown during the 1916 Easter Rising, Doyle tries unsuccessfully to save him from facing the death penalty, arguing that Casement has been driven mad and cannot be held responsible for his actions.

Found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on July 7, 1930, Doyle dies of a heart attack at the age of 71. At the time of his death there is some controversy concerning his burial place, as he is avowedly not a Christian, but rather considers himself a Spiritualist. He is first buried on July 11, 1930, in Windlesham rose garden. He is later reinterred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire.