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


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)

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Death of Kathleen Clarke, Founder of Cumann na mBan

kathleen-clarkeKathleen Clarke (née Daly), a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and one of very few privy to the plans of the Easter Rising in 1916, dies in Dublin on September 29, 1972. She is the wife of Tom Clarke and sister of Edward “Ned” Daly, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising. She is subsequently a Teachta Dála (TD) and senator with both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939–41).

Kathleen Daly is born into a prominent Fenian family in Limerick on April 11, 1878, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, is at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. He is released in 1896 and returns home to Limerick. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, is released in 1898 he travels to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stays with the Daly family.

In 1901 Daly decides to emigrate to the United States to join Tom, who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They marry on July 16, 1901 in New York City. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continues to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joins the Gaelic League while in the United States and they return to Ireland in November 1907.

In 1914 Clarke becomes a founder member of Cumann na mBan. Her husband forbids her permission to take an active part in the 1916 Easter Rising as she has orders regardless of how the events pan out. As Tom Clarke is the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he is chosen to be executed for his part in the Easter Rising. Her younger brother, Ned Daly, is also executed for taking part in the rising. She visits both of them before they are executed. After the Rising, Michael Collins establishes contact with her while in prison in his attempts to re-build the IRB network. She also sets up the Irish National Aid Fund to aid those who had family members killed or imprisoned as a result of the Easter Rising, closely aided by Sorcha MacMahon.

Clarke becomes a member of Sinn Féin and in 1917 is elected a member of the party’s Executive. During the German Plot she is arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months. During the Irish War of Independence she serves as a District Judge on the Republican Courts in Dublin. In 1919 she is elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation and serves until the Corporation is abolished in 1925.

Clarke is elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin TD to the Second Dáil at the 1921 elections for the Dublin Mid constituency. She is not re-elected at the 1922 general election, however, and supports the Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. In 1926 she becomes a founder member of Fianna Fáil and has to resign from Cumann na mBan. She is re-elected to the short-lived 5th Dáil at the June 1927 election as a Fianna Fáil member for the Dublin Mid constituency but loses her seat at the September 1927 election and does not regain it. She is elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad for nine years at the 1928 Seanad election under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remains a member of the Seanad until it is abolished in 1936.

In 1930 Clarke is elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil along with Robert Briscoe, Seán T. O’Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Oscar Traynor. She serves as the first Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Dublin as well as the first female Lord Mayor, from 1939 to 1941. She opposes the Constitution of Ireland as she feels that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She is criticised by many in the Fianna Fáil organisation as a result and, while she resigns from the Thomas Clarke Cumann, she remains a member of the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.

While Clarke does not support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in England during World War II, she appeals for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government to be given clemency. Ultimately this leads to her breaking with the party completely after her term as Lord Mayor finishes in 1941. She declines to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election.

In 1966, as part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising, Clarke and other surviving relatives are awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland. Following her death on September 29, 1972, she receives the rare honour of a state funeral. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin.


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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.

 


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.


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Birth of Author Eilís Dillon

eilis-dillonEilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, is born in Galway, County Galway on March 7, 1920. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine (née Plunkett), who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway City before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in the Irish language and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Her family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and 17 years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council 1974–1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust. In 1987 she and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993.

Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.