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


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Death of Brinsley MacNamara, Writer & Playwright

John Weldon (alternatively “A. E. Weldon”), Irish writer, playwright, and the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland, dies in Dublin on February 4, 1963. He adopts the pseudonymBrinsley MacNamara,’ the first name deriving from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the second from a relative on his mother’s side, and uses it throughout his subsequent career as novelist and playwright.

Weldon is born on September 6, 1890, in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath, the eldest son of James Weldon, a schoolteacher, originally of Ballinea, Mullingar, and Fanny Weldon (née Duncan). He attends his father’s school at Delvin until he is eighteen, and the relationship between father and son is to remain rather formal and strict.

Stimulated by the visiting fit-up theatrical companies and of news from Dublin of the Abbey Theatre, in September 1908 he takes the lead in a local staging of a political melodrama, Robert Emmet by Henry C. Mangan. The following summer he leaves for Dublin, ostensibly to become a civil servant but in fact to audition as an actor at the Abbey Theatre. His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan.

MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918), its title a byword for small-town hypocrisy and begrudgery. The work itself is an uneasy fusion of a satiric portrait of gossipy, prying women and dipsomaniacally drinking men with a naturalist tragedy in which the sins of the past repeat themselves in the lives of the younger characters. The novel’s frank treatment of sexual matters is eclipsed as a cause of offence by the unflattering portrayal of almost all the inhabitants of the fictional village called Garradrimna, a place that local people feel would be automatically identified as Delvin. In the ensuing controversy the novelist’s father, James Weldon (widely suspected of being the author), and his school are subject to boycott. His attempts to seek legal redress in 1923 are unsuccessful.

MacNamara continues to write for many years after this controversial first work, and locates most of his later fiction in Garradrimna, in the Irish Midlands. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In 1925 McNamara is appointed registrar to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, a position he holds until his retirement in 1960. In 1932 he becomes one of the first members of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in 1935 joins the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre.

MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. His later years are dogged by increasing ill health and he dies at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, on February 4, 1963.


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Birth of Sculptor Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard RHA, Irish sculptor most famous for his 1911 bronze statue of the mythical Cúchulainn dying in battle, is born at Old Town, Cookstown, County Tyrone on April 10, 1865. His work is also part of the art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics and the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Sheppard is born to Simpson Sheppard, a sculptor, and Ellen White, of Ormond Quay, Dublin.

Sheppard is based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having travelled widely across Europe. He and his wife Rosie have several children. They live at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin. She dies in 1931.

Sheppard’s main influence is the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who teaches him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin (now the National College of Art and Design), where he later becomes a lecturer.

From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard teaches sculpture at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, which is renamed the National College of Art in 1936. His annual stipend is £250 but for this he only has to lecture on three mornings per week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects. One of his most famous students is the sculptor Kathleen Cox.

As a prominent sculptor Sheppard is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and is made a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1925–41. He also exhibits works at European exhibitions during his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.

Sheppard is generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland, saying, “For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions…was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect.”

In 1890–1910 Sheppard is a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, is admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he meets his brother, Patrick Pearse, who later helps launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival’s artists are writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard can claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.

Sheppard is in the minority of Irish Protestants who support independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he is an art student. After the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) he says, “They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country.” His opinions are not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.

In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage is planned, and is finally launched in 1928. Sheppard is one of the designers short-listed but his designs are not accepted.

Sheppard dies in Dublin on September 14, 1941.

(Pictured: “The Dying Cúchulainn,” sculpture by Oliver Sheppard, now at the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin)


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Birth of Brinsley MacNamara, Writer & Playwright

the-valley-of-the-squinting-windowsJohn Weldon, Irish writer and playwright also known as Oliver Blyth, A. E. Weldon and his pen name and stage name Brinsley MacNamara, is born on September 6, 1890 in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath.

MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918). His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan. He later works as the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland.

MacNamara is still best known for his first novel The Valley of the Squinting Windows, which causes a furor in his native Westmeath on its publication. He continues to write for many years after this controversial first work. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. He dies at his home on Gilford Drive in Sandymount, Dublin on February 4, 1963.


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Birth of Jack Butler Yeats, Artist & Olympic Medalist

John “Jack” Butler Yeats, Irish artist and Olympic medalist, is born in London, England on August 29, 1871.

Yeats’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo, County Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats and the brother of William Butler Yeats, the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the 1911 Census of Ireland.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects included the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century (and the first to sell for over £1m), he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. Yeats’s paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. Indeed, his father recognizes that Jack is a far better painter than he, and also believes that “some day I will be remembered as the father of a great poet, and the poet is Jack.” He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916. He dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

(Pictured: Photo of Jack Butler Yeats by Alice Boughton)


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Birth of Playwright Thomas Cornelius Murray

thomas-cornelius-murrayThomas Cornelius Murray, Irish dramatist who is closely associated with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Macroom, County Cork on January 17, 1873.

Murray is educated at St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin. He works as a schoolteacher and in 1900 is appointed headmaster of the national school in Rathduff, County Cork. His first play, The Wheel of Fortune, is produced in 1909 by the Little Theatre in Cork, a theatre he had co-founded with Daniel Corkery, Con O’Leary and Terence MacSwiney. The play is revised and renamed Sovereign Love in 1913. In 1915, he moves to Dublin as headmaster of the Model Schools at Inchicore, where he remains until his retirement from teaching in 1932.

Murray’s play Birthright is performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1910 and establishes him as a writer of force. In all, he writes fifteen plays, all of which are produced by the Abbey. His two most highly regarded works are Maurice Harte (1912) and Autumn Fire (1924). Both of these and Birthright are performed in New York City on Broadway, with Autumn Fire having a run of 71 performances. He also writes an autobiographical novel Spring Horizon (1937).

It has been stated both by A. DeGiacomo and by R. Allen Cave that, in the Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, Murray is awarded a bronze medal for his play Birthright. However, according to the official record for the games, although Murray is a participant in the literature category with this play and also with Maurice Harte, he does not win a medal.

T. C. Murray dies in Dublin on March 7, 1959.


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.