seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Siobhán McKenna

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923.

McKenna grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.


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Birth of Writer Walter Macken

Walter Macken, writer of short stories, novels and plays, is born at 18 St. Joseph’s Terrace in Galway, County Galway on May 3, 1915.

Macken’s father, Walter Macken, Sr., formerly a carpenter, joins the British Army in 1915 and is killed in March of the following year at St Eloi. The family therefore has to rely on lodgers and a small service pension to sustain them.

Macken attends the Presentation Convent for Infants from (1918-1921), St. Mary’s, a Diocesan College where they train people who want to become priests (1923-1924), and Patrician Brothers both Primary and Secondary (1921-1922 and 1924-1934), where he takes his Leaving Certificate. He is writing short stories, novels, and plays in exercise books from the age of eight and carries on these works well into his teens.

Macken is originally an actor, principally with the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in Galway, where he meets his wife Peggy, and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He also plays lead roles on Broadway in M. J. Molloy‘s The King of Friday’s Men and his own play Home Is the Hero. The success of his third book, Rain on the Wind, winner of the Literary Guild award in the United States, enables him to focus his energies on writing.

Macken also acts in films, notably in Arthur Dreifussadaptation of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow. He is perhaps best known for his trilogy of Irish historical novels Seek the Fair Land, The Silent People, and The Scorching Wind.

His son Ultan Macken is a well-known journalist in the print and broadcast media of Ireland, and wrote a biography of his father, Walter Macken: Dreams on Paper.

Walter Macken dies of heart failure at the age of 51 in Menlo, County Galway, on April 22, 1967.


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Birth of John Millington Synge, Poetic Dramatist

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, is born at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually causes his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from Kerry to Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.


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Birth of Actor Ray McAnally

Ray McAnally, Irish actor and winner of four BAFTA awards in the late 1980s, is born on March 30, 1926, in Buncrana, a seaside town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal.

The son of a bank manager, McAnally is educated at Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where he writes, produces and stages a musical called “Madame Screwball” at the age of sixteen. He enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the age of 18 but leaves after a short time having decided that the priesthood is not his vocation. He joins the Abbey Theatre in 1947 where he meets and marries actress Ronnie Masterson.

The couple later forms Old Quay Productions and present an assortment of classic plays in the 1960s and 1970s. McAnally makes his theatre debut in 1962 with A Nice Bunch of Cheap Flowers and gives a well-received performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Constance Cummings, at the Piccadilly Theatre.

On television he is a familiar face, often in glossy thriller series like television series The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, and Strange Report. In 1968 he takes the title role in Spindoe, a series charting the return to power of an English gangster, Alec Spindoe, after a five-year prison term. This is a spin-off from another series, The Fellows (1967) in which McAnally had appeared in several episodes as the Spindoe character. He could render English accents very convincingly.

McAnally regularly acts in the Abbey Theatre and at Irish festivals, but in the last decade of life he achieves award-winning notice on TV and films. His impressive performance as Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission (1986) earns him Evening Standard and BAFTA awards. He earns a second BAFTA award for his role in the BBC’s A Perfect Spy (1987). In 1988 he wins the BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in A Very British Coup, a role that also brings him a Jacob’s Award. In the last year of his life he portrays the father of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in the Academy Award-winning film, My Left Foot (1989).

McAnally dies suddenly of a heart attack on June 15, 1989, at the age of 63, at his home in County Wicklow which he shares with Irish actress Britta Smith. He remains married to actress Ronnie Masterson until his death, although they reside in different homes. He receives a posthumous BAFTA award for his last film in 1990.

At the time of his death, McAnally is due to play “Bull McCabe” in Jim Sheridan‘s film The Field. The part eventually goes to Richard Harris who receives an Academy Award nomination for his performance. McAnally had also been cast in the lead role of First and Last, a drama about a man who walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Filming is almost a third of the way done when he dies, but the whole play has to be re-filmed, with Joss Ackland taking the role instead.


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Birth of Joseph Tomelty, Actor & Playwright

joseph-tomeltyJoseph Tomelty, Irish character actor and playwright, is born at Portaferry, County Down, on March 5, 1911. He works in film, television, radio, and on the stage, starring in Sam Thompson‘s 1960 play Over the Bridge.

Tomelty is the eldest of seven children. His father is known as “Rollickin’ James” for his skill on the fiddle. He leaves his local primary school at the age of 12 and is apprenticed to the trade of housepainter, his father’s trade. He moves to Belfast and attends classes at Belfast Technical College.

Tomelty first acts with St. Peter’s Players and with others in 1937 and 1938 takes part in discussions which lead to the formation of the Northern Ireland Players on a more professional basis. Radio plays Barnum is Right and Elopement are broadcast in December 1938 and February 1939 respectively. The Northern Ireland Players choose the stage version of Barnum is Right for their first major commercial venture at the Empire Theatre in June 1939.

In 1940 the Northern Ireland Players join forces with the Ulster Theatre and the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society to form the Group Theatre. In 1942 Tomelty becomes its general manager remaining in the post until 1951. His play, Idolatry at Innishargie, enjoys a short run at the Group Theatre in 1942, but The End House, a controversial political play, does not even appear there. The play deals with what he describes as “the inhumanity that resulted from the Special Powers Act.” It is however performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1944.

Meanwhile, his career as a character actor rapidly develops and a successful stage and film career is underway. In 1948 he is commissioned by the BBC in Belfast to write the weekly radio comedy drama series The McCooeys. This radio series lasts for seven years with Tomelty writing 6,000 word scripts for each episode. He continues to write plays, including his masterpiece, and a modern Irish theatre classic, All Souls’ Night in 1948.

In 1954 Tomelty is injured in an automobile accident while filming Bhowani Junction in England and, while he recovers, he is never as productive again. He dies in Belfast on June 7, 1995.


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Birth of Actor Arthur Shields

arthur-shieldsArthur Shields, Irish actor on television, stage, and film, is born on February 15, 1896, into an Irish Protestant family in Portobello, Dublin. Shields starts acting in the Abbey Theatre when he is 17 years old. He is the younger brother of Oscar-winning actor Barry Fitzgerald. They are the sons of Adolphus Shields, who is well-known in Dublin as a labor organizer although the 1901 census lists his occupation as “press reader,” and Fanny Sophia Sheilds.

An Irish nationalist, Shields fights in the Easter Rising of 1916. He is captured and held for six months in the Frongoch internment camp in Frongoch, Wales. His obituary in the San Mateo County Times of San Mateo, California, reports, “upon his release he was decorated by the Republic of Eire.”

Shields returns to the Abbey Theatre and has a varied career there from 1914-1939 as actor, assistant director, director, and stage manager. He appears in more than 300 roles in 350 plays while he is at the Abbey. Three of the productions he appears in are by Irish playwright Teresa DeevyThe Reapers, Temporal Powers, and Katie Roche. Three times he brings the Abbey Company to the United States.

In 1936, John Ford brings him to the United States to act in a film version of The Plough and the Stars in the role of Patrick Pearse. Some of his memorable roles are in Ford films. Shields portrays the Reverend Playfair in Ford’s The Quiet Man, opposite John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and his brother, Barry Fitzgerald. He plays Dr. Laughlin in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Wayne and Joanne Dru, and appears yet again with Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald in Ford’s The Long Voyage Home. His other films include Little Nellie Kelly, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Fabulous Dorseys, Gallant Journey, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Drums Along the Mohawk, Lady Godiva, National Velvet, and The River. He also makes television appearances including a 1958 role on Perry Mason as Dr. George Barnes in “The Case of the Screaming Woman.”

Shields dies of complications related to emphysema on April 27, 1970, in Santa Barbara, California. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Bailey, a daughter, a son, and four great-grandchildren. His body is cremated, with the ashes taken to Dublin, where a burial with full military honors takes place.