seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Clare Boylan, Author, Journalist & Critic

Clare Boylan, Irish author, journalist and critic for newspapers, magazines and many international broadcast media, dies in Dublin at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, on May 16, 2006.

Boylan is born in Dublin on April 21, 1948, the youngest of three daughters of Patrick Boylan, a clerk, and his wife Evelyn (née Selby). Her mother feels trapped by the limitations that domesticity imposes on women in 1950s Ireland, and had wanted to have a writing career. She encourages her daughter to send off stories and poems to newspapers. The first piece is published when she is 14, and she wins a prize in the national Texaco Children’s Art Competition when she is about 10 years old.

The family lives in the Dublin suburb of Terenure. Boylan goes to school in the Presentation convent, then St. Louis convent in Rathmines, and does her leaving certificate in Rathmines College.

After leaving St. Louis convent, Boylan takes a job as a sales assistant in a bookshop before beginning her career as a journalist at The Irish Press, now defunct. She marries Alan Wilkes, a journalist who is a colleague at The Irish Press, in St. Patrick’s Church in Straffan, County Kildare, on September 18, 1970. In 1974 she wins the Journalist of the Year award when working in the city for the Evening Press. Later in her career she edits the glossy magazine Image, before largely giving up journalism to focus on a career as an author.

Boylan’s novels are Holy Pictures (1983), Last Resorts (1984), Black Baby (1988), Home Rule (1992), Beloved Stranger (1999), Room for a Single Lady (1997), which wins the Spirit of Light Award and is optioned for a film, and Emma Brown (2003). The latter work is a continuation of a 20-page fragment written by Charlotte Brontë before her death.

Boylan’s short stories are collected in A Nail on the Head (1983), Concerning Virgins (1990) and That Bad Woman (1995). The film Making Waves, based on her short story “Some Ladies on a Tour”, is nominated for an Oscar in 1988.

Boylan’s non-fiction includes The Agony and the Ego (1994) and The Literary Companion to Cats (1994). She writes introductions to the novels of Kate O’Brien and Molly Keane and adapts Keane’s novel Good Behaviour as the classic serial for BBC Radio 4 (2004). Her work has been translated as far afield as Russia and Hong Kong.

In later life, Boylan lives in County Wicklow with her husband. When she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she faces her illness with characteristic strength. She takes up kickboxing and spends time in France, shopping, cooking and entertaining friends. She succumbs to cancer at the age of 58 on May 16, 2006.


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Birth of John Ford, Award Winning Irish American Film Director

John Ford, film director, is born as John Martin Feeney on February 1, 1894 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is the fourth son among five sons and six daughters of Seán Feeney, Roman Catholic farmer and saloon-keeper, and Barbara ‘Abby’ Feeney (née Curran). His father had emigrated to the United States from Spiddal, County Galway, and his mother from Kilronan, Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands.

From an early age Ford has an interest in painting and sailing, and in July 1914 moves to California, where his older brother Francis is an actor with a small film company. Adopting the name ‘Jack Ford,’ he learns his trade as a filmmaker and acts in a number of silent pictures. Reveling in his Irish heritage, he makes his director’s debut with The Tornado (1917) and follows it with more than forty movies over the next six years. On July 3, 1920, he marries Mary McBryde Smith, a former officer in the army medical corps. They meet at a party thrown by the director Rex Ingram and have one son and one daughter.

In 1921 Ford visits Ireland for the first time and later claims to have travelled on the same boat that brought Michael Collins back from the treaty negotiations. He meets his relatives at Spiddal, falls in love with the countryside, and becomes a fervent Irish nationalist. It is later claimed that he brought over funds for his cousin Martin Feeney, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column.

Returning to Hollywood, Ford becomes friends with the retired marshal Wyatt Earp and makes a number of commercially successful films, now as ‘John Ford’. In 1926 he directs The Shamrock Handicap, a horse-racing yarn partly set in Ireland. In 1928 he shoots Mother Machree, a movie about Irish emigration, starring Victor McLaglen, a regular collaborator. McLaglen also stars in Hangman’s House, made the same year, Ford’s first major movie about Ireland.

In 1934 Ford purchases a luxury yacht which he names the Araner after the Aran Islands. He also begins shooting The Informer, a film set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, and based on a short novel by Liam O’Flaherty. The picture is a major box office success and wins four Academy Awards, including Best Director. O’Flaherty is so impressed with the film that he dedicates his next book, Famine, to Ford.

In 1934 Ford visits Ireland for the second time, and approaches Seán O’Casey about directing a version of The Plough and the Stars. Released in 1936, the film stars Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther, but it is reedited by the studio, much to Ford’s fury, and is a commercial and critical flop.

Stagecoach, shot in 1938, is one of Ford’s masterpieces. It was a western starring his protégé, John Wayne, and marks the beginning of his golden decade. In 1940 and 1941 he wins Best Director Oscars successively for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. With American entry into World War II, he serves in the U.S. Navy, and makes important documentaries such as The Battle of Midway (1942).

In 1952 Ford returns to Ireland to film The Quiet Man, starring Wayne, McLaglen, and Maureen O’Hara. Shot at Ashford Castle, County Mayo, the picture becomes one of the most popular Irish films of all time. He is immensely proud of the work and is in tears leaving Ireland. The following year he makes Mogambo, with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and a young English actor, Donald Sinden, who later recalls that Ford berated him personally for all the problems of Ireland from the time of William of Orange. Ford’s strong sense of Irishness is central to his character and is crucial for any understanding of his work. Back in Ireland in 1956, he shoots The Rising of the Moon, a portmanteau film for which he takes no salary, starring Tyrone Power, Cyril Cusack, and Noel Purcell. A minor film, it makes no impact at the box office.

Two of Ford’s finest movies are made in his later years. The Searchers (1956) is a powerful study of vengeance, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is an elegiac revisionist western which concludes with the famous line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Struck with cancer in his final years, Ford dies on August 31, 1973 at his home in Palm Desert, California, and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. His will disinherits his son, Michael Patrick Roper, and leaves everything to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.

When asked to name the finest American directors, Orson Welles replies simply, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” An alcoholic, Ford is a difficult and often tyrannical director, but he makes films of extraordinary power and vision. He ranks as one of the greatest film-makers of the twentieth century. As Frank Capra concludes, “John is half-tyrant, half-revolutionary; half-saint, half-Satan; half-possible, half-impossible; half-genius, half-Irish.”

(From: “Ford, John,” contributed by Patrick M. Geoghegan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Grace Kelly, Award Winning Actress & Princess of Monaco

Grace Patricia Kelly, an American Academy Award winning actress, is born into an affluent Catholic family of half Irish and half German descent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1929. After starring in several significant films in the early to mid-1950s, she becomes Princess of Monaco by marrying Prince Rainier III in April 1956.

Kelly’s father, Irish American John B. Kelly, Sr., wins three Olympic gold medals for sculling, and owns a successful brickwork contracting company that is well known on the East Coast. As Democratic nominee in the 1935 election for Mayor of Philadelphia, he loses by the closest margin in the city’s history. In later years he serves on the Fairmount Park Commission and, during World War II, is appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as National Director of Physical Fitness. Her mother, Margaret Majer, has German parents. She teaches physical education at the University of Pennsylvania and is the first woman to coach women’s athletics at Penn. She also models for a time in her youth. After marrying John Kelly in 1924, she focuses on being a housewife until her four children are of school age, following which she begins actively participating in various civic organizations.

Kelly receives her elementary education in the parish of Saint Bridget’s in East Falls. While attending Ravenhill Academy, a reputable Catholic girls’ school, she models fashions at local charity events with her mother and sisters. In 1942, at the age of 12, she plays the lead in Don’t Feed the Animals, a play produced by the Old Academy Players also in East Falls. In May 1947, she graduates from Stevens School, a socially prominent private institution in nearby Chestnut Hill, where she participates in drama and dance programs. Owing to her low mathematics scores, she is rejected by Bennington College in July 1947. Despite her parents’ initial disapproval, she decides to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress.

After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1949, Kelly begins appearing in New York City theatrical productions and over 40 live drama productions broadcast in early 1950s Golden Age of Television. She gains stardom from her performance in John Ford‘s adventure-romance Mogambo (1953), for which she is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She wins the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the drama The Country Girl (1954). Other notable works include the western High Noon (1952), the romance-comedy High Society (1956), and three consecutive Alfred Hitchcock suspense thrillers: Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955). She works with some of the most prominent leading men of the era, including Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Ray Milland, James Stewart, Bing Crosby, William Holden, Cary Grant, Alec Guinness, and Frank Sinatra.

Kelly retires from acting at age 26 to marry Rainier, and begins her duties as Princess of Monaco. Hitchcock hopes that she will appear in more of his films which require an “icy blonde” lead actress, but he is unable to coax her out of retirement. The Prince and Princess have three children: Princess Caroline, Prince Albert, and Princess Stéphanie. Princess Grace retains her link to America by her dual U.S. and Monégasque citizenship. Her charity work focuses on young children and the arts, establishing the Princess Grace Foundation-USA to support local artisans in 1964. Her organization for children’s rights, World Association of Children;s Friends (AMADE), gains consultive status within UNICEF and UNESCO. Her final film contribution is in 1977 to documentary The Children of Theatre Street directed by Robert Dornhelm, where she serves as the narrator. The documentary is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

On September 13, 1982, Princess Grace suffers a small stroke while driving back to Monaco from her country home in Roc Agel. As a result, she loses control of her 1971 Rover P6 3500 and drives off the steep, winding road and down the 120-foot mountainside. Her teenage daughter Stéphanie, who is in the passenger seat, tries but fails to regain control of the car. The Princess is taken to the Monaco Hospital (later named the Princess Grace Hospital Centre) with injuries to the brain and thorax and a fractured femur. She dies the following night at 10:55 PM after Rainier decides to turn off her life support. Stéphanie suffers a light concussion and a hairline fracture of a cervical vertebra, and is unable to attend her mother’s funeral.

Princess Grace’s funeral is held at the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate in Monaco-Ville, on September 18, 1982. After a Requiem Mass, she is buried in the Grimaldi family vault. Over 400 people attend, including Cary Grant, Nancy Reagan, Danielle Mitterrand, the Princess of Wales, and Empress Farah of Iran.

Rainier, who does not remarry, is buried alongside her after his death in 2005.


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Abbey Theatre Premiere of “The Shadow of a Gunman”

The Shadow Of A Gunman, a 1923 tragicomedy play by Seán O’Casey, premieres at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on April 12, 1923.

The play is the first in O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy” – the other two being Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). It is set in Dublin in May 1920 during the Irish War of Independence and centres on the mistaken identity of a building tenant who is thought to be an Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassin. Each act takes place in Seumus Shield’s room in a tenement in Hilljoy Square.

Donal Davoren is a poet who has come to room with Seumus Shields in a poor, Dublin tenement slum. Many of the residents of the tenement mistake Donal for an IRA gunman on the run. Donal does not refute this notoriety, especially when it wins him the affection of Minnie Powell, an attractive young woman in the tenement. Meanwhile, Seumus’ business partner, Mr. Maguire, drops a bag off at Seumus’ apartment before participating in an ambush in which he is killed. Seumus believes the bag to contain household items for re-sale. The city is put under curfew as a result of the ambush. The Black and Tans raid the tenement and, at that point, Donal and Seumus discover the bag is full of Mills bombs. Minnie Powell takes the bag and hides it in her own room. The Black and Tans find nothing of note in Seumus’ room, but arrest Minnie Powell, who is later shot and killed trying to escape.

The first performance of The Shadow of a Gunman in England is given in 1958 at the Progress Theatre in Reading, Berkshire.

A 1972 televised version of The Shadow of a Gunman stars Frank Converse and Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss. In 1973, Alvin Rakoff directs a televised version for BBC Two starring Stephen Rea, Sinéad Cusack and Donal McCann. In 1992 Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Rea and Bronagh Gallagher star in an adaption as part of the 1992 BBC Two Performance series.

In the music video for Northern Irish rock/pop band The Adventures song “Send My Heart” (1984), the lead character is seen trying out for a version of the play.


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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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Birth of Production Designer Cedric Gibbons

cedric-gibbonsAustin Cedric Gibbons, Irish American art director and production designer for the film industry, is born in Dublin on March 23, 1893. He also makes a significant contribution to motion picture theater architecture from the 1930s to 1950s.

Gibbons was born to architect Austin P. Gibbons and Veronica Fitzpatrick Simmons. He is privately tutored and studies at the Art Students League of New York. In 1911 he begins working in his father’s office as a junior draftsman. From 1915 he serves as art director at Edison Studios in New Jersey and then serves in the United States Navy during World War I. He then joins Goldwyn Studios and begins a long career with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924, the year the studio is founded.

Gibbons is one of the original 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and oversees the design of the Academy Awards statuette in 1928, a trophy for which he himself would be nominated 38 times for Best Production Design, winning eleven.

In 1930, Gibbons marries actress Dolores del Río and co-designs their house in Santa Monica, an intricate Art Deco residence influenced by Rudolf Schindler. They divorce in 1941. Three years later he marries actress Hazel Brooks, with whom he remains until his death.

Gibbons’s set designs, particularly those in such films as Born to Dance (1936) and Rosalie (1937), heavily inspire motion picture theater architecture in the late 1930s through 1950s. The style is found very clearly in the theaters that are managed by the Skouras brothers, whose designer Carl G. Moeller uses the sweeping scroll-like details in his creations. Among the more classic examples are the Loma Theater in San Diego, The Crest in Long Beach and Fresno, and the Culver Theater in Culver City. The style is sometimes referred to as Art Deco and Art Moderne.

Gibbons retires in 1956 with about 1,500 films credited to him, however, his contract with MGM dictates that he receive credit as art director for every MGM film released in the United States, even though other designers might do the bulk of the work. Even so, his actual hands-on art direction is believed to be about 150 films.

Gibbons’ second cousin Frederick Gibbons, a musician, orchestra conductor, and entertainer who works with him at MGM, is the father of Billy Gibbons of the rock band ZZ Top.

Cedric Gibbons dies in Los Angeles on July 26, 1960, at the age of 67. He is buried in the Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles.


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Birth of Jim Sheridan, Playwright, Director & Producer

jim-sheridanJim Sheridan, Irish playwright, screenwriter, film director, and film producer, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1949. In the few years from 1989 to 1993, Sheridan makes three acclaimed films set in Ireland (My Left Foot, The Field, and In the Name of the Father) that between them receive a remarkable 13 Academy Award nominations. Sheridan has personally received six Academy Award nominations. In addition to the above-mentioned films, he is also known for the films The Boxer and In America.

Sheridan is born to Anna and Peter Sheridan Snr and raised in the inner city of Dublin. He is the brother of playwright Peter Sheridan. The family runs a lodging house, while Anna Sheridan works at a hotel and Peter Sheridan Snr is a railway clerk with CIÉ. Sheridan’s early education is at a Christian Brothers school. In 1969 he attends University College Dublin to study English and History. He becomes involved in student theater there, where he meets Neil Jordan, who also is later to become an important Irish film director. After graduating from UCD in 1972, Sheridan and his brother begin writing and staging plays, and together found the Project Theatre Company.

In 1981, Sheridan emigrates to Canada, but eventually settles in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. He enrolls in New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts and becomes the artistic director of the Irish Arts Center.

Sheridan returns to Ireland in the late 1980s. In 1989, he directs My Left Foot, which becomes a critical and commercial success and wins Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker Academy Awards. He follows that with The Field starring Richard Harris in 1990, then with In the Name of the Father in 1993, a fictionalized re-telling of the case of the Guildford Four. The film wins the Golden Bear at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1996 he co-writes Some Mother’s Son with Terry George. The Boxer, with Daniel Day-Lewis, is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best film drama in 1997. In 2003, he releases the semi-autobiographical In America, which tells the story of a family of Irish immigrants trying to succeed in New York. The film receives positive reviews and earns Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou Academy Award nominations. In 2005 he releases Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a film starring rap star 50 Cent. He is connected with the upcoming film adaptation of Artemis Fowl and is rumoured to have written the screenplay and been asked to direct it.

Sheridan helms the 2009 film Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is shot in New Mexico. He also directs the thriller Dream House, which stars Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz.

Sheridan has a wife, Fran, and three daughters, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, and Tess Sheridan, with whom he has collaborated, most notably with Naomi and Kirsten on the screenplay for In America.