seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Poet James Clarence Mangan

James Clarence Mangan (Irish: Séamus Ó Mangáin), Irish poet, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, dies of cholera on June 20, 1849.

Mangan is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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Death of Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Painter, Printmaker, Critic & Writer

Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Irish painter, printmaker, critic and writer dies in Dublin on May 11, 1969.

Salkeld is born in Assam, India on July 9, 1904. His parents are Henry Lyde Salkeld, a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and Blanaid Salkeld (née Mullen), a poet. He returns to Ireland with his mother in 1910 following the death of his father in 1909. He attends Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford, and the Dragon School in Oxford, England. He wins a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, North Northhamptonshire, but returns to Dublin where he enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919 to study under Seán Keating and James Sleator. He marries Irma Taesler in Germany in 1922. They have two daughters, Celia and Beatrice. The latter marries Brendan Behan in 1954.

Salkeld works in tempera and oil, as well as etching and wood engraving. In 1921 he travels to Germany to study under Ewald Dulberg at the Kassell Kunstschule. He attends the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf in May 1922, and is exhibited at the Internationale Kunstausstellung. Upon his return to Dublin in 1924, he holds his first solo exhibition in the Society of Dublin Painters gallery. He becomes a member of the Dublin Painters in 1927. With Francis Stuart, he co-edits the first two issues of To-morrow in 1924. His studio is in a converted labourer’s cottage at Glencree, County Wicklow. He also exhibits with the New Irish Salon and the Radical Painters’ Group.

Salkeld wins the 1926 Royal Dublin Society‘s Taylor scholarship, and has his first exhibited work with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1929. He lives in Berlin for a year in 1932. He exhibits in Daniel Egan’s Gallery in Dublin in 1935. He has a wide circle of literary friends, including Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien. In O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the character of Michael Byrne is designed for Salkeld, reflecting his debilitating alcoholism. He also teaches at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, teaching artists such as Reginald Gray.

From 1937 to 1946 Salkeld runs a private press called Gayfield Press. This is co-founded with his mother, and operates from a garden shed at their home, 43 Morehampton Road. The press is a small Adana wooden hand press. He illustrates her 1938 The Engine Left Running, as well as Ewart Milne‘s Forty North Fifty West (1938) and Liam O’Flaherty‘s Red Barbara and Other Stories (1928). In 1951, he loans the press to Liam and Josephine Miller to found the Dolmen Press.

Salkeld’s most famous public work is his 1942 three-part mural in Davy Byrne’s pub. He is a co-founder of the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s in his capacity as a pianist. In 1946 he is appointed an associate member of the RHA. In 1953 his play Berlin Dusk is staged at 37 Theatre Club, Dublin. During the 1950s he is a broadcaster with Radio Éireann as well as a director of cultural events for An Tóstal. He dies on May 11, 1969 in St. Laurence’s Hospital, Dublin.

The National Gallery of Ireland holds a portrait by Salkeld of his daughter, Celia.

(Pictured: “The Climber” by Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, oil on canvas)


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Birth of Roddy Doyle, Novelist, Dramatist & Screenwriter

Roddy Doyle, novelist, dramatist and screenwriter known for his unvarnished depiction of the working class in Ireland, is born in Dublin on May 8, 1958. His distinctively Irish settings, style, mood, and phrasing make him a favourite fiction writer in his own country as well as overseas.

Doyle grows up in a middle-class family in Kilbarrack. His mother, Ita Bolger Doyle, is a first cousin of the short story writer Maeve Brennan. After majoring in English and geography at University College Dublin, he teaches those subjects for fourteen years at Greendale Community School, a Dublin grade school. During the summer break of his third year of teaching, he begins writing seriously. In the early 1980s he writes a heavily political satire, Your Granny’s a Hunger Striker, but it is never published.

Doyle publishes the first editions of his comedy The Commitments (1987; film 1991) through his own company, King Farouk, until a London-based publisher takes over. The work is the first installment of his internationally acclaimed The Barrytown Trilogy novels, which also include The Snapper (1990; film 1993), and The Van (1991; film 1996). The series centres on the ups and downs of the never-say-die Rabbitte family, who temper the bleakness of life in an Irish slum with familial love and understanding.

Doyle’s fourth novel, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993), wins the 1993 Booker Prize. Set in the 1960s in a fictional working-class area of northern Dublin, the book examines the cruelty inflicted upon children by other children. The protagonist, 10-year-old Paddy Clarke, fears his classmates’ ostracism, especially after the breakup of his parents’ marriage. In 1994 he writes the BBC miniseries Family, which generates heated controversy throughout conservative Ireland. The program sheds harsh light on a family’s struggle with domestic violence and alcoholism and portrays the bleaker side of life in a housing project, the same venue he had used in the more comedic Barrytown novels. The Woman Who Walked into Doors (1996) and its sequel, Paula Spencer (2006), concern the ramifications of domestic abuse and alcoholism.

A Star Called Henry (1999) centres on an Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier named Henry Smart and his adventures during the Easter Rising. Smart’s further adventures are detailed in Oh, Play That Thing (2004), which follows him as he journeys through the United States, and The Dead Republic (2010), which chronicles his return to Ireland. In Smile (2017) a lonely middle-aged man looks back on his life, especially his troubled childhood. His next novel, Love (2020), follows two old friends as they spend a night drinking and looking back at their lives. The Deportees and Other Stories (2007), Bullfighting (2011), and Life Without Children (2021) are short-story collections. He also writes a number of books for children, including Wilderness (2007) and A Greyhound of a Girl (2011).

In 1987 Doyle marries Belinda Moller, granddaughter of former Irish President Erskine Childers. They have three children – Rory, Jack and Kate.

In the television series Father Ted, the character Father Dougal Maguire‘s unusual sudden use of (mild) profanities, such as saying “I wouldn’t know, Ted, you big bollocks!,” is blamed on his having “been reading those Roddy Doyle books again.”


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Birth of Gerry Rafferty, Singer, Songwriter & Musician

Gerald Rafferty, Scottish singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, is born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on April 16, 1947. His solo hits in the late 1970s include “Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line” and “Night Owl,” as well as “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which is recorded with his band Stealers Wheel in 1973.

Rafferty is the third son of Irish miner and lorry driver Joseph Rafferty and his Scottish wife Mary Skeffington. His abusive alcoholic father dies when Gerry is only sixteen years old. He grows up in a council house on the town’s Glenburn estate and attends St. Mirin’s Academy. Inspired by his Scottish mother, who teaches him both Irish and Scottish folk songs, and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he starts writing his own material. In 1963 he leaves St. Mirin’s Academy and works in a butcher’s shop and as a civil service clerk while also playing with the local group Maverix on weekends.

In the mid-1960s Rafferty earns money busking on the London Underground. In 1966 he meets fellow musician Joe Egan and they are both members of the pop band the Fifth Column. In 1969 he becomes the third member of the folk-pop outfit the Humblebums, which also features comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. He and Connelly record two well-received albums on the Transatlantic Records label as a duo.

Rafferty releases his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, in 1972. That same year he and Egan form the group Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel has a huge hit with the jaunty and witty song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which peaks at #6 on the Billboard pop charts. Stealers Wheel has a lesser Top 40 hit with “Star” ten months later and eventually breaks up in 1975.

In 1978 Rafferty hits pay dirt with his second solo album, City to City, which soars to #1 on the Billboard album charts and sells over five million copies worldwide. The album also begets the hit song “Baker Street.” This haunting and poetic ballad is an international smash that goes to #2 in the United States, #3 in the United Kingdom, #1 in Australia, and #9 in the Netherlands.

Rafferty’s third album, Night Owl, likewise does well. Moreover, he has additional impressive chart successes with the songs “Right Down the Line,” “Home and Dry,” “Days Gone Down,” and “Get It Right Next Time.” Alas, a handful of albums he records throughout the 1980s and 1990s all prove to be commercial flops. He sings the vocal on the song “The Way It Always Starts” for the soundtrack of the movie Local Hero.

Rafferty is married to Carla Ventilla from 1970 to 1990. He records his last album, Another World, in 2000 and releases the compilation CD, Life Goes On, in 2009.

Rafferty has problems with alcoholism that directly contributes to his untimely death. In November 2010, he is admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he is put on a life support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, he rallies for a short time, and doctors believe he might recover. He dies, however, of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on January 4, 2011.

A requiem mass is held for Rafferty at St. Mirin’s Cathedral in Paisley on January 21, 2011. The mass is streamed live over the Internet. Politicians in attendance are the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MSP, Wendy Alexander MSP, Hugh Henry MSP, and Robin Harper MSP. The musicians present include Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, former bandmates Joe Egan and Rab Noakes, Barbara Dickson, and Graham Lyle. The eulogy is given by Rafferty’s longtime friend John Byrne. His remains are then cremated at the Woodside Crematorium in Paisley and his ashes scattered on Iona. He is survived by his daughter, granddaughter Celia, and brother Jim.


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Death of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

Brian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on April 1, 1966. He is better known by his pen name Flann O’Brien.

O’Nolan is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911. He attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.


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Ruby Murray Has Two Singles in the British Top 20

Belfast-born Ruby Murray has two singles, “I’ll Come When You Call” and “Evermore,” in the UK Singles Chart on October 22, 1955. Her much quoted achievement is that she has five hits in the Top 20 in a single week in March 1955, a feat only matched by pop singer Madonna four decades later.

Murray is born near the Donegall Road in south Belfast on March 29, 1935, the youngest child in a Protestant family. She has surgery at six weeks of age due to swollen glands, and as a result, has a very husky voice. She tours as a child singer and first appears on television at the age of twelve, having been spotted by producer Richard Afton. Owing to laws governing children performing, she has to delay her start in the entertainment industry. She returns to Belfast and full-time education until she is fourteen.

After being again spotted by Afton, Murray is signed to Columbia Records and her first single, “Heartbeat”, reaches No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1954. Afton offers her the position of resident singer on the BBC‘s Quite Contrary television show, to replace Joan Regan. “Softly, Softly“, her second single, reaches number one in early 1955. That same year she sets a pop chart record by having five hits in the Top Twenty in one week, a feat unmatched for many years. In 2014, the Guinness Book of World Records issues three certificates confirming that at the date of issue, nobody has beaten this record, although it is now shared with three other singers.

The 1950s are a busy period for Murray, during which she has her own television show, stars at the London Palladium with Norman Wisdom, appears in a Royal Command Performance (1955), and tours the world. In a period of 52 weeks, starting on December 3, 1954 and lasting until the end of November 1955, she constantly has at least one single in the UK charts, this at a time when only a Top 20 is listed.

Murray appears in her only film role, as Ruby, in A Touch of the Sun, a 1956 farce with Frankie Howerd and Dennis Price. A couple of hits follow later in the decade. “Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye“, a No. 10 hit in 1959, is her final appearance in the charts.

In 1957, while working in Blackpool, Murray meets Bernie Burgess, a member of a successful television and recording vocal quartet, the Four Jones Boys. Shortly afterwards she leaves Northern Ireland to marry him and live with him in England. The couple includes a song-and-dance segment in her act during the 1960s.

Murray struggles with alcoholism for most of her life and this contributes to the breakdown of her marriage in 1974. The divorce is finalised in 1976 and she moves to Torquay to live with an old friend, Ray Lamar, a former stage dancer and theatre impresario, who is 18 years her senior. They marry in 1991 and spend the evening with a small party of friends and family at an Italian restaurant in Babbacombe.

Although her days as a major star are long over, Murray continues performing until close to the end of her life. Spending her last couple of years in Asprey’s Nursing Home, she often delights her carers with a song, and is visited by her friend Max Bygraves. She dies of liver cancer at the age of 61 on December 17, 1996.


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Birth of Poet James Clarence Mangan

Mangan bustJames Clarence Mangan, Irish poet, is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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Death of George Best, Northern Irish Footballer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 80George Best, Northern Irish professional footballer, dies on November 25, 2005 due to complications from the immunosuppressive drugs he required following a 2002 liver transplant.

Best is born on May 22, 1946 and grows up in Cregagh, east Belfast. In 1957, he passes the eleven-plus and goes to Grosvenor High School, but he soon plays truant as the school specialises in rugby. He then moves to Lisnasharragh Secondary School, reuniting him with friends from primary school and allowing him to focus on football. He plays for Cregagh Boys Club. He grows up supporting Glentoran F.C. and Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C..

Best spends most of his club career at Manchester United. Named European Footballer of the Year in 1968, he is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. A highly skillful winger, considered by several pundits to be one of the greatest dribblers in the history of the sport, he receives plaudits for his playing style, which combines pace, skill, balance, feints, two-footedness, goalscoring and the ability to get past defenders.

In international football, Best is capped 37 times for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977. A combination of the team’s performance and his lack of fitness in 1982 means that he never plays in the finals of a major tournament. He considers his international career as being “recreational football,” with the expectations placed on a smaller nation in Northern Ireland being much less than with his club. He is regarded as one of the greatest players never to have played at a World Cup. The Irish Football Association describes him as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland.”

With his good looks and playboy lifestyle, Best becomes one of the first media celebrity footballers, earning the nickname “El Beatle” in 1966, but his extravagant lifestyle leads to various personal problems, most notably alcoholism, which he suffers from for the rest of his life. These issues affect him on and off the field, often causing controversy. Although conscious of his problems, he is publicly not contrite about them. He says of his career, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars – the rest I just squandered.” After football, Best spends some time as a football analyst, but his financial and health problems continue into his retirement.

Best is diagnosed with severe liver damage in March 2000. His liver is said to be functioning at only 20%. In 2001, he is admitted to hospital with pneumonia. In August 2002, he has a successful liver transplant at King’s College Hospital in London.

On October 3, 2005, Best is admitted to intensive care at the private Cromwell Hospital in London, suffering from a kidney infection caused by the side effects of immunosuppressive drugs used to prevent his body from rejecting his transplanted liver. In the early hours of November 25, 2005, treatment is stopped. Later that day he dies, aged 59, as a result of a lung infection and multiple organ failure. He is interred beside his mother in a private ceremony at Roselawn Cemetery, overlooking east Belfast.


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Birth of Sophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Irish Aviator

lady-heathSophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Lady Heath, Irish aviator, is born on November 10, 1896 in Knockaderry, County Limerick, near the town of Newcastle West. She is one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.

When Peirce-Evans is one year old, her father, John Peirce-Evans, bludgeons her mother, Kate Theresa Dooling, to death with a heavy stick. He is found guilty of murder and declared insane. She is taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she is brought up by two maiden aunts, who discourage her passion for sports.

After schooldays in Rochelle School in Cork, Princess Garden Belfast and St. Margaret’s Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she plays hockey and tennis, Peirce-Evans enrolls in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. The college is designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needs. One of the few women in the college, she duly takes a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also plays with the college hockey team and contributes to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library of Ireland.

Before becoming a pilot, Peirce-Evans has already made her mark. She spends two years as a dispatch rider during World War I, based in England and later France. By that time, she has married the first of her three husbands, Major William Elliot Lynn, and, as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, is one of the founders of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association after her move to London in 1922. She is Britain’s first women’s javelin champion and sets a disputed world record for the high jump. Alleging cruelty, her marriage to Elliot Lynn ends in divorce.

In 1925, Elliot-Lynn takes her first flying lessons and two years later becomes the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain. Along the way, she set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane and is the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane.

In an era when the world has gone aviation-mad due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Elliot-Lynn is more than able to hold her own. “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she is known in the United States, makes front-page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London. A scale model of the plane is on display at The Little Museum of Dublin. She writes about the experience later in the book Woman and Flying, which she co-authors with Stella Wolfe Murray. After her great flight from the Cape, she takes a mechanic’s qualification in the United States, the first woman to do so.

On October 11, 1927, Peirce-Evans marries Sir James Heath at Christ Church in Mayfair, London, and assumes the title Lady Heath. In July 1928, she spends a few weeks volunteering as a co-pilot with a civil airline, KLM. She is hoping to be appointed to the newly created Batavia route, which would make her the first female pilot with a commercial airline. The world is not ready for female pilots and her hope is not fulfilled.

In 1929, just when her fame is at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long-distance flights, Lady Heath is badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the accident Lady Heath applies for American citizenship, intending to remain in the United States where she has made a good living on the lecture circuit and as an agent for Cirrus engines. She is never the same after her accident.

Lady Heath divorces Sir James Heath in Reno, Nevada in January 1930. On 12 November 12, 1931 in Lexington, Kentucky, she marries G.A.R Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin. They return to Ireland and she becomes involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus.

Lady Heath dies in St Leonard’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London on May 9, 1939, following a fall inside a double-decker tram. Although alcoholism had been a problem in previous years, a pathologist finds no evidence of alcohol but detailed evidence of an old blood clot which might have caused the fall. On May 15, 1939, according to newspaper reports, her ashes are scattered over Surrey from an aircraft flown by her estranged husband although legend has it that her ashes are returned to Ireland where they are scattered over her native Newcastle West.