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


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Birth of Mary Swanzy, Landscape & Genre Artist

Mary Swanzy, Irish landscape and genre artist, is born in Dublin on February 15, 1882. Noted for her eclectic style, she paints in many styles including cubism, futurism, fauvism, and orphism, she is one of Ireland’s first abstract painters.

Swanzy is the second of three daughters of Sir Henry Rosborough Swanzy, an eye surgeon, and his wife Mary (née Denham). She attends Alexandra College, Earlsfort Terrace, a finishing school at the Lycée in Versailles, France, and a day school in Freiburg, Germany. This education means that she is fluent in French and German. She goes on to take art classes at Mary Manning‘s studio, under the direction of John Butler Yeats. Manning encourages her to study modelling with John Hughes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

Living within walking distance of the National Gallery of Ireland, she spends a lot of time studying and copying the great masters. Her first exhibition is with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1905 with Portrait of a child, continuing to exhibit portraits every year until 1910. In 1905 she goes to Paris and works at the Académie Delécluse, an atelier-style art school. She goes on to attend the studio of Antonio de La Gándara in 1906, and takes classes at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and Académie Colarossi. While in Paris she is exposed to the works of Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso, which make a lasting impression on her.

On her return to Dublin, Swanzy paints portraits and genre scenes and holds her first show at Mill’s Hall, Merrion Row in 1913. She holds another show there in 1919, where she exhibits nearly 50 pieces. This exhibition is reviewed by Sarah Purser who notes the lack of melancholy and light optimism in Swanzy’s Irish landscapes. Swanzy paints in a number of styles, often reflecting the major art developments in Paris.

After the deaths of her parents, she is financially independent and can travel, spending her time between Dublin and Saint-Tropez during World War I while continuing to paint. She also exhibits with the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1914 and 1916, being elected to the committee in 1920. While visiting her sister who is involved with the Protestant relief mission in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, she paints landscapes, village life, and peasant scenes. These works are shown in the autumn of 1921 in the Dublin Painters’ Gallery with six other artists including Jack Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Clare Marsh with whom she shares a studio.

Swanzy begins to travel to more exotic countries from the 1920s, Honolulu around 1923, and later Samoa. As a result, she paints local tropical flowers, trees, and native women, with a palette and style similar to that of Fauvism. She stays for a time in Santa Barbara, California, working in a local studio and exhibiting some of her Samoan work at the Santa Barbara Arts Club Gallery. She returns to Ireland in February 1925 and exhibits three of her Samoan paints at the RHA, and 14 at her one-woman show in the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris in October 1925. Gertrude Stein writes her to congratulate her on her Paris exhibition.

In the mid 1920s Swanzy settles in Blackheath, London, making regular trips to Dublin and abroad. In 1932 Purser holds an exhibition of Swanzy’s work for invited guests in her house. At this time her painting is influenced by orphism and is reviewed positively. Her work becomes more allegorical in later years, with The message in the Hugh Lane Gallery demonstrating this. During World War II she stays with her sister in Coolock for three years. In 1943, she holds a one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery, and is also featured at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art. She is exhibited at St. George’s Gallery, London in 1946 along with Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and William Scott.

Swanzy is made an honorary member of the RHA in 1949, showing with them in 1950 and 1951. She does not exhibit in Ireland for a number of years, but the Hugh Lane Gallery holds a major retrospective of her work in 1968. Following this she holds two one-woman shows at the Dawson Gallery in 1974 and 1976. In 1975 she is featured at the Cork ROSC art exhibition and resumes showing with the RHA. She continues to paint until her death at her home in London on July 7, 1978.

In 1982 the Taylor Galleries holds an exhibition to mark the centenary of Swanzy’s birth. More recently she is featured in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) 2013 exhibition Analysing Cubism. From October 2018-February 2019, also in IMMA, she is the subject of the solo exhibition Mary Swanzy Voyages.

(Pictured: Sunlit Landscape, oil-on-canvas, by Mary Swanzy)


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Birth of John Todhunter, Poet & Playwright

John Todhunter, Irish poet and playwright who wrote seven volumes of poetry and several plays, is born in Dublin on December 30, 1839.

Todhunter is the eldest son of Thomas Harvey Todhunter, a Quaker merchant of English origin. He is educated at Quaker schools, including Bootham School in York and in Mountmellick, County Laois. He starts work at his father’s offices in Dublin and London before continuing on to attend Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies medicine. While at Trinity, he wins the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for English Verse 1864, 1865 and 1866, and the Gold Medal of the Philosophical Society 1866 for an essay. He also clerks for William Stokes while studying. He receives his Bachelor of Medicine in 1867 and his Doctorate of Medicine degree in 1871.

In 1870, one year prior to receiving his Doctorate of Medicine, Todhunter becomes a Professor of English Literature at Alexandra College, Dublin. Four years later, he resigns from that position and travels to Egypt and several places in Europe. He marries Dora L. Digby in 1879. In 1881, he finally settles in London, where his home in Bedford Park, Chiswick is located in a small community of writers and artists, including William Butler Yeats. Informal “symposia” are held at his house about once a fortnight, when friends gather at his fireside to discuss poetry and philosophy. He is involved in the founding of the Irish Literary Society there.

Todhunter’s first volume is a collection of narrative and lyrical poems entitled Laurella (1876). Grace, tenderness, and melody mark these poems. In later years he does much stronger work under the influence of ancient Celtic literature, to the study of which he is led by the memorable rendering of the Cú Chulainn legend published in 1878 by Standish O’Grady. The Banshee and Other Poems (1888) and The Irish Bardic Tales (1896) contain the best of his work in poetry.

Three of Todhunter’s plays have been acted with success. One of them, The Black Cat (1893), produced by the Independent Theatre Society, a private club formed to forestall censorship by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, is a factor in the revival of the literary drama. However, it only receives one performance, on December 8, 1893 at the Opera Comique. His translation of Heinrich Heine‘s Buch der Lieder is perhaps the best complete English version of a work than which none more irresistibly attracts or more cruelly eludes the art of the translator. He is also author of a few brief prose works, including “The Life of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan” and “A Study of Shelley.”

Todhunter dies on October 25, 1916 at his residence in Bedford Park.


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Death of Isabella Tod, Women’s Rights Activist

Isabella Maria Susan Tod, Irish women’s rights activist, dies at her home at 71 Botanic Avenue in Belfast on December 8, 1896. She is a formidable lady who uses her political skills to great advantage in order to further many causes.

Tod is born on May 18, 1836 in Edinburgh into a well known Irish Presbyterian family, her uncle being the Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, one of the earliest Irish Presbyterian missionaries who served with the Scottish Missionary Society in Jamaica and whose great grandfather is the Rev. Charles Masterton, one of the most distinguished minsters of the General Synod of Ulster who ministers at Connor and Rosemary Street, Belfast. She is very proud of her Presbyterian heritage and of her Scottish ancestry.

The daughter of James Banks Tod, an Edinburgh merchant, Tod spends her early years in Edinburgh. She is educated at home by her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, who comes from County Monaghan. The family moves to Belfast in the 1850s following the death of her father. She and her mother join Elmwood Presbyterian Church. Her Presbyterian background no doubt contributes to her radical views on social issues and women’s rights. She earns her living from writing and journalism, contributing, for example, to the Dublin University Magazine, an independent literary, cultural and political magazine, and to the Banner of Ulster, a Presbyterian newspaper.

Tod becomes one of the leading pioneers in the fight to improve the position of women. She is the only woman called to give evidence to a Select Committee of Enquiry on the reform of the married women’s property law in 1868 and serves on the executive of the Married Women’s Property Committee in London from 1873 to 1874. She successfully campaigns for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864, 1866 and 1869 which enacted that a woman suspected of being a prostitute could be arrested and forced to undergo medical examination for venereal disease. She sees this legislation as an infringement of a woman’s civil liberties.

Tod is also a strong supporter of the temperance movement and, along with her friend Margaret Byers, forms the Belfast Women’s Temperance Association in 1874. Perhaps she is best known for her tireless campaign to extend the educational provision for middle-class women. For example, in 1878 she organises a delegation to London to put pressure on the Government to include girls in the Intermediate Education Act of 1878. The Ladies’ Collegiate School in Belfast, Alexandra College in Dublin and the Belfast Ladies Institute owe their existence largely to her. She writes a paper entitled “An Advanced Education for Girls in the Upper and Middle Classes” which is presented in 1867 at a meeting of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and is among the pamphlets held in the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland library.

Tod is also an active campaigner for women’s right to vote, embarking on her first campaign in 1872 and addressing meetings in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Coleraine and Londonderry. Following a meeting in Dublin a suffrage committee is established that later becomes the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Society and in 1873 she forms the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society. She extends her meetings to London, Glasgow and Edinburgh and is a frequent visitor to London to lobby politicians during the parliamentary session.

Tod is very much a staunch opponent of Home Rule, establishing a branch of the London-based Women’s Liberal Federation in Belfast and the Liberal Women’s Unionist Association. She sees unionism as the way to progress. “I knew that all the social work in which I had taken so prominent a part for 20 years was in danger and most of it could not exist a day under a petty legislature of the character which would be inevitable,” she says. “What we dread is the complete dislocation of all society, especially in regard to commercial affairs and organised freedom of action.”

Tod suffers from ill-health in her later days and dies in Belfast of pulmonary illness on December 8, 1896. She is buried in Balmoral Cemetery in South Belfast.


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Birth of Justice Catherine McGuinness

Catherine McGuinness (née Ellis), retired Irish judge, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on November 14, 1934. She serves as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Ireland from 2000 to 2006, a Judge of the High Court from 1996 to 2000, a Judge of the Circuit Court from 1994 to 1996 and a Senator for the University of Dublin from 1979 to 1981 and between 1983 and 1987. She is appointed by President Michael D. Higgins to the Council of State from 1988 to 1990 and 2012 to 2019.

McGuinness is President of the Law Reform Commission from 2007 to 2009. In May 2013, she is appointed Chair of the National University of Ireland Galway Governing Authority.

McGuinness is educated in Alexandra College, Trinity College Dublin and the King’s Inns. In the 1960s she works for the Labour Party. She is called to the Irish Bar in 1977 at age 42. In 1989, she is called to the Inner Bar.

In 1979, McGuinness is elected as an independent candidate to Seanad Éireann at a by-election on December 11, 1979 as a Senator for the University of Dublin constituency, following the resignation of Senator Conor Cruise O’Brien, taking her seat in the 14th Seanad. She is re-elected at the 1981 elections to the 15th Seanad, and in 1983 to the 17th Seanad, where she serves until 1987, losing her seat to David Norris. She is appointed to the Council of State on May 2, 1988 by President Patrick Hillery and serves until 1990.

McGuinness is appointed a judge of the Circuit Court in 1994, the first woman to hold that office in Ireland. In 1996, she is appointed to the High Court and remains there until her appointment to the Supreme Court in January 2000.

In November 2005, McGuinness is appointed Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Ireland, Galway. She is also appointed President of the Law Reform Commission in 2005, and holds that position until 2011.

In April 2009, McGuinness is awarded a “Lord Mayor’s Award” by Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne “for her contribution to the lives of children and families in the city through her pioneering work.” In September 2010, she is named as one of the “People of the Year” for “her pioneering, courageous and long-standing service to Irish society.” In November 2012, she wins the Irish Tatler Hall of Fame Award.

In addition to her judicial career, McGuinness serves on the Employment Equality Agency, Kilkenny Incest Investigation, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, the National Council of the Forum on End of Life in Ireland and the Irish Universities Quality Board. In June 2011, she becomes patron of the Irish Refugee Council. In November 2011, she is appointed Chairperson of the “Campaign for Children.”

McGuinness has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster, the National University of Ireland, the University of Dublin, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In February 2013, she accepts the Honorary Presidency of Trinity College, Dublin’s Free Legal Advice Centre.

In January 2014, McGuinness is appointed by Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, to chair the expert panel to oversee the preparation of reports on the best underground route options to compare with the Grid Link and Grid West high voltage power lines in Ireland. In March 2015, McGuinness receives an Alumni Award from Trinity College Dublin.

McGuinness is married to broadcaster and writer Proinsias Mac Aonghusa from 1954 until his death in 2003 and has three children. She resides in Blackrock, Dublin.


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Birth of Grace Gifford Plunkett, Artist & Irish Republican

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on March 4, 1888. She marries her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he is executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Gifford is the second youngest of 12 children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants with the girls attending Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace.

At the age of 16, Gifford goes to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards her as one of his most talented pupils. Around this time, her talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tries to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Nora Dryhurst, a journalist from London, brings her to the opening of the new bilingual school Scoil Éanna in Ranelagh, Dublin. It is here that she meets Plunkett for the first time. He is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to her sister Muriel.

Gifford’s growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship as she begins to discuss Catholic mystical ideas with him. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915 and she accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plans to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, Gifford’s brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is shot with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke by firing squad on May 3. That day, she hears that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweler’s shop in Dublin and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Joseph are married on the night of May 3 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She paints pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. Her talent as an artist is her only real asset and her cartoons are published in various newspapers and magazines. She moves from one apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau Street with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, in which he leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one witness, rather than the required two, and the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. For years she receives nothing, so she begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and she is paid £700, plus costs.

At around this time Plunkett joins the Old Dublin Society, where she meets the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal marries, she gives him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, her health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like, mainly because it restricts her freedom.

Grace Gifford Plunkett dies suddenly on December 13, 1955 in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello. Her body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Birth of Mary Hayden, Historian & Activist

mary-haydenMary Teresa Hayden, Irish historian, Irish language activist and campaigner for women’s causes, is born in Dublin on May 9, 1862.

Hayden is educated initially at the Dominican College, Eccles Street and then at Alexandra College in Dublin. She attends the Royal University of Ireland where she graduates with a BA in 1885 and an MA in 1887 in Modern Languages. With Agnes O’Farrelly she campaigns for women’s rights in the university.

A campaigner for gender equality and noted as a public speaker, Hayden is a prominent member of the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association. She is a member of the Gaelic League and friends with Patrick Pearse. However, she opposes violence and disapproves of the 1916 Easter Rising.

In 1911 Hayden is elected to the senate of the National University of Ireland and in 1915 is appointed Professor of History at University College Dublin, a position she retains until her death.

Hayden helps to form the Women’s Social and Progressive League as a political party committed to opposing the 1937 constitution of Ireland and any regressive consequences it would entail. She opposes articles 40, 41, and 45 concerning the status of women.

Mary Hayden dies in Dublin on July 12, 1942.


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Birth of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

Edith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” is born on May 2, 1858 on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. She writes in collaboration with her cousin “Martin Ross” (Violet Martin) under the pseudonym “Somerville and Ross.” Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte, and The Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

A year after her birth, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886 she meets her cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898 Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Somerville, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 becomes master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffrage movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the Easter Rising of 1916 breaks out. On May 9, 1916 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism, and as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936 her brother, Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book “Will Mariner” after his death.

Edith Somerville dies at Castletownshend on October 8, 1949, at the age of 91. She is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.


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Death of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, Irish artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, dies suddenly in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin, on December 13, 1955 .

Gifford is the second youngest of twelve children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. She grows up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants. The girls attend Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attend the The High School in Harcourt St.

At the age of 16, Gifford enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards Gifford as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketches her and eventually paints her as one of his subjects for a series on “Young Ireland.” Around this time, Gifford’s talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, attempts to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet, and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Later that year, she meets Plunkett for the first time at the opening of St. Edna’s School, a new bilingual school in Ranelagh, Dublin. Plunkett is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to Gifford’s sister Muriel.

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915. She accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plan to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, her brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is executed by firing squad along with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke on May 3. That same day, Gifford learns that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweller’s shop in Dublin city centre and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Plunkett are married on the night of May 3, 1916 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few short hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. She moves from one rented apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants. She befriends many people and has many admirers, but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, which leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one of the required two witnesses and also the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. She begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and Plunkett is paid £700, plus costs.

From the late 1940s onwards, Plunkett’s health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like because it restricts her freedom.

After her sudden death on December 13, 1955, Grace Gifford Plunkett’s body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours near the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Grace Gifford Plunkett is the subject of “Grace,” a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, which becomes popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.


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Death of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

edith-somervilleEdith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” dies at Castletownshend, County Cork, at the age of 91 on October 8, 1949. She writes in collaboration with her second cousin Violet Florence Martin, who writes under the pseudonym Martin Ross. Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels under the pseudonym Somerville and Ross, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte and Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

The eldest of eight children, Somerville is born on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. A year later, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886, she meets her second cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898, Edith Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Edith, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 has become master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffragist movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the 1916 Easter Rising breaks out. On May 9 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism and, as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936, her brother Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book Will Mariner after his death.