seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Emily Lawless, Irish Novelist & Poet

The Honourable Emily Lawless, Irish novelist and poet, is born at Lyons Demesne below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare, on June 17, 1845. According to Betty Webb Brewer, writing in 1983 for the journal of the Irish American Cultural Institute, Éire/Ireland, “An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders.”

Lawless’s grandfather is Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, a member of the Society of United Irishmen and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. Her father is Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry, thus giving her the title of “The Honourable.” In contrast, her brother Edward Lawless is a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Irish National Land League and “uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud.” The prominent Anglo-Irish unionist and later nationalist, Home Rule politician Horace Plunkett is a cousin. Lord Castletown, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown is also a cousin. It is widely believed that she is a lesbian and that Lady Sarah Spencer, dedicatee of A Garden Diary (1901) is her lover.

Lawless spends part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castle Hackett, County Galway, her mother’s family, and draws on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally writes under the pen name “Edith Lytton.”

Lawless writes nineteen works of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which are widely read at the time. She is most famous today for her Wild Geese poems (1902).

Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in The Burren of County Clare which is read by William Ewart Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish’s mother, Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull-witted brutal neighbour. The book is criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its “grossly exaggerated violence,” its embarrassing dialect, staid characters.

Her reputation is damaged by William Butler Yeats who accuses her in a critique of having “an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature” and for adopting “theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.” Despite this, Yeats includes her novels With Essex in Ireland (1890) and Maelcho (1894) in his list of the best Irish novels.

Lawless dies at Gomshall, a village in the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England, on October 19, 1913. Her papers are preserved in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.


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Death of Gerald Griffin, Novelist, Poet & Playwright

Gerald Griffin (Irish: Gearóid Ó Gríofa), Irish novelist, poet and playwright, dies of typhus fever on June 12, 1840. His novel The Collegians is the basis of Dion Boucicault‘s play The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen. Feeling he is “wasting his time” writing fiction, he joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious congregation founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice, to teach the children of the poor.

Griffin is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on December 12, 1803, the youngest son of thirteen children of a substantial Catholic farming family. Patrick Griffin, his father, also makes a living through brewing, and he participates as one of Henry Grattan‘s Irish Volunteers (18th century). His mother comes from the ancient O’Brien dynasty, and first introduces him to English literature. When he is aged seven, the family moves to Fairy Lawn, a house near Loghill, County Clare, which sits on a hill above the bank of the Shannon Estuary, about twenty-seven miles from Limerick. Here he has an idyllic childhood and receives a classical education.

In 1820 the family at Fairy Lawn is broken up. The parents with several of the children emigrate to the United States and settle in Pennsylvania. Griffin, with one brother and two sisters, is left behind under the care of his elder brother William, a practicing physician in Adare, County Limerick. He meets John Banim in Limerick. Inspired by the successful production of Banim’s play Damon and Pythias (1821), Griffin, at nineteen years of age, moves to London in 1823. After an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a playwright, he endures years of poverty in London, managing only to scrape by through writing reviews for periodicals and newspapers. At the end of two years he obtains steady employment in the publishing house as reader and reviser of manuscripts, and in a short time becomes frequent contributor to some of the leading periodicals and magazines. His early pieces in The Literary Gazette vividly describe the rural setting of his childhood, recount Irish folklore, translate the Celtic Irish language for the English readers, and, as Robert Lee Wolff observes, “waxed richly sardonic about Irishmen who tried to be more English than the English.”

Griffin’s Holland-Tide or Munster Popular Tales is published by Simpkin & Marshall in 1827. Holland-Tide is a collection of seven short stories, all of which are told in the house of a hospitable Munster farmer during All Hallows’ Eve in Munster. Holland-Tide establishes his reputation and he returns to Ireland, where he writes Tales of the Munster Festivals in Pallaskenry to which his brother William has moved.

Experience leads Griffin to modify his expectations in relation to literary work, and, with a view to the legal profession, he enters the University of London as a law student, but in a short time removes to Dublin for the study of ancient Irish history, preparatory to his work The Invasion, which is published in 1832. This work has a good sale and is highly praised by scholars, but never becomes popular.

With the exception of a tour through Scotland and a short trip on the European continent, Griffin lives with his brother, keeping up to some extent his literary labours. By 1833, he is increasingly concerned that he is wasting his time, and begins to devote himself to teaching the poor children of the neighborhood. In 1838, hes all of his unpublished manuscripts and joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order which has as its special aim the education of children of the poor. Writing to an old friend he says he feels a great deal happier in the practice of this daily routine than he ever did while roving about the great city, absorbed in the modest project of rivaling Shakespeare and throwing Scott in the shade. In June 1839, he is transferred from Dublin to Cork, where he dies of typhus fever at the age of thirty-six on June 12, 1840.

Griffin’s play Gisippus is produced posthumously at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on February 23, 1842 by William Macready, and it runs to a second edition in print.

One of Griffin’s most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial that he had reported on, involving the murder of a young Irish Catholic girl (Ellen Hanley) by a Protestant Anglo-Irish man (John Scanlon). The novel is later adapted for the stage as The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault.

Griffin has a street named after him in Limerick and another in Cork. Loughill/Ballyhahill GAA club in west Limerick plays under the name of Gerald Griffins.

(Pictured: “Portrait of Gerald Griffin (1803-1840), Poet and Novelist,” painting by Richard Rothwell (1800-1868), National Gallery of Ireland)


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The Battle of Benburb

The Battle of Benburb takes place on June 5, 1646 during the Irish Confederate Wars, the Irish theatre of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. It is fought between the Irish Confederation under Owen Roe O’Neill, and a Scottish Covenanter and Anglo-Irish army under Robert Monro. The battle ends in a decisive victory for the Irish Confederates and ends Scottish hopes of conquering Ireland and imposing their own religious settlement there.

The Scots Covenanters land an army in Ulster in 1642 to protect the Scottish settlers there from the massacres that follow the Irish Rebellion of 1641. They land at Carrickfergus and link up with Sir Robert Stewart and the Laggan Army of Protestant settlers from County Donegal in northwest Ulster. The Covenanters clear northeastern Ulster of Irish rebels by 1643 but are unable to advance south of mid-Ulster, which is held by Owen Roe O’Neill, the general of the Irish Confederate Ulster army.

In 1646, Monro leads a force composed of Scottish Covenanter regiments and Ulster settlers armies into Confederate-held territory. According to some accounts, this is the first step in a drive to take the Confederates’ capital at Kilkenny. Other sources say it is only a major raid. The combined force is about 6,000 strong. Monro has ten regiments of infantry, of whom six are Scottish and four are English or Anglo-Irish, and 600 Ulster Protestant cavalry. Stewart and the Laggan Army are slated to join Monro’s force in the attack, however, on the day of the battle the Laggan Army is in Clogher, nearly 30 kilometres away. O’Neill, who is a very cautious general, had previously avoided fighting pitched battles. However, he has just been supplied by the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, with muskets, ammunition and money with which to pay his soldiers’ wages. This allows him to put over 5,000 men into the field, an army slightly smaller than his enemy’s. The Covenanters have six cannon, whereas the Confederates have none.

Monro assumes that O’Neill will try to avoid his army and has his soldiers march 24 kilometres to intercept the Irish force at Benburb, in modern south County Tyrone. Gerard Hayes-McCoy writes, “many of them must have been close to exhaustion before the battle began.” Monro’s men draw up with their backs to the River Blackwater, facing O’Neill’s troops who are positioned on a rise.

The battle begins with Monro’s artillery firing on the Irish position, but without causing many casualties. Monro’s cavalry then charges the Irish infantry, but are unable to break the Confederates’ pike and musket formation. When this attack fails, O’Neill orders his infantry to advance, pushing the Monro’s forces back into a loop of the river by the push of pike. It is noted that the Irish pikes have longer shafts and narrower heads than those of their opponents, meaning that they outreach them and are “better to pierce.” At this point, the fatigue of Monro’s troops is apparent as they are gradually pushed back until their formation collapses in on itself. The Confederate infantry then breaks Monro’s disordered formation with a musket volley at point-blank range and falls in amongst them with swords and scians (Irish long knives). Monro and his cavalry flee the scene, as, shortly after, does his infantry. A great many of them are cut down or drowned in the ensuing pursuit. Monro’s losses are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 men, killed or wounded. The Irish casualties are estimated to be 300.

O’Neill’s victory means that the Covenanters are no longer a threat to the Confederates, but they remain encamped around Carrickfergus for the rest of the war. O’Neill does not follow up his victory but takes his army south to intervene in the politics of the Irish Confederation. In particular, he wants to make sure that the treaty the Supreme Council of the Confederates has signed with the English Royalists will not be ratified.

The battle is commemorated in the ballad “The Battle of Benburb.”


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Death of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, Justiciar of Ireland

Sir Thomas de Rokeby, a soldier and senior Crown official in fourteenth-century England and Ireland, who serves as Justiciar of Ireland, dies on April 23, 1357. He is appointed to that office to restore law and order to Ireland, and has considerable early success in this task, but he is recalled to England after the military situation deteriorates. He is later re-appointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland to take up office, but dies soon afterwards.

The Rokebys are a prominent landowning family from Mortham in North Yorkshire. He is probably the son of Thomas de Rokeby, who dies in 1318. His nephew, also named Thomas, the son of his brother Robert, is closely associated with him in his later years and the elder Thomas is often called “l’oncle” to distinguish him from his nephew.

Rokeby first comes to public attention in 1327 when, after his return from prison in Scotland, he receives the thanks of the new King Edward III for being the squire who had first pointed out the approach of the Scots army during the invasion of the previous July. As a reward he is knighted and given lands worth £100 a year. He sees action against the Scots regularly between 1336 and 1342 and has charge of Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle while they are held by the English. He is High Sheriff of Yorkshire from 1342 to 1349. He is one of the English commanders at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346, and it is said, “gave the Scots such a draught as they did not care to taste again.” He is then entrusted with bringing King David II of Scotland as a captive to London, and he receives further grants of land as a reward for his good services.

In 1349 Rokeby is appointed Justiciar of Ireland, and given a large armed retinue to accompany him, as it is recognised by the English Crown that “Ireland is not in good plight or good peace.” While there is some surprise at the appointment of an old soldier to such a sensitive political position, the more informed view is that Rokeby is well suited to the task of enforcing justice by military force. He arrives in December and makes a quick circuit of the south of Ireland, mainly to keep watch on the powerful but troublesome magnate Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond.

Rokeby is praised by his contemporaries for his regard for justice and his zeal in checking extortion by Crown officials. He undertakes a general overhaul of the Irish administration, aimed particularly at the detection and prevention of corruption and the removal of incompetent officials. Arguably he shows excessive zeal in arresting and imprisoning the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, Robert de Emeldon, a man who enjoys the King’s personal regard. Admittedly the charges against Emeldon are very serious, including rape, robbery and manslaughter, but the King, out of regard for their long friendship and Emeldon’s record of good service to the Crown in Ireland, had already pardoned Emeldon for killing one Ralph de Byrton, a knight, in 1336. Emeldon is once more pardoned and quickly released.

In November 1351 Rokeby holds a Great Council at Kilkenny. It deals partly with the problem of official corruption already mentioned, partly with the problem of defence of the Pale, and partly with the question of intermarriage and other close contacts between the Anglo-Irish and the Old Irish. Otway-Ruthven notes that little of the legislation is new, apart from the application to Ireland of the English Statute of Labourers of 1351, and that much of it is repeated in the better-known Statutes of Kilkenny of 1366.

In 1353 the Clan MacCarthy of Muskerry, the dominant clan in central County Cork, who had until then been loyal to the English Crown, rebels. Rokeby shows considerable skill in crushing the uprising and succeeds in replacing the rebellious head of the clan, Dermot MacCarthy, with his more compliant cousin Cormac. Cormac’s descendants gain great wealth, extensive lands and the title Earl of Clancarty.

This promising state of good order does not last long. A rebellion by the O’Byrne Clan of Wicklow in 1354 is followed by a general uprising headed by the MacMurrough-Kavanagh dynasty. Although Muirchearteach MacMurrough-Kavanagh, the self-styled King of Leinster, is captured and executed, Rokeby suffers several military defeats. He is unable to suppress the O’Byrnes’ rebellion, and other risings take place in Tipperary, Kildare and Ulster.

Rokeby, now an ageing and discouraged man, is recalled in 1355. His replacement, rather surprisingly, is that Earl of Desmond whom it had been one of his main tasks to keep in check. Desmond dies a year later on July 26, 1356. Rokeby is reappointed Justiciar, and returns to Ireland, only to die soon afterwards on April 23, 1357 at Kilkea Castle.

Rokeby is married and his wife is named Juliana, but little else is known of her. They have no children, and his estates pass to his nephew, the younger Thomas.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Thomas de Rokeby, painting by Godfried Schalcken)


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Death of Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, dies at the age of 94 on November 2, 1950 at Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England. His influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, he becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. The Shaw family is of English descent and belong to the dominant Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Between 1865 and 1871, Shaw attends four schools, all of which he hates. His experiences as a schoolboy leave him disillusioned with formal education. In October 1871 he leaves school to become a junior clerk in a Dublin firm of land agents, where he works hard and quickly rises to become head cashier. During this period, he is known as “George Shaw”; after 1876, he drops the “George” and styles himself “Bernard Shaw.”

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. He has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that include Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist.

The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 Shaw provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award. His appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left — he expresses admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.