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


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Death of Novelist Maria Edgeworth

maria-edgeworthMaria Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish writer known for her children’s stories and for her novels of Irish life, dies on May 22, 1849 in Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Edgeworth is born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on January 1, 1768. She is the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth (née Elers). She spends her early years with her mother’s family in England, until her mother’s death when Maria is five. When her father marries his second wife Honora Sneyd in 1773, she goes with him to his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she assists her father in managing his estate. In this way she acquires the knowledge of rural economy and of the Irish peasantry that is to become the backbone of her novels.

Domestic life at Edgeworthstown is busy and happy. Encouraged by her father, Edgeworth begins her writing in the common sitting room, where the 21 other children in the family provide material and audience for her stories. She publishes them in 1796 as The Parent’s Assistant. Even the intrusive moralizing, attributed to her father’s editing, does not wholly suppress their vitality, and the children who appear in them, especially the impetuous Rosamond, are the first real children in English literature since William Shakespeare.

Her first novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), written without her father’s interference, reveals her gift for social observation, character sketch, and authentic dialogue and is free from lengthy lecturing. It establishes the genre of the “regional novel,” and its influence is enormous. Sir Walter Scott acknowledges his debt to Edgeworth in writing Waverley. Her next work, Belinda (1801), a society novel unfortunately marred by her father’s insistence on a happy ending, is particularly admired by Jane Austen.

Edgeworth never marries. She has a wide acquaintance in literary and scientific circles. Between 1809 and 1812 she publishes her Tales of Fashionable Life in six volumes. They include one of her best novels, The Absentee, which focuses attention on a great contemporary abuse in Irish society: absentee English landowning.

Before her father’s death in 1817 she publishes three more novels, two of them, Patronage (1814) and Ormond (1817), of considerable power. After 1817 she writes less. She completes her father’s Memoirs (1820) and devotes herself to the estate. She enjoys a European reputation and exchanges cordial visits with Scott. Her last years are saddened by the Irish famine of 1846, during which she works for the relief of stricken peasants.

After a visit to see her relations in Trim, Maria, now in her eighties, begins to feel heart pains and dies suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on May 22, 1849. She is laid to rest in a vault at Edgeworthstown Church.

The feminist movement of the 1960s leads to the reprinting of her Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795) in the 1970s. Her novels continue to be regularly reprinted in the 21st century.

(Pictured: Maria Edgeworth by John Downman, 1807)

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Launch of “The Irish Times”

the-irish-timesThe Irish Times, an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper, is launched at 4 Lower Abbey Street in Dublin on March 29, 1859. The first appearance of a newspaper using the name The Irish Times occurs in 1823 but it closes in 1825. The title is revived as a thrice weekly publication by Major Lawrence E. Knox. It is originally founded as a moderate Protestant Irish nationalist newspaper, reflecting the politics of Knox, who stands unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League. In its early days, its main competitor is the Dublin Daily Express.

Though formed as a Protestant nationalist paper, within two decades and under new owners it becomes the voice of British unionism in Ireland. It is no longer marketed as a unionist paper, but rather presents itself politically as “liberal and progressive,” as well as promoting neoliberalism on economic issues. The editorship of the newspaper from 1859 until 1986 is controlled by the Anglo-Irish Protestant minority, only gaining its first nominal Irish Catholic editor 127 years into its existence.

The paper’s most prominent columnists include writer and arts commentator Fintan O’Toole and satirist Miriam Lord. The late Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald is once a columnist. Senior international figures, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, have written for its op-ed page. Its most prominent columns have included the political column Backbencher, by John Healy, Drapier, an anonymous piece produced weekly by a politician giving the ‘insider’ view of politics, Rite and Reason, a weekly religious column edited by ‘religious affairs’ editor Patsy McGarry, and the long-running An Irishman’s Diary. An Irishman’s Diary is written by Patrick Campbell in the forties (under the pseudonym ‘Quidnunc’), by Seamus Kelly from 1949 to 1979 (also writing as ‘Quidnunc’) and more recently by Kevin Myers. After Myers’ move to the rival Irish Independent, An Irishman’s Diary has usually been the work of Frank McNally. On the sports pages, Philip Reid is the paper’s golf correspondent.

One of its most popular columns is the biting and humorous Cruiskeen Lawn satire column written, originally in Irish, later in English, by Myles na gCopaleen, the pen name of Brian O’Nolan who also writes books using the name Flann O’Brien. Cruiskeen Lawn is an anglicised spelling of the Irish words crúiscín lán, meaning “full little jug.” Cruiskeen Lawn makes its debut in October 1940, and appears with varying regularity until O’Nolan’s death in 1966.

The editor is Paul O’Neill who succeeds Kevin O’Sullivan on April 5, 2017. The deputy editor is Deirdre Veldon. The Irish Times is published every day except Sundays and employs 420 people.


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Death of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, dies in Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.

Plunkett, the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne, is born on October 24, 1854. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.


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Birth of Lady Gregory, Writer & Playwright

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (née Isabella Augusta), Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, is born on March 15, 1852 at Roxborough, County Galway. Her translations of Irish legends, her peasant comedies and fantasies based on folklore, and her work for the Abbey Theatre, play a considerable part in the late 19th-century Irish Literary Revival.

Augusta is the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. Her mother, Frances Barry, is related to Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore, and her family home, Roxborough, is a 6,000-acre estate located between Gort and Loughrea, the main house of which is later burned down during the Irish Civil War. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native speaker of the Irish language, who introduces the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

In 1880 Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory, a neighbouring landowner who had previously served as a Member of Parliament and as governor of Ceylon. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and his estate at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory is eager to explore. He also has a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time.

Lady Gregory’s literary career does not begin until after Sir Gregory’s death in 1892. In 1896 she meets William Butler Yeats and becomes his lifelong friend and patron. She takes part in the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and becomes a director of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, which owes much of its success to her skill at smoothing the disputes among its highly individualistic Irish nationalist founders. As a playwright, she writes pleasant comedies based on Irish folkways and picturesque peasant speech, offsetting the more tragic tones of the dramas of Yeats and John Millington Synge.

Lady Gregory writes or translates nearly forty plays. Seven Short Plays (1909), her first dramatic works, are among her best, vivid in dialogue and characterization. The longer comedies, The Image and Damer’s Gold, are published in 1910 and 1913 and her strange realistic fantasies, The Golden Apple and The Dragon, in 1916 and 1920. She also arranges and makes continuous narratives out of the various versions of Irish sagas, translating them into an Anglo-Irish peasant dialect that she labels “Kiltartan.” These are published as Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).

Lady Gregory returns to live in Galway after ill health forces her retirement from the Abbey Theatre board in 1928, although she continues to visit Dublin regularly. The house and demesne at Coole Park is sold to the Irish Forestry Commission in 1927, with Lady Gregory retaining life tenancy. Her Galway home had long been a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival, and this continues after her retirement. On a tree in what were the grounds of the house, one can still see the carved initials of Synge, Æ, Yeats and his artist brother Jack, George Moore, Seán O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Katharine Tynan and Violet Martin.

Lady Gregory, whom Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman,” dies at the age of 80 on May 22, 1932 at home from breast cancer. She is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park are auctioned three months after her death, and the house is demolished in 1941.


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Birth of Novelist Jennifer Johnston

jennifer-johnstonJennifer Prudence Johnston, Irish novelist whose works deal with political and cultural tensions in Ireland with an emphasis on the problems of the Anglo-Irish people, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1930. Rich in dialogue, Johnston’s novels often concern interpersonal relationships and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Johnston is born to Irish actress and director Shelah Richards, and Irish playwright Denis Johnston. A cousin of actress and film star Geraldine Fitzgerald, via Fitzgerald’s mother, Edith (née Richards), she is educated at Trinity College Dublin. Other cousins include the actresses Tara Fitzgerald and Susan Fitzgerald.

Born into the Church of Ireland, many of Johnston’s novels deal with the fading of the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20th century.

Johnston’s first published book, The Captains and the Kings (1972), is actually written after The Gates (1973). Both novels feature the Anglo-Irish setting of a decaying manor house. Johnston’s third novel, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), concerns the complex and tragic friendship of two young men who are sentenced to death during World War I. Shadows on Our Skin (1977) and The Railway Station Man (1984) focus on violence in Northern Ireland, and The Old Jest (1979 and filmed as The Dawning, 1988) and Fool’s Sanctuary (1987) are set during the emergence of modern Ireland in the 1920s. The protagonist of The Christmas Tree (1981) attempts to salvage her troubled life before it is cut short by leukemia.

Johnston’s other novels include The Invisible Worm (1991), The Illusionist (1995), Two Moons (1998), This Is Not a Novel (2002), and Foolish Mortals (2007). She also writes short stories and plays, such as Three Monologues: Twinkletoes, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine (1995) and The Desert Lullaby: A Play in Two Acts (1996).

Johnston marries a fellow student at Trinity College, Ian Smyth in 1951. She is a mother of four and currently lives near Dublin. She is also a member of Aosdána.


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Death of Robert Boyle, Philosopher & Writer

robert-boyleRobert Boyle, Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, theological writer, chemist, physicist, inventor and a preeminent figure of 17th-century intellectual culture, dies on December 31, 1691 in London.

Boyle is born on January 25, 1627 at Lismore Castle, in County Waterford. At age eight, he begins his formal education at Eton College, where his studious nature quickly becomes apparent. In 1639 he and his brother Francis embark on a grand tour of the continent together with their tutor Isaac Marcombes. In 1642, owing to the Irish rebellion, Francis returns home while Robert remains with his tutor in Geneva and pursues further studies.

Boyle returns to England in 1644, where he takes up residence at his hereditary estate of Stalbridge in Dorset. There he begins a literary career writing ethical and devotional tracts, some of which employ stylistic and rhetorical models drawn from French popular literature, especially romance writings. In 1649 he begins investigating nature via scientific experimentation. From 1647 until the mid-1650s, he remains in close contact with a group of natural philosophers and social reformers gathered around the intelligencer Samuel Hartlib. This group, the Hartlib Circle, includes several chemists who heighten his interest in experimental chemistry.

Boyle spends much of 1652–1654 in Ireland overseeing his hereditary lands and performing some anatomic dissections. In 1654 he is invited to Oxford, and he takes up residence at the university until 1668. In Oxford he is exposed to the latest developments in natural philosophy and becomes associated with a group of notable natural philosophers and physicians, including John Wilkins, Christopher Wren, and John Locke. These individuals, together with a few others, form the “Experimental Philosophy Club.” Much of Boyle’s best known work dates from this period.

In 1659 Boyle and Robert Hooke, the clever inventor and subsequent curator of experiments for the Royal Society, complete the construction of their famous air pump and use it to study pneumatics. Their resultant discoveries regarding air pressure and the vacuum appear in Boyle’s first scientific publication, New Experiments Physico-Mechanicall, Touching the Spring of the Air and Its Effects (1660). Boyle and Hooke discover several physical characteristics of air, including its role in combustion, respiration, and the transmission of sound. One of their findings, published in 1662, later becomes known as “Boyle’s law.” This law expresses the inverse relationship that exists between the pressure and volume of a gas, and it is determined by measuring the volume occupied by a constant quantity of air when compressed by differing weights of mercury.

Among Boyle’s most influential writings are The Sceptical Chymist (1661), which assails the then-current Aristotelian and especially Paracelsian notions about the composition of matter and methods of chemical analysis, and the Origine of Formes and Qualities (1666), which uses chemical phenomena to support the corpuscularian hypothesis. He argues so strongly for the need of applying the principles and methods of chemistry to the study of the natural world and to medicine that he later gains the appellation of the “father of chemistry.”

Boyle is a devout and pious Anglican who keenly champions his faith. He sponsors educational and missionary activities and writes a number of theological treatises. He is deeply concerned about the widespread perception that irreligion and atheism are on the rise, and he strives to demonstrate ways in which science and religion are mutually supportive. For Boyle, studying nature as a product of God’s handiwork is an inherently religious duty. He argues that this method of study would, in return, illuminate God’s omnipresence and goodness, thereby enhancing a scientist’s understanding of the divine. The Christian Virtuoso (1690) summarizes these views and may be seen as a manifesto of his own life as the model of a Christian scientist.

In 1668 Boyle leaves Oxford and takes up residence with his sister Katherine Jones, Vicountess Ranelagh, in her house on Pall Mall in London. There he sets up an active laboratory, employs assistants, receives visitors, and publishes at least one book nearly every year. Living in London also provides him the opportunity to participate actively in the Royal Society.

Boyle is a genial man who achieves both national and international renown during his lifetime. He is offered the presidency of the Royal Society and the episcopacy but declines both. Throughout his adult life, he is sickly, suffering from weak eyes and hands, recurring illnesses, and one or more strokes. He dies at age 64 on December 31, 1691 after a short illness exacerbated by his grief over Katherine’s death a week earlier. He leaves his papers to the Royal Society and a bequest for establishing a series of lectures in defense of Christianity. These lectures, now known as the Boyle Lectures, continue to this day.


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Birth of Sir John Parnell, 2nd Baronet

john-parnellSir John Parnell, 2nd Baronet, an Anglo-Irish Member of Parliament, is born on December 25, 1744.

A Church of Ireland landowner, his family had originally migrated to Ireland from Congleton in Cheshire. Although not from an Irish Roman Catholic background, Parnell, the only son of Sir John Parnell, 1st Baronet, is renowned in Irish history for his efforts to bring about a more emancipated country. He is the great-grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell, known as the uncrowned king of Ireland and best known for opposing the Acts of Union 1800 between the two kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland.

From a line of politically astute ancestors who had moved to Ireland in the 17th century, Parnell rises to the highest positions in Irish politics as Commissioner of the Revenue (1780), Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland (1787), and Lord of the Treasury (1793).

Parnell first serves in the Parliament of Ireland as one of the members for Bangor, from 1767 to 1768. He later sits for Queen’s County from 1783 until the Union with Great Britain creates the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. After the Union, he gains a seat in the Parliament of the United Kingdom for a short time as member for Queen’s County, but dies suddenly in London in December 1801.

Henry Grattan describes Parnell as “an honest, straightforward, independent man, possessed of considerable ability and much public spirit; as Chancellor of the Exchequer he was not deficient, and he served his country by his plan to reduce the interest of money. He was amiable in private, mild in disposition, but firm in mind and purpose. His conduct at the Union did him honour, and proved how warmly he was attached to the interests of his country, and on this account he was dismissed.”

(Pictured: Oil painting on canvas, The Right Hon. Sir John Parnell, 2nd Bt (1744–1801) by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (Lucca 1708 – Rome 1787))