seamus dubhghaill

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


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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))


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Birth of Novelist Rosina Bulwer Lytton

rosina-bulwer-lyttonNovelist Rosina Bulwer Lytton (née Rosina Doyle Wheeler) is born in Ballywhire, County Limerick on November 4, 1802. She writes and publishes fourteen novels, a volume of essays and a volume of letters. Her husband is Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a novelist and politician. She spells her married surname without the hyphen used by her husband.

Rosina Doyle Wheeler’s mother is Anna Wheeler, the advocate of women’s rights and daughter of the Rev. Nicholas Milley Doyle, a Church of Ireland clergyman, Rector of Newcastle, County Tipperary. Her father is Francis Massey Wheeler, an Anglo-Irish landowner. One of her mother’s brothers, Sir John Milley Doyle (1781–1856), leads British and Portuguese forces in the Peninsular War and the War of the Two Brothers.

Rosina Doyle is educated at Reading Abbey Girls’ School in part by Frances Arabella Rowden, who is not only a poet, but, according to Mary Russell Mitford, “had a knack of making poetesses of her pupils.” This ties Rosina to other of Rowden’s pupils such as Caroline Posonby, later Lady Caroline Lamb, the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon (“L.E.L.”), Emma Roberts, the travel writer and Anna Maria Fielding, who publishes as S.C. Hall.

Rosina Doyle Wheeler marries Edward Bulwer-Lytton, at that time surnamed simply Bulwer, on August 29, 1827. This is against the wishes of his mother, who withdraws his allowance, so that he is forced to work for a living.

His writing and efforts in the political arena take a toll upon their marriage, and the couple legally separates in 1836. Her children are taken from her. In 1839, her novel, Cheveley, or the Man of Honour, in which Edward Bulwer-Lytton is bitterly caricatured, is published.

In June 1858, when her husband is standing as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, she appears at the hustings and indignantly denounces him. To silence her, Edward has her committed “insane.” Under the supervision of Robert Gardiner Hill, a British surgeon who specialises in the treatment of lunacy, she is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. She is liberated a few weeks later following a public outcry. This is chronicled in her book A Blighted Life. For years she continues her attacks upon her husband’s character. She outlives him by nine years.

Rosina Bulwer Lytton dies in Upper Sydenham, London, England on March 12, 1882.


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Death of Charles Stewart Parnell

charles-stewart-parnellCharles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist politician and one of the most powerful figures in the British House of Commons in the 1880s, dies of pneumonia at age 45 in Hove, East Sussex, England on October 6, 1891.

Born into a wealthy and powerful Anglo-Irish Protestant landowning family in County Wicklow on June 27, 1846, Parnell enters the House of Commons in 1875. He is a land reform agitator and becomes leader of the Home Rule League in 1880, insisting on operating independently of the Liberals, and winning great influence by his balancing of constitutional, radical, and economic issues, and by his skillful use of parliamentary procedure. He is imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in 1882 but, being a very capable negotiator, is released when he renounces violent extra-Parliamentary action in an informal agreement, the Kilmainham Treaty, with British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. That same year he reforms the Home Rule League as the Irish Parliamentary Party, which he controls minutely as Britain’s first disciplined democratic party.

The hung Parliament of 1885 sees him hold the balance of power between Gladstone’s Liberals and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury‘s Conservatives. His power is one factor in Gladstone’s adoption of Home Rule as the central tenet of the Liberal Party. His reputation peaks in 1889-1890 when letters published in The Times linking him to the Phoenix Park murders of 1882 are shown to have been forged by Richard Pigott. However, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 after the revelation of Parnell’s long adulterous love affair, causing many English Liberals, many of them nonconformists, to refuse to work with him, and strong opposition from Catholic bishops. He heads a small minority faction until his death in 1891.

In describing Parnell, Gladstone says, “I do not say the ablest man; I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon.” Liberal leader H. H. Asquith calls him as one of the three or four greatest men of the 19th century, while Richard Haldane, 1st Viscount Haldane describes him as the strongestparnell-marker man the House of Commons has seen in 150 years. Historian A.J.P. Taylor says, “More than any other man he gave Ireland the sense of being an independent nation.”

Charles Stewart Parnell dies of pneumonia at age 45 in his home at 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove, England on October 6, 1891, in the arms of his wife Katharine. Though an Anglican, his funeral on October 11 is at the Irish National nondenominational Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and is attended by more than 200,000 people. His notability is such that his gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite, erected in 1940, reads only “Parnell.”


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Birth of New Zealand Settler Frederick Edward Maning

frederick-edward-maningFrederick Edward Maning, a notable early settler in New Zealand and writer and judge of the Native Land Court, is born in Johnville, County Dublin on July 5, 1812.

Maning is the eldest son of moderately wealthy, Protestant Anglo-Irish parents. His father, Frederick Maning, emigrates to Van Diemen’s Land in 1824 with his wife and three sons to take up farming. Young Maning becomes a skilled outdoorsman and builds up the physical strength to match his six-foot, three-inch stature. In 1829, his father becomes a customs officer in Hobart and moves there with his family. By 1832, Frederick leaves home to manage a remote outpost in the north of Tasmania. Soon after, he decides to pursue his fortune in New Zealand.

Maning arrives in the Hokianga area on June 30, 1833, and lives among the Ngāpuhi Māori people. With his physical skills and great stature, as well as his considerable good humor, he quickly gains favour with the tribe. He becomes known as a Pākehā Māori (a European turned native) and his arrival in New Zealand is the subject of the first chapters of his book Old New Zealand.

In 1837, he sells his property and returns to Hobart. He returns to Hokianga in March 1839 and in September purchases 200 acres for a farm at Onoke. He builds a house there that is standing until destroyed by fire in 2004. He takes a Māori wife, Moengoroa, and they have four children.

In 1840, Maning acts as a translator at meetings about the Treaty of Waitangi, and he advises the local Māori to not sign. His vocal opposition to the Treaty is primarily because he has settled with the Māori precisely to escape from the restrictions of European civilisation. He fears that the introduction of European style law will put a damper on his lifestyle and on his entrepreneurial trading activities. He warns the Māori that European colonisation will degrade them. Governor William Hobson counters by telling the Māori that without British Law, lawless self-interested Europeans without any regard for Māori rights will soon take all their land. Maning’s book Old New Zealand is, in part, a lament for the lost freedom enjoyed before European rule.

In 1845–1846, during the Māori Wars, Maning sometimes uses his influence with the Māori to intercede on behalf of settlers. He also organises supplies to the government’s Māori supporters. However, he writes his second book, History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke, from the perspective of an imaginary supporter of Hōne Heke, who is one of the principal antagonists opposing the government.

Through the 1850s, Maning primarily occupies himself with timber and gum trade. In the early 1860s, he retires from business activities. In 1865, he enters the public service as a judge of the Native Land Court, where his unequalled knowledge of the Māori language, customs, traditions and prejudices is of solid value.

Maning retires in 1876 although he helps conduct a major land court hearing at Taupo in 1881. He becomes estranged from his children in his later years. In November 1882, he goes to London for an operation, however, he dies there on July 25, 1883 of cancer. At his wish, his body is taken back to New Zealand and buried in December 1883, in the Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland.

Maning is chiefly remembered as the author of two short books, Old New Zealand and History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke. Both books have been reprinted many times and have become classics of New Zealand literature.