seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Aengus Fanning, Journalist & Editor of the Sunday Independent

Aengus Fanning, Irish journalist and editor of the Sunday Independent from 1984 until his death, dies on January 17, 2012, following a battle with lung cancer. He is also a former editor of farming for the Irish Independent. He is listed at number 31 on a list of “most influential people” in Irish society compiled for Village magazine.

Fanning is born on April 22, 1944, in the family home at Cloonbeg Terrace, Tralee, County Kerry, the fourth child among five sons and one daughter of Arnold (‘Paddy’) Fanning, a teacher, and his wife Clara (née Connell). Originally from Rostrevor, County Down, his mother is born a Presbyterian and converts to Catholicism to marry his father, though neither is religious. His father is a noted organiser of local theatrical productions, having written a one-act play, Vigil, which is staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1929.

Fanning has a keen interest in sport, having represented Kerry in Gaelic football in his youth. He is also passionate about cricket. He also plays the clarinet, and is a jazz fan. He is a graduate of University College Cork (UCC).

In May 1964 Fanning is hired as a reporter by his uncle, James Fanning, the owner of the Midland Tribune in Birr, County Offaly, and pursues an unglamorous beat covering court sittings, local authority meetings and GAA matches. Needing a better salary to start a family, he joins Independent Newspapers (IN) in Dublin as a general reporter in May 1969, and soon after marries Mary O’Brien from Streamstown, County Offaly. They settle in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, and have three sons.

Fanning covers the Northern Ireland troubles during 1969–70, before reporting increasingly on farming matters, becoming the IN group’s agricultural correspondent in 1973, as Ireland’s European Economic Community (EEC) accession sparks a farming boom. He is made head of news analysis at the Irish Independent in 1982, improving the op-ed page and using it to advocate more market-driven economic policies.

Fanning is appointed editor of the mid-to-upmarket Sunday Independent in 1984 from. Under his leadership, the newspaper adopts what Irish newspaper historian John Horgan calls a “new emphasis on pungent opinion columns, gossip and fashion” which results in the paper overtaking its main rival, The Sunday Press. For a time, his deputy editor is journalist Anne Harris.

In a 1993 interview with Ivor Kenny in the book Talking to Ourselves, Fanning describes himself as a classical liberal who is opposed to both Ulster loyalist and Provisional Irish Republican Army terrorism. He also expresses a strong advocacy of the free market, arguing that the goal of a good newspaper is to be as commercially successful as possible:

“If three or four papers out of 15 are successful and the others are not, they might say they’re not driven by the market, they have some higher vocation: to serve the public interest or some pompous stuff like that. That’s how they feel good about themselves. Fair enough, if that’s how they want to explain the world. It’s a grand excuse for relative failure… I think we live or die by the market, it will always win through.”

Fanning recruits a number of noted writers to contribute to the newspaper, including historians Conor Cruise O’Brien and Ronan Fanning, journalists Shane Ross and Gene Kerrigan, poet Anthony Cronin and novelist Colm Tóibín. However, his editorship is not without controversy. The columns published by Eamon Dunphy and Terry Keane draw criticism. Michael Foley notes some Irish commentators criticised Fanning’s Sunday Independent, claiming the newspaper was publishing “a mix of sleaze and prurience.”

Fanning also defends the controversial Mary Ellen Synon, who calls the Paralympics games “perverse.” One of the more bizarre incidents occurs in 2001 when he is involved in a fisticuffs with a colleague at the newspaper – operations editor Campbell Spray.

Diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2011, Fanning spends his last months undergoing treatment in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, dying there on January 17, 2012, at the age of 69. His remains are cremated at Mount Jerome Crematorium.

Anne Harris, Fanning’s second wife, succeeds him as editor and lasts three years. As well as pioneering changes in the domestic print media’s role, Fanning’s Sunday Independent led Irish society’s turn towards free market hedonism, catching the public mood better than its more conventionally liberal rivals by rendering this cultural transformation in an exuberant, somewhat parodied form, and without regard for lingering post-Catholic inhibitions.


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Bloomsday, Commemoration & Celebration of Writer James Joyce

Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed annually in Dublin and elsewhere on June 16, the day his novel Ulysses (1922) takes place in 1904, the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist Leopold Bloom.

The first mention of such a celebration is found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver of June 27, 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The day involves a range of cultural activities, including Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and other events, some of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday, and retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours.

The James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandycove, site of the opening chapter of Ulysses, hosts many free activities around Bloomsday including theatrical performances, musical events, tours of the iconic tower and readings from Joyce’s masterpiece.

In 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine, John Ryan, and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organise what is to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They are joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (Joyce’s cousin, representing the family interest) and A. J. Leventhal, a lecturer in French at Trinity College, Dublin. Ryan engages two horse-drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned sort, in which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The party are assigned roles from the novel. They plan to travel around the city through the day, starting at the Martello tower at Sandycove where the novel begins, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce called Nighttown. The pilgrimage is abandoned halfway through when the weary pilgrims succumb to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan owns at the time, and at which in 1967 he installs the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.

On Bloomsday 1982, the centenary year of Joyce’s birth, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ transmits a continuous 30-hour dramatic performance of the entire text of Ulysses on radio.

A five-month-long festival, ReJoyce Dublin 2004, takes place in Dublin between April 1 and August 31, 2004. On the Sunday before the 100th “anniversary” of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin are treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.

The 2006 Bloomsday festivities are cancelled, the day coinciding with the funeral of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

(Pictured: Firstbloom (L to R) John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce (James Joyce’s cousin); Sandymount, 1954)


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The Inaugural Meeting of Aosdána

The inaugural meeting of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists, takes place in the Old Parliament House in Dublin on April 14, 1983. It is created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland. Membership, which is by invitation from current members, is limited to 250 individuals, up from 200 prior to 2005. Its governing body is called the Toscaireacht.

At the suggestion of writer Anthony Cronin, who becomes a founding member, Aosdána is originally established in 1981 by Taoiseach Charles Haughey, well known for his support for the Arts, although columnist Fintan O’Toole has argued that this also serves to deflect criticism of Haughey’s political actions. Haughey’s successor, Garret FitzGerald, formally addresses the inaugural assembly of Aosdána in Dublin.

The process of induction into Aosdána relies entirely on members proposing new members. Applications by artists themselves are not allowed. Some members receive a stipend, called the Cnuas, from the Arts Council of Ireland. This stipend is intended to allow recipients to work full-time at their art. The value of the Cnuas in 2015 is €17,180.

The title of Saoi is the highest honour that members of Aosdána can bestow upon a fellow member. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time. The honour is conferred by the President of Ireland in a ceremony during which a gold torc is placed around the neck of the recipient by the President. The current living Saoithe are Seóirse Bodley (composer), Camille Souter (painter), Imogen Stuart (sculptor), George Morrison (film-maker), Edna O’Brien (writer), and Roger Doyle (composer). Among the deceased holders of the title of Saoi are the Nobel Laureates Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, dramatists Brian Friel and Tom Murphy, and the artists Patrick Scott and Louis le Brocquy.

The poet Pearse Hutchinson, a member of Aosdána, describes the organisation as “a miracle and a godsend” that allows him to continue writing at a time when he might have had to give up. Composer Roger Doyle has also spoken about the difference it makes, “I was elected to Aosdána in 1986. This gave me a small stipend from the Government each year, which enabled me to devote all my time to composing. This changed my life for the better and I have composed non-stop since then.”

The Toscaireacht is a committee of ten members, called Toscairí, of the Aosdána. It meets several times a year to deal with the administration and external relations of Aosdána, reports to every General Assembly, which meets once a year, and sets its Agenda. When new members of Aosdána are proposed, the Toscairí have the task of verifying that the nomination process has been complied with, and also that the candidate is willing to accept membership, before the next stage of election is begun.

Toscairí are elected to the Toscaireacht by the members of Aosdána for two year terms. All members of Aosdána are eligible for election, and nominations must be made in writing by three members. The electoral process is in two stages. First, within each of Aosdána’s three disciplines (Music, Literature, and Visual Arts), the two nominees with the highest number of votes are elected. This guarantees a minimum of two Toscairí from each of the disciplines. Next, the remaining four places are filled by the remaining nominees from any discipline who have the highest number of votes.

The current Toscairí are Anne Haverty (literature), Deirdre Kinahan (literature); Eamon Colman (visual art), Enda Wyley (literature), Geraldine O’Reilly (visual art), Gerard Smyth (literature), Gráinne Mulvey (music), Mary O’Donnell (literature), Michael Holohan (music), and Theo Dorgan (literature).

The procedure at meetings is laid down in the Toscaireacht’s Standing Orders. Minutes of its meetings appear on Aosdána’s web site (aosdana.artscouncil.ie).