seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Writer Francis Stuart

Henry Francis Montgomery Stuart, Irish writer, is born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia on April 29, 1902. He is awarded one of the highest artistic accolades in Ireland, being elected a Saoi of Aosdána, before his death in 2000. His years in Nazi Germany lead to a great deal of controversy.

Stuart is born to Irish Protestant parents, Henry Irwin Stuart and Elizabeth Barbara Isabel Montgomery. His father is an alcoholic and kills himself when Stuart is an infant. This prompts his mother to return to Ireland and Stuart’s childhood is divided between his home in Ireland and Rugby School in England, where he boards.

In 1920, at age 17, Stuart becomes a Catholic and marries Iseult Gonne, daughter of Maud Gonne. Her father is the right-wing French politician Lucien Millevoye, with whom Maud Gonne had had an affair between 1887 and 1899. Because of her complex family situation, Iseult is often passed off as Maud Gonne’s niece in conservative circles in Ireland. Iseult has a brief affair with Ezra Pound prior to meeting Stuart. Pound and Stuart both believe in the primacy of the artist over the masses and are subsequently drawn to fascism; Stuart to Nazi Germany and Pound to Fascist Italy.

Gonne and Stuart have a baby daughter who dies in infancy. Perhaps to recover from this tragedy, they travel for a while in Europe but return to Ireland as the Irish Civil War begins. Unsurprisingly given Gonne’s strong opinions, the couple are caught up on the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) side of the fight. Stuart is involved in gun running and is interned following a botched raid.

After independence, Stuart participates in the literary life of Dublin and writes poetry and novels. His novels are successful and his writing is publicly supported by W. B. Yeats.

Stuart’s time with Gonne is not an entirely happy time as both he and his wife apparently struggle with personal demons and their internal anguish poisons their marriage. In letters to close friend W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne characterizes Stuart as being emotionally, financially, and physically abusive towards Iseult.

During the 1930s Stuart becomes friendly with German Intelligence (Abwehr) agent Helmut Clissmann and his Irish wife Elizabeth. Clissmann is working for the German Academic Exchange Service and the Deutsche Akademie (DA). He is facilitating academic exchanges between Ireland and the Third Reich but also forming connections which might be of benefit to the Abwehr. Clissmann is also a representative of the Nazi Auslandorganisation (AO), the Nazi Party’s foreign organisation, in pre-war Ireland.

Stuart is also friendly with the head of the German Legation in Dublin, Dr. Eduard Hempel, largely as a result of Maud Gonne MacBride’s rapport with him. By 1938 he is seeking a way out of his marriage and the provincialism of Irish life. Iseult intervenes with Clissmann to arrange for Stuart to travel to Germany to give a series of academic lectures in conjunction with the DA. He travels to Germany in April 1939 and visits Munich, Hamburg, Bonn and Cologne. After his lecture tour, he accepts an appointment as lecturer in English and Irish literature at Berlin University to begin in 1940. At this time, under the Nuremberg Laws, the German academic system has barred Jews.

In July 1939, Stuart returns home to Laragh, County Wicklow, and after his plans for traveling to Germany are finalised, he receives a visit from his brother-in-law, Seán MacBride, following the seizure of an IRA radio transmitter on December 29, 1939 which had been used to contact Germany. Stuart, MacBride, Seamus O’Donovan, and IRA Chief of Staff Stephen Hayes then meet at O’Donovan’s house. Stuart is told to take a message to Abwehr HQ in Berlin. Upon arrival in Berlin in January 1940, he delivers the IRA message and has some discussion with the Abwehr on conditions in Ireland and the fate of the IRA-Abwehr radio link. Around August 1940, he is asked by Sonderführer Kurt Haller if he will participate in Operation Dove and he agrees, although he is later dropped in favour of Frank Ryan.

Between March 1942 and January 1944 Stuart works as part of the Redaktion-Irland team, reading radio broadcasts containing Nazi propaganda which are aimed at and heard in Ireland. In his broadcasts he frequently speaks with admiration of Adolf Hitler and expresses the hope that Germany will help unite Ireland. He is dropped from the Redaktion-Irland team in January 1944 because he objects to the anti-Soviet material that is presented to him and deemed essential by his supervisors. His passport is taken from him by the Gestapo after this event.

In 1945 Stuart plans to Ireland with a former student Gertrude Meissner. They are arrested and detained by Allied troops. Following their release, Stuart and Meissner live in Germany and then France and England. They marry in 1954 after Iseult’s death and in 1958 they return to settle in Ireland. In 1971 Stuart publishes his best known work, Black List Section H, an autobiographical fiction documenting his life and distinguished by a queasy sensitivity to moral complexity and moral ambiguity.

In 1996 Stuart is elected a Saoi of Aosdána, a high honour in the Irish art world. Influential Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi objects strongly, referring to Stuart’s actions during the war and claiming that he holds anti-Semitic opinions. When it is put to a vote, she is the only person to vote for her motion. She resigns from Aosdána in protest, sacrificing a government stipend by doing so. While the Aosdána affair is ongoing, The Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers attacks Stuart as a Nazi sympathiser. Stuart sues for libel and the case is settled out of court. The statement from The Irish Times read out in the High Court accepts “that Mr. Stuart never expressed anti-Semitism in his writings or otherwise.”

For some years before his death Stuart lives in County Clare with his partner Fionuala and in County Wicklow with his son Ian and daughter-in-law Anna in a house outside Laragh village. He dies of natural causes on February 2, 2000 at the age of 97 in County Clare.


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Birth of Irish American Actor Gregory Peck

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Actor Gregory Peck is born in La Jolla, California on April 5, 1916 to Bernice Mary (Ayres) and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist and pharmacist in San Diego. Through his Irish-born paternal grandmother, Catherine Ashe, Peck is related to Thomas Ashe, who takes part in the Easter Rising fewer than three weeks after Peck’s birth and dies while on hunger strike in 1917.

Peck’s parents divorce when he is five years old. An only child, he is sent to live with his grandmother. He never feels as though he has a stable childhood. His fondest memories are of his grandmother taking him to the movies every week and of his dog, which follows him everywhere.

At the age of ten Peck is sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s Military Academy in Los Angeles. While he is a student there, his grandmother dies. At 14, he moves back to San Diego to live with his father and attends San Diego High School. After graduating he enrolls for one year at San Diego State Teacher’s College (now known as San Diego State University).

Peck studies pre-med at the University of California, Berkeley and while there is bitten by the acting bug and decides to change the focus of his studies. He enrolls in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and debuts on Broadway after graduation. His debut is in Emlyn Williams‘ play The Morning Star (1942). By 1943, he is in Hollywood, where he debuts in the RKO Pictures film Days of Glory (1944).

Stardom comes with Peck’s next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), for which he is nominated for an Academy Award. Peck’s screen presence displays the qualities for which he becomes well known. He is tall, rugged and heroic, with a basic decency that transcends his roles. He appears in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Spellbound (1945) as an amnesia victim accused of murder. In The Yearling (1946), he is again nominated for an Academy Award and wins the Golden Globe Award. He is especially effective in westerns and appears in such varied fare as David O. Selznick‘s critically blasted Duel in the Sun (1946), the somewhat better received Yellow Sky (1948) and the acclaimed The Gunfighter (1950). He is nominated again for the Academy Award for his roles in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which deals with antisemitism, and Twelve O’Clock High (1949), a story of high-level stress in an Air Force bomber unit in World War II.

With a string of hits to his credit, Peck makes the decision to only work in films that interest him. He continues to appear as the heroic, larger-than-life figures in such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951) and Moby Dick (1956). He works with Audrey Hepburn in her debut film, Roman Holiday (1953).

Peck finally wins the Oscar, after four nominations, for his performance as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). In the early 1960s, he appears in two darker films than he usually makes, Cape Fear (1962) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which deal with the way people live. He also gives a powerful performance as Captain Keith Mallory in The Guns of Navarone (1961), one of the biggest box-office hits of that year.

In the early 1970s, Peck produces two films, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972) and The Dove (1974), when his film career stalled. He makes a comeback playing, somewhat woodenly, Robert Thorn in the horror film The Omen (1976). After that, he returns to the bigger-than-life roles he is best known for, such as MacArthur (1977) and the monstrous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele in the huge hit The Boys from Brazil (1978). In the 1980s, he moves into television with the miniseries The Blue and the Gray (1982) and The Scarlet and the Black (1983). In 1991, he appears in the remake of his 1962 film, playing a different role, in Martin Scorsese‘s Cape Fear (1991). He is also cast as the progressive-thinking owner of a wire and cable business in Other People’s Money (1991).

In 1967, Peck receives the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has also been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Always politically progressive, he is active in such causes as anti-war protests, workers’ rights and civil rights. In 2003, Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch is named the greatest film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

Gregory Peck dies in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles, California from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003. He is entombed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels mausoleum in Los Angeles. His eulogy is read by Brock Peters, whose character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.