seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Walter Beckett, Composer & Music Critic

Walter Beckett, Irish composer, teacher and music critic, is born on July 27, 1914 in Dublin. He is a cousin of the writer Samuel Beckett.

Beckett studies organ with George Hewson and harmony with John Francis Larchet at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), in addition to music at Trinity College Dublin where he is conferred with a Mus.D. (Doctor of Music) in 1942. He lives from 1946 to 1963 in Venice, where he teaches English and piano. He also writes reviews from abroad for The Irish Times and makes a series of orchestral arrangements of Irish traditional music for Radio Éireann.

In addition to Beckett’s activity as a music critic for The Irish Times, he also writes biographical articles for dictionaries, in particular for the first edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. His books include studies on Franz Liszt and ballet music.

Beckett’s more ambitious musical works from the 1940s and 1950s are a Suite for Orchestra (1945), Four Higgins Songs (1946), The Falaingin Dances (1958) and a Suite of Planxties (1960) for harp and orchestra.

In 1963 Beckett moves to England, where he teaches music at various schools before returning to Ireland in 1970 to succeed A. J. Potter at the RIAM as professor of harmony and counterpoint. In the 1980s he produces a number of remarkable works such as Quartet for Strings (1980) and Dublin Symphony (1989) for narrator, chamber choir and large orchestra. While he is never a modernist, his later works nevertheless contain some advanced harmony, particularly in the quartet.

Beckett is forced to retire from the RIAM in 1985 after suffering a stroke. In 1986 he is elected a member of Aosdána and an Honorary Fellow of the RIAM in 1990. He dies in Dublin on April 3, 1996.


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Birth of Novelist & Playwright Molly Keane

Molly Keane, née Mary Nesta Skrine, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, is born in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare, on July 20, 1904.

Keane’s mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin in County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bedbound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Molly meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a County Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which, including Good Behaviour and Time After Time, have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She was a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, after which she moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. Following the failure of a play shortly after her husband’s death, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages her to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Keane dies at the age of 91 on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Birth of Composer Roger Doyle

Roger Doyle, composer best known for his electroacoustic work and for his piano music for theatre, is born in Malahide, County Dublin on July 17, 1949. As a teenager he is influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Pierre Henry and The Beatles.

Doyle studies piano from the age of nine. After leaving school he attends the Royal Irish Academy of Music for three years, studying composing, during which time he is awarded two composition scholarships. He also studies at the Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and the Finnish Radio Experimental Music Studio on scholarships.

As a performer Doyle begins as a drummer with the groups Supply Demand and Curve and Jazz Therapy, playing free improvisatory and fusion music. He releases his first LP, Oizzo No, in 1975, and his second, Thalia, in 1978 on CBS Classics. Rapid Eye Movements (1981) is his third LP, and his attempt at a “masterpiece before the age of thirty.”

Doyle begins his magnum opus, Babel, in 1989, a 5-CD set that takes ten years to compose. Each track corresponds to a ‘room’ or place within an imagined giant tower city, a kind of aural virtual reality. It celebrates the multiplicity of musical language. One hundred three pieces of music are composed for it and he works with 48 collaborators. From 2002 to 2007 he works on the three-volume electronic work Passades. Twenty-seven albums of his music have been released. He has also composed scores for several films including Budawanny, Pigs and the documentary Atlantean by Bob Quinn.

In 2013 Doyle founds META Productions with opera director Eric Fraad, committed to exploring new forms of opera for the 21st century. Their first production is the electronic opera Heresy. Originally titled The Death by Fire of Giordano Bruno, a 40-minute ‘in development’ version is performed as part of a fully staged concert of his works at both the Kilkenny Arts Festival and in the Dublin Theatre Festival 2013. The two hour Heresy is presented as part of ‘Project 50’, a season of work celebrating 50 years of Project Arts Centre in November 2016. The opera is based on episodes from the life and works of Giordano Bruno. It is broadcast on RTÉ Lyric fm in September 2017 and released as a double album on Heresy records in 2018. Recent album releases are The Thousand Year Old Boy (2013), Time Machine (2015), Frail Things In Eternal Places (2016), and The Heresy Ostraca (2019).

Doyle founds the music theatre company Operating Theatre with Irish actress Olwen Fouéré. They produce many important site-specific productions, including Passades, Here Lies and Angel/Babel, all featuring his music as an equal partner in the theatrical environment. Operating Theatre performs in conventional and site-specific venues in Ireland, England, the Netherlands, France, Venezuela and the United States and releases several records. With Icontact Dance Company, he produces Tower of Babel – Delusional Architecture, featuring as much of Babel as he has composed by that point. This work is originally performed in a whole wing of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1992. Arguably his most famous theatre work is the music he wrote and performs on piano onstage for the Steven Berkoff version of the Oscar Wilde play Salome which plays in Dublin‘s Gate Theatre, in London‘s West End and on three world tours. The Irish Times notes that “his name is revered in the realm of theatre.”

Doyle’s works Four Sketches and All the Rage are awarded second and first prizes in the Dublin Symphony Orchestra composition competition in 1970 and 1974 respectively. He has won the Programme Music Prize (1997) and the Magisterium Award (2007) at the Bourges International Electro-Acoustic Music Competition in Bourges, France. He also receives the Irish Arts Council‘s Marten Toonder Award in 2000 in recognition of his innovative work as a composer. He is a member of Aosdána, and has recently been made Adjunct Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin.

President Michael D. Higgins confers the honour of Saoi on Doyle on August 16, 2019 by placing a gold torc around his neck. This is the highest honour of Aosdána that can be bestowed by fellow Aosdána members. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time. The Irish Times describes his album Chalant – Memento Mori as “a richly rewarding work that runs the full, glorious gamut of human emotion.” It is Album of the Week on March 30, 2012 in the same paper.


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Death of Landscape Artist Dairine Vanston

Dairine (Doreen) Vanston, Irish landscape artist who works in a Cubist style, dies in Enniskerry, County Wicklow on July 12, 1988.

Vanston is born in Dublin on October 19, 1903. She is the daughter of solicitor John S. B. Vanston, and sculptor Lilla Vanston (née Coffey). She attends Alexandra College, going on to study at Goldsmith’s College, London under Roger Bissière. She then goes to Paris to the Académie Ranson, being sent there following the advice of Paul Henry. While in Paris she meets Guillermo Padilla, a Costa Rican law student at the University of Paris. They marry in 1926 and she takes the name Vanston de Padilla. The couple lives for a time in Italy, before moving to San José, Costa Rica. The marriage breaks down in the early 1930s, at which point she returns to Paris with her son and studies with André Lhote. She is living in France at the outbreak of World War II with Jankel Adler, but is able to escape to London in 1940, and later to Dublin.

Vanston’s time in Paris leaves a lasting impression on her work, including use of primary colours and a strong Cubist influence. She belongs to what critic Brian Fallon calls the “Franco-Irish generation of painters who looked to Paris,” along with Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, and Norah McGuinness. Her time spent living in Costa Rica in the late 1920s and early 1930s imbues her work with tropical and highly toned colours. In Dublin in 1935, she exhibits 17 paintings, largely Costa Rican landscapes, at Daniel Egan’s gallery on St. Stephen’s Green. This is the closest thing to a solo show she would mount, with this show also featuring Grace Henry, Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, and Edward Gribbon.

Meeting the English artist Basil Rakoczi, who is also living in Dublin during World War II, leads Vanston to become associated with The White Stag group. In November 1941, she exhibits for the first time at a group show with 24 other artists, including Patrick Scott. One work that is shown at this exhibition is the painting Keel dance hall, which demonstrates that she spends time in the west of Ireland. The most important event staged by the group is the Exhibition of subjective art, which takes place at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. The Dublin Magazine notes her work at this show as the most effective of the experimental vanguard. This work, Dying animal, is a Cubist work with semi-representation forms rendered in bold colours. In 1945, her work is featured in a White Stag exhibition in London of young Irish painters at the Arcade gallery, Old Bond St.

In 1947, Vanston spends almost a year in Costa Rica where she paints primarily in watercolours. Apart from this period, she lives and works in Dublin, living at 3 Mount Street Crescent near St. Stephen’s Church. At the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, she exhibits five works. At the first Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1960, of which she is a founder, she exhibits three landscapes and a work entitled War. She largely exhibits with the Independent Artists, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Oireachtas na Gaeilge, and does not exhibit with the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life, she exhibits with the Figurative Image exhibitions in Dublin, and is amongst the first painters chosen for Aosdána. A number of her works are featured in the 1987 exhibition, Irish women artists, from the eighteenth century to the present arranged by the National Gallery of Ireland and The Douglas Hyde Gallery.

Vanston dies on July 12, 1988 in a nursing home in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Her work is greatly admired, but has received little by way of critical attention, which may have been to do with her slow rate of output. A number of her works have proved difficult to trace. She was a private person, even refusing to cooperate with the Taylor Galleries in the 1980s when they wanted to mount a retrospective of her work. The National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick holds a work by Vanston.

(Pictured: “Landscape with Lake and Hills” (1964), oil on paper (monotype) by Dairine Vanston)


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Death of Leland Bardwell, Poet, Novelist & Playwright

Constan Olive Leland Bardwell, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, dies at the age of 94 on June 28, 2016 in Sligo, County Sligo.

Bardwell is born Leland Hone in India on February 25, 1922 to Irish parents William Hone and Mary Collise, and moves to Ireland at the age of two. Her father’s family are of the Anglo-Irish Hone family. She grows up in Leixlip, County Kildare. She is educated at Alexandra School and later at the University of London.

Bardwell realises from childhood that a writing life is inevitable. In her memoirs she records: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.” However, there are years of editorial rejections before she blossoms into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin.

Bardwell’s five volumes of acclaimed poetry are The Mad Cyclist (1970), The Fly and the Bed Bug (1984), Dostoevsky’s Grace (1991), her “new and selected” The White Beach (1998) and The Noise of Masonry Settling (2005).

Bardwell is considered an important poet by her contemporaries. On the publication of her fourth collection of poetry, The White Beach, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin states, “it is good to see her work of the decades collected – it has inspired many Irish poets, male and female, and should be much more widely known,” adding that her work is “witty, full of sharp intimate honesty, full of truth and surprises.”

In 1975, along with Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and Macdara Woods, she co-founds the long running literary magazine Cyphers.

Bardwell’s novel Girl on a Bicycle, originally published in 1977, is republished by Irish publisher Liberties Press in 2009.

Bardwell lives in Sligo and is a member of Aosdána. She dies in Sligo on June 28, 2016. One of her children is the composer John McLachlan.

(Photo by Pat Boran)


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Birth of William Trevor, Novelist, Playwright & Short Story Writer

William Trevor KBE, Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer, is born William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on May 24, 1928. One of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language.

Trevor is born to a middle-class, Anglo-Irish Protestant family. They move several times to other provincial towns, including Skibbereen, Tipperary, Youghal and Enniscorthy, as a result of his father’s work as a bank official. He is educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin, and at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he receives a degree in history. He works as a sculptor under the name Trevor Cox after his graduation from Trinity College, supplementing his income by teaching. He marries Jane Ryan in 1952 and emigrates to Great Britain two years later, working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. It is during this time that he and his wife have their first son.

Trevor’s first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, is published in 1958 by Hutchinson of London, but has little critical success. He later disowns this work and, according to his obituary in The Irish Times, “refused to have it republished.” It was, in fact, republished in 1982 and in 1989.

In 1964, at the age of 36, Trevor wins the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Old Boys. The win encourages him to become a full-time writer. He and his family then move to Devon in South West England, where he resides until his death. In 2002, he makes honorary KBE for services to literature. Despite having spent most of his life in England, he considers himself to be “Irish in every vein.”

Trevor writes several collections of short stories that are well received. His short stories often follow a Chekhovian pattern. The characters in his work are typically marginalised members of society. The works of James Joyce influence his short-story writing, and “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal” can be detected in his work, but the overall impression is not of gloominess since, particularly in his early work, his wry humour offers the reader a tragicomic version of the world. He adapts much of his work for stage, television and radio. In 1990, Fools of Fortune is made into a film directed by Pat O’Connor, along with a 1999 film adaptation of Felicia’s Journey, which is directed by Atom Egoyan.

Trevor’s stories are set in both England and Ireland. They range from black comedies to tales based on Irish history and politics. His early books are peopled by eccentrics who speak in a pedantically formal manner and engage in hilariously comic activities that are recounted by a detached narrative voice. Instead of one central figure, the novels feature several protagonists of equal importance, drawn together by an institutional setting, which acts as a convergence point for their individual stories. The later novels are thematically and technically more complex. The operation of grace in the world is explored, and several narrative voices are used to view the same events from different angles.

Trevor wins the Whitbread Prize three times and is nominated five times for the Booker Prize, the last for his novel Love and Summer (2009), which is also shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2011. His name is also mentioned in relation to the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2014, he is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

William Trevor dies peacefully in his sleep at the age of 88 on November 20, 2016 in Somerset, England.


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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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Death of Irish Painter Louis le Brocquy

Louis le Brocquy, Irish painter, dies in Dublin at the age of 95 on April 25, 2012.

Le Brocquy is born in Dublin on November 10, 1916 to Albert and Sybil le Brocquy. He is educated at St. Gerard’s School, studies chemistry at Kevin Street Technical School in 1934, and then Trinity College Dublin before working at his family’s oil refinery. Turning to art at the age of 21, he learns through studying the works of Diego Velázquez, Édouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, in various museums across Europe. Returning to Ireland at the outbreak of World War II, he focuses his attention on depicting themes from Celtic mythology as well as individuals of Ireland’s Travellers ethnic minority.

Le Brocquy’s work receives many accolades in a career that spans some seventy years of creative practice. In 1956, he represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale, winning the Premio Acquisito Internationale (a once-off award when the event was acquired by the Nestle Corporation) with A Family (National Gallery of Ireland), subsequently included in the historic exhibition Fifty Years of Modern Art at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. That same year he marries the Irish painter Anne Madden and leaves London to work in the French Midi.

Le Brocquy is widely acclaimed for his evocative “Portrait Heads” of literary figures and fellow artists, which include William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and his friends Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and Seamus Heaney. In his later years le Brocquy’s early “Tinker” subjects and Grey period “Family” paintings, attract attention on the international marketplace placing le Brocquy within a very select group of British and Irish artists whose works have commanded prices in excess of £1 million during their lifetimes. Others in this group include Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, and Francis Bacon.

Today, Le Brocquy’s work is represented in numerous public collections from the San Diego Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Tate Modern in London. In Ireland, he is honoured as the first and only painter to be included during his lifetime in the Permanent Irish Collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Le Brocquy designs the covers for the albums The Lark in the Morning and The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion. A member of Aosdána, he is elected Saoi in 1994, which 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.

Le Brocquy dies in Dublin on April 25, 2012 and is survived by his daughter Seyre from his first marriage (1938–1948) to Jean Stoney, and his two grandsons John-Paul and David; his second wife Anne Madden, and their two sons, Pierre and Alexis.


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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).


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Death of Author Benedict “Ben” Kiely

Benedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.

Kiely is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children. In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.