seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Irish Artist Charles Harper

skellig-arrival-by-charles-harperIrish artist Charles Harper is born on July 30, 1943 on Valentia Island in County Kerry. He studies at the National College of Art and Design, Limerick School of Art and Design and the Graphic Studio in Dublin. He is taught by Maurice MacGonigal and Seán Keating. He also studies filmmaking in Germany.

Harper exhibits regularly in Ireland and abroad. His paintings are well known for their metaphoric themes, including boats, the human form, landscape and angels usually in painterly expressive form.

Harper is influenced by Francis Bacon and David Hockney which is apparent in his portrait work. In his treatment of the human head, the influence of Bacon is obvious as is the work of the Irish artist Louis Le Brocquy. He is also influenced by the Irish artist Patrick Collins. For Harper the actual act of painting is what matters as he sees the actual process as one of exploration and discovery. He says, “the process, the making excites me more than any end product.”

Harper represents Ireland at International Biennials in many countries throughout his career. He receives many national awards for his painting, including first prize for his work commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, the Carrols Open Award at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in Dublin and The Arts councils Bonn an Uachtarain de Hide at the Oireachtas Art Exhibition. More recently he is awarded the BulBulia Award at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 2008.

Harper’s work is included in many important public and private collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Irish Arts Council. He is also a member of Aosdána and the Royal Hibernian Academy.

“Painting being a cultural and creative activity should be accessible to all. Though it may also confuse the viewer. I find this totally understandable and acceptable, as art should challenge our perception and established aesthetic.”

(Pictured: Skellig Arrival, acrylic on linen by Charles Harper)


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Birth of Writer James Plunkett Kelly

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, Irish writer who writes under the pseudonym of James Plunkett, is born in Dublin on May 21, 1920.

Plunkett is the son of a World War I veteran who was a member of James Larkin‘s Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had a life-long impact on the young writer. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He works as a clerk in the Dublin Gas Company and later joins the trade union movement, serving under Larkin between 1946 and 1947.

Plunkett grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personae of his oeuvre. His best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the lockout of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. He is a member of Aosdána.

Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home at the age of 83 on May 28, 2003. A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in his honour.


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Birth of Poet & Linguist Michael O’Siadhail

michael-o-siadhailMicheal O’Siadhail, poet and linguist, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1947. Among his awards are The Marten Toonder Prize and The Irish American Culture Institute Prize for Literature.

O’Siadhail is born into a middle-class Dublin family. His father, a chartered accountant, is born in County Monaghan and works most of his life in Dublin, and his mother is a Dubliner with roots in County Tipperary. Both of them are portrayed in his work in several poems such as “Kinsmen” and “Promise”. From the age of twelve, he is educated at the Jesuit boarding school Clongowes Wood College, an experience he is later to describe in a sequence of poems “Departure” (The Chosen Garden).

At Clongowes O’Siadhail is influenced by his English teacher, the writer Tom MacIntyre, who introduces him to contemporary poetry. At thirteen he first visits the Aran Islands. This pre-industrial society with its large-scale emigration has a profound impact on him. His earlier work reflects this tension between his love of his native Dublin and his emotional involvement with those outlying communities and which features in the sequence “Fists of Stone” (The Chosen Garden).

O’Siadhail studies at Trinity College Dublin (1964–68) where his teachers include David H. Greene and Máirtín Ó Cadhain. He is elected a Scholar of the College and takes a First Class Honours Degree. His circle at Trinity includes David McConnell (later professor of genetics), Mary Robinson and David F. Ford (later Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge). He subsequently embarks on a government exchange scholarship studying folklore and the Icelandic language at the University of Oslo. He retains lifelong contacts with Norwegian friends and sees Scandinavian literature as a major influence.

In 1970 O’Siadhail marries Bríd Ní Chearbhaill, who is born in Gweedore, County Donegal. She is for most of her life a teacher and later head mistress in an inner-city Dublin primary school until her retirement in 1995 due to Parkinson’s disease. She is a central figure in his oeuvre celebrated in the sequence “Rerooting” in The Chosen Garden and in Love Life, which is a meditation on their lifelong relationship. One Crimson Thread travels with the progression of her Parkinson’s Disease. She dies on June, 17, 2013.

For seventeen years, O’Siadhail earns his living as an academic; firstly as a lecturer at Trinity College (1969–73) where he is awarded a Master of Letters degree in 1971 and then as a research professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. During these years he gives named lectures in Dublin and at Harvard University and Yale University and is a visiting professor at the University of Iceland in 1982. In 1987 he resigns his professorship to devote himself to writing poetry which he describes as “a quantum leap.”

During his years as an academic, O’Siadhail, writing under the Irish spelling of his name, published works on the linguistics of Irish and a textbook for learners of Irish.

O’Siadhail serves as a member of the Arts Council of the Republic of Ireland (1987–93), of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Relations (1989–97) and is editor of Poetry Ireland Review. He is the founding chairman of ILE (Ireland Literature Exchange). As a founder member of Aosdána (Academy of Distinguished Irish Artists) he is part of a circle of artists and works with his friend the composer Seóirse Bodley, the painters Cecil King and Mick O’Dea and in 2008 gives a reading as part of Brian Friel‘s eightieth birthday celebration.

O’Siadhail represents Ireland at the Poetry Society‘s European Poetry Festival in London in 1981 and at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1997. He is writer-in-residence at the Yeats Summer School in 1991 and writer in residence at the University of British Columbia in 2002.

O’Siadhail is now married to Christina Weltz, who is a native of New York, and Assistant Professor of surgical oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital. They reside in New York.


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Death of Yann Renard-Goulet, Sculptor & Breton Nationalist

yann-goulet-custom-house-memorialYann Renard-Goulet, French sculptor, Breton nationalist and war-time collaborationist with Nazi Germany who headed the Breton Bagadou Stourm militia, dies in Bray, County Wicklow on August 22, 1999.

Goulet is born in Saint-Nazaire, France on August 20, 1914. Before World War II, he is a member of the Breton National Party and a former member of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). His artistic career begins at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studies art and architecture, and learns sculpture with Auguste Rodin‘s assistant, Charles Despiau. His works in France include bas-reliefs shown at the Exposition International de Paris (1938), and the monument to the youth of the French empire in Lille (1939). He is part of the Breton artistic movement Seiz Breur.

Goulet’s involvement in Breton nationalism leads to accusations that he had orchestrated the destruction of the Monument to the Breton-Angevin Federation at Pontivy on December 18, 1938 by Gwenn ha du, the nationalist terrorist group. He is detained, but then released.

In 1939, he is sent to Strasbourg to study the art of sabotage. He participates in the beginning of World War II fighting for France, and is captured by the Germans on June 11, 1940 while blowing up a bridge on the Aisne with friends from a French corps.

Later in the war, Goulet joins the assault section of Bagadou Stourm, Breton nationalist stormtroopers allied to the Germans. He also collaborates with the pro-Nazi nationalist newspaper L’Heure Bretonne. In 1941 in Paris, he becomes head of Bagadou Stourm and the “Youth Organizations” of the Breton National Party. The promotion of Bagadou Stourm officers is named “Patrick Pearse” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland.

After the liberation of France, Goulet travels with his wife and children to Ireland, and is sentenced to death as a Collaborationist by a French court in his absence. He acquires Irish citizenship in 1952 and becomes an art professor.

Goulet is commissioned to create public works commemorating the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other republicans, including the Custom House Memorial (Dublin), the East Mayo Brigade IRA Memorial, the Republican Memorial (Crossmaglen), and the Ballyseedy Memorial (Kerry). He exhibits regularly at the Royal Hibernian Academy, eventually becoming the RHA Professor of Sculpture. He is also made a member of Aosdána in 1982.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Goulet claims to have taken the reins of the Breton Liberation Front (Front de Libération de la Bretagne, or FLB) and to have been behind all their attacks.

In 1969 Goulet becomes secretary general and chair of the Comité National de la Bretagne Libre and publishes the communiques of the FLB. In 1968, the head of police in Bray congratulate him on organising the previous day’s attack on the CRS barracks in Saint-Brieuc.

Goulet died at Bray, County Wicklow, on August 22, 1999, two days after his 85th birthday.

(Pictured: Custom House Memorial in Dublin by Yann Renard-Goulet, 1957)


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Birth of John B. Keane, Irish Playwright & Novelist

john-b-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, Irish playwright, novelist and essayist, is born in Listowel, County Kerry on July 21, 1928.

Keane is the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah Purtill. He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the United Kingdom between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender and lives in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that he is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the UK, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955 where he writes plays for the local theatre company and sponsors, from 1971, the annual Listowel Writers’ Week. He marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

His first play, Sive (1959), is initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but goes on to win the amateur All-Ireland Drama Festival. Later plays include The Field (1965), which is released in a bowdlerized film version in 1990, and Big Maggie (1969), which is produced on Broadway in 1982. In 1998 Keane is honoured with a medal from the Abbey for his contribution to Irish theatre.

Keane is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish club of PEN International and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

John Keane dies of prostate cancer on May 30, 2002 in Listowel at the age of 73.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Birth of John Jordan, Poet & Writer

john-jordanJohn Jordan, Irish poet, short-story writer and broadcaster, is born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Jordan is educated at Synge Street CBS, University College Dublin (UCD) and Pembroke College, Oxford. In his teens he acts on the stage of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, before winning a Scholarship in English and French to the University of Oxford from UCD. In the mid-1950s he returns to UCD as a lecturer in English and teaches there until the end of the 1960s. He also lectures on sabbatical leave at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and briefly at Princeton University in the United States. He is a founding member of Aosdána. He is a celebrated literary critic from the late 1950s until his death on June 6, 1988 in Cardiff, Wales, where he had been participating in the Merriman Summer School.

In 1962 Jordan re-founds and edits the literary magazine Poetry Ireland in hopes of contributing towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre. In this journal, he introduces a number of poets who are to become quite famous later, including Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and Seamus Heaney. This series of Poetry Ireland lasts until 1968–69.

In 1981 Jordan becomes the first editor of the new magazine published by the Poetry Ireland Society, called Poetry Ireland Review. He serves as a reviewer of novels for The Irish Times, writes a column for Hibernia, contributes to Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art and The Irish Press among others, a serves as a TV presenter and arts interviewer. He is a defender of Gaelic literature, translates Pádraic Ó Conaire, edits The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Mercier Press, 1977), and champions the later plays of Seán O’Casey. His translation of one of Aogán Ó Rathaille‘s essays is published in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (London: Allen Lane, 1982).

Jordan’s Collected Poems (Dedalus Press) and Collected Stories (Poolbeg Press) are edited by his literary executor, Hugh McFadden, and published in Dublin in 1991. His Selected Prose, Crystal Clear, also edited by McFadden, is published by The Lilliput Press in Dublin in 2006. His Selected Poems, edited with an introduction by McFadden, is published in February 2008 by Dedalus Press. Uncollected stories appear in Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, Cyphers, and The Irish Press, among other places.

Jordan’s literary papers and letters are held in the National Library of Ireland. In 1953 the young Irish artist Reginald Gray is commissioned by University College Dublin to design the decor and costumes for their production of “The Kings Threshold” by William Butler Yeats. The leading role is given to Jordan. During the preparations for the production, Gray starts a portrait of Jordan, which he never finishes. This work now hangs in the Dublin Writers Museum.

(Pictured: John Jordan, by Patrick Swift, c. 1950)


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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.