seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Birth of Irish Artist Patrick Scott

patrick-scottPatrick Scott, Irish artist, is born in Kilbrittain, County Cork, on January 24, 1921. He is perhaps best known for his gold paintings, abstracts incorporating geometrical forms in gold leaf against a pale tempura background. He also produces tapestries and carpets.

He has his first exhibition in 1944, but trains as an architect and does not become a full-time artist until 1960. He works for fifteen years for the Irish architect Michael Scott, assisting, for example, in the design of Busáras, the central bus station in Dublin. He is also responsible for the orange livery of Irish intercity trains.

His paintings are in several important collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He wins the Guggenheim Award in 1960 and represents Ireland in the 1960 Venice Biennale. The Douglas Hyde Gallery holds a major retrospective of his work in 1981 and the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin holds a major survey in 2002. His works are distinguished by their purity and sense of calm, reflecting his own interest in Zen Buddhism.

In October 2013, Scott weds his companion of 30 years, Eric Pearce, in a civil ceremony at the Dublin Registry Office.

On July 11, 2007, Scott, who is a founding member of Aosdána, is conferred with the title of Saoi, the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an Irish artist. The President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, makes the presentation, placing a gold torc, the symbol of the office of Saoi, around his neck. No more than seven living members may hold this honour at any one time.

Patrick Scott dies in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on February 14, 2014 at the age of 93. He is survived by his partner.


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Birth of Irish Playwright Brian Patrick Friel

brian-patrick-frielBrian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer, and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, is born on January 9, 1929, at Knockmoyle, near Omagh, County Tyrone. Prior to his death, he had been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, and referred to as an “Irish Chekhov” and “the universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared favourably to those of contemporaries such as Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, and Tennessee Williams.

Friel is the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and councillor on Londonderry Corporation, the local city council in Derry. Friel’s mother, Mary McLoone, is postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal. The family moves to Derry when Friel is ten years old. There, he attends St. Columb’s College, the same school attended by Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Seamus Deane, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann, and Paul Brady.

Friel receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48), and qualifies as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Training College in Belfast. He marries Anne Morrison in 1954, with whom he has four daughters and one son. Between 1950 and 1960, he works as a math teacher in the Derry primary and intermediate school system, taking leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer, living off his savings. In the late 1960s, the Friels move from 13 Malborough Street, Derry to Muff, County Donegal, eventually settling outside Greencastle, County Donegal.

Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a more than half-century spanning career that culminates in his election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly featured on Broadway throughout this time. In 1980, Friel co-founds Field Day Theatre Company and his play Translations is the company’s first production. With Field Day, Friel collaborates with Seamus Heaney, 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney and Friel first become friends after Friel sends the young poet a letter following the publication of Death of a Naturalist.

Friel is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature, and the Irish Academy of Letters. He is appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and serves until 1989. In later years, Dancing at Lughnasa reinvigorates Friel’s oeuvre, bringing him Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It is also adapted into a film, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by Frank McGuinness.

After a long illness Friel dies at the age of 86 in the early morning of Friday, October 2, 2015 in Greencastle, County Donegal.


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Samuel Beckett Awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature

samuel-beckettSamuel Barclay Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 23, 1969. Beckett lives in Paris for most of his adult life and writes in both English and French. He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984.

Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and becomes increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin calls the “Theatre of the Absurd.” Waiting for Godot is generally regarded as his best-known play.

In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with his wife Suzanne, Beckett hears that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne calls the award a “catastrophe.” In true ascetic fashion, he gives away all of the prize money. While Beckett does not devote much time to interviews, he sometimes meets the artists, scholars, and admirers who seek him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Although Beckett is an intensely private man, a review of the second volume of his letters by Roy Foster in the December 15, 2011 issue of The New Republic reveals Beckett to be not only unexpectedly amiable but frequently prepared to talk about his work and the process behind it.

Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, Beckett dies on 22 December 22, 1989, just five months after the passing of Suzanne. The two are interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett’s work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opens up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.

On December 10, 2009, a new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin is opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. Reminiscent of a harp on its side, it is designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. The newest ship of the Irish Naval Service, the LÉ Samuel Beckett (P61), is named for Beckett. An Ulster History Circle blue plaque in his memory is located at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.