seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of English Playwright John Arden

John Arden, English playwright, is born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, on October 26, 1930. At the time of his death he is lauded as “one of the most significant British playwrights of the late 1950s and early 60s.”

Arden is the son of the manager of a glass factory. He is educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, King’s College, Cambridge and the Edinburgh College of Art, where he studies architecture. He first gains critical attention for the radio play The Life of Man in 1956 shortly after finishing his studies.

Arden is initially associated with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London. His 1959 play, Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, in which four army deserters arrive in a northern mining town to exact retribution for an act of colonial violence, is considered to be his best. His work is influenced by Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre as in Left-Handed Liberty (1965, on the anniversary of Magna Carta). Other plays include Live Like Pigs, The Workhouse Donkey, and Armstrong’s Last Goodnight, the last of which is performed at the 1963 Chichester Festival by the Royal National Theatre after it was rejected by the Royal Court.

Arden’s 1978 radio play Pearl is considered in a Guardian survey to be one of the best plays in that medium. He also writes several novels, including Silence Among the Weapons, which is shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1982, and Books of Bale, about the Protestant apologist John Bale. He is a member of the Royal Society of Literature.

With his wife and co-writer Margaretta D’Arcy, Arden pickets the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) premiere of his Arthurian play The Island of the Mighty, because they believe the production to be pro-imperialist. They write several plays together which are highly critical of British presence in Ireland, where he and D’Arcy live from 1971 onward.

In 1961, Arden is a founder member of the anti-nuclear Committee of 100, and he also chairs the pacifist weekly Peace News. In Ireland, he is for a while a member of Official Sinn Féin. He is an advocate of civil liberties, and opposes anti-terror legislation, as demonstrated in his 2007 radio play The Scam.

Arden is elected to Aosdána in 2011 before dying in Galway, County Galway on March 28, 2012. He is waked in a wicker casket.

(Pictured: Photograph of John Arden in 1966, credit to Sam Falk/The New York Times)


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Birth of Actor Liam Neeson

Actor Liam John Neeson is born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, County Antrim. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Neeson is named Liam after the local priest. He says growing up as a Catholic in a predominately Protestant town made him cautious. At age nine, he begins boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later becomes Ulster’s amateur senior boxing champion.

Neeson first steps on stage at age eleven after his English teacher offers him the lead role in a school play, which he accepts because the girl he is attracted to is starring in it. He continues to act in school productions over the following years.

Neeson’s interest in acting and decision to become an actor is also influenced by minister Ian Paisley, into whose Free Presbyterian church Neeson would sneak. Neeson says of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”

In 1971, Neeson is enrolled as a physics and computer science student at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, before leaving to work for the Guinness Brewery. At Queen’s, he discovers a talent for football and is spotted by Seán Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There is a club trial in Dublin and Neeson plays one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C., but is not offered a contract.

In 1976, Neeson joins the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast for two years. He then acts in the Arthurian film, Excalibur (1981), alongside Helen Mirren. Between 1982 and 1987, he stars in five films, most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984) and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in The Mission (1986). He lands a leading role alongside Patrick Swayze in Next of Kin (1989).

Neeson rises to prominence when he stars in the title role in Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 Oscar winner Schindler’s List. He has since starred in other successful films, including the title role in the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996), the film adaptation of Victor Hugo‘s 1862 novel Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace as Qui-Gon Jinn (1999), the biographical drama Kinsey (2004), the superhero film Batman Begins as Ra’s al Ghul (2005), the action thriller series Taken (2008–2014), the fantasy adventure film Clash of the Titans (2010) as Zeus, the fantasy films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–2010) as Aslan, and the thriller-survival film The Grey (2011). In 2016 he narrates the RTÉ One three-part documentary on the Easter Rising, 1916.

Neeson has been nominated for a number of awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and three Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama. Empire magazine ranks Neeson among both the “100 Sexiest Stars in Film History” and “The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time.”