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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Death of Seán Francis Lemass, Taoiseach (1959-1966)

sean-francis-lemassSeán Francis Lemass, one of the most prominent Irish politicians of the 20th century and Taoiseach from 1959 until 1966, dies at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on May 11, 1971, at the age of 71.

John Francis Lemass is born in Ballybrack, County Dublin before his family moves to Capel Street in Dublin city centre. He is the second of seven children born to John and Frances Lemass. Within the family his name soon changes to Jack and eventually, after 1916, he himself prefers to be called Seán. He is educated at O’Connell School where he was described as studious, with his two best subjects being history and mathematics.

As early as the age of sixteen, Lemass becomes a freedom fighter in the streets of Dublin, engaging in the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War, landing in jail again and again. He opposes the establishment of the Irish Free State as a dominion under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and becomes a member of the headquarters staff of the Irish Republican Army in the civil war of 1922–1923.

Lemass is first elected as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South constituency in a by-election on November 18, 1924 and is returned at each election until the constituency is abolished in 1948, when he is re-elected for Dublin South–Central until his retirement in 1969.

He plays a key role in persuading Éamon de Valera to found a new republican party, Fianna Fáil, in 1926. After de Valera rises to the premiership in 1932, Lemass holds portfolios in all his cabinets for 21 of the next 27 years, notably as Minister for Industry and Commerce, Minister for Supplies, and Tánaiste (deputy prime minister).

When de Valera becomes President of Ireland in 1959, Lemass inherits the office of Taoiseach, serving in this position until 1966. Under him the country takes a more outward-looking approach, and he especially presses for Ireland’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Community embedded in the European Union, and for reconciliation with Northern Ireland.

Ill health forces Lemass to relinquish the leadership of his party in 1966 and he withdraws from politics altogether in 1969. He has been a heavy pipe smoker all his life, smoking almost a pound of tobacco a week in later life. At the time of his retirement it is suspected that Lemass has cancer, but this is later disproved. In February 1971, while attending a rugby game at Lansdowne Road, he becomes ill, is rushed to hospital, and is told by his doctor that one of his lungs is about to collapse.

On Tuesday, May 11, 1971, Seán Lemass dies in Dublin’s Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. He is afforded a state funeral and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

Lemass is widely regarded as the father of modern Ireland, primarily due to his efforts in facilitating industrial growth, bringing foreign direct investment into the country, and forging permanent links between Ireland and the European community. His greatest legacy, Ireland’s membership in the EEC, is not secured until 1973, after his death.