seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.

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Death of Inventor Alexander Mitchell

alexander-mitchellAlexander Mitchell, Irish engineer who from 1802 is blind, dies on June 25, 1868. He is known as the inventor of the screw-pile lighthouse.

Mitchell is born in Dublin on April 13, 1780. His family moves to Belfast while he is a child. He receives his formal education at Belfast Academy where he excels in mathematics. He begins to notice that his eyesight is failing. By the age of 16 he can no longer read and by the age of 22 he is completely blind.

Undeterred, Mitchell borrows £100 and starts up a successful business making bricks in the Ballymacarrett area of Belfast. This enables him to start building his own houses and he completes approximately twenty in the city. It is during this period that his talent for inventing comes to the fore and he fabricates several machines for use in brick-making and the building trade.

Mitchell patents the screw-pile in 1833, for which he later gains some fame. The screw-pile is used for the erection of lighthouses and other structures on mudbanks and shifting sands, including bridges and piers. His designs and methods are employed all over the world from the Portland, Maine breakwater to bridges in Bombay. Initially it is used for the construction of lighthouses on Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary in 1838, at Fleetwood Lancashire (UK) Morecambe Bay in 1839 and at Belfast Lough where his lighthouse is finished in July 1844.

In 1848 Mitchell is elected member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and receives the Telford Medal the following year for a paper on his invention.

In May 1851 Mitchell moves to Cobh to lay the foundation for the Spit Bank Lighthouse. The success of these undertakings leads to the use of his invention on the breakwater at Portland, the viaduct and bridges on the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway and a broad system of Indian telegraphs.

Mitchell becomes friendly with astronomer John Thomas Romney Robinson and mathematician George Boole.

Alexander Mitchell dies at Glen Devis near Belfast on June 25, 1868 and is buried in the old Clifton graveyard in Belfast. His wife and daughter predecease him.