seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Novelist & Playwright Kate O’Brien

Kathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, dies in Canterbury, England, on August 13, 1974.

O’Brien is born in Limerick, County Limerick on December 3, 1897. Following the death of her mother when she is five years old, she becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and she then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–1923, O’Brien works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, she works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. O’Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, she feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Several of her books include positive gay/lesbian characters. Her determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country.

Kate O’Brien lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.


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Birth of Shane MacGowan, Lead Singer of The Pogues

shane-macgowanShane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan, Anglo-Irish musician and singer, best known as the lead singer and songwriter of Celtic trad punk band The Pogues, is born to Irish parents in Pembury, Kent, England, on December 25, 1957.

MacGowan spends his early childhood in County Tipperary, before his family moves back to England when he is six years old. He lives in many parts of the southeast of England, including Brighton and London.

MacGowan’s father, Maurice, works for a department store. MacGowan’s mother, Therese, is a singer and traditional Irish dancer, and has worked as a model in Dublin. In 1971, after attending Holmewood House School at Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, MacGowan earns a literature scholarship and is accepted into Westminster School. He is found in possession of drugs and is expelled in his second year.

MacGowan gets his first taste of fame in 1976 at a concert by British punk band The Clash, when his earlobe is damaged by Jane Crockford, later to be a member of Mo-dettes. A photographer snaps a picture of him covered in blood and it makes the papers, with the headline “Cannibalism at Clash Gig.” Shortly after this, he forms his own punk rock band, The Nipple Erectors, later renamed The Nips.

MacGowan draws upon his Irish heritage when founding The Pogues and changes his early “punk” voice for a more authentic sound with tutoring from his extended family. Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, the experiences of the Irish in London and the United States, and London life in general.

Between 1985 and 1987, he co-writes “Fairytale of New York,” which he performs with Kirsty MacColl. In the coming years MacGowan and The Pogues release several albums.

After The Pogues throw MacGowan out for unprofessional behaviour, he forms a new band, Shane MacGowan & The Popes, recording two studio albums, a live album, three tracks on The Popes Outlaw Heaven (2010) and a live DVD, and touring internationally. From December 2003 until May 2005, Shane MacGowan & The Popes tour extensively in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

The Pogues and MacGowan reform for a sell-out tour in 2001 and each year from 2004 to 2009 for further tours, including headline slots at GuilFest in England and the Azkena Rock Festival in Basque Country. In May 2005, he rejoins The Pogues permanently.

The Pogues’ last performance on British soil occurs on July 5, 2014 at the British Summer Time festival in London’s Hyde Park.

For many years MacGowan suffers from binge drinking and heroin use. In 2001, Sinéad O’Connor reports MacGowan to the police in London for drug possession in what she says is an attempt to discourage him from using heroin. Initially furious, MacGowan later expresses gratitude towards O’Connor and claims that the incident helped him kick his heroin habit.

MacGowan has long been known for having very bad teeth. He loses the last of his natural teeth around 2008. In 2015, he has 28 new dentures on a titanium frame fitted in a nine-hour procedure which is the subject of an hour-long television programme. Dr. Darragh Mulrooney, the dental surgeon who carries out the procedure, comments that MacGowan recorded most of his great works while he still had some teeth: “We’ve effectively re-tuned his instrument and that will be an ongoing process.”

In the summer of 2015, MacGowan falls as he is leaving a Dublin studio, fracturing his pelvis. He is seen in public on crutches by December 2015, and continues to experience difficulty with general mobility.