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 Cillian Murphy, Stage & Screen Actor

Cillian Murphy, actor of stage and screen, is born in Douglas, County Cork, on May 25, 1976.

Since making his debut in his home country in the late 1990s, Murphy has also become a presence in British and American cinemas noted by critics for his performances in many independent and mainstream films. He is best known as Jim in 28 Days Later (2002), the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–12), Jackson Rippner in Red Eye (2005), Robert Capa in Sunshine (2007), Robert Fischer in Inception (2010) and Thomas Shelby in the BBC series Peaky Blinders.

Murphy begins his performing career as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he makes his professional acting debut in the play Disco Pigs in 1996. While continuing with stage work he also begins appearing in independent films, first coming to international attention in 2002 as the hero of Danny Boyle‘s post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. Murphy’s profile continues to grow in 2005 when he appears in a series of successful films including as the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan‘s 2005 blockbuster Batman Begins, a role he reprises in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and in the action-thriller Red Eye (2005). For his performance as a transgender woman in Breakfast on Pluto (2005), Murphy receives a Golden Globe award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

In 2006, Murphy plays the lead role in Ken Loach‘s Palme d’Or-winning film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He teams up again with Boyle for the science-fiction film Sunshine (2007), and with Nolan for the highly successful thriller Inception (2010). Since 2013, Murphy has played the lead in the BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders. He continues to work on stage, and wins the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for Misterman in 2011.

In 2011 Murphy becomes patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is closely associated with the work of Professor Pat Dolan Director UCFRC and UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.

Murphy lives with his wife, Yvonne McGuinness, and two children in Monkstown, County Dublin.


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Birth of Enya, Singer & Songwriter

Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, singer, songwriter, musician, and producer better known professionally as Enya, is born into a musical family in Dore, Gweedore, County Donegal on May 17, 1961.

Enya’s father, Leo Brennan, is the leader of the Slieve Foy Band, an Irish showband, and runs Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck. Her mother, Máire Brennan (née Duggan), who has Spanish roots, is an amateur musician who plays in Leo’s band and teaches music at Gweedore Community School. Her maternal grandfather, Aodh, is the founder of the Gweedore Theatre company.

Enya begins her music career when she joins her family’s Celtic band Clannad in 1980 on keyboards and backing vocals. She leaves in 1982 with their manager and producer Nicky Ryan to pursue a solo career, with Ryan’s wife Roma Ryan as her lyricist. Enya develops her distinct sound over the following four years with multi-tracked vocals and keyboards with elements of new age, Celtic, classical, church, and folk music. She sings in ten languages.

Enya’s first projects as a solo artist include soundtrack work for The Frog Prince (1984) and the 1987 BBC documentary series The Celts, which is released as her debut album, Enya (1987). She signs with Warner Music UK which grants her considerable artistic freedom and minimal interference from the label. The commercial and critical success of Watermark (1988) propels her to worldwide fame, helped by its international top 10 hit single Orinoco Flow. This is followed by the multi-million selling albums Shepherd Moons (1991), The Memory of Trees (1995), and A Day Without Rain (2000). Sales of the latter and its lead single, Only Time, surge in the United States following its use in the media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Following Amarantine (2005) and And Winter Came… (2008), Enya takes an extended break from music. She returns in 2012 and releases Dark Sky Island (2015).

Enya is known for her private lifestyle and has yet to undergo a concert tour. She is Ireland’s biggest selling solo artist and second overall behind U2, with a discography that has sold 26.5 million certified albums in the United States and an estimated 80 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. A Day Without Rain (2000) remains the best selling new age album with an estimated 16 million copies sold worldwide.

Enya has won several awards throughout her career, including seven World Music Awards, four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and an Ivor Novello Award. She is nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for May It Be, a song she writes for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).


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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Birth of Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield in Belfast

Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who is later a member of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains and for a time Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner, is born in Belfast on April 15, 1931. He has also held a variety of public sector posts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Bloomfield is born to English parents and grows up close to Neill’s Hill railway station. Between the years of 1943 and 1949, he attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and later goes on to read Modern History at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. On September 12, 1988, he and his wife are the targets of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack on their home in Crawfordsburn, County Down. Neither Bloomfield nor his wife are injured in the blast.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1952, Bloomfield is appointed Permanent Secretary to the power sharing executive in 1974. After the collapse of the executive, he goes on to become Permanent Secretary for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Economic Development, and finally Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service on December 1, 1984. In that capacity he is the most senior advisor to successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers on a wide range of issues. He retires from the post in April 1991.

Since retiring from the Civil Service, Bloomfield has embarked on a life of involvement in a diverse range of organisations. He has taken up roles such as Chairman for the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and his alma mater, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He has also been involved in the political reform of the States of Jersey and spearheaded the Association for Quality Education, which is fighting to retain academic selection in the Northern Ireland education system. In December 1997 he is asked by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, to become the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner for a fixed term. His role is to produce a report on the way forward for Victims issues in Northern Ireland. His report entitled We Will Remember Them is published in April 1998. From 1991 to 1999 he serves as the BBC‘s National Governor for Northern Ireland.

Bloomfield receives a Knighthood in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours and honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Belfast, the Open University and the Ulster University. He is also a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.


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Birth of Playwright & Poet Samuel Barclay Beckett

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies in July 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. He dies on December 22, 1989, in a hospital of respiratory problems just months after his wife.


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Birth of Joseph Tomelty, Actor & Playwright

joseph-tomeltyJoseph Tomelty, Irish character actor and playwright, is born at Portaferry, County Down, on March 5, 1911. He works in film, television, radio, and on the stage, starring in Sam Thompson‘s 1960 play Over the Bridge.

Tomelty is the eldest of seven children. His father is known as “Rollickin’ James” for his skill on the fiddle. He leaves his local primary school at the age of 12 and is apprenticed to the trade of housepainter, his father’s trade. He moves to Belfast and attends classes at Belfast Technical College.

Tomelty first acts with St. Peter’s Players and with others in 1937 and 1938 takes part in discussions which lead to the formation of the Northern Ireland Players on a more professional basis. Radio plays Barnum is Right and Elopement are broadcast in December 1938 and February 1939 respectively. The Northern Ireland Players choose the stage version of Barnum is Right for their first major commercial venture at the Empire Theatre in June 1939.

In 1940 the Northern Ireland Players join forces with the Ulster Theatre and the Jewish Institute Dramatic Society to form the Group Theatre. In 1942 Tomelty becomes its general manager remaining in the post until 1951. His play, Idolatry at Innishargie, enjoys a short run at the Group Theatre in 1942, but The End House, a controversial political play, does not even appear there. The play deals with what he describes as “the inhumanity that resulted from the Special Powers Act.” It is however performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1944.

Meanwhile, his career as a character actor rapidly develops and a successful stage and film career is underway. In 1948 he is commissioned by the BBC in Belfast to write the weekly radio comedy drama series The McCooeys. This radio series lasts for seven years with Tomelty writing 6,000 word scripts for each episode. He continues to write plays, including his masterpiece, and a modern Irish theatre classic, All Souls’ Night in 1948.

In 1954 Tomelty is injured in an automobile accident while filming Bhowani Junction in England and, while he recovers, he is never as productive again. He dies in Belfast on June 7, 1995.