seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Physicist & Engineer William Thomson

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer, is born in Belfast on June 26, 1824.

At the University of Glasgow he does important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and does much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. He works closely with mathematics professor Hugh Blackburn in his work. He also has a career as an electrical telegraph engineer and inventor, which propels him into the public eye and ensures his wealth, fame and honour. For his work on the transatlantic telegraph project he is knighted in 1866 by Queen Victoria, becoming Sir William Thomson. He has extensive maritime interests and is most noted for his work on the mariner’s compass, which had previously been limited in reliability.

Absolute temperatures are stated in units of kelvin in his honour. While the existence of a lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) is known prior to his work, Thomson is widely known for determining its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit.

Thomson is ennobled in 1892 in recognition of his achievements in thermodynamics, and of his opposition to Irish Home Rule, becoming Baron Kelvin, of Largs in the County of Ayr. He is the first British scientist to be elevated to the House of Lords. The title refers to the River Kelvin, which flows close by his laboratory at the University of Glasgow. His home is the imposing red sandstone mansion Netherhall, in Largs. Despite offers of elevated posts from several world-renowned universities, Thomson refuses to leave Glasgow, remaining Professor of Natural Philosophy for over 50 years, until his eventual retirement from that post. The Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow has a permanent exhibition on the work of Thomson including many of his original papers, instruments and other artifacts such as his smoking pipe.

Always active in industrial research and development, he is recruited around 1899 by George Eastman to serve as vice-chairman of the board of the British company Kodak Limited, affiliated with Eastman Kodak.

In November 1907 he catches a chill and his condition deteriorates until he dies at his Scottish residence, Netherhall, in Largs on December 17.

Lord Kelvin is an elder of St. Columba’s Parish Church (Church of Scotland) in Largs for many years. It is to that church that his remains are taken after his death. Following the funeral service, his body is taken to Bute Hall in his beloved University of Glasgow for a service of remembrance before being taken to London for interment at Westminster Abbey, near the final resting place of Sir Isaac Newton.


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The Battle of Ballynahinch

The Battle of Ballynahinch is fought outside Ballynahinch, County Down, on June 12, 1798, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 between British forces led by Major-General George Nugent and the local United Irishmen led by Henry Munro.

Munro is a Lisburn linen merchant and Presbyterian United Irishman who has no military experience but has taken over command of the Down organisation following the arrest on June 5 of the designated leader, Rev. William Steel Dickson. Upon hearing of the victory at Saintfield on June 9, Munro joins the rebel camp there and then moves to Ednavady Hill, Ballynahinch to join the thousands who have gathered in support of the rebellion. The response of the British garrisons is to converge on Ballynahinch from Belfast and Downpatrick in two columns accompanied by several pieces of cannon.

The battle begins on the night of June 12 when two hills to the left and right of Ballynahinch are occupied by the British who pound the town with their cannon. During a pause when night falls, some rebel officers are said to have pressed Munro for a night attack but he refuses on the grounds that it is unchivalrous. As a consequence many disillusioned rebels slip away during the night.

As dawn breaks the battle recommences with the rebels attacked from two sides and although achieving some initial success, confusion in the rebel army sees the United Irishmen retreat in chaos, pursued by regrouping British forces who quickly take advantage by turning retreat into massacre. Initial reports claim four hundred rebels are killed, while British losses are around forty.

Munro escapes the field of battle but is betrayed by a farmer who he has paid to conceal him and is hanged in front of his own house in Lisburn on June 16. Ballynahinch is sacked by the victorious military after the battle with sixty-three houses being burned down. Cavalry scours the surrounding countryside for rebels, raiding homes and killing indiscriminately, the 22nd Dragoons being guilty of some of the worst atrocities. The most famous victim is Betsy Gray, a young female rebel who, with her two brothers, is slaughtered in the post-battle massacre, ensuring her place in legend to this day.

Because of his family’s involvement in this event, Robert Stewart, the future Lord Castlereagh, is made Chief Secretary for Ireland.


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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.”


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Birth of Illustrator Hugh Thomson

Hugh Thomson, illustrator, is born on Kingsgate Street, Coleraine, County Londonderry on June 1, 1860. He is best known for his pen-and-ink illustrations of works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and J. M. Barrie.

Thomson is born to tea merchant John Thomson (1822–1894) and shopkeeper Catherine (née Andrews). He is the eldest of their three surviving children. Although he has no formal artistic training, as a young boy he often fills his schoolbooks with drawings of horses, dogs, and ships. He attends Coleraine Model School, but leaves at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk at E. Gribbon & Sons, Linen Manufacturers. Several years later his artistic talents are discovered, and in 1877 he is hired by printing and publishing company Marcus Ward & Co.

On December 29, 1884 Thomson marries Jessie Naismith Miller in Belfast. Soon afterwards they move back to London for Thomson’s career. They have one son together, John, born in 1886.

In 1911, he and his family move to Sidcup, hoping to improve their “ever delicate health.” Thomson’s correspondence reflects the fact that he misses being close to the National Gallery and the museums where he usually compiles research for his illustrations. During World War I, demand for Thomson’s work decreases to a few propaganda pamphlets and some commissions from friends. By 1917, Thomson has fallen on financial hardship and he has to take a job with the Board of Trade, where he works until 1919.

Hugh Thomson dies of heart disease at his home at 8 Patten Road in Wandsworth Common, London, on May 7, 1920.


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Death of Rose Maud Young, Writer & Scholar

Rose Maud Young (Irish: Róis Ní Ógáin), writer, scholar and collector of Irish songs, best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies on May 28, 1947 in Cushendun, County Antrim.

Young is born in Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, County Antrim, daughter and seventh of twelve children born to Grace Charlotte Savage, and John Young who is a prosperous unionist and high sheriff. Despite his position he is a believer in tenant rights. Her younger sister is the writer Ella Young and her brother Willie Young is secretary of the Ulster Unionist League.

Young is educated by governesses until 1884 before completing training as a teacher through Cambridge University. Young also attends Gaelic League classes in 1903 in London while visiting her sister who is living in the city at the time. After visiting the Bodleian Library she becomes committed to the study of the Irish language.

In the early 1900s Young returns to Ireland and continues her study of the Irish language in Belfast at Seán Ó Catháin‘s Irish College and in County Donegal at Coláiste Uladh in Gort an Choirce. Young also stays in Dublin and becomes friends with members of the Gaelic League and meets Margaret Dobbs. Young works with Dobbs on the Feis na nGleann (The Glens Festival), a gathering dedicated to the Irish language.

Young is not involved in nationalism though she is strongly supportive of creating and maintaining a sense of “Irishness” through language and culture. She is also a friend and patron of Roger Casement. She also works with Ellen O’Brien and contributes to O’Brien’s book, The Gaelic Church. She keeps meticulous diaries and becomes interested in Rathlin Island and the Gaelic spoken there.

Rose Young is buried in the Presbyterian churchyard at Ahoghill, County Antrim.


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Siobhán McKenna

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923.

McKenna grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.


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First Lady Hillary Clinton Receives Freedom of Galway

First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes the first woman to be granted the Freedom of Galway city on May 12, 1999, following in the footsteps of her country’s former presidents, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Clinton also receives an honorary doctorate of laws.

“A great natural resource, a fine legal mind, an inspiration to aspiring women, a model of the loving yet autonomous wife, a consistent champion of children and a good soul,” is how the president of National University of Ireland Galway, Dr. Patrick Fottrell, summarises her contribution, quoting from the American writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

Dr. Fottrell pays tribute to her work as a lawyer, academic and public servant, and says she has championed the rights of women and children, while also showing a strong commitment to Northern Ireland.

In her speech, delivered to mark the university’s 150th anniversary, Clinton speaks about the continuing quest for peace.

Clinton flies into Shannon Airport early in the morning for her two-day Irish visit. Security is tight, but discreet.

About 100 protesters at the main entrance to NUI Galway miss Clinton’s arrival at the campus, and move to Eyre Square by the time she leaves for Belfast.

However, using megaphones, members of the NO to War campaign, the Socialist Party, several students and representatives of the arts community manage to drown out the Army Band of the 4th Western Brigade as the robed university procession proceeds to the conferring ceremony at Aras na Mac Leinn, performed to 1,000 invited guests.

The protesters, including the film-maker Lelia Doolan, writer Dervla Murphy, poet Rita Ann Higgins, Carol Fox of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington of NUI Galway, circulate a petition calling on the Government to honour Fianna Fáil‘s election commitment to hold a referendum on membership of Partnership for Peace (PfP).

(From The Irish Times, May 13, 1999)