seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Patrick O’Callaghan, Olympic Gold Medalist

Patrick “Pat” O’Callaghan, Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, dies on December 1, 1991, in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

O’Callaghan is born on September 15, 1905, at Derrygallon, Kanturk, County Cork. He attends the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin and qualifies as a doctor at the age of 20. He joins the Royal Air Force Medical Services in 1926 on a short-service engagement, before moving to Clonmel in 1931 to work as an assistant medical officer in St. Luke’s Hospital, later setting up as a general practitioner in the town. He continues to practise there until the late 1980s.

While in university, O’Callaghan develops an interest in the hammer, having seen the country’s top hammer-throwers practise at the University College Dublin (UCD) grounds, then at Terenure College. At home in Cork for the summer, he does not have access to a hammer, so he collects an old cannon ball from Macroom Castle which he feels might approximate to the required 16 lb. (7.25 kg) weight, has it drilled at a foundry in Mallow and fitted with a handle and wire, and uses it to train at the family farm. In 1926 he wins the Munster title in the 56 lb. (25.4 kg) shot and follows that with an Irish hammer title in 1927. Victory the following year in that same championship qualifies him for the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, which he enters as a complete unknown with a previous best of 166 ft. 11 in. (50.87 m), as against three other contenders who have each thrown well over 170 ft. (51.8 m). The hammer event is staged on July 30, 1928, and, lying third after four rounds, he throws 168 ft. 7 in. (51.38 m) with his penultimate attempt, to defeat the Swedish favourite, Ossian Skiöld, by 4 inches (10 cm), with the American contenders Edmund Black and Frank Conner, still further behind. He becomes the first athlete from the Irish Free State to be crowned Olympic champion. Less than a fortnight later, he wins the Tailteann Games with an Irish record throw of 170 ft. 2 in. (51.87 m).

Over the following years O’Callaghan wins events across Ireland and Europe and continues to achieve pioneering feats, not least in 1931, when he wins six Irish titles in one afternoon: hammer, shot put, discus, high jump, 56 lbs. without follow, and 56 lbs. over-the-bar. On August 1, 1932, he defends his Olympic title at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. With just one throw left in the competition, he trails second behind the Finnish champion, Ville Pörhölä. With his last throw, he claims the event with a distance of 176 ft. 11 in. (53.92 m), becoming the only Irish person in history to win two gold medals at the Olympic games. He seems in prime condition to defend his title for a third time at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, but a dispute in the athletics world brings the suspension of the National Athletic and Cycling Association of Ireland (NACAI) by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). The subsequent decision not to send a team to Berlin by the Irish Olympic Council denies him the opportunity to win a hat-trick of gold medals.

O’Callaghan remains a dominant force in athletic circles, however. In 1934 he sets the record for the hammer on European soil with a throw of 186 ft. 10 in. (56.95 m) at Enniscorthy, County Wexford. He later achieves an unofficial world record in the hammer in 1937 in Fermoy, County Cork, with a remarkable throw of 195 ft. 5 in. (59.55 m), breaking the old record by more than 6 ft. (1.83 m). As the IAAF still refuses to sanction the NACAI, the record is not ratified, ensuring that the then twenty-four-year-old record of his compatriot, Patrick Ryan, who competes for the United States, remains in place. In total, as well as his two Olympic gold medals, he also wins six Irish championships in the hammer, four Irish championships in the 56 lb. shot, three Irish championships throwing the 56 lb. weight over-the-bar, and one Irish championship in the discus. He also wins the American hammer championship in 1933 and the British championship in the same event the following year. Despite his size, he jumps 6 ft. 2 in. (1.88 m) in the high jump and is Irish champion on three consecutive occasions (1929–31).

After an accident in which a child is killed by a flying hammer, O’Callaghan emigrates to the United States just before World War II and takes up professional wrestling. Attempts are made to set up a match with world wrestling champion Dan O’Mahoney, but this never occurs. He has a high profile, however. Samuel Goldwyn offers him the film role of Tarzan and he plays handball with Bing Crosby before returning home to Clonmel, where he becomes a prominent member of Clonmel Commercials Gaelic football club and manages that club’s senior team to three county championships (1965–67). He is later chairman and honorary president of the club. In 1984 he is made a Freeman of Clonmel, a town where he is known as “the doc” or “Dr. Pat” and revered as a humble, charming, jovial man, with a reputation for particular kindness to his poorer patients. At 6 ft. 1 in. (1.855 m) and sixteen stone (101.6 kg), he is a larger-than-life figure and the focal point of innumerable stories confirming his status as a living legend. In 1960 he is the first person voted into the newly conceived Texaco Hall of Fame. He lives for many years at Roseville, Western Road, Clonmel, and dies there on December 1, 1991.

O’Callaghan is survived by three sons and one daughter. His younger brother Con represents Ireland in the decathlon at the 1928 Olympic games and wins that event at the third Tailteann games in 1932.

(From: “O’Callaghan, Patrick (‘Pat’)” by Paul Rouse, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Cornelius Ryan, Irish American Journalist & Author

Cornelius Ryan, Irish American journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is born in Dublin on June 5, 1920. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success, and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.


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Birth of Michael O’Riordan, Founder of the Communist Party of Ireland

Michael O’Riordan, the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland who also fights with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is born at 37 Pope’s Quay, Cork, County Cork, on November 12, 1917.

O’Riordan is the youngest of five children. His parents come from the West Cork Gaeltacht of BallingearyGougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it is not until he is interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II that he learns Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who goes on to lecture at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, O’Riordan joins the Irish nationalist youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA at the time is inclined toward left-wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity concerns street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and he fights Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork in 1933–34. He is friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he follows them into the Republican Congress, a short-lived socialist republican party.

O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.

In 1938 O’Riordan is offered an Irish Army commission by the Irish Free State but chooses instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities during World War II, or the Emergency as it is known in neutral Ireland, he is interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he is Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partakes in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for “Spark,” named after Vladimir Lenin‘s newspaper).

In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.

O’Riordan subsequently works as a bus conductor in Cork and is active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1946 he stands as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in the Cork Borough by-election and afterwards moves to Dublin where he lives in Victoria Street with his wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, continues to work as a bus conductor and remains active in the ITGWU.

In 1947, O’Riordan is a founding secretary of the Irish Workers’ League and general secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers’ Party from 1962–70.

In the 1960s, O’Riordan is a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitates for clearances of Dublin’s slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriends Fr. Austin Flannery, leading Minister for Finance and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as “a gullible cleric” while the Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, describes him as a “so-called cleric” for sharing a platform with O’Riordan.

In all O’Riordan runs for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland’s Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.

O’Riordan’s participation in the Spanish Civil War is always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attends the International Brigades’ Reunion in Berlin and is instrumental in having Frank Ryan’s remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.

O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin’s Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans are received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.

O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”

In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.

O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes place led by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research at SIPTU, with contributions from O’Riordan’s family, Communist Party general secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.

The funeral congregation includes politicians such as Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte, his predecessor Ruairi Quinn, party front-bencher Joan Burton, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and councillor Larry O’Toole, ex-Workers’ Party leader Tomás Mac Giolla and former Fianna Fáil MEP Niall Andrews. Also in attendance are union leaders Jack O’Connor (SIPTU), Mick O’Reilly (ITGWU) and David Begg (ICTU). Actors Patrick Bergin, Jer O’Leary, singer Ronnie Drew, artist Robert Ballagh, and newsreader Anne Doyle are also among the mourners. Tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Labour Party TDs Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.


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Birth of Frank Ryan, Politician, Journalist & Paramilitary Activist

Frank Ryan, politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist, is born in the townland of Bottomstown, Elton, County Limerick, on September 11, 1902. A fascinating, somewhat mythical figure, he lives during turbulent times when Ireland finally disposes of tyrannical British rule in Ireland and becomes an icon for socialist republicans in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

Ryan’s parents, Vere Foster Ryan and Annie Slattery, are National School teachers at Bottomstown with a taste for Irish traditional music, and they live in a house full of books. He attends St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. From then on he is devoted to the restoration of the Irish language. He studies Celtic Studies at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps. He serves as a flying column member during the murderous Irish War of Independence (1919-21), thereby interrupting his studies. He leaves UCD before graduating to join the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade in 1922.

Ryan fights on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is wounded and interned. In November 1923 he is released and returns to UCD. He secures his degree in Celtic Studies and further secures the editorship of An Phoblacht (The Republic), the newspaper of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The split in the Irish independence party, Sinn Féin, results in regular fist fights between pro and anti-Treaty forces. Cumann na nGaedhael, the pro-Treaty political party in government, recruits the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts) under former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to protect their members from anti-Treaty IRA protesters at annual Armistice Day and Wolfe Tone commemorations. Ryan is a forceful orator at these events and is frequently arrested and beaten up by the Gardai. The fractious politics results in Dáil members Sean Hales and Kevin O’Higgins being shot dead in public.

Ryan resigns from the IRA and founds the Republican Congress with Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Worker’s strikes unite Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic workers protesting against low wages and long hours.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) inspires Ryan to lead the first contingent of Irish volunteers to support the Popular Front government of Republican Spain. A brave and inspiring leader, he serves with Italian and German Republican divisions. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Following recuperation in Ireland, he is appointed adjutant to republican General José Miaja. During the Aragon Offensive he is captured with 150 of his men in April 1938 and sentenced to death. Irish President, Éamon de Valera, intervenes with General Francisco Franco and Ryan’s sentence is commuted to thirty years. His health suffers severely in Burgos Prison, Spain during his two year incarceration.

Franco refuses to release Ryan because he is considered his most dangerous prisoner. In August 1940 he is transferred to Berlin, where he is re-united with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. An attempt to return both men to Ireland by U-boat ends with Russell dying from a perforated ulcer. Ryan voluntarily returns to Germany where he serves as the unofficial IRA ambassador for German intelligence. Irishman Francis Stuart, son-in-law of Maud Gonne, who writes some of William Joyce’s propaganda, takes good care of Ryan until his untimely death at a hospital in Loschwitz in Dresden on June 10, 1944.

Ryan’s funeral in Dresden is attended by Elizabeth Clissmann, wife of Helmut Clissmann, and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwards details of Ryan’s fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death is pleurisy and pneumonia.

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan locates Ryan’s grave in Dresden. Three volunteers of the International Brigades, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan travel to East Germany as a guard of honour to repatriate Ryan’s remains in 1979. On June 21, 1979, his remains arrive in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, his local church when he lived in Dublin. The church is packed with all shades of Republican and left-wing opinion, as well as those from his past such as the Stuarts, the Clissmanns, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, and ex-comrades and sympathizers from all over the world. The cortège on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery halts at the GPO in memory of the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising. His coffin is borne to the grave in Glasnevin Cemetery by Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor, Michael O’Riordan and Terry Flanagan. Con Lehane delivers the funeral oration while a piper plays “Limerick’s Lamentation.” He is buried next to Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

Ryan leads a vicarious life in pursuit of human rights, socialism and republicanism. His life story remains more colourful than fiction.


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Birth of Sir Roger Casement, Diplomat & Irish Nationalist

Sir Roger Casement, in full Sir Roger David Casement, diplomat and Irish nationalist, is born on September 1, 1864, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), County Dublin. Following his execution for treason in 1916, he becomes one of the principal Irish martyrs in the revolt against British rule in Ireland.

Casement is born into an Anglo-Irish family, and lives his very early childhood at Doyle’s Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove. His father, Captain Roger Casement of the (King’s Own) Regiment of Dragoons, is the son of Hugh Casement, a Belfast shipping merchant who goes bankrupt and later moves to Australia. After the family moves to England, Casement’s mother, Anne Jephson (or Jepson), of a Dublin Anglican family, purportedly has him secretly baptised at the age of three as a Roman Catholic in Rhyl, Wales.

The family lives in England in genteel poverty. Casement’s mother dies when he is nine years old. His father takes the family back to County Antrim in Ireland to live near paternal relatives. His father dies when he is thirteen years old. He is educated at the Diocesan School, Ballymena (later the Ballymena Academy). He leaves school at 16 and goes to England to work as a clerk with Elder Dempster Lines, a Liverpool shipping company headed by Alfred Lewis Jones.

Casement is a British consul in Portuguese East Africa (1895–98), Angola (1898–1900), Congo Free State (1901–04), and Brazil (1906–11). He gains international fame for revealing atrocious cruelty in the exploitation of native labour by white traders in the Congo and the Putumayo River region of Peru. His Congo report, published in 1904, leads to a major reorganization of Belgian rule in the Congo in 1908, and his Putumayo report of 1912 earns him a knighthood, which is ultimately forfeited on June 29, 1916.

Ill health forces Casement to retire to Ireland in 1912. Although he comes from an Ulster Protestant family, he has always sympathized with the predominantly Roman Catholic Irish nationalists. Late in 1913 he helps form the National Volunteers, and in July 1914 he travels to New York City to seek American aid for that anti-British force. After World War I breaks out in August, he hopes that Germany might assist the Irish independence movement as a blow against Great Britain. On arriving in Berlin in November 1914, he finds that the German government is unwilling to risk an expedition to Ireland and that most Irish prisoners of war would refuse to join a brigade that he intends to recruit for service against England.

Later, Casement fails to obtain a loan of German army officers to lead the Irish rising planned for Easter 1916. In a vain effort to prevent the revolt, he sails for Ireland on April 12 in a German submarine. Put ashore near Tralee, County Kerry, he is arrested on April 24 and taken to London, where, on June 29, he is convicted of treason and sentenced to death. An appeal is dismissed, and he is hanged at London’s Pentonville Prison on August 3, 1916, despite attempts by influential Englishmen to secure a reprieve in view of his past services to the British government. During this time, diaries reputedly written by Casement and containing detailed descriptions of homosexual practices are circulated privately among British officials. After years of dispute over their authenticity, the diaries are made available to scholars by the British home secretary in July 1959. It is generally considered that the passages in question are in Casement’s handwriting.

In 1965 Casement’s remains are repatriated to Ireland. Despite the annulment, or withdrawal, of his knighthood in 1916, the 1965 UK Cabinet record of the repatriation decision refers to him as “Sir Roger Casement.”

Casement’s last wish is to be buried at Murlough Bay on the north coast of County Antrim, in present-day Northern Ireland, but Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s government had released the remains only on condition that they could not be brought into Northern Ireland, as “the government feared that a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions.”

Casement’s remains lay in state at the Garrison Church, Arbour Hill (now Arbour Hill Prison) in Dublin for five days, close to the graves of other leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. After a state funeral, his remains are buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, alongside other Irish republicans and nationalists. The President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, then the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, attends the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 others.


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Death of Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Painter, Printmaker, Critic & Writer

Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Irish painter, printmaker, critic and writer dies in Dublin on May 11, 1969.

Salkeld is born in Assam, India on July 9, 1904. His parents are Henry Lyde Salkeld, a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and Blanaid Salkeld (née Mullen), a poet. He returns to Ireland with his mother in 1910 following the death of his father in 1909. He attends Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford, and the Dragon School in Oxford, England. He wins a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, North Northhamptonshire, but returns to Dublin where he enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919 to study under Seán Keating and James Sleator. He marries Irma Taesler in Germany in 1922. They have two daughters, Celia and Beatrice. The latter marries Brendan Behan in 1954.

Salkeld works in tempera and oil, as well as etching and wood engraving. In 1921 he travels to Germany to study under Ewald Dulberg at the Kassell Kunstschule. He attends the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf in May 1922, and is exhibited at the Internationale Kunstausstellung. Upon his return to Dublin in 1924, he holds his first solo exhibition in the Society of Dublin Painters gallery. He becomes a member of the Dublin Painters in 1927. With Francis Stuart, he co-edits the first two issues of To-morrow in 1924. His studio is in a converted labourer’s cottage at Glencree, County Wicklow. He also exhibits with the New Irish Salon and the Radical Painters’ Group.

Salkeld wins the 1926 Royal Dublin Society‘s Taylor scholarship, and has his first exhibited work with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1929. He lives in Berlin for a year in 1932. He exhibits in Daniel Egan’s Gallery in Dublin in 1935. He has a wide circle of literary friends, including Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien. In O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the character of Michael Byrne is designed for Salkeld, reflecting his debilitating alcoholism. He also teaches at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, teaching artists such as Reginald Gray.

From 1937 to 1946 Salkeld runs a private press called Gayfield Press. This is co-founded with his mother, and operates from a garden shed at their home, 43 Morehampton Road. The press is a small Adana wooden hand press. He illustrates her 1938 The Engine Left Running, as well as Ewart Milne‘s Forty North Fifty West (1938) and Liam O’Flaherty‘s Red Barbara and Other Stories (1928). In 1951, he loans the press to Liam and Josephine Miller to found the Dolmen Press.

Salkeld’s most famous public work is his 1942 three-part mural in Davy Byrne’s pub. He is a co-founder of the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s in his capacity as a pianist. In 1946 he is appointed an associate member of the RHA. In 1953 his play Berlin Dusk is staged at 37 Theatre Club, Dublin. During the 1950s he is a broadcaster with Radio Éireann as well as a director of cultural events for An Tóstal. He dies on May 11, 1969 in St. Laurence’s Hospital, Dublin.

The National Gallery of Ireland holds a portrait by Salkeld of his daughter, Celia.

(Pictured: “The Climber” by Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, oil on canvas)


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The Death of Stopford Brooke, Chaplain & Writer

Stopford Augustus Brooke, churchman, royal chaplain and writer, dies in Ewhurst, Surrey, England, on March 18, 1916.

Brooke is born in the rectory of Glendoen, near Letterkenny, County Donegal on November 14, 1832, the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke, later incumbent of the Mariners’ Church, Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire). His maternal grandfather, Joseph Stopford, is then rector of the parish. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He is ordained in the Church of England in 1857, and holds various charges in London. From 1863 to 1865 he is chaplain to Victoria, Princess Royal in Berlin. In 1869, with his brother Edward, he makes long tours of Counties Donegal and Sligo, and spends much time at Kells, County Meath studying Irish antiquities. Between 1866 and 1875 he is the minister at St. James’s Chapel, a proprietary chapel. After it closes he takes services at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury where he continues to attract large congregations. In 1875, he becomes chaplain in ordinary to Queen Victoria. But in 1880 he secedes from the Church, being no longer able to accept its leading dogmas, and officiates as an independent preacher for some years at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury.

Bedford Chapel is pulled down about 1894, and from that time Brooke has no church of his own, but his eloquence and powerful religious personality continues to make themselves felt among a wide circle. A man of independent means, he is always keenly interested in literature and art, and a fine critic of both. The two-volume Life and Letters of Stopford Brooke, written by his son-in-law L. P. Jacks and published in 1917, contains many details of different facets of his life.

In 1890-1891 Brooke takes the lead in raising the funds to purchase Dove Cottage, William Wordsworth’s home in Grasmere from 1800 to 1808, and establishing it “for the eternal possession of those who love English poetry all over the world.” Dove Cottage is now administered by the Wordsworth Trust.

Brooke publishes in 1865 his Life and Letters of FW Robertson (of Brighton), and in 1876 writes an admirable primer of English Literature, followed in 1892 by The History of Early English Literature down to the accession of Alfred the Great, and English Literature from the Beginnings to the Norman Conquest (1898).

Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Irish Literary Society, London, on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue” at Bloomsbury House, March 11, 1893. He delivers a sermon on “The Kingdom of God Within” to the International Council of Unitarian and Other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers, meeting in London in May 1901. He continues preaching at Bedford Chapel and to unitarian congregations throughout Britain until forced to retire because of ill-health in 1895.

Brooke lives in London until 1914 and then retires to Ewhurst, Surrey, where he dies on March 18, 1916. His published letters record that his work brought him into touch with most of his famous contemporaries – including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Philip Burne-Jones, William Morris, James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, James Martineau and Matthew Arnold.


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Birth of Irish Writer Aidan Higgins

Aidan Higgins, Irish writer of short stories, travel pieces, radio drama and novels, is born on March 3, 1927 in Celbridge, County Kildare. Among his published works are Langrishe, Go Down (1966), Balcony of Europe (1972) and the biographical Dog Days (1998). His writing is characterised by non-conventional foreign settings and a stream of consciousness narrative mode. Most of his early fiction is autobiographical – “like slug trails, all the fiction happened.”

Higgins attends local schools and Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school. In the early 1950s he works in Dublin as a copywriter for the Domas Advertising Agency. He then moves to London and works in light industry for about two years. He marries Jill Damaris Anders in London on November 25, 1955. From 1960, he sojourns in southern Spain, South Africa, Berlin and Rhodesia. In 1960 and 1961 he works as scriptwriter for Filmlets, an advertising firm in Johannesburg. These journeys provide material for much of his later work, including his three autobiographies, Donkey’s Years (1996), Dog Days (1998) and The Whole Hog (2000).

His upbringing in a landed Catholic family provides material for Higgins first novel, Langrishe, Go Down (1966). The novel is set in the 1930s in a run-down “big house” in County Kildare, inhabited by the last members of the Langrishe family, three spinster sisters, Catholics, living in not-so-genteel poverty in a once-grand setting. One sister, Imogen, has an affair with a German intellectual, Otto Beck, which transgresses the moral code of the time, bringing her a brief experience of happiness. Otto’s intellectual pursuits contrast with the moribund cultural life of mid-20th century Ireland. The book is awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and is later adapted as a BBC Television film by British playwright Harold Pinter, in association with RTÉ. Langrishe, Go Down also receives the Irish Academy of Letters Award.

Higgins second major novel is Balcony of Europe, taking its name from a feature of the Spanish fishing village, Nerja Andalusia, where it is set. The novel is carefully crafted, and rich in embedded literary references, using Spanish and Irish settings and various languages, including Spanish and some German, in its account of the daily life in the beaches and bars of Nerja of a largely expatriate community. The protagonist, an artist called Dan Ruttle, is obsessed with his friend’s young American wife, Charlotte, and by the contrast between his life among a cosmopolitan artistic community in the Mediterranean, and his Irish origins. The book is re-edited in collaboration with Neil Murphy and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2010, with the Irish material cut and the affair between Dan Ruttle and Charlotte foregrounded.

Higgins later novels include widely acclaimed Bornholm Night Ferry and Lions of the Grunwald. Various writings have been collected and reprinted by the Dalkey Archive Press, including his three-volume autobiography, A Bestiary, and a collection of fiction, Flotsam and Jetsam, both of which demonstrate his wide erudition and his experience of life and travel in South Africa, Germany and London which gives his writing a largely cosmopolitan feel, utilising a range of European languages in turns of phrase.

Higgins lives in Kinsale, County Cork, from 1986 with the writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. They are married in Dublin in November 1997. He is a founder member of Irish artists’ association Aosdána. He dies on December 27, 2015 in Kinsale.


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Birth of Richard Boyd Barrett, People Before Profit/Solidarity Politician

Richard Boyd Barrett, Irish People Before Profit/Solidarity politician, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1967. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dún Laoghaire constituency since the 2011 Irish general election.

Boyd Barrett is adopted as a baby and is raised as a Roman Catholic in Glenageary, County Dublin, by his parents, David Boyd Barrett, an accountant, and his wife, Valerie. He attends St. Michael’s College in Dublin. He holds a master’s degree in English literature from University College Dublin (UCD). His birth mother is Sinéad Cusack, with whom he is later reunited in public. Since their reunion, he has had a good relationship with Cusack, her husband Jeremy Irons, and his half-brothers, Sam and Max. In May 2013, he reveals that theatre director Vincent Dowling is his biological father.

Boyd Barrett contests the 2004 Irish local elections for Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council but is not elected. In 2009, he is elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, winning 22.8% of the vote and topping the poll.

Boyd Barrett stands in the Dún Laoghaire constituency at the 2002 Irish general election for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and at the 2007 Irish general election for the People Before Profit. This switch of identification is intended to increase his support from non-socialist voters. He loses to Ciarán Cuffe of the Green Party, by 9,910 votes to 7,890 votes on the 10th count.

Boyd Barrett again contests the Dún Laoghaire constituency at the 2011 Irish general election as part of the United Left Alliance. On the ballot paper, he is named a member of People Before Profit, because the United Left Alliance had not yet been registered as a political party. Following a “nail-biting two days” of counting and recounting votes, he is elected on the 10th count without reaching the quota.

As a TD, Boyd Barrett, supports protests against cuts to Dublin Bus services. In Dáil Éireann, he condemns the 2011 murder of PSNI officer Ronan Kerr as “an utterly brutal action, which leads back down a road which has failed.” Marie O’Halloran in The Irish Times describes his “consistently passionate outrage and opposition to the Government’s handling of the financial and banking crisis.”

Boyd Barrett speaks at the Dublin location of the October 15, 2011 global protests, inspired by the Spanish “Indignants” and the Occupy Wall Street movements. The same month he says Enda Kenny‘s government is engaging in “spin and disingenuity” to cover up its austerity policies, decrying the closure of hospital emergency departments around the country for “health and safety” reasons.

On November 2, 2011, Boyd Barrett leads the United Left Alliance TDs out of the Dáil, in protest against the government’s decision not to hold a debate on the payment of more than €700 million to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. On December 15, 2011, he helps launch a nationwide campaign against a proposed household charge being brought in as part of the 2012 Irish budget. He is part of an Oireachtas delegation that meets the Bundestag‘s Budgetary and European Affairs committees in Berlin in late January 2012.

On March 10, 2016, at the first sitting of the 32nd Dáil, Boyd Barrett is one of four candidates nominated for the position of Taoiseach, all of whom fail to reach a majority. Ruth Coppinger nominates Boyd Barrett for the role but the nomination is defeated by 9 votes to 111. As well as the six other AAA–PBP TDs, he also has the support of Séamus Healy of the Workers and Unemployed Action, Tommy Broughan of Independents 4 Change, and Independent TD Catherine Connolly.

At the 2020 Irish general election in February 2020, Boyd Barrett is again re-elected, having topped the poll.


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Death of Poet Matthew Gerard Sweeney

Matthew Gerard Sweeney, Irish poet, dies at Cork University Hospital in Wilton, Cork on August 5, 2018. His work has been translated into Dutch, Italian, Hebrew, Japanese, Latvian, Mexican Spanish, Romanian, Slovakian and German.

Sweeney is born at Lifford, County Donegal, on October 6, 1952. Growing up in Clonmany, he attends Gormanston College (1965–70). He then reads sciences at University College Dublin (1970–72). He goes on to study German and English at the Polytechnic of North London, spending a year at the University of Freiburg, before graduating with a BA Honours degree in 1978.

Sweeney meets Rosemary Barber in 1972 and they marry in 1979. Two offspring – daughter Nico and son Malvin – are produced before the couple goes their separate ways in the early 21st century. Having lived in London for many years until 2001, he separates from Rosemary and goes to live in Timișoara, Romania and Berlin. In 2007, he meets his partner, Mary Noonan, and in early 2008 he moves to Cork to live with her there.

Sweeney produces numerous collections of poetry for which he wins several awards. His novels for children include The Snow Vulture (1992) and Fox (2002). He authors a satirical thriller, co-written with John Hartley Williams, and entitled Death Comes for the Poets (2012).

As Bill Swainson, Sweeney’s editor at Allison & Busby in the 1980s, recalls: “As well as writing his own poetry, Matthew was a great encourager of poetry in others. The workshops he animated, and later the residencies he undertook, were famous for their geniality and seriousness and fun. Sometime in the late 1980s I attended one of these workshops in an upstairs room of a pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, where the poems were circulated anonymously and carefully read and commented on by all. Around the pushed-together tables were Ruth Padel, Eva Salzman, Don Paterson, Maurice Riordan, Jo Shapcott, Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Donaghy, Maura Dooley and Tim Dooley.” Sweeney later has residencies at the University of East Anglia and Southbank Centre, among many others. He reads at three Rotterdam Poetry Festivals, in 1998, 2003 and 2009.

According to the poet Gerard Smyth: “I always sensed that in the first instance [Sweeney] regarded himself as a European rather than an Irish poet – and rightly so: like the German Georg Trakl whom he admired he apprehended the world in a way that challenged our perceptions and commanded our attention.” Sweeney’s work has been considered “barely touched by the mainstream of English writing” and more so by the German writers Heinrich von Kleist, Georg Büchner, Franz Kafka, Günter Grass and Heinrich Böll, as well as the aforementioned Georg Trakl. According to Poetry International Web, he would be among the top five most famous Irish poets on the international scene.

Sweeney’s final year sees the publication of two new collections: My Life As A Painter (Bloodaxe Books) and King of a Rainy Country (Arc Publications), inspired by Charles Baudelaire‘s posthumously published Petits poèmes en prose.

Having been diagnosed with motor neuron disease the previous year, Sweeney dies at the age of 65 at Cork University Hospital on August 5, 2018, surrounded by family and friends. He continues writing up until three days before his death. In an interview shortly before his death he is quizzed on his legacy, to which he gives the response, “Mostly what awaits the poet is posthumous oblivion. Maybe there will be a young man in Hamburg, or Munich, or possibly Vienna, for whom my German translations will be for a while important – and might just contribute to him becoming a German language poet with Irish leanings.”

Among those attending a special ceremony on August 8, 2018 at the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork to celebrate Sweeney’s life are fellow poets Jo Shapcott, Thomas McCarthy, Gerry Murphy, Maurice Riordan and Padraig Rooney. On August 9, 2018, he is buried in Clonmany New Cemetery in County Donegal.