seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

brian-o-nolanBrian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911.

O’Nolan attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966.

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Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”


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Founding of the Royal University of Ireland

The Royal University of Ireland is founded by Royal Charter on April 27, 1880 in accordance with the University Education (Ireland) Act 1879 as an examining and degree-awarding university based on the model of the University of London. The first chancellor is the Irish chemist Robert Kane.

The university becomes the first university in Ireland that can grant degrees to women on a par with those granted to men, granting its first degree to a woman on October 22, 1882. In 1888 Letitia Alice Walkington has the distinction of becoming the first woman in Great Britain or Ireland to receive a degree of Bachelor of Laws. Among the honorary degree recipients of the university is Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and later President of Ireland, who is awarded a DLitt in 1906.

The Royal University of Ireland is the successor to the Queen’s University of Ireland, dissolved in 1882, and the graduates, professors, students and colleges of that predecessor are transferred to the new university. In addition to the Queen’s Colleges, Magee College, University College Dublin, Cecillia St. Medical School, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and Blackrock College present students for examinations as well, and no special status is accorded to the colleges of the former Queen’s University. After the 1880 reforms Catholic Colleges such as St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, Holy Cross College and Blackrock College come under the Catholic University, and with a number of other seminaries present students for examination by the RUI.

External students not of approved colleges can sit examinations of the Royal University although they are seen as being at a disadvantage to those of designated colleges whose professors are part of the university. In fact, many schools, including convent schools prepare students for the examinations of the Royal University.

Like the Queen’s University, the Royal University is entitled to grant any degree, similar to that of any other university in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, except in theology. The colleges themselves award degrees in theology and divinity.

The professorships and Senate of the Royal University are shared equally between Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, colleges of the university maintain full independence except in the awarding of degrees, and the compilation and enforcement of academic regulations and standards.

The members of the senate of the Royal University included Gerald Molloy, William Joseph Walsh, John Healy, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, George Arthur Hastings Forbes, 7th Earl of Granard, Daniel Mannix, George Johnston Allman.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the Royal University of Ireland)


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Birth of Singer & Political Activist Bob Geldof

Robert Frederick Zenon “Bob” Geldof, singer, songwriter, author, occasional actor, and political activist, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on October 5, 1951.

Geldof attends Blackrock College, though he later says he did not enjoy his time there because of its Catholic ethos and bullying for his lack of rugby prowess and for his middle name, Zenon. After leaving school he gains certain odd jobs but is not inspired by any of them. He then goes to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada to work as a music journalist.

Returning to Ireland in 1975, Bob Geldof becomes the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats, a rock group closely linked with the punk movement. He famously states the reason for joining a pop band is “to get rich, to get famous, and to get laid.”

By 1978, The Boomtown Rats achieve their first U.K. hit single with Rat Trap and later achieve a second hit with I Don’t Like Mondays.

In 1981, Geldof is invited to take part in a concert for Amnesty International and this sows a seed of future ideas.

In 1984, Geldof moves from being a rock start to international celebrity for raising awareness of humanitarian charities. During that year, Ethiopia and other African countries experience a severe famine which leads to death by starvation for thousands of people. The plight of starving children is widely seen on television and Geldof, along with Midge Ure, decide to do something about it, releasing the single Do They Know It’s Christmas?. It is a spontaneous event with many of the best known names in pop music invited. It becomes an instant best seller selling a record 3 million copies.

In the summer of 1985, Geldof is one of the main organisers behind the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. It is a sixteen hour rock extravaganza aimed at raising money and awareness for Africa. It is a unique musical event capturing the imagination and attention of the world. Following this concert he becomes more involved in work for non-governmental organisations in Africa and becomes one of the leading spokespersons on Third World debt and relief.

In 2005, he organises a Live 8 concert, coinciding with the Make Poverty History campaign. He seeks the co-operation of leading G8 leaders such as Tony Blair to write off Third World debt. Some criticise him for becoming too close to politicians and some argue his presence in the Third World campaign issue does more harm than good.

However, Geldof remains a powerful figurehead for motivating Western attitudes to pay more attention to the problems and challenges of the poorest parts of the world. He feels a passion for improving conditions in Africa.

Geldof is knighted in 1986 and is often affectionately known as “Sir Bob.”