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


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”

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The Funeral of Hugh Coveney

hugh-coveneyThe funeral of Hugh Coveney, politician and former Lord Mayor of Cork, takes place at St. Michael’s Church in Blackrock, Cork on March 18, 1998.

Coveney is born into one of Cork‘s prosperous “merchant prince” families on July 20, 1935. He is educated at Christian Brothers College, Cork, Clongowes Wood College and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. He works as a chartered quantity surveyor before entering politics.

Coveney is interested in yachting throughout most of his adult life. His yacht Golden Apple of The Sun, designed by Cork-based designer Ron Holland, is a successful competitor in the Admiral’s Cup in the 1970s. A later 50-foot yacht, Golden Apple, is used by the family for the “Sail Chernobyl” project. The family sails around the world to raise €650,000 for Chernobyl Children’s Project International, a charity which offers assistance to children affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Coveney is Lord Mayor of Cork from 1982 to 1983. He is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South–Central constituency at the 1981 general election. He loses his seat in the first general election of 1982 but regains it in the second election in the same year. He loses his seat again in the 1987 general election and does not contest the 1992 general election. He is elected to the Dáil again in 1994 in a by-election.

Coveney is first appointed to the Cabinet in 1994 under John Bruton. He is appointed Minister for Defence and Minister for the Marine. However, he is demoted to a junior ministry the following year after allegations of improper contact with businessmen.

In March 1998 it becomes publicly known that the Moriarty Tribunal has questioned Coveney about whether he had a secret offshore account with Ansbacher Bank, a bank which had become notorious for facilitating tax evasion. Ten days later, on March 13, 1998, Coveney visits his solicitor to change his will. The following day, he dies in a fall from a seaside cliff while out walking alone. His son, Simon Coveney, insists that his father had never held an Ansbacher account. It later emerges that Hugh Coveney had $175,000 on deposit in the secret Cayman Islands-based bank. The account was closed in 1979.

Simon Coveney is later elected to succeed his father in the resulting by-election on November 3, 1998.


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Birth of Actor Noel Purcell

noel-purcellPatrick Joseph Noel Purcell, distinguished Irish actor of stage, screen and television, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1900. He appears in the 1956 film Moby Dick and the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty.

Purcell is the son of auctioneer Pierce Purcell and his second wife Catherine (née Hoban) of 4 Ashbrook Terrace, South Circular Road, Dublin. He is baptised six days after his birth at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street. Within a few months, the Purcell family moves to 12 Mercer Street Lower. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He loses the tip of his right index finger while making cigarette vending machines, and also loses his entire left index finger due to an accident while he is an apprentice carpenter, a feature which he exploits for dramatic effect in the film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

Purcell begins his show business career at the age of 12 in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Later, he tours Ireland in a vaudeville act with Jimmy O’Dea. Stage-trained in the classics in Dublin, he moves into films in 1934. He appears in Captain Boycott (1947) and as the elderly sailor whose death maroons the lovers-to-be in the first sound film version of The Blue Lagoon (1949). He plays a member of Captain Ahab‘s crew in Moby Dick (1956), Dan O’Flaherty in episode one, The Majesty of the Law, of The Rising of the Moon (1957), a gamekeeper in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and a barman in The Mackintosh Man (1973). The last two films are directed by John Huston.

In 1955, Purcell is an off-and-on regular on the British filmed TV series The Buccaneers and he narrates a Hibernian documentary, Seven Wonders of Ireland (1959). In 1962, he portrays the lusty William McCoy in Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty. He plays a taciturn Irish in-law to Lebanese American entertainer Danny Thomas‘ character Danny Williams in a 1963 episode of The Danny Thomas Show. In 1971, he plays the caring rabbi in the children’s musical drama Flight of the Doves.

Purcell is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 when he is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre. He also gains some recognition as a singer. Shortly after World War II, songwriter Leo Maguire composes “The Dublin Saunter” for him. He performs the song live for many years and later records it for the Glenside label but the recording is not a hit. However, over time it becomes one of the most favourite songs about Dublin, receiving countless air-plays on radio programmes.

In 1981, Purcell records a spoken word version of Pete St. John‘s “The Rare Ould Times.” In June 1984, he is given the Freedom of the City of Dublin. Nine months later, on March 3, 1985, he dies at the age of 84 in Dublin. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Blackrock, Dublin.


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Death of Éamon de Valera

eamon-de-valera-deadÉamon de Valera, prominent politician in twentieth-century Ireland, dies at the age of 92 in Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock, County Dublin on August 29, 1975. His wife, Sinéad de Valera, four years his senior, had died the previous January, on the eve of their 65th wedding anniversary.

De Valera’s political career spans over half a century, from 1917 to 1973. He serves several terms as head of government and head of state. He also leads the introduction of the Constitution of Ireland.

De Valera is a leader in the Irish War of Independence and of the anti-Treaty opposition in the ensuing Irish Civil War (1922–1923). After leaving Sinn Féin in 1926 due to its policy of abstentionism, he founds Fianna Fáil, and is head of government from 1932 to 1948, 1951 to 1954, and 1957 to 1959, serving as President of the Executive Council and later Taoiseach. He resigns after being elected President of Ireland. His political creed evolves from militant republicanism to social and cultural conservatism.

Assessments of de Valera’s career are varied. He has often been characterised as a stern, unbending, devious, and divisive Irish politician. Biographer Tim Pat Coogan sees his time in power as being characterised by economic and cultural stagnation, while Diarmaid Ferriter argues that the stereotype of de Valera as an austere, cold and even backward figure is largely manufactured in the 1960s and is misguided.

On September 2, 1975 Éamon de Valera makes his final journey through the streets of Dublin to his final resting place at Glasnevin Cemetery. De Valera’s body is taken from St. Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle, where it has lain in state, to the the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, where a requiem mass is celebrated by his grandson, Father Seán Ó Cuív, and then on to Glasnevin Cemetery.

On a day of national mourning, over 200,000 people pay tribute to the statesman along the three mile funeral route from Dublin city centre to Glasnevin. The Army No. 1 Band plays Wrap the Green Flag Round Me as de Valera is carried into Glasnevin Cemetery.

In attendance at the funeral are family, friends, colleagues, politicians, dignitaries, diplomats, veterans of the 1916 Easter Rising, and citizens who want to pay their respect. The final prayers are recited at the graveside by Father Ó Cuív. The firing party of young cadets from the Curragh fire a final volley in tribute over the grave.


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Birth of Maurice Walsh, Author of “The Quiet Man”

maurice-walshMaurice Walsh, Irish novelist best known for the short story The Quiet Man which is later made into an Oscar-winning movie, is born on April 21, 1879 in Ballydonoghue near Listowel, County Kerry.

Walsh is the third child of ten and the first son born to John Walsh, a local farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Buckley who live in a three-room thatched farmhouse. John Walsh’s main interests are books and horses and he himself does little work about the farm, preferring to have a hired man. The most famous of these hired men is Paddy Bawn Enright, whose name is immortalised by Walsh in his story The Quiet Man, although the name is not used in the later motion picture. John Walsh passes on to his son not only a love of books but also legends and folk tales that are later featured of many of Walsh’s books.

Walsh goes to school in Lisselton, a mile or so up the road from Ballydonoghue, and later goes to St. Michael’s College in Listowel to prepare for the Civil Service examination. He enters the service on July 2, 1901 as an Assistant Revenue Officer in the Customs and Excise Service. He is posted to Scotland before the year is out and, although he subsequently has a number of postings outside Scotland, he spends most of his time there while in the British service.

Walsh has a life-long interest in writing and, during his early years in Scotland, this interest starts to bear fruit. He submits some of his stories and has two published in the Irish Emerald in 1908. Later that year, on August 8, 1908, Walsh marries Caroline Begg in Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland.

When the Irish Free State is formed in 1922, Walsh transfers to its excise service and moves to Dublin. Fighting is still going on there at the time and he leaves his family in Scotland until it is safe for them to join him in 1923. The story The Key Above the Door is written during the months of separation although it is not published until some years later, appearing first in Chambers Journal as a serial between December 1925 and May 1926 and then in book form, published by W & R Chambers Ltd., in July 1926.

Sales of Walsh’s books grow steadily, especially in the wake of an unsolicited and generous letter from J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, praising The Key Above the Door, which Chambers is subsequently able to use on dust covers of Walsh’s books.

Walsh retires from government service in 1933 but his success as a writer continues. In that same year he sells a story to The Saturday Evening Post, then a well-known weekly magazine published in the United States. That story, later to be incorporated in the collection of stories published under the title Green Rushes, is The Quiet Man.

Director John Ford reads the story in 1933 and soon purchases the rights to it for $10. Walsh is paid another $2,500 when Republic Pictures buys the idea and receives a final payment of $3,750 when the film is actually made. Filming commences on June 7, 1951 with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the leading roles. All of the outdoor scenes are shot on location in County Mayo and County Galway. The inside scenes are filmed in late July at the Republic Studios in Hollywood. The Quiet Man wins the Academy Award for Best Director for John Ford, his fourth, and for Best Cinematography.

Walsh becomes President of the Irish branch of PEN International in 1938 and visits the United States for an international meeting that year as the Irish delegate. His wife Caroline is able to accompany him although she has been in failing health for some years and ultimately dies in January 1941. Walsh himself dies on February 18, 1964 in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin, and is buried in the Esker cemetery at Lucan, County Dublin. President Éamon de Valera attended Walsh’s funeral Mass.

In 2013, The Quiet Man is selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”