seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Novelist & Playwright Molly Keane

Molly Keane, née Mary Nesta Skrine, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, is born in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare, on July 20, 1904.

Keane’s mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin in County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bedbound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Molly meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a County Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which, including Good Behaviour and Time After Time, have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She was a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, after which she moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. Following the failure of a play shortly after her husband’s death, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages her to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Keane dies at the age of 91 on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


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Birth of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish Nationalist

thomas-francis-meagherThomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, is born on August 3, 1823 at Waterford, County Waterford, in what is now the Granville Hotel on the Quay.

Meagher is educated at Roman Catholic boarding schools. When he is eleven, his family sends him to the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare. It is at Clongowes that he develops his skill of oratory, becoming at age 15 the youngest medalist of the Debating Society. After six years, he leaves Ireland for the first time, to study in Lancashire, England, at Stonyhurst College, also a Jesuit institution. He returns to Ireland in 1843, with undecided plans for a career in the Austrian army, a tradition among a number of Irish families.

Meagher becomes a member of the Young Ireland Party in 1845 and in 1847 is one of the founders of the Irish Confederation, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1848 he is involved, along with William Smith O’Brien, in an abortive attempt to mount an insurrection against English rule. Arrested for high treason, he is condemned to death, but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania.

Meagher escapes in 1852 and makes his way to the United States. After a speaking tour of U.S. cities, he settles in New York City, studies law, and is admitted to the bar in 1855. He soon becomes a leader of the Irish in New York and, from 1856, edits the Irish News.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Meagher becomes a captain of New York volunteers and fights at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. He then organizes the Irish Brigade, and in February 1862 is elevated to the rank of brigadier general. After his brigade is decimated at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he resigns his commission, however in December he returns to command the military district of Etowah, with headquarters at Chattanooga, Tennessee.

At the close of the war, Meagher is appointed secretary of Montana Territory where, in the absence of a territorial governor, he serves as acting governor.

In the summer of 1867, Meagher travels to Fort Benton, Montana, to receive a shipment of guns and ammunition sent by General William Tecumseh Sherman for use by the Montana Militia. On the way to Fort Benton, the Missouri River terminus for steamboat travel, he falls ill and stops for six days to recuperate. When he reaches Fort Benton, he is reportedly still ill.

Sometime in the early evening of July 1, 1867, Meagher falls overboard from the steamboat G. A. Thompson, into the Missouri River. His body is never recovered. Some believe his death to be suspicious and many theories circulate about his death. Early theories included a claim that he was murdered by a Confederate soldier from the war, or by Native Americans. In 1913 a man claims to have carried out the murder of Meagher for the price of $8,000, but then recants. In the same vein, American journalist and novelist Timothy Egan, who publishes a biography of Meagher in 2016, claims Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political enemies or powerful and still active vigilantes. On the frontier men are quick to kill rather than adjudicate. A similar theory shown on Death Valley Days (1960) has him survive the assassination attempt because his aide had been mistakenly murdered when he accepted one of his trademark cigars, and Meagher uses his apparent death as leverage over his political opponents.


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Birth of Boomtown Rats Guitarist Garry Roberts

garry-robertsGarrick “Garry” Roberts, founding member and former lead guitarist of The Boomtown Rats, is born in Dublin on June 17, 1950.

Roberts’s father, Rex Roberts, played double bass with a dance band called The Melodists in the 1940s. The headmaster at The High School, Dublin, calls his father in one day to suggest that he consider move his son to a boarding school as he is spending a lot of time in detention.

After being bribed with the promise of a bicycle, Roberts is moved to a Quaker-run boarding school, Newtown School, Waterford. The move proves successful but not for the anticipated reasons. He quickly takes notice of the electric guitars of the school band and realizes that is to be his future.

In 1976, Roberts and Johnnie Fingers (Moylett) decide to put a band together and, between them, they recruit the other four members, Pete Briquette (bass), Gerry Cott (guitar), Simon Crowe (drums) and singer Bob Geldof to form The Boomtown Rats.

Following the breakup of The Boomtown Rats in 1986, Roberts works with Simply Red, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Flesh For Lulu in the role of audio engineer on tours in the UK and the United States. He avoids playing the guitar in public for ten years, after which he and Simon Crowe play together for four years in the rhythm and blues four-piece band The Velcro Flies.

After fifteen successful years as an Independent Financial Adviser, Roberts becomes disillusioned with the life insurance industry and becomes a central heating engineer to keep himself occupied between gigs. Roberts and Crowe, with Darren Beale on second lead guitar, and Peter Barton on bass guitar and lead vocals, are now playing together as Boomtown Rats Roberts and Crowe, and are performing material from the Boomtown Rats’ first three albums across Europe and the UK.

Garry Roberts currently lives in Bromyard, Herefordshire, England.


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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)