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


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Birth of Irish Novelist John Banim

John Banim, Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and essayist, sometimes called the “Scott of Ireland,” is born in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny on April 3, 1798. He also studied art, working as a painter of miniatures and portraits, and as a drawing teacher, before dedicating himself to literature.

At age four, Banim’s parents send him to a local school where he learns the basics of reading and grammar. At age five, he is sent to the English Academy at Kilkenny where his older brother Michael (1796–1874) is a student. After five years at the English Academy, he is sent to a seminary run by a Reverent Magrath, considered to be the finest Roman Catholic school in Ireland. After a year at the seminary, he transfers to another academy run by a teacher named Terence Doyle. Throughout his school years, he reads avidly and writes his own stories and poems. When he is ten, he visits the poet Thomas Moore, bringing along some of his own poetry in manuscript. Moore encourages him to continue writing and gives him a season ticket to his private theatre in Kilkenny.

At the age of 13, Banim enters Kilkenny College and devotes himself specially to drawing and miniature painting. He pursues his artistic education for two years in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, and afterwards teaches drawing in Kilkenny, where he falls in love with one of his pupils, a 17-year-old girl named Anne. His affection is returned, but her parents disapprove of their relationship and send her out of town. Anne dies two months later of tuberculosis. Her death makes a deep impression on him and his health suffers severely and permanently.

In 1820 Banim goes to Dublin and settles finally to the work of literature. He publishes a poem, The Celt’s Paradise, and his play Damon and Pythias is performed at Covent Garden in 1821. During a short visit to Kilkenny he marries, and in 1822, in conjunction with Michael, plans a series of tales illustrative of Irish life, which should be for Ireland what the Waverley Novels are for Scotland. The influence of his model is distinctly traceable in his writings.

Banim then sets out for London, and supports himself by writing for magazines and for the stage. A volume of miscellaneous essays is published anonymously in 1824, called Revelations of the Dead Alive. The first series of Tales of the O’Hara Family appears in April 1825, which achieves immediate and decided success. One of the most powerful of them, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, is by Michael Banim.

In 1826, a second series is published, containing the Irish novel, The Nowlans. Banim’s health has given way, and the next effort of the “O’Hara family” is almost entirely the production of his brother Michael. The Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828), a novel of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, is hardly equal to the earlier tales, though it contains some wonderfully vigorous passages.

The Mayor of Windgap, and The Ghost Hunter (both by Michael Banim), The Denounced (1830) and The Smuggler (1831) follow in quick succession, and are received with considerable favour. Most of these deal with the darker and more painful phases of life, but the feeling shown in his last, Father Connell, is brighter and tenderer. Banim, meanwhile, suffers from illness and consequent poverty. In 1829, he goes to France, and while he is abroad a movement to relieve his wants is set on foot by the English press, headed by John Sterling in The Times. A sufficient sum is obtained to remove him from any danger of actual want.

Banim returns to Ireland in 1835, taking up residence in Dublin. On meeting him again in August, Michael Banim finds his brother’s condition to be that of a complete invalid. He is often in pain and has to use opiates to sleep, but during the short intervals between the attacks of his illness, he is able to enjoy conversation and the company of his brother and friends. In September he returns to Kilkenny and is received with an address from the citizens of Kilkenny showing their appreciation of him, and a subscription from them of £85. After a short stay in his childhood home, he settles in Windgap Cottage, then a short distance from Kilkenny. He passes the remainder of his life there, dying on August 13, 1842.

Michael Banim acquires a considerable fortune which he loses in 1840 through the bankruptcy of a firm with which he had business relations. After this disaster he writes Father Connell (1842), Clough Fionn (1852), and The Town of the Cascades (1862). He dies at Booterstown.

An assessment in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911) reads:

“The true place of the Banims in literature is to be estimated from the merits of the O’Hara Tales; their later works, though of considerable ability, are sometimes prolix and are marked by too evident an imitation of the Waverley Novels. The Tales, however, are masterpieces of faithful delineation. The strong passions, the lights and shadows of Irish peasant character, have rarely been so ably and truly depicted. The incidents are striking, sometimes even horrible, and the authors have been accused of straining after melodramatic effect. The lighter, more joyous side of Irish character, which appears so strongly in Samuel Lover, receives little attention from the Banims.”


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Birth of Richard Robert Madden, Historian & Abolitionist

Richard Robert Madden, Irish doctor, writer, abolitionist and historian of the Society of United Irishmen, is born on August 22, 1798. He takes an active role in trying to impose anti-slavery rules in Jamaica on behalf of the British government.

Madden is born at Wormwood Gate, Dublin to Edward Madden, a silk manufacturer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Corey). His father has married twice and fathered twenty-one children. Luckily for young Richard his father is still affluent enough by the time he is reaching adolescence to afford him a top quality education. This means private schools and a medical apprenticeship in Athboy, County Meath. He studies medicine in Paris, Italy, and St. George’s Hospital, London. While in Naples he becomes acquainted with Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington and her circle.

In 1828 Madden marries Harriet Elmslie, herself coincidentally the youngest of twenty one children. Born in Marylebone in 1801 and baptised there into the Church of England, she is the last child of John Elmslie, a Scot who owns hundreds of slaves on his plantations in Jamaica, and his wife Jane Wallace. Both Harriet’s parents are of Quaker stock, but while living in Cuba she converts to Roman Catholicism. On marriage, Madden stops travelling and practises medicine for five years.

Eventually he realises that he needs to contribute to the abolitionist cause. The slave trade has been illegal in the empire since 1807, but slaves still exist. Abolishing slavery is a popular cause and it is obvious that the trading of slaves is still in progress and many are not actively involved but they are complicit with the activity.

Madden is employed in the British civil service from 1833, first as a justice of the peace in Jamaica, where he is one of six Special Magistrates sent to oversee the eventual liberation of Jamaica’s slave population, according to the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. From 1835 he is Superintendent of the freed Africans in Havana. His son, Thomas More Madden, who later becomes a surgeon and writer, is born there. In 1839 he becomes the investigating officer into the slave trade on the west coast of Africa and, in 1847, the secretary for the West Australian colonies. He returns to Dublin and in 1850 is named secretary of the Office for Loan Funds in Dublin.

Richard Madden dies at his home in Booterstown, just south of Dublin, on February 5, 1886 and is interred in Donnybrook Cemetery.


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Birth of Tenor John McCormack

john-mccormackJohn McCormack, an Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires and renowned for his diction and breath control, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on June 14, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and later attends Summerhill College in Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peters church in Athlone under choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by composer Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. In 1906, he makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

In less than three years he is singing opera in the United States, as well as beginning a career on the recital stage that makes him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1917 he becomes a citizen of the United States, his adopted country, where his concert appeal has proven to be nearly universal and unrelenting.

McCormack originally ends his career in 1938 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. However, one year after that farewell concert he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He concertizes, tours, broadcasts, and records in this capacity until 1943 when failing health forced him to permanently retire.

Ill with emphysema, he purchases a house near the sea at Booterstown, County Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, just south of Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack dies on September 16, 1945. He is mourned by his countrymen, his English public who had taken him to their hearts as well, a vast number of his fellow citizens in the United States, and music lovers all over the world. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.