seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.

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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.


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Death of Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Dancer & Actress

lola-montezMarie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert, Countess of Landsfeld, Irish dancer and actress better known by the stage name Lola Montez, dies in Brooklyn, New York, on January 17, 1861. She becomes famous as a “Spanish dancer,” courtesan, and mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who makes her Countess of Landsfeld. She uses her influence to institute liberal reforms. At the start of the German revolutions of 1848-1849, she is forced to flee. She proceeds to the United States via Switzerland, France, and London, returning to her work as an entertainer and lecturer.

Gilbert is born in Grange, County Sligo, on February 17, 1821. Her family makes their residence at King House in Boyle, County Roscommon, until early 1823, when they journey to Liverpool, thence departing for India on March 14. Gilbert spends much of her childhood in India but is educated in Scotland and England. At age 19 she elopes with Lieutenant Thomas James. The couple separates five years later and, in 1843, Gilbert launches a career as a dancer. Her London debut in June 1843 as “Lola Montez, the Spanish dancer” is disrupted when she is recognized as Mrs. James. The fiasco would probably have ended the career of anyone less beautiful and determined, but Gilbert receives additional dancing engagements throughout Europe. During her travels she reputedly forms liaisons with Franz Liszt and Alexandre Dumas, among many others.

Late in 1846, Gilbert dances in Munich and Ludwig I of Bavaria is so struck by her beauty that he offers her a castle. She accepts, becomes Baroness Rosenthal and Countess of Lansfeld, and remains as his mistress. Under Gilbert’s influence, Louis inaugurates liberal and anti-Jesuit governmental policies, but his infatuation with her helps to bring about the collapse of his regime in the revolution of 1848. In March of that year Ludwig abdicates in favour of his son. Gilbert flees to London, where in 1849 she marries Lieutenant George Heald, although she has never been divorced from James. Heald later leaves her.

From 1851 to 1853 Gilbert performs in the United States. Her third marriage, to Patrick P. Hull of San Francisco in 1853, ends in divorce soon after she moves to Grass Valley, California. There, among other amusements, she coaches young Lotta Crabtree in singing and dancing. She settles in New York City after an unsuccessful tour of Australia in 1855–1856 and gathers a following as a lecturer on such topics as fashion, gallantry, and beautiful women. An apparently genuine religious conversion leads her to take up various personal philanthropies.

Gilbert publishes Anecdotes of Love; Being a True Account of the Most Remarkable Events Connected with the History of Love; in All Ages and among All Nations (1858), The Arts of Beauty, or, Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet with Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascination (1858), and Lectures of Lola Montez, Including Her Autobiography (1858). The international notoriety of her heyday persists long after her death and inspires numerous literary and balletic allusions.

Gilbert spends her last days in rescue work among women. By November 1859 she is showing the tertiary effects of syphilis and her body begins to waste away. She dies at the age of 39 on January 17, 1861. She is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.


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Birth of Actress Maureen O’Sullivan

maureen-osullivanMaureen Paula O’Sullivan, Irish-American actress best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan series of films starring Johnny Weissmuller, is born in Boyle, County Roscommon on May 17, 1911.

O’Sullivan is the daughter of Evangeline “Mary Eva” Lovatt and Charles Joseph O’Sullivan, an officer in the Connaught Rangers who serves in World War I. She attends a convent school in Dublin, then the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, England. One of her classmates there is Vivian Mary Hartley, future Academy Award-winning actress Vivien Leigh. After attending finishing school in France, O’Sullivan returns to Dublin to work with the poor.

O’Sullivan’s film career begins when she meets motion picture director Frank Borzage, who is doing location filming on Song o’ My Heart for 20th Century Fox. He suggests she take a screen test, which she does, and wins a part in the movie, which stars Irish tenor John McCormack. She travels to the United States to complete the movie in Hollywood. O’Sullivan appears in six movies at Fox, then makes three more at other movie studios.

In 1932, she signs a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After several roles there and at other movie studios, she is chosen by Irving Thalberg to appear as Jane Parker in Tarzan the Ape Man, opposite co-star Johnny Weissmuller. She is one of the more popular ingenues at MGM throughout the 1930s and appears in a number of other productions with various stars. In all, O’Sullivan plays Jane in six features between 1932 and 1942.

She stars with William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (1934) and plays Kitty in Anna Karenina (1935) with Greta Garbo and Basil Rathbone. After co-starring with the Marx Bros. in A Day At The Races (1937), she appears as Molly Beaumont in A Yank at Oxford (1938), which is written partly by F. Scott Fitzgerald. At her request, he rewrites her part to give it substance and novelty.

She plays another Jane in Pride and Prejudice (1940) with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and supports Ann Sothern in Maisie Was a Lady (1941). After appearing in Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942), O’Sullivan asks MGM to release her from her contract so she can care for her husband who has just left the Navy with typhoid. She retreats from show business, devoting her time to her family. In 1948, she re-appears on the screen in The Big Clock, directed by her husband for Paramount Pictures. She continues to appear occasionally in her husband’s movies and on television. However, by 1960 she believes she has permanently retired. In 1958, Farrow’s and O’Sullivan’s eldest son, Michael, dies in a plane crash in California.

Actor Pat O’Brien encourages her to take a part in summer stock, and the play A Roomful of Roses opens in 1961. That leads to another play, Never Too Late, in which she co-stars with Paul Ford in what is her Broadway debut. Shortly after it opens on Broadway, John Farrow dies of a heart attack. O’Sullivan sticks with acting after Farrow’s death. She is also an executive director of a bridal consulting service, Wediquette International. In June and July 1972, O’Sullivan is in Denver, Colorado, to star in the Elitch Theatre production of Butterflies are Free with Karen Grassle and Brandon deWilde. The show ends on July 1, 1972. Five days later, while still in Denver, deWilde is killed in a motor vehicle accident.

When her daughter, actress Mia Farrow, becomes involved with Woody Allen both professionally and romantically, she appears in Hannah and Her Sisters, playing Farrow’s mother. She has roles in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and the science fiction oddity Stranded (1987). Mia Farrow names one of her own sons Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow for her mother. In 1994, she appears with Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers in Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is, a feature-length made-for-TV movie with the wealthy husband-and-wife team from the popular weekly detective series Hart to Hart.

Maureen O’Sullivan dies in Scottsdale, Arizona, of complications from heart surgery on June 23, 1998, at the age of 87. O’Sullivan is buried at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Niskayuna, New York. She is survived by six of her children, 32 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. Michael, her oldest son, is killed at age 19 in a plane crash in 1958.