seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Language Scholar Osborn Bergin

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Osborn Joseph Bergin, a scholar of the Irish language and early Irish literature, is born in Cork, County Cork on November 26, 1873.

Bergin is the sixth child and eldest son of Osborn Roberts Bergin and Sarah Reddin, and is educated at Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork. He then goes to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, now the Humboldt University of Berlin, and later with Rudolf Thurneysen at the University of Freiburg, where he writes his dissertation on palatalization in 1906. He then returns to Ireland and teaches at the School of Irish Learning and at University College Dublin.

Within one year of becoming Director of the School of Irish Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Bergin resigns both the senior professorship and his office of director. The reason for his resignation is never made public.

Bergin, who never uses the name Joseph except when signing with his initials, does not seem to have felt the need of institutional religion, and during his lifetime, he rarely attends religious services. He develops Irish nationalist sympathies and remains a firm nationalist all his life but without party affiliations. From the number of Irish-speakers living in Cork, he quickly masters the spoken Irish of West Munster. By 1897, his knowledge of spoken and literary Modern Irish is so strong that he is appointed lecturer in Celtic in Queen’s College, Cork. It is during this time that he becomes an active member of the Gaelic League.

Bergin publishes extensively in the journal for Irish scholarship, Ériu. He is best known for his discovery of Bergin’s Law, which states that while the normal order of a sentence in Old Irish is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to be placed at the end of the sentence. His friend Frank O’Connor writes humorously that while he discovers the law “he never really believed in it.” He writes poetry in Irish and makes a number of well-received translations of Old Irish love poetry.

Bergin is celebrated in Brian O’Nolan‘s poem Binchy and Bergin and Best, originally printed in the Cruiskeen Lawn column in The Irish Times and now included in The Best of Myles. He is noted for his feuds with George Moore and William Butler Yeats, but he enjoys a lifelong friendship with George William Russell. Frank O’Connor describes Bergin’s eccentricities affectionately in his memoir My Father’s Son.

Osborn Bergin dies in a nursing home in Dublin at the age of 76 on October 6, 1950, having never married.


Leave a comment

Launch of “The Irish Times”

the-irish-timesThe Irish Times, an Irish daily broadsheet newspaper, is launched at 4 Lower Abbey Street in Dublin on March 29, 1859. The first appearance of a newspaper using the name The Irish Times occurs in 1823 but it closes in 1825. The title is revived as a thrice weekly publication by Major Lawrence E. Knox. It is originally founded as a moderate Protestant Irish nationalist newspaper, reflecting the politics of Knox, who stands unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate for Isaac Butt’s Home Rule League. In its early days, its main competitor is the Dublin Daily Express.

Though formed as a Protestant nationalist paper, within two decades and under new owners it becomes the voice of British unionism in Ireland. It is no longer marketed as a unionist paper, but rather presents itself politically as “liberal and progressive,” as well as promoting neoliberalism on economic issues. The editorship of the newspaper from 1859 until 1986 is controlled by the Anglo-Irish Protestant minority, only gaining its first nominal Irish Catholic editor 127 years into its existence.

The paper’s most prominent columnists include writer and arts commentator Fintan O’Toole and satirist Miriam Lord. The late Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald is once a columnist. Senior international figures, including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, have written for its op-ed page. Its most prominent columns have included the political column Backbencher, by John Healy, Drapier, an anonymous piece produced weekly by a politician giving the ‘insider’ view of politics, Rite and Reason, a weekly religious column edited by ‘religious affairs’ editor Patsy McGarry, and the long-running An Irishman’s Diary. An Irishman’s Diary is written by Patrick Campbell in the forties (under the pseudonym ‘Quidnunc’), by Seamus Kelly from 1949 to 1979 (also writing as ‘Quidnunc’) and more recently by Kevin Myers. After Myers’ move to the rival Irish Independent, An Irishman’s Diary has usually been the work of Frank McNally. On the sports pages, Philip Reid is the paper’s golf correspondent.

One of its most popular columns is the biting and humorous Cruiskeen Lawn satire column written, originally in Irish, later in English, by Myles na gCopaleen, the pen name of Brian O’Nolan who also writes books using the name Flann O’Brien. Cruiskeen Lawn is an anglicised spelling of the Irish words crúiscín lán, meaning “full little jug.” Cruiskeen Lawn makes its debut in October 1940, and appears with varying regularity until O’Nolan’s death in 1966.

The editor is Paul O’Neill who succeeds Kevin O’Sullivan on April 5, 2017. The deputy editor is Deirdre Veldon. The Irish Times is published every day except Sundays and employs 420 people.


Leave a comment

Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Initial Publication of “At Swim-Two-Birds”

at-swim-two-birdsAt Swim-Two-Birds, a novel by Irish writer Brian O’Nolan writing under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, is published on March 13, 1939. It is widely considered to be O’Brien’s masterpiece, and one of the most sophisticated examples of metafiction.

At Swim-Two-Birds is accepted for publication by Longman on the recommendation of Graham Greene, who is a reader for them at the time. It is published under the pseudonym of Flann O’Brien, a name O’Nolan had already used to write hoax letters to The Irish Times. O’Nolan suggests using “Flann O’Brien” as a pen-name during negotiation with Longman. The novel’s title derives from Snámh dá Én, a ford on the River Shannon, between Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge, reportedly visited by the legendary King Sweeney, a character in the novel.

The book does not sell well after it is published. By the outbreak of World War II it has sold scarcely more than 240 copies. In 1940, Longman’s London premises are destroyed during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe and almost all the unsold copies are incinerated. The novel is republished by Pantheon Books in New York City in 1950, on the recommendation of James Johnson Sweeney, but sales remain low. In May 1959 Timothy O’Keeffe, while editorial director of the London publishing house MacGibbon & Kee, persuades O’Nolan to allow him to republish At Swim-Two-Birds. More recently, the novel is republished in the United States by Dalkey Archive Press.

The initial reviews for At Swim-Two-Birds are not enthusiastic. The Times Literary Supplement says that the book’s only notable feature is a “schoolboy brand of mild vulgarity.” The New Statesman complains that “long passages in imitation of the Joycean parody of the early Irish epic are devastatingly dull” and the Irish novelist Seán Ó Faoláin comments in John O’London’s Weekly that although the book had its moments, it “had a general odour of spilt Joyce all over it.”

However, most of the support for At Swim-Two-Birds comes not from newspaper reviewers but from writers. Dylan Thomas, in a remark that would be quoted on dust-jackets in later editions of the book, says “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” Anthony Burgess considers it one of the ninety-nine greatest novels written between 1939 and 1984. Graham Greene’s enthusiastic reader’s report is instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

Stephen Fry has declared At Swim-Two-Birds one of his favourite books. In 2011, the book is placed on Time‘s top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.