seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Actor Henry Wilfrid Brambell

henry-brambell-john-lennonHenry Wilfrid Brambell, Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series Steptoe and Son, dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985.

Brambell is the youngest of three sons born to Henry Lytton Brambell, a cashier at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith Marks, a former opera singer. His first appearance is as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during World War I. Upon leaving school he works part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also does repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II, he joins the British military forces entertainment organisation Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His television career begins during the 1950s, when he is cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC TelevisionThe Quatermass Experiment (1953), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), and Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earn him a reputation for playing old men, though he is only in his forties at the time.

It is this ability to play old men that leads to his casting in his best remembered role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in Steptoe and Son. This begins as a pilot on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, and its success leads to a full series being commissioned, running from 1962 to 1974 including a five-year hiatus. There are two feature film spin-offs, a stage show, and an American incarnation entitled Sanford and Son, some episodes of which are almost exact remakes of the original British scripts.

The success of Steptoe and Son makes Brambell a high-profile figure on British television, and earns him the supporting role of Paul McCartney‘s grandfather in The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In 1965, Brambell tells the BBC that he does not want to do another series of Steptoe and Son and, in September that year, he goes to New York City to appear in the Broadway musical Kelly at the Broadhurst Theatre, however, it closes after just one performance.

Apart from his role as the older Steptoe, Brambell achieves recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy wins him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son. Although he appears throughout the full 94-minute piece, Brambell does not speak a single word.

After the final series of Steptoe and Son is made in 1974, Brambell has some guest roles in films and on television. He and Harry H. Corbett also undertake a tour of Australia in 1977 in a Steptoe and Son stage show.

Brambell dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985, at the age of 72. He is cremated on January 25, 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes are scattered.

(Pictured: Henry Wilfrid Brambell and John Lennon in The Beatles’ first motion picture, A Hard Day’s Night)

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Birth of Actress Fionnghuala Flanagan

fionnula-flanaganFionnghuala Manon “Fionnula” Flanagan, Irish actress and political activist, is born in Dublin on December 10, 1941.

Flanagan is the daughter of Rosanna (née McGuirk) and Terence Niall Flanagan, an Irish Army officer and Communist who had fought in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War against General Francisco Franco. Although her parents are not Irish speakers, they want Fionnula and her four siblings to learn the Irish language, thus she grows up speaking English and Irish fluently. She is educated in Switzerland and England. She trains extensively at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and travels throughout Europe before settling in Los Angeles, California in early 1968.

Flanagan comes to prominence in Ireland in 1965 as a result of her role as Máire in the Telefís Éireann production of the Irish language play An Triail, for which she receives the Jacob’s Award in Dublin for her “outstanding performance.” With her portrayal of Gerty McDowell in the 1967 film version of Ulysses, she establishes herself as one of the foremost interpreters of James Joyce. She makes her Broadway debut in 1968 in Brian Friel‘s Lovers, then appears in The Incomparable Max (1971) and such Joycean theatrical projects as Ulysses in Nighttown and James Joyce’s Women (1977-1979), a one-woman show written by Flanagan and directed for the stage by Burgess Meredith. It is subsequently filmed in 1983, with Flanagan both producing and playing all six main female roles.

Flanagan is a familiar presence in American television, as she has appeared in several made-for-TV movies including The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Mary White (1977), The Ewok Adventure (1984) and A Winner Never Quits (1986). She wins an Emmy Award for her performance as Clothilde in the 1976 network miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. Her weekly-series stints include Aunt Molly Culhane in How the West Was Won (1977), which earns her a second Emmy Award nomination. She does multiple appearances on Murder, She Wrote. She plays Lt. Guyla Cook in Hard Copy (1987), and as Kathleen Meacham, wife of a police chief played by John Mahoney in H.E.L.P. (1990).

Flanagan makes guest appearances in three of the Star Trek spin-offsStar Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Dax,” Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Inheritance,” and Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Fallen Hero.”

Flanagan guest-stars in several episodes of Lost as Eloise Hawking, a recurring character. She appears in such films as The Others opposite Nicole KidmanDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood as the eldest Teensy, and Waking Ned. She appears in television series and stage productions including the Emmy-nominated miniseries Revelations, starring Bill Pullman and Natascha McElhone, and in Transamerica, starring Felicity Huffman. From 2006–08, she plays Rose Caffee, the matriarch of an Irish-American Rhode Island family on the Showtime drama Brotherhood.


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Transatlantic Flight of “Wrong Way” Corrigan

Douglas Corrigan, an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas, earns the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan on July 17, 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flies from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan is filed to return to Long Beach. He claims his unauthorized flight is due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscures landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he is a skilled aircraft mechanic and has made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” is seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admits to having flown to Ireland intentionally.

On July 9, 1938, Corrigan departs California in his 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane bound for Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. With the Robin cruising at 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) for maximum fuel efficiency, the outward journey takes him 27 hours. Fuel efficiency becomes critical towards the end of the flight as a gasoline leak develops, filling the cockpit with fumes.

Upon his unannounced arrival at Floyd Bennett Field, in the midst of Howard Hughes‘s preparations for takeoff on a world tour, Corrigan decides repairing the leak will take too long if he is to meet his schedule. His logged flight plan has him returning to California on July 17. Before take off, Corrigan asks the manager of Floyd Bennett Field, Kenneth P. Behr, which runway to use, and Behr tells him to use any runway as long as he does not take off to the west, in the direction of the administration building where Behr has his office. As recorded in Corrigan’s autobiography, Behr wishes him “Bon Voyage” prior to take-off, perhaps in a nod to Corrigan’s intentions to fly the Atlantic. Upon take off at 5:15 on the morning of July 17 with 320 US gallons of gasoline and 16 US gallons of oil, Corrigan heads east from the 4,200-foot runway of Floyd Bennett Field and keeps going. Behr later swears publicly that he has no foreknowledge of Corrigan’s intentions.

Corrigan claims to have noticed his “error” after flying for about 26 hours. This is not entirely consistent with his claim that after 10 hours, he feels his feet go cold. The cockpit floor is awash with gasoline leaking from the unrepaired tank. He uses a screwdriver to punch a hole through the cockpit floor so that the fuel will drain away on the side opposite the hot exhaust pipe, reducing the risk of a midair explosion. Had he been truly unaware he was over ocean, it seems likely he would descend at this point. Instead, he claims to increase the engine speed by almost 20% in the hope of decreasing his flight time.

Corrigan lands at Baldonnel Aerodrome, County Dublin, on July 18, after a 28-hour, 13-minute flight. His provisions for the flight consisted of just two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and 25 US gallons of water. Corrigan’s plane has fuel tanks mounted on the front, allowing him to see only out of the sides. He has no radio and his compass is 20 years old.

Aviation officials require 600 words to list the regulations broken by his flight in a telegram, a medium that encourages brevity by charging at a rate per word. Despite the extent of Corrigan’s illegality, he receives only a mild punishment a his pilot’s certificate is suspended for 14 days. He and his plane return to New York on the steamship Manhattan and arrive on August 4, the last day of his suspension. His return is marked with great celebration. More people attend his Broadway ticker tape parade than had honored Charles Lindbergh after his triumph. He is also given a ticker tape parade in Chicago.


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Death of Samuel Lover, Songwriter & Painter

Samuel Lover, Irish songwriter, composer, novelist, and a painter of portraits, chiefly miniatures, dies on July 6, 1868. He was the grandfather of composer, cellist, and conductor Victor Herbert.

Lover is born at number 60 Grafton Street, Dublin and goes to school at Samuel Whyte’s at 79 Grafton Street, now home to Bewley’s, an Irish hot beverage company. By 1830 he is secretary of the Royal Hibernian Academy and lives at number 9 D’Olier Street. In 1835 he moves to London and begins composing music for a series of comic stage works. To some of them, like the operetta Il Paddy Whack in Italia (1841), he contributes both words and music, for others he merely contributes a few songs.

Lover produces a number of Irish songs, of which several – including The Angel’s Whisper, Molly Bawn, and The Four-leaved Shamrock – attain great popularity. He also writes novels, of which Rory O’Moore and Handy Andy are the best known, and short Irish sketches which, with his songs, he combines into a popular entertainment called Irish Nights or Irish Evenings. With the latter, he tours North America between 1846 and 1848. He joins with Charles Dickens in founding Bentley’s Magazine.

Lover’s grandson is composer Victor Herbert whose mother is Lover’s daughter Fanny. Irish-born and German-raised, Herbert is best known for his many successful musicals and operettas that premiere on Broadway. As a child he stays with the Lovers in a musical environment following the death of his father.

Samuel Lover dies on July 6, 1868 in Saint Helier on Jersey. A memorial in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin summarises his achievements:

Poet, painter, novelist and composer, who, in the exercise of a genius as distinguished in its versatility as in its power, by his pen and pencil illustrated so happily the characteristics of the peasantry of his country that his name will ever be honourably identified with Ireland.


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.


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Birth of Bob Crowley, Theatre Designer & Director

Bob Crowley, scenic and costume theatre designer and theatre director, is born in Cork, County Cork on June 10, 1952. He is the brother of director John Crowley.

Crowley trains at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England. He designs over twenty productions for the Royal National Theatre in London including Ghetto, The Madness of George III, Carousel and The History Boys. He also designs numerous productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company including The Plantagenets, for which he wins a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which later has a successful run in London, followed by a transfer to Broadway. Opera productions include the critically acclaimed production of The Magic Flute directed by Nicholas Hytner, with whom Crowley frequently collaborates, for the English National Opera and La traviata for the Royal Opera House.

Crowley has received multiple Tony Award nominations, and has won seven times, for designing the Broadway productions of Carousel (1994), Aida (2000), The History Boys (2006), Mary Poppins (2007), The Coast of Utopia (2007), Once (2012) and An American in Paris (2015). He receives three other Tony Award nominations in 2015, two for his costumes on The Audience and An American in Paris and one for his scenic designs for Skylight. He is a recipient of the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design and a three-time recipient of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design.

Crowley designs set and costume for Mary Poppins, which plays in both the West End theatre and on Broadway. He designs and directs the Phil Collins musical Tarzan. He is the set and costume designer for Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Love Never Dies, and the costume designer of the 2008-2009 version of The Little Mermaid.


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Siobhán McKenna

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923.

McKenna grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.