seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of C.S. Lewis, Novelist & Poet

Clive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, dies in Oxford, England, on November 22, 1963.

Lewis is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. When he is seven, his family moves into “Little Lea,” the family home of his childhood, in the Strandtown area of East Belfast. He was schooled by private tutors until age 9, when his mother dies from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. The school closes soon afterwards due to a lack of pupils. He then attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that Lewis abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College, where he remains until the following June. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J.R.R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University, and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy, he is baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologetics from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. His illness causes him to miss the autumn term at Cambridge, though his health gradually begins improving in 1962 and he returns that April. His health continues to improve and he is fully himself by early 1963. On July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to hospital. At 5:00 PM the following day he suffers a heart attack and lapses into a coma, unexpectedly awaking the following afternoon. After he is discharged from the hospital he is too ill to return to work. As a result, he resigns from his post at Cambridge in August. His condition continues to decline, and in mid-November he is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On November 22, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, he collapses in his bedroom at 5:30 PM and dies a few minutes later. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which occurs on the same day approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’s collapse, as does the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His works enter the public domain in 2014 in countries where copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator, such as Canada.

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Birth of Irish Folk Musician Tommy Makem

Thomas “Tommy” Makem, internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller, is born in Keady, County Armagh, on November 4, 1932. He is best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He plays the long-necked 5-string banjo, tin whistle, low whistle, guitar, bodhrán and bagpipes, and sings in a distinctive baritone. He is sometimes known as “The Bard of Armagh,” taken from a traditional song of the same name, and “The Godfather of Irish Music.”

Makem’s mother, Sarah Makem, is an important source of traditional Irish music, who is visited and recorded by, among others, Diane Guggenheim Hamilton, Jean Ritchie, Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle. His father, Peter Makem, is a fiddler who also plays the bass drum in a local pipe band named “Oliver Plunkett,” after a Roman Catholic martyr of the reign of Charles II of England. His brother and sister are folk musicians as well. Makem, from the age of eight, is member of the St. Patrick’s church choir for 15 years where he sings Gregorian chant and motets. He does not learn to read music but he makes it in his “own way.”

Makem starts to work at 14 as a clerk in a garage and later he works for a while as a barman at Mone’s Bar, a local pub, and as a local correspondent for The Armagh Observer.

Makem emigrates to the United States in 1955, carrying his few possessions and a set of bagpipes from his time in a pipe band. Arriving in Dover, New Hampshire, he works at Kidder Press, where his hand was accidentally crushed by a press in 1956. With his arm in a sling, he leaves Dover for New York City to pursue an acting career.

The Clancys and Makem are signed to Columbia Records in 1961. The same year, at the Newport Folk Festival, Makem and Joan Baez are named the most promising newcomers on the American folk scene. During the 1960s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem perform sellout concerts at such venues as Carnegie Hall, and make television appearances on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show. The group performs for President John F. Kennedy. They also play in smaller venues such as the Gate of Horn in Chicago. They appear jointly in the UK Albums Chart in April 1966, when Isn’t It Grand Boys reaches number 22.

Makem leaves the group in 1969 to pursue a solo career. In 1975, he and Liam Clancy are both booked to play a folk festival in Cleveland, Ohio, and are persuaded to do a set together. Thereafter they often perform as Makem and Clancy, recording several albums together. He once again goes solo in 1988. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he performs both solo and with Liam Clancy on The Irish Rovers‘ various television shows, which are filming in Canada and Ireland.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Makem is a principal in a well-known Irish music venue in New York, “Tommy Makem’s Irish Pavilion.” This East 57th Street club is a prominent and well-loved performance spot for a wide range of musicians. Among the performers and visitors are Paddy Reilly, Joe Burke, and Ronnie Gilbert. Makem is a regular performer, often solo and often as part of Makem and Clancy, particularly in the late fall and holiday season. The club is also used for warm-up performances in the weeks before the 1984 reunion concert of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, the after-party for Bob Dylan‘s legendary 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1992 is held at the Irish Pavilion.

In 1997 Makem writes a book, Tommy Makem’s Secret Ireland, and in 1999 premiers a one-man theatre show, Invasions and Legacies, in New York. His career includes various other acting, video, composition, and writing credits. He also establishes the Tommy Makem International Festival of Song in South Armagh in 2000.

Tommy Makem dies in Dover, New Hampshire, on August 1, 2007, following a lengthy battle with lung cancer. He continues to record and perform until very close to the end. Paying tribute to him after his death, Liam Clancy says, “He was my brother in every way.” He is buried next to his wife at New Saint Mary Cemetery in Dover.


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Birth of Liam Clancy

William “Liam” Clancy, Irish folk singer and actor, is born in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary on September 2, 1935. He is the youngest and last surviving member of the influential folk group The Clancy Brothers, who are regarded as Ireland’s first pop stars. They record 55 albums, achieve global sales of millions and appear in sold-out concerts at such prominent venues as Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Clancy is Robert Joseph Clancy and Joanna McGrath’s ninth and youngest surviving child. He receives a Christian Brothers education before taking a job as an insurance man in Dublin. While there he also takes night classes at the National College of Art and Design.

Clancy begins singing with his brothers, Paddy and Tom Clancy, at fund-raising events for the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Guthrie benefits. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, begin recording on Paddy Clancy’s Tradition Records label in the late 1950s. Liam plays guitar in addition to singing and also records several solo albums. They record their seminal The Rising of the Moon album in 1959. There are international tours, which include performances at Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall. The quartet records numerous albums for Columbia Records and enjoys great success during the 1960s folk revival. In 1964, thirty percent of all albums sold in Ireland are Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem records.

After The Clancy Brothers split up, Liam has a solo career in Canada. In 1975, he is booked to play a festival in Cleveland, Ohio, where Tommy Makem is also playing. The two play a set together and form the group Makem and Clancy, performing in numerous concerts and recording several albums together until 1988. The original Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem line-up also get back together in the 1980s for a reunion tour and album.

In later life, Liam maintains a solo career accompanied by musicians Paul Grant and Kevin Evans, while also engaging in other pursuits. In 2001, Clancy publishes a memoir titled The Mountain of the Women. He is also in No Direction Home, the 2005 Bob Dylan documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. In 2006, Clancy is profiled in a two-hour documentary titled The Legend of Liam Clancy, produced by Anna Rodgers and John Murray with Crossing the Line Films, which wins the award for best series at the Irish Film and Television Awards in Dublin. His final album, The Wheels of Life, is released in 2009. It includes duets with Mary Black and Gemma Hayes as well as songs by Tom Paxton and Donovan.

Liam Clancy dies from pulmonary fibrosis on December 4, 2009, in Bon Secours Hospital, Cork. He is buried in the new cemetery in An Rinn, County Waterford, where he spent the last number of years of his life, owning a successful recording studio.


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Birth of Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy Vocalist & Bassist

Philip Parris “Phil” Lynott, Irish musician, singer, songwriter, and a founding member, principal songwriter, lead vocalist, and bassist of Thin Lizzy, is born on August 20, 1949, in Hallam Hospital in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England.

Lynott goes to live with his grandmother, Sarah Lynott, in Crumlin, Dublin when he is four years old. He is introduced to music through his uncle Timothy’s record collection and becomes influenced by Tamla Motown and The Mamas and the Papas.

Growing up in Dublin in the 1960s, Lynott fronts several bands as a lead vocalist, most notably teaming up with bassist Brendan ‘Brush’ Shiels to form Skid Row in early 1968. It is during this period that Lynott learns to play the bass guitar.

Toward the end of 1969, Lynott, now confident enough to play bass himself in a band, teams with Brian Downey, Eric Bell, and Eric Wrixon to form Thin Lizzy. The band’s first top ten hit comes in 1973 with a rock version of the well-known Irish traditional song “Whiskey in the Jar.” With the release of the Jailbreak album in 1976, Lynott and Thin Lizzy become international superstars on the strength of the album’s biggest hit, “The Boys Are Back in Town.” The song reaches the Top 10 in the United Kingdom, No. 1 in Ireland, and is a hit in the United States and Canada.

Having finally achieved mainstream success, Thin Lizzy embarks on several consecutive world tours. However, the band suffers from personnel changes. By the early 1980s, Thin Lizzy is starting to struggle commercially and Lynott starts showing symptoms of drug abuse, including regular asthma attacks. After the resignation of longtime manager Chris O’Donnell, Lynott decides to disband Thin Lizzy in 1983.

In 1984, Lynott forms a new band, Grand Slam, with Doish Nagle, Laurence Archer, Robbie Brennan, and Mark Stanway. The band tours various clubs but suffers from being labeled a poor version of Thin Lizzy due to the inclusion of two lead guitarists. Grand Slam disbands at the end of the year due to a lack of money and Lynott’s increasing addiction to heroin.

Lynott’s last years are dogged by drug and alcohol dependency leading to his collapse on December 25, 1985, at his home in Kew. He is taken to Salisbury Infirmary where he is diagnosed as suffering from septicemia. His condition worsens by the start of the new year and he is put on a respirator. He dies of pneumonia and heart failure due to septicemia in the hospital’s intensive care unit on January 4, 1986, at the age of 36.

Lynott’s funeral is held at St. Elizabeth of Portugal Church, Richmond, London on January 9, 1986, with most of Thin Lizzy’s ex-members in attendance, followed by a second service at Howth Parish Church on January 11. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin.


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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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The American Civil War Begins

The American Civil War begins on April 12, 1861. There is perhaps no other ethnic group so closely identified with the Civil War years and the immediate aftermath of the war as Irish Americans.

Of those Irish who come over much later than the founding generations, fully 150,000 of them join the Union army. Unfortunately, statistics for the Confederacy are sketchy at best. Still, one has but to listen to the Southern accent and listen to the sorts of tunes Southern soldiers love to sing to realize that a great deal of the South is settled by Irish immigrants. But because the white population of the Confederate states is more native-born than immigrant during the Civil War years, there does not seem as much of a drive in the Southern army to recognize heritage in the names and uniforms of regiments as there is in the Union forces.

In the Union army there is the fabled Irish Brigade, likely the best known of any brigade organization, organized in 1861 and led by the flamboyant General Thomas Francis Meagher. They go into battle with an emerald green flag with a large golden harp in its center, celebrating their heritage even in the midst of death. The Irish Brigade makes an unusual reputation for dash and gallantry. It belongs to the First Division of the Second Corps, and is numbered as the Second Brigade. The Irish Brigade loses over 4,000 men in killed and wounded during the war, more men than ever belong to the brigade at any given time. The Irish Brigade is commanded, in turn, by General Thomas Francis Meagher, Colonel Patrick Kelly (killed), General Thomas A. Smyth (killed), Colonel Richard Byrnes (killed), and General Robert Nugent.

In the North, centers of Irish settlement are Boston and New York, both of which have sizeable Irish neighborhoods. There are major immigration periods in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. The numbers steadily increase until, according to the 1860 census, well over one and a half million Americans claimed to have been born in Ireland. The majority of these live in the North. There are periods of severe economic difficulties both before and after the war when the immigrant Irish are singled out for the distrust and hatred of their fellow Americans. “No Irish Need Apply” is a frequently seen placard sign above the doors of factories, shops, warehouses, and farms.

The Irish are chiefly distrusted because they are Catholic, and there is much opposition in the United States to the Church of Rome. The frustration this prejudice causes leads indirectly to the boil-over of tempers in July 1863, when the first official draft is held. A mob of mostly immigrant laborers gather at the site of the draft lottery, and as names are called and those not wealthy enough to purchase a substitute are required to join up, the mob’s temper flares.

The situation escalates into full-scale rioting. For three days, cities like New York and Boston are caught up in a rampage of looting, burning, and destruction. Many of the rioters are frustrated Irish laborers who cannot get jobs, and their targets are draft officials, as well as free blacks living in the North, who seem able to get jobs that the Irish are denied. It takes the return of armed troops from the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg to bring the cities back to peace and quiet.

Such events do little to help the image of the Irish in America, until many years after the war. Despite their wartime heroics, many Irish veterans come home to find the same ugly bias they faced before going off to fight for the Union. Many of them choose to go into the post war army.

Still others follow Thomas Meagher into Canada, where they join up in an attempt to free Canada from British domination. Many simply choose to remain in the Eastern cities, hoping matters will improve as time goes by. Eventually things do get better for the Irish, but it is many long years before ugly anti-Irish prejudice fades.


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The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Thomas D’Arcy Etienne Hughes McGee, Irish-Canadian politician, Catholic spokesman, journalist, poet, and a Father of Canadian Confederation, is assassinated by Fenian elements on April 7, 1868, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is to date the only Canadian victim of political assassination at the federal level.

McGee, born on April 13, 1825 in Carlingford, County Louth, grows up a Catholic Irishman who hates the British rule of Ireland and works for a peasant revolution to overthrow British rule and secure Irish independence. He escapes arrest and flees to the United States in 1848, where he reverses his political beliefs. He becomes disgusted with American republicanism and democracy, and becomes intensely conservative in his politics and in his religious support for the Pope.

McGee moves to Canada in 1857 and works hard to convince the Irish Catholics to cooperate with the Protestant British in forming a Confederation that will make for a strong Canada in close alliance with Britain. His fervor for Confederation garners him the title “Canada’s first nationalist.” He fights the Fenians in Canada, who are Irish Catholics who hate the British and resemble his younger self politically. McGee succeeds in helping create the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

On 7 April 1868, McGee, having participated in a parliamentary debate that goes on past midnight, walks back to the boarding house where he is staying. McGee is opening the door to Trotter’s Boarding House in Ottawa when he is shot by someone waiting for him on the inside. Several people run to the scene, however there is no sign of the assassin. It is later determined that McGee is assassinated with a shot from a handgun by Patrick J. Whelan.

McGee is given a state funeral in Ottawa and interred in a crypt at the Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges in Montreal. His funeral procession in Montreal draws an estimated crowd of 80,000 out of a total city population of 105,000.

Patrick J. Whelan, a Fenian sympathiser and a Catholic, is accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime on February 11, 1869, in Ottawa. The jury is decisively swayed by the forensic evidence that Whelan’s gun had been fired shortly before the killing, together with the circumstantial evidence that he had threatened and stalked McGee. Historian David Wilson points out that forensic tests conducted in 1972 show that the fatal bullet is compatible with both the gun and the bullets that Whelan owned. Wilson concludes, “The balance of probabilities suggests that Whelan either shot McGee, or was part of a hit-squad, but there is still room for reasonable doubt as to whether he was the man who actually pulled the trigger.”

The government of Canada’s Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building stands near the site of the assassination. The case is dramatised in the Canadian play Blood on the Moon by Ottawa actor/playwright Pierre Brault. The assassination of McGee is also a major component of Away, a novel about Irish immigration to Canada by Canadian novelist Jane Urquhart.