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


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Birth of Jazz Guitarist Louis Stewart

louis-stewartLouis Stewart, Irish jazz guitarist, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on January 5, 1944.

Stewart grows up in Dublin. He begins playing guitar when he is thirteen, influenced by guitarists Les Paul and Barney Kessel. He begins his professional career performing in Dublin showbands. In 1968 he wins an award as best soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Soon after, he spends three years with Benny Goodman.

Stewart records his debut album, Louis the First, in Dublin, and then records in London with Billy Higgins, Peter Ind, Sam Jones, Red Mitchell, and Spike Robinson. From the mid to late 1970s he works with George Shearing, touring the United States, Brazil, and playing European festivals, and recording eight albums, including several in a trio with bassist Niels-Henning Orsted-Pedersen. He also appears on albums by Joe Williams and J. J. Johnson.

In 1981, ahead of his debut in the United States as a leader, The New York Times states, “Mr. Stewart seems to have his musical roots in be-bop. He leans toward material associated with Charlie Parker and he spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving.” In a review of Stewart’s 1995 album Overdrive, AllMusic states, “Louis Stewart is one of the all-time greats, and it is obvious from the first notes he plays on any occasion.”

Stewart receives an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1998. In 2009, he is elected to Aosdána, an Irish affiliation of people engaged in literature, music, and visual arts that was established by the Arts Council of Ireland in 1981 to honour those whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland.

In late 2015, Stewart is diagnosed with cancer. He dies nine months later, on August 20, 2016, at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross at the age of 72.

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Death of Jim Mitchell, Fine Gael Politician

jim-mitchellJim Mitchell, senior Irish politician who serves in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, loses his three-year battle with cancer in Dublin on December 2, 2002.

Mitchell begins his political involvement when he supports Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joins Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s unsuccessful candidate in a by-election in 1970. He seeks a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agrees not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello goes on to serve as Attorney General of Ireland in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Mitchell is elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, at the age of 29, he becomes the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South-West and loses again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he is elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appoints Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell is elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increases its number of seats, forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald causes some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell are appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapses in January 1982, but regains power in December of that year. Mitchell again is included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell grants the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on November 29, 1985. This is granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license breaks Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

Mitchell, who is seen as being on the social liberal wing of Fine Gael, is out of favour with John Bruton when he becomes Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton forms the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994, Mitchell is not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contests and wins Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He runs for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also is director of elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton is deposed as Fine Gael leader and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell serves as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. He also chairs the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under his chairmanship is widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and wide-scale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors,” who holds onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal is primarily middle class, Mitchell loses his Dublin Central seat in the 2002 general election. That election witnesses a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Although Mitchell suffers from the swing against Fine Gael in Dublin, he is not aided by the fact that Inchicore, which is considered his base in the constituency has been moved to Dublin South-Central. He chooses not to run in that constituency as his brother, Gay, is a sitting Teachta Dála (TD) running for re-election for that constituency.

Mitchell earlier has a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation is successful, the cancer returns. Although he appears to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately dies of the disease on December 2, 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, describes Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.”


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Birth of Dolores Keane, Folk Singer & Actress

dolores-keaneDolores Keane, folk singer and occasional actress, is born on September 26, 1953 in the small village of Sylane, near Tuam, in rural County Galway. She is a founding member of the successful group De Dannan, and has since embarked on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.

Keane is raised from the age of four by her aunts Rita and Sarah Keane, who are also well-known sean-nós singers. She starts her singing at a very young age, due to the influence of her musical aunts. She makes her first recording for Radio Éireann in 1958 at the age of five. This early start sets her on the path to a career in music. Her brother, Seán, also goes on to enjoy a successful music career.

In 1975, Keane co-founds the traditional Irish band De Dannan, and they release their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gains international recognition and enjoys major success in the late 1970s in the United States. She tours with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” is a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she leaves De Dannan and is replaced by Andy Irvine, who records live with the band on April 30, 1976, during the 3rd Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Soon thereafter, she marries multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently records three albums of folk music.

Keane lives and works in London for several years with Faulkner before they move to Ireland in the early 1980s. They work on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and form two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period she records her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This is followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gives credit to Faulkner. In the mid-1980s she rejoins De Dannan and records the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Keane turns her attention, once again, to her solo career in 1988. It sees the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album, A Lion in a Cage (1989), features a song written by Faulkner called “Lion in a Cage” protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It serves as Keane’s second Irish number one and she performs the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expands her reputation and popularity worldwide. A new facet is added to her career when she plays the female lead in the Dublin production of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage. The opening night is attended by Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland at the time.

In 1992, Keane is among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album goes on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 is released in late 1994 and emulates its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, Solid Ground, is released on the Shanachie Records label and receives critical acclaim in Europe and America.

In August 1995, Keane is awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, County Down, for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture.” In that same year, she takes to the stage in the Dublin production of John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World. She contributes to the RTÉ/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home,” a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America.

In August 1997, Keane goes to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album, Night Owl, is released in 1998. It sees her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it does well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she goes on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s, where she plays to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham, Alabama and New York City.

Keane puts an end to recording and touring in the late 1990s, due to depression and alcoholism, for which she receives extensive treatment. As of June 2014, she is given the all clear after suffering from cancer.


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Birth of New Zealand Settler Frederick Edward Maning

frederick-edward-maningFrederick Edward Maning, a notable early settler in New Zealand and writer and judge of the Native Land Court, is born in Johnville, County Dublin on July 5, 1812.

Maning is the eldest son of moderately wealthy, Protestant Anglo-Irish parents. His father, Frederick Maning, emigrates to Van Diemen’s Land in 1824 with his wife and three sons to take up farming. Young Maning becomes a skilled outdoorsman and builds up the physical strength to match his six-foot, three-inch stature. In 1829, his father becomes a customs officer in Hobart and moves there with his family. By 1832, Frederick leaves home to manage a remote outpost in the north of Tasmania. Soon after, he decides to pursue his fortune in New Zealand.

Maning arrives in the Hokianga area on June 30, 1833, and lives among the Ngāpuhi Māori people. With his physical skills and great stature, as well as his considerable good humor, he quickly gains favour with the tribe. He becomes known as a Pākehā Māori (a European turned native) and his arrival in New Zealand is the subject of the first chapters of his book Old New Zealand.

In 1837, he sells his property and returns to Hobart. He returns to Hokianga in March 1839 and in September purchases 200 acres for a farm at Onoke. He builds a house there that is standing until destroyed by fire in 2004. He takes a Māori wife, Moengoroa, and they have four children.

In 1840, Maning acts as a translator at meetings about the Treaty of Waitangi, and he advises the local Māori to not sign. His vocal opposition to the Treaty is primarily because he has settled with the Māori precisely to escape from the restrictions of European civilisation. He fears that the introduction of European style law will put a damper on his lifestyle and on his entrepreneurial trading activities. He warns the Māori that European colonisation will degrade them. Governor William Hobson counters by telling the Māori that without British Law, lawless self-interested Europeans without any regard for Māori rights will soon take all their land. Maning’s book Old New Zealand is, in part, a lament for the lost freedom enjoyed before European rule.

In 1845–1846, during the Māori Wars, Maning sometimes uses his influence with the Māori to intercede on behalf of settlers. He also organises supplies to the government’s Māori supporters. However, he writes his second book, History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke, from the perspective of an imaginary supporter of Hōne Heke, who is one of the principal antagonists opposing the government.

Through the 1850s, Maning primarily occupies himself with timber and gum trade. In the early 1860s, he retires from business activities. In 1865, he enters the public service as a judge of the Native Land Court, where his unequalled knowledge of the Māori language, customs, traditions and prejudices is of solid value.

Maning retires in 1876 although he helps conduct a major land court hearing at Taupo in 1881. He becomes estranged from his children in his later years. In November 1882, he goes to London for an operation, however, he dies there on July 25, 1883 of cancer. At his wish, his body is taken back to New Zealand and buried in December 1883, in the Symonds Street Cemetery in Auckland.

Maning is chiefly remembered as the author of two short books, Old New Zealand and History of the War in the North of New Zealand against the Chief Heke. Both books have been reprinted many times and have become classics of New Zealand literature.


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Birth of Richard Todd, Stage & Film Actor

richard-toddRichard Andrew Palethorpe Todd OBE, an English soldier, stage and film actor and film director, is born in Dublin on June 11, 1919.

Todd spends a few of his childhood years in India, where his father, an officer in the British Army, serves as a physician. Later his family moves to Devon and he attends Shrewsbury School. Upon leaving school, he trains for a potential military career at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before beginning his acting training at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. This change in career leads to estrangement from his mother. When he learns at age 19 that she has committed suicide, he does not grieve long for her, he admits in later life.

Todd first appears professionally as an actor at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He plays in regional theatres and then co-founds the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland in 1939. He also appears as an extra in British films like Good Morning, Boys (1937), A Yank at Oxford (1938) and Old Bones of the River (1939).

At the beginning of World War II, Todd enlists in the British Army, receiving a commission in 1941. On June 6, 1944, as a captain, he participates in Operation Tonga during the Normandy landings. He is among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

After the war, Todd is unsure what direction to take in his career. His former agent, Robert Lennard, has become a casting agent for Associated British Picture Corporation and advises him to try out for the Dundee Repertory Company. He does so, performing in plays such as Claudia, where he appears with Claudia Grant-Bogle. Lennard arranges for a screen test and Associated British offers him a long-term contract in 1948. He is cast in the lead in For Them That Trespass (1949), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. The film is a minor hit and his career is launched.

Having portrayed the role of Yank in the Dundee Repertory stage version of John Patrick‘s play The Hasty Heart, Todd is subsequently chosen to appear in the 1948 London stage version of the play, this time in the leading role of Cpl. Lachlan McLachlan. This leads to his being cast in that role in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of the play, which is filmed in the United Kingdom, alongside Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal. He is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role in 1949.

Todd is now in much demand. He appears in the thriller The Interrupted Journey (1949), Alfred Hitchcock‘s Stage Fright (1950), opposite Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman, Portrait of Clare (1950), Flesh and Blood (1951), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), 24 Hours of a Woman’s Life (1952), with Merle Oberon, Venetian Bird (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953). In 1953, he appears in a BBC Television adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights.

Todd’s career receives a boost when 20th Century Fox signs him to a non-exclusive contract. He appears the film version of Catherine Marshall‘s best selling biography, A Man Called Peter (1955), which is a popular success. Other films in which he appears include The Dam Busters (1955), The Virgin Queen (1955), Marie Antoinette Queen of France (1956), D-Day the Sixth of June (1956), Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957), Saint Joan (1957), Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), Intent to Kill (1958), Danger Within (1958), Never Let Go (1960) and The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961).

Todd’s career in films rapidly declines in the 1960s as the counter-culture movement in the Arts becomes fashionable in England, with social-realist dramas commercially replacing the more middle-class orientated dramatic productions that Todd’s performance character-type had previously excelled in.

In retirement, Todd lives in the village of Little Ponton and later in Little Humby, eight miles from Grantham, Lincolnshire. Suffering from cancer, he dies at his home on December 3, 2009. He is buried between his two sons, Seamus and Peter, at St. Guthlac’s Church in Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England.


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Birth of UUP Politician Harold McCusker

harold-mccuskerJames Harold McCusker, Northern Ireland Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) politician who serves as the Deputy Leader of the UUP Assembly Group from 1982–1986, is born on February 7, 1940.

The youngest son of Jim and Lily McCusker, McCusker is born and raised in the heart of Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. He is educated at Lurgan Model Primary School, Lurgan College and Stranmillis University College, before qualifying as a teacher. Before entering politics he works in industry, latterly with Goodyear, in their Craigavon Plant.

McCusker represents the Armagh constituency, and is first returned to the House of Commons of the United Kingdom at the February 1974 general election. He is returned again in October 1974 and in the 1979 election. In 1982 he tops the poll in Armagh in the Assembly election.

At the 1983 general election, McCusker is returned for the new seat of Upper Bann. Alongside other Unionist MPs, he resigns his seat in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, in order to contest his seat again at the ensuing by-election. He is returned again at the 1987 general election, which proves to be his last as he dies of cancer in 1990, causing another by-election, which is won by future Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble.

McCusker is an Orangeman and staunch Unionist. Prior to his death in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on February 12, 1990, five days after his 50th birthday, McCusker is expected to rise further in the Ulster Unionist Party and British political scenes, due to his ability and popularity among his peers and the wider public. He is a member of the Methodist Church in Ireland (Lurgan circuit).


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Birth of Cardinal Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich

Tomás Séamus Ó Fiaich, Irish prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, is born in Cullyhanna, County Armagh, on November 3, 1923. He serves as the Catholic Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh from 1977 until his death. He is created a Cardinal in 1979.

Ó Fiaich is ordained a priest on July 6, 1948. He spends his first year of ordination as assistant priest in Clonfeacle parish. He undertakes post-graduate studies at University College, Dublin, (1948–50), receiving a Master of Arts (MA) in early and medieval Irish history. He also studies at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, (1950–52), receiving a licentiate in historical sciences.

In 1952 Ó Fiaich returns to Clonfeacle where he remains as assistant priest until the following summer and his appointment to the faculty of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is an academic and noted Irish language scholar, folklorist and historian in the Pontifical University in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, the National Seminary of Ireland. From 1959 to 1974 he is Professor of Modern Irish History at the college. In this capacity he suggests to Nollaig Ó Muraíle that he begin research on Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh and his works. He “was an inspired lecturer, an open and endearing man, who was loved by his students… Tomas O’Fiaich was my Good Samaritan.”

Ó Fiaich serves as vice president of the college from 1970 to 1974 and is then appointed college president, a post that traditionally precedes appointment to an episcopal position in the Irish Church. He holds this position until 1977.

Following the relatively early death from cancer of Cardinal William Conway in April 1977, Monsignor Ó Fiaich is appointed Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Paul VI on August 18, 1977. He is consecrated bishop on October 2, 1977. The principal consecrator is the papal nuncio Archbishop Gaetano Alibrandi. The principal co-consecrators are Bishop Francis Lenny, the auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, and Bishop William Philbin, the Bishop of Down and Connor. Pope John Paul II raises Ó Fiaich to the cardinalate on June 30, 1979, and he is appointed Cardinal-Priest of S. Patrizio that same day.

Ó Fiaich dies of a heart attack on the evening of May 8, 1990 while leading the annual pilgrimage by the Archdiocese of Armagh to the Marian shrine of Lourdes in France. He arrives in France the day before and complains of feeling ill shortly after saying Mass at the grotto in the French town. He is rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Toulouse, 125 miles away, where he dies. He lies in state at the cathedral in Armagh, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects.

Ó Fiaich is succeeded as archbishop and cardinal by a man six years his senior, Cahal Daly, then the Bishop of Down and Connor.