seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mother Frances Mary Teresa Ball

frances-teresa-ballMother Frances Mary Teresa Ball, foundress of the Irish Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), is born in Dublin on January 9, 1794.

Ball is the youngest of six children born to John and Mable Clare Bennet Ball. Her father is a wealthy silk weaver. Catholicism is still suppressed in Ireland at this time. She is therefore sent to England at the age of nine to the Bar Convent in York. Henry James Coleridge describes her as “a bright, quiet, high spirited girl, fond of fun, and with much depth of character.” In these times students do not return home for Easter, Christmas or summer holidays. They stay at the school, and live like religious people, until they leave school, usually in their late teens.

In 1807, her eldest sister, Cecilia is professed at the Ursuline convent in Cork. Ball travels from Dublin to Cork for the ceremony, where she meets Mary Aikenhead. Cecilia Ball takes the name of Sister Francis Regis and is within a few years made Superior of the convent in Cork. Upon the death of her father in 1808, Ball returns to Dublin. She is expected to make an admirable wife for the son and heir of some rich Catholic Dublin merchant family.

In June 1814, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, Ball returns to York and enters the novitiate of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There she receives her religious training, and makes her profession in September 1816, taking, in religion, the name of Mary Teresa.

Recalled by Archbishop Murray, Ball returns to Dublin in 1821 with two novices to establish the Irish Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the instruction of children. They stay with Mary Aikenhead and the Irish Sisters of Charity in Stanhope Street while Rathfarnham House is being renovated. In 1822 she opens the first institution of the order in Ireland, in Rathfarnam House, four miles from Dublin. She decides to call the house “Loreto” after the village in Italy to which the Nazareth house of the Holy Family is said to have been miraculously transported.

Ball is a woman of great piety and administrative ability. Her energies are devoted to the establishment of schools and to the development of the sisterhood which now has members in many countries. The first offshoot is planted in Navan, County Meath, in the year 1833. The year 1840 is marked by the erection of the first church in Ireland dedicated to the Sacred Heart, in Loretto Abbey, Rathfarnham. In addition to the boarding and day schools the sisters conduct orphanages.

For almost forty years after bringing the IBVM to Ireland, Ball establishes a wide network of convents and schools across Ireland, as well as in India, Mauritius and Canada. The nuns are usually called Sisters of Loreto after the shrine at Loreto, Marche in Italy.

Mother Mary Teresa Ball dies at Rathfarnham Abbey on May 19, 1861 after a long illness.

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Death of Author Violet Florence Martin

violet-florence-martinViolet Florence Martin, Irish author, dies in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. She is the co-author of a series of novels with cousin Edith Somerville under the pen name of Martin Ross in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Martin is born at Ross House in Connemara, County Galway, the youngest of sixteen children of James Martin of Ross (1804–1872). The Martin family, a branch of the Martyn family – one of the Tribes of Galway – had settled at Ross by the early seventeenth century, having previously inhabited the town of Galway for some three hundred years. Her father is a Protestant, his grandfather having converted from the Catholic faith in order to retain the family estates under the Penal Laws. Nevertheless, each child of the family is secretly ‘baptised’ by the family servants.

Martin is a kinswoman of Richard Martin and her contemporary, Edward Martyn, two other notable members of the tribe. Her older brother, Robert Jasper Martin, is a noted songwriter and a well-regarded member of the Tory party in London. She shares a great-grandmother with the writer Maria Edgeworth, whose use of Irish vernacular speech she follows in her work.

Martin’s father manages to save both his estate and his tenants during the Great Famine boasting that not one of his people died during the disaster, but at the cost of bankruptcy. Following his death in 1872, the family moves to Dublin and only returns to Ross in 1888 following revelations of financial fraud of the estate by their agent.

Violet Martin and Edith Somerville are second cousins. They originally meet on January 17, 1886 at Castletownshend, after which they become lifelong companions and literary partners. They come to share a home in Drishane, County Cork. In 1889, Violet adopts the pseudonym Martin Ross, which comprises her surname and the name of her ancestral home. Thus the authors are called Somerville and Ross. Their works include The Real Charlotte (1889), Some Reminiscences of an Irish R.M. and In The Vine Country.

Martin is a convinced Irish Unionist, in opposition to Somerville’s open nationalism. Both she and her brother Robert are well-regarded members of the literary circle in Irish unionism. However, unlike her brother, Martin is a convinced suffragette, becoming vice-president of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. While on friendly terms with the leading members of the Gaelic literary revival such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, she objects to their romantic version of Irish peasantry. She is on good terms with Edward Martyn, partner of Gregory and Yeats – and her kinsman – and shares his love of the Irish language and culture.

Martin is seriously injured in a riding accident in November 1898, from which she never fully recovers. This is a contributing factor to her death in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. Edith Somerville continues to write under their joint literary names, claiming that they are still in contact. The two women leave thousands of letters and 116 volumes of diaries, detailing their lives, much of them yet unpublished. Edith dies at Castletownshend in October 1949, aged 91, and is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork, Ireland.


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Execution of Robert Erskine Childers

During the Irish Civil War, British writer and Irish republican Robert Erskine Childers is executed by the Irish Free State government at the Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin on November 24, 1922.

The London-born son of a British scholar and an Irish mother, Childers is a lifelong Protestant, itself an anomaly since Irish nationalism maps strongly to Catholicism. In his early years his loyalty was with the British Empire. In his twenties, Childers volunteers for the Second Boer War, and he later says the rank savagery and underlying injustice of England’s war “changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist.”

Laying down the sword, Childers takes up the pen and writes several books of military history. He also writes a novel, The Riddle of the Sands, that has a claim of being the first spy novel. The Riddle of the Sands has never gone out of print since it was published in 1903.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, Childers’ warnings against the German challenge to British hegemony are prophetic, but he is himself becoming a man divided. In 1914 he runs German guns to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht Asgard and then signs up for the royal navy when World War I erupts. The British crackdown on the Easter Rising during the war completes his radicalization. He moves to Dublin and turns his eloquence against the British.

Childers is swept into the tragedy of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that follows. Although both he and Michael Collins are in the delegation that produces the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty, Childers breaks with Collins over it and backs the Irish Republican Army (IRA) nationalists who fight the Irish Free State.

After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgate the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorization. Childers is a writer, not a partisan, but he is arrested in early November with a small sidearm, a gift Collins had given him back when they were on the same side. It is a time of bloody justice and they throw the book at him.

Childers knows as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He faces his execution with awe-inspiring forgiveness. Summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracts a promise from the boy that he will find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. This son, young Erskine Hamilton Childers, eventually becomes President of Ireland.

Childers himself likewise shakes the hands of his own firing squad, one by one. His last words, reported in a number of slightly different variations, are lightheartedly addressed to them: “Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way.”


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The Censorship of Publications Act

The Censorship of Publications Act is passed on July 16, 1929. The laws enacted by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 are introduced in an era of political isolationism and cultural and economic protectionism. Ireland’s culture is very moral and religious. Catholicism, the religion of 93% of the population, is the fundamental philosophy behind the censorship laws.

A main aim of the new legislation is to prevent the introduction of unwholesome foreign influences like materialism, consumerism and immorality from abroad. Specifically, this means works that are considered to be indecent or obscene, newspapers whose content relies too much on crime, and works that promote the “unnatural” prevention of conception or that advocate abortion. Irish writers who are found offensive are officially regarded as agents of decadence and social disintegration who are striking at the roots of family life and moral decency. For example, Father P.J. Gannon thinks that the Act is “but a simple measure of moral hygiene, forced upon the Irish public by a veritable spate of filth never surpassed.” He thinks that all literature must provide “noble ground for noble emotion.” President Éamon de Valera feels that the arts in Ireland are to be encouraged when they observe the “holiest traditions,” but should be censored when they fail to live up to this ideal.

Although the new laws are typical of censorship laws in many other countries in the 1920s and 1930s, they are implemented with an eagerness which gradually alienates and embitters many Irish writers. It causes some writers to leave the country. The author Mervyn Wall explains that during the 1930s there is “a general intolerant attitude to writing, painting and sculpture. These were thought dangerous, likely to corrupt faith and morals…One encountered frequently among ordinary people bitter hostility to writers…Obscurantism had settled on the country like a fog, so of course anyone who had eyes to see and the heart to feel, was rebellious.”

The Academy of Letters established by William Butler Yeats attempts to fight censorship with solidarity among writers, but it achieves little in this field. The fight against literary censorship is fought mainly by isolated figures. Seán Ó Faoláin, perhaps the most vociferous critic of the censorship laws, writes, “Our Censorship…tries to keep the mind in a state of perpetual adolescence in the midst of all the influences that must, in spite of it, pour in from the adult world.”

Among the first thirteen books to be banned, announced in the Iris Oifigúil in May 1930, are Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and several books on sex and marriage by Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes. Surprisingly, none of James Joyce‘s writings are ever banned by the Board, while copies of his works are burned by the British Customs, and Ulysses is banned in the United States for several years.


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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.


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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.


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Birth of Irish Author Mary Anne Sadlier

mary-anne-sadlierMary Anne Sadlier, Irish author, is born Mary Anne Madden in Cootehill, County Cavan, on December 30, 1820.

Sadlier publishes roughly sixty novels and numerous stories in her lifetime. She writes for Irish immigrants in both the United States and Canada, encouraging them to attend mass and retain the Catholic faith. In so doing, Sadlier also addresses the related themes of anti-Catholicism, the Great Famine, emigration, and domestic work. Her writings are often found under the name Mrs. J. Sadlier.

Upon the death of her father, Francis, a merchant, Mary Madden emigrates to Sainte-Marthe, Quebec in 1844, where she marries publisher James Sadlier, also from Ireland, on November 24, 1846. Sadlier publishes much of her work in the family’s Catholic magazine, The Tablet. Sadlier experiences her most productive literary period after her marriage and is most creative after the time all of her children are born. While living in Canada, Sadlier publishes eighteen books — five novels, one collection of short stories, a religious catechism, and nine translations from the French — in addition to assorted magazine articles she contributes to the Pilot and American Celt free of charge. In New Lights (1853), Sadlier deals with the Great Famine for the first time. The book proves one of her most popular, going through at least eight editions in fifty years. In this novel, Sadlier focuses a polemical attack on the Protestant practice of converting Irish peasants by promising them soup, but condemns peasant retaliation and violence.

In the early 1860s, the couple moves to New York City. The Sadlier’s New York home becomes the hub of literary activity in the Catholic community, and Sadlier also enjoys the company of the brightest Irish writers in the United States and Canada, including New York Archbishop John Hughes, editor Orestes Brownson, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. She holds weekly salons in her Manhattan home, as well as her summer home on Far Rockaway on Long Island. Her closest friend is D’Arcy McGee, a poet, Irish nationalist exile and Canadian statesman known as one of the founding “Fathers of Confederation” who helps bring about Canada’s independence. McGee and Sadlier share an interest in a “national poetry” that does not only capture the spirit of a people, but inspires them to political and national independence. While McGee, as a man, can take part in political rallies and organize Irish American support for Home Rule, Sadlier, as a woman, directs her support for Irish independence into literature. McGee’s biographer notes that Sadlier’s success inspires him to write emigrant novels, and is planning a novel on this subject at the time of his assassination by an Irish American radical in 1868. His death is a crushing blow to Sadlier and her husband. Sadlier edits a collection of McGee’s poetry in 1869 in tribute to his memory.

Sadlier remains in New York for nine years before returning to Canada, where she dies in Montreal on April 5, 1903. In later years she loses the copyright to all her earlier works, many of which remain in print. One of Mary Anne’s daughters, Anna Theresa Sadlier, also becomes a writer.