seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Poet Thomas Kinsella

thomas-kinsellaThomas Kinsella, poet whose sensitive lyrics deal with primal aspects of the human experience, often in a specifically Irish context, is born in Inchicore, Dublin on May 4, 1928.

Kinsella spends most of his childhood in the Kilmainham/Inchicore area of Dublin. He is educated at the Model School, Inchicore, where classes are taught in Irish Gaelic, and at the O’Connell School in North Richmond Street, Dublin. He acquires a series of grants and scholarships that allow him to attend University College Dublin, where he studies physics and chemistry before receiving a degree in public administration.

Kinsella begins serving in the Irish civil service in 1946, and in the early 1950s he meets Liam Miller, the founder of Dolman Press, which publishes much of Kinsella’s poetry beginning in 1952. Among these publications are Poems (1956), his first volume of collected work, Another September (1958), which contains poems that explore the imposition of existential order through various forms, be they natural or products of the poet’s imagination and Downstream (1962), a collection focusing on war and political and social disruption in modern Ireland.

In 1965 Kinsella leaves the Irish civil service and takes a position as a writer in residence at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (1965–70). During this time he publishes Nightwalker, and Other Poems (1967), a sombre collection ruminating on Ireland’s past and turbulent present. His translation of the ancient Gaelic saga The Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin bó Cuailnge) is published in 1969, and the following year he begins teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia. New Poems 1956–73 (1973) and One, and Other Poems (1979) skillfully extend the themes of love, death, and rejuvenation.

Kinsella founds his own publishing company, the Peppercanister Press, in Dublin in 1972, which allows him to publish pamphlets and individual poems in limited editions without relying on submissions to journals or magazines. His first poem to be published through his press is Butcher’s Dozen (1972), about Bloody Sunday, in which 13 demonstrators are killed by British troops in Derry, Northern Ireland, and the ensuing tribunal. Blood & Family (1988) combines four short collections of prose and verse originally published individually through Peppercanister, and Godhead (1999) explores the Trinity in the light of contemporary society. Later works published through Peppercanister include Marginal Economy (2006), Man of War (2007), and Belief and Unbelief (2007). Numerous collections of his poems have been released, including Collected Poems, 1956–2001 (2001) and Selected Poems (2007).

In December 2018, Kinsella is awarded Doctor in Littoris, Honoris Causa, by Trinity College Dublin.


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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.