seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Author Abraham “Bram” Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker, Irish author best known today for his 1897 Gothic fiction novel Dracula, is born on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin. During his lifetime, he is better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, London, which Irving owns.

Stoker’s father, Abraham Stoker, is a civil servant and his mother, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, is a charity worker and writer. Stoker is a sickly child and is bedridden with an unknown illness until he starts school at the age of seven, when he makes a complete recovery. Growing up his mother tells him a lot of horror stories which may have influence on his later writings.

In 1864 Stoker enters Trinity College, Dublin. While attending college he begins working as an Irish civil servant. He also works part time as a free lance journalist and drama critic. In 1876 he meets Henry Irving, a famous actor, and they soon become friends. Not long after that, Stoker meets and falls in love with an aspiring actress named Florence Balcombe whom he marries on December 4, 1878 at St. Anne’s Parish Church, Dublin. In 1878 he accepts a job working in London as Irving’s personal secretary.

On December 9, Stoker and his new wife move to England to join Irving. His first book The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland though written while he is still in Dublin, is published in 1879. On December 30, 1879 Stoker and his wife have their only child, a son Noel. While in England Stoker also writes several novels and short stories. His first book of fiction, Under the Sunset, is published in 1881.

Stoker visits the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890, a visit that is said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. Before writing Dracula, he meets Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveller. Dracula likely emerges from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian Mountains. Stoker then spends several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which add a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker develops as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula is considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.

The original 541-page typescript of Dracula is believed to have been lost until it is found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It consists of typed sheets with many emendations, plus handwritten on the title page is “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name is shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. The typescript is purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

After suffering a number of strokes, Abraham “Bram” Stoker dies at No. 26 St. George’s Square, London on April 20, 1912. Some biographers attribute the cause of death to tertiary syphilis, others to overwork. He is cremated and his ashes are placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.

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Earliest Verifiable Viking Invasion of Ireland

The earliest verifiable date of a Viking invasion of Ireland is September 9, 872, in Dunrally in what is now County Laois.

The Vikings conduct extensive raids in Ireland and found many towns, including Dublin, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow, Arklow and Leixlip. Literature, crafts, and decorative styles in Ireland and Britain reflect Scandinavian culture. Vikings trade at Irish markets in Dublin. Excavations find imported fabrics from England, Byzantium, Persia, and Central Asia. Dublin becomes so crowded by the 11th century that houses are built outside the town walls.

The Vikings pillage monasteries on Ireland’s west coast in 795, and then spread out to cover the rest of the coastline. The north and east of the island are most affected. During the first 40 years, the raids are conducted by small, mobile Viking groups. From 830 on, the groups consist of large fleets of Viking ships. From 840, the Vikings begin establishing permanent bases at the coasts. Dublin is the most significant settlement in the long term. The Irish become accustomed to the Viking presence and culture. In some cases they become allies and also intermarry.

In 832, a Viking fleet of about 120 ships under Turgesius invades kingdoms on Ireland’s northern and eastern coasts. Some believe that the increased number of invaders coincides with Scandinavian leaders’ desires to control the profitable raids on the western shores of Ireland. During the mid-830s, raids begin to push deeper into Ireland. Navigable waterways make this deeper penetration possible. After 840, the Vikings have several bases in strategic locations throughout Ireland.

In 838, a small Viking fleet enters the River Liffey in eastern Ireland, probably led by the chieftain Saxolb, who is killed later that year. The Vikings set up a base, which the Irish call longphorts. This longphort would eventually become Dublin. After this interaction, the Irish experience Viking forces for about 40 years. The Vikings also establish longphorts in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, and Wexford. The Vikings are driven out of Ireland for a short period around 900, but return to Waterford in 914 to found what would become Ireland’s first city. The other longphorts are soon re-occupied and developed into cities and towns.

The last major Irish battle involving Vikings is the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, in which a large force from the pan-Viking world and their Irish allies oppose Brian Boru, then the High King of Ireland and his forces, a small contingent of which are Viking defectors. The battle is fought in what is the now Dublin suburb of Clontarf on Good Friday of that year. Boru, the Irish High King has allowed the Viking King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, one year to prepare for his coming assault. Silkbeard responds by offering the bed of his mother to several Viking lords from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain. The savage mêlée between the heavily mailed Norse and the unarmoured, yet undaunted Gaels ends in a rout of the Vikings and their Irish allies. Careful accounts are taken by both sides during the battle, and thus many famous warriors seek each other out for personal combat and glory. High King Brian, who is nearly eighty, does not personally engage in the battle but retires to his tent where he spends the day in quiet prayer.

The Viking Brodir of Man chances upon Brian’s tent as he flees the field. He and a few followers seize the opportunity, and surprise the High King, killing the aged Brian before being captured. Brian’s foster son Ulf the Quarrelsome later tracks down and dispatches Brodir by disembowelment. The battle is fairly matched for most of the day and each side has great respect for the prowess of the other, however, in the end, the Irish forces the Norse to return to the sea. Many of the fleeing Vikings are drowned in the surf due to their heavy mail coats as they struggled for the safety of their longships. Others are pursued and slain further inland.

After the battle, Viking power is broken in Ireland forever, though many settled Norse remain in the cities and prosper greatly with the Irish through trade. With Brian dead, Ireland returns to the fractured kingdom it had once been, but is now cleared of further Viking predation.

(Pictured: Guest from Overseas, Nicholas Roerich, 1901)


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Death of RTÉ Presenter Gerard “Gerry” Ryan

Gerard “Gerry” Ryan, presenter of radio and television employed by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), is found dead in the bedroom of his home on Leeson Street, Dublin on April 30, 2010. He presents The Gerry Ryan Show on radio station RTÉ 2fm each weekday morning from 1988 until hours before his sudden death. He is presented with a Jacob’s Award for the show in 1990.

Ryan is born in Clontarf, County Dublin on June 4, 1956. He describes his father, Vinnie, as a “slightly eccentric” dentist from a Presbyterian background and his mother, Maureen, as “a flamboyant woman” who comes from a theatrical background and works in the theatre. His godfather is broadcaster Eamonn Andrews. He is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny.

Ryan hosts several series of television shows, including Secrets, Gerry Ryan Tonight, Ryantown, Gerry Ryan’s Hitlist, Ryan Confidential and the first three series of Operation Transformation. In 1987, he earns notoriety and the moniker “Lambo” after an unpleasant incident in Connemara. He is also noted for co-presenting, with Cynthia Ní Mhurchú, Eurovision Song Contest 1994 and, in 2008, presenting an edition of The Late Late Show, television’s longest-running chat show, in place of the then regular host Pat Kenny.

Ryan marries Morah Brennan in 1988 and they have five children: Lottie, Rex, Bonnie, Elliott and Babette. In 1997, Morah famously telephones her husband’s show and, under the name Norah, tells half a million listeners intimate details concerning his personal household habits. Gerry and Morah announce their separation in March 2008, which Ryan calls “a very painful experience.” He soon begins a relationship with the former South African Ambassador to Ireland and the then UNICEF Ireland executive director, Melanie Verwoerd.

Ryan is noted for his love of fine food and wine. He battles a weight problem for several years and takes Reductil (Sibutramine), a “slimming pill,” which he says is effective and safe. Ryan concedes in his autobiography Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up, released in October 2008, that he drinks too much for his own good.

Among the dignitaries to send tributes following Ryan’s death are Bono, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, and President Mary McAleese. His funeral takes place on May 6, 2010, and is broadcast on 2fm, the home of Ryan’s radio show and a first for the predominantly youthpop-oriented station. His death also comes sixteen years to the day after he hosted Eurovision 1994.

An inquest shows that the cause of Ryan’s death is cardiac arrhythmia and that traces of cocaine found in Ryan’s system are the “likely trigger” of Ryan’s death. A considerable public controversy erupts when Ryan’s long-term use of cocaine comes to light. RTÉ eventually admits to having given insufficient coverage of Ryan’s cocaine habit in the aftermath of the inquest.


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Birth of Writer John McGahern

John McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, is born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, on November 12, 1934. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark, and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006.

McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, McGahern’s mother runs the farm with some local help whilst maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. In 1944, when McGahern is ten years old, his mother dies of cancer, resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the Garda barracks at Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having travelled daily to complete his second level education, McGahern continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, McGahern begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd, before returning to third level education in University College Dublin where he graduates in 1957. He is first published by the London literary and arts review magazine, X, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his unpublished first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern’s first published novel, The Barracks (1963), chronicles the life of the barrack’s Garda sergeant’s second wife, Elizabeth Reegan, who is in the decline of health due to cancer. The Barracks is adapted for the stage in 1969 by Hugh Leonard.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaski, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Irish Censorship Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication, McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs, including on building sites, before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

After the publications of The Leavetaking (1974) and The Pornographer (1975), his fifth and perhaps best known novel, Amongst Women, is published in 1990. The novel details the story of Michael Moran, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, who now dominates his family in the unforgiving farmlands of County Leitrim, near Mohill.

John McGahern dies from cancer at the age of 71 in the Mater Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church Aughawillan alongside his mother.


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Birth of Maria Josephine Doyle Kennedy, Singer & Actress

maria-doyle-kennedyMaria Josephine Doyle Kennedy, singer, songwriter, and television/film actress, is born in Clontarf, Dublin, on September 25, 1964. With a singing career that has spanned nearly thirty years and an acting career that has spanned twenty five, she has established herself as one of Ireland’s most prolific artists and entertainers.

Although Doyle Kennedy exhibits a love for singing at an early age, she never considers a formal career in singing until after she graduates from Trinity College, Dublin with a joint honours degree in political science and business. She never considers becoming an actress until after she establishes herself as a singer.

Doyle Kennedy joins a band while still in college in the mid-80s, performing with Hothouse Flowers during the band’s early years. She leaves the band in order to join The Black Velvet Band with her future husband, Kieran Kennedy. The band releases their first album, When Justice Came, in 1989 which reaches number 4 on the Irish charts and is ranked among the best Irish albums of the late 1980s. Doyle Kennedy leaves the group to pursue a career in solo music and, in 2001, releases music on Mermaid Records, a label she founds herself in 2000.

After the release of her alternative folk album Mütter in 2007, Hot Press states that Doyle Kennedy “is one of the finest voices this country has ever produced.” She is subsequently nominated in the Best Irish Female category at the 2008 Meteor Awards.

Doyle Kennedy’s first experience with acting comes in 1991 when she plays Natalie Murphy in The Commitments. She continues to expand her acting platform with roles in John Boorman‘s 1998 film, The General, Alan Bleasdale‘s 1999 miniseries Oliver Twist, and the 1999 British television series Queer as Folk.

In 2007 and 2008, Doyle Kennedy receives widespread recognition for her role as Catherine of Aragon on the British historical fiction television series The Tudors. In 2011 she joins the cast of ITV‘s period drama Downton Abbey, appearing as Vera Bates, estranged wife of the Earl of Grantham’s valet, one of her most recognizable roles within the United Kingdom. In the same year, she also plays a small role as a maid in the film Albert Nobbs, alongside American actress Glenn Close.

In 2012, she plays a leading role in the ITV mini-series Titanic and also appears beside fellow Irish actress Saoirse Ronan in Neil Jordan‘s horror fantasy film Byzantium, which premiers at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. She appears in The Conjuring 2, the 2016 sequel to the supernatural horror film The Conjuring.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Birth of Radio & Television Presenter Gerard “Gerry” Ryan

Gerard “Gerry” Ryangerard-gerry-ryan, Irish presenter of radio and television employed by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), is born in Clontarf, County Dublin, on June 4, 1956. He presents The Gerry Ryan Show on radio station RTÉ 2fm each weekday morning from 1988 until his sudden death.

Early in his career, Ryan is involved part-time in pirate radio, presenting a selection of programmes firstly for Alternative Radio Dublin (ARD) and then for Big D. When RTÉ Radio 2, now RTÉ 2fm, is launched in 1979, Ryan joins RTÉ as a DJ where he presents a selection of speech and music based programmes.

In 1987, Ryan and a group of volunteers spend time in the countryside of Connemara as part of The Gay Byrne Show. Ryan claims to have killed and eaten a lamb to survive, earning him the nickname “Lambo,” though the story turns out to be a hoax.

The Gerry Ryan Show begins in March 1988 when he is offered a three-hour morning radio slot. Ryan’s style is considered by some to be that of a motor-mouth shock jock. The Gerry Ryan Show is subject to several upheld complaints to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI). The Gerry Ryan Show becomes something of a national institution as the oldest show still running on 2fm. Despite repeated reshuffles which see all other presenters shifted around, RTÉ never moves The Gerry Ryan Show from its traditional slot.

In October 1990, Ryan receives a Jacob’s Award for The Gerry Ryan Show, described at the award ceremony as “unbelievably bizarre and unprecedented – and at the same time being serious, hilarious, and unpredictable.”

Ryan hosts several series of television shows during his career including Secrets, Ryantown, Gerry Ryan Tonight, Let Me Entertain You, Gerry Ryan’s Hitlist, Ryan Confidential, and Operation Transformation.

Ryan is noted for his love of fine food and wine. He battles a weight problem for several years. Ryan concedes in his autobiography, Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up published in 2008, that he drinks too much for his own good.

Shortly after midday on April 30, 2010, Ryan is found dead in the bedroom of his home on Leeson Street, Dublin. His funeral takes place on May 6, and is broadcast on 2fm, the home of Ryan’s radio show and a first for the predominantly youthpop-oriented station.