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


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Birth of Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, American novelist, essayist, short story and screenwriter, is born into an Irish Catholic family on September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is best known for his novels depicting the flamboyance and excess of the Jazz Age, a term he popularized. During his lifetime, he publishes four novels, four collections of short stories, and 164 short stories. Although he achieves temporary popular success and fortune in the 1920s, he receives critical acclaim only after his death, and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century.

The son of middle-class Irish Catholics Edward and Mary McQuillan Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald is raised primarily in New York. He attends Princeton University, but owing to a failed relationship with socialite Ginevra King and a preoccupation with writing, he drops out in 1917 to join the United States Army. While stationed in Alabama, he romances Zelda Sayre, a Southern debutante who belongs to Montgomery‘s exclusive country-club set. Although she rejects Fitzgerald initially, because of his lack of financial prospects, she agrees to marry him after he publishes the commercially successful This Side of Paradise (1920). The novel becomes a cultural sensation and cements his reputation as one of the eminent writers of the decade.

Fitzgerald’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned (1922), propels him further into the cultural elite. To maintain his affluent lifestyle, he writes numerous stories for popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s: The National Weekly, and Esquire. During this period, he frequents Europe, where he befriends modernist writers and artists of the “Lost Generation” expatriate community, including Ernest Hemingway. His third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), receives generally favorable reviews but is a commercial failure, selling fewer than 23,000 copies in its first year. Despite its lackluster debut, The Great Gatsby is now widely praised, with some labeling it the “Great American Novel.” Following the deterioration of his wife’s mental health and her placement in a mental institute for schizophrenia, he completes his final novel, Tender Is the Night (1934).

Struggling financially because of the declining popularity of his works amid the Great Depression, Fitzgerald turns to Hollywood, writing and revising screenplays. While living in Hollywood, he cohabits with columnist Sheilah Graham, his final companion before his death. After a long struggle with alcoholism, he attains sobriety only to die of a heart attack on December 21, 1940, at the age of 44. His friend Edmund Wilson completes and publishes an unfinished fifth novel, The Last Tycoon (1941), after Fitzgerald’s death.

At the time of his death, the Roman Catholic Church denies the family’s request that Fitzgerald, a non-practicing Catholic, be buried in the family plot in the Catholic St. Mary’s Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. He is buried instead with a simple Protestant service at Rockville Union Cemetery. When Zelda Fitzgerald dies in a fire at the Highland Mental Hospital in 1948, she is originally buried next to him at Rockville Union. In 1975, Fitzgerald’s daughter Scottie successfully petitions to have the earlier decision revisited and her parents’ remains are moved to the family plot in Saint Mary’s.


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Birth of Cornelius Ryan, Journalist & Author

cornelius-ryanCornelius Ryan, Irish journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, is born in Dublin in June 5, 1920. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.