seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Author Eilís Dillon

eilis-dillonEilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, is born in Galway, County Galway on March 7, 1920. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine (née Plunkett), who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway City before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in the Irish language and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Her family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and 17 years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council 1974–1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust. In 1987 she and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993.

Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.

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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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Death of Irish Language Writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Máirtín Ó Cadhain, one of the most prominent Irish language writers of the twentieth century, dies on October 18, 1970. Perhaps best known for his 1949 work Cré na Cille, Ó Cadhain plays a key role in bringing literary modernism to contemporary Irish language literature.

Born in Connemara, County Galway, Ó Cadhain becomes a schoolteacher but is dismissed due to his membership in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the 1930s he serves as an IRA recruiting officer, enlisting fellow writer Brendan Behan, and participates in the land campaign of the native speakers, which leads to the establishment of the Ráth Cairn neo-Gaeltacht in County Meath. Subsequently, he is arrested and interned in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare during the Emergency years due to his continued involvement in the violent activities of the IRA.

Ó Cadhain’s politics are a nationalist mix of Marxism and social radicalism tempered with a rhetorical anti-clericalism. In his writings concerning the future of the Irish language he is, however, practical about the position of the Catholic Church as a social and societal institution, craving rather for a wholehearted commitment to the language cause even among Catholic churchmen. It is his view that, as the Church is there anyway, it would be better if it were more willing to address the Faithful in the national idiom.

As a writer, Ó Cadhain is acknowledged to be a pioneer of Irish language modernism. His Irish is the dialect of Connemara but he is happy to cannibalise other dialects, classical literature and even Scots Gaelic for the sake of linguistic and stylistic enrichment of his own writings. Consequently, much of what he writes is reputedly hard to read for a non-native speaker.

Ó Cadhain is a prolific writer of short stories. His collections of short stories include Cois Caoláire, An Braon Broghach, Idir Shúgradh agus Dháiríre, An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, An tSraith Tógtha and An tSraith ar Lár. He also writes three novels, of which only Cré na Cille is published during his lifetime. The other two, Athnuachan and Barbed Wire, appear in print only recently. He translates Charles Kickham‘s novel Sally Kavanagh into Irish as Saile Chaomhánach, nó na hUaigheanna Folmha. He also writes several political or linguo-political pamphlets. His political views can most easily be discerned in a small book about the development of Irish nationalism and extremism since Theobald Wolfe Tone, Tone Inné agus Inniu. In the early 1960s he writes, partly in Irish, partly in English, a comprehensive survey of the social status and actual use of the language in the west of Ireland, published as An Ghaeilge Bheo – Destined to Pass. In August 1969 he delivers a speech, published as Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge: Gluaiseacht ar Strae, in which he speaks of the role Irish speakers should take in ‘Athghabháil na hÉireann’, or the Re-Conquest of Ireland as James Connolly first coins the term.

He and Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin are considered the two most innovative Gaelic authors to emerge in the 1960s. He has frequent difficulties to get his work edited, but unpublished writings have appeared at least every two years since the publication of Athnuachan in the mid-nineties.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain dies on October 18, 1970 in Dublin and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

A lecture hall at Trinity College, Dublin is named after Ó Cadhain who was professor of Irish. A bronze bust is also located in the Irish department.


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Death of Author Eilís Dillon

Eilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, dies on July 19, 1994. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine née Plunkett, who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in Irish and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Dillon’s family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and seventeen years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College, Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council from 1974 until 1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust.

In 1987 Dillon and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993. Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.


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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 & Journalist Pádraic Ó Conaire

padraic-o-conairePádraic Ó Conaire, Irish writer and journalist whose production is primarily in the Irish language, is born in Galway on February 20, 1882. During his lifetime he writes 26 books, 473 stories, 237 essays, and 6 plays. His acclaimed novel Deoraíocht has been described by Angela Bourke as “the earliest example of modernist fiction in Irish.”

Ó Conaire’s father is a publican, who owns two premises in the town of Galway. His mother is Kate McDonagh. He is orphaned by the age of eleven. He spends a period living with his uncle in Garaffin, Ros Muc, Connemara. The area is in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) and Ó Conaire learns to speak Irish fluently.

He emigrates to London in 1899 where he gets a job with the Board of Education and becomes involved in the work of the Gaelic League. A pioneer in the Gaelic revival in the last century, Ó Conaire and Patrick Pearse are regarded as being the two most important Irish language short story writers during the first decades of the 20th century.

Ó Conaire is married to Molly Ní Mhanais, with whom he has four children: Eileen (born February 22, 1905), Patrick (born November 3, 1906), Kathleen (born February 24, 1909, and Mary Josephine (born July 28, 1911 but dies of diphtheria in 1922).

Ó Conaire returns to Ireland in 1914, leaving his family in London. Living mostly in Galway, he earns a meagre living through writing, teaching at Gaeltacht summer schools, and as an occasional organiser for the Gaelic League.

Ó Conaire dies at the age of 46 while on a visit to Dublin in 1928 after complaining of internal pains while at the head office of the Gaelic League. His fellow poet Frederick Robert Higgins writes a celebrated Lament for Pádraic Ó Conaire.

Pádraic Ó Conaire has family still living to this day in England as well as in Galway and Canada. The Ó Conaire surname is still strong in the Ros Muc area.


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Birth of Irish Author Maurice O’Sullivan

maurice-osullivan-houseMaurice O’Sullivan (Irish: Muiris Ó Súilleabháin), Irish author famous for his memoir of growing up on the Great Blasket Island and in Dingle, County Kerry, off the western coast of Ireland, is born on February 19, 1904.

Following the death of his mother when he is six months old, O’Sullivan is raised in an institution in Dingle, County Kerry. At the age of eight, he returns to Great Blasket Island to live with his father, grandfather, and the rest of his siblings, and learns the native language. He joins the Garda Síochána in Dublin in 1927 and is stationed in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara.

O’Sullivan is persuaded to write his memoirs by George Derwent Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who has come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. It is Thomson who encourages him to go into the Guards, rather than emigrate to America as do most of the young people. Thomson edits and assembles the memoir, and arranges for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn-Davies.

Fiche Blian ag Fás (in English, Twenty Years a-Growing) is published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture have continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island is a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives.

While Fiche Blian ag Fás is received with tremendous enthusiasm by critics, including E.M. Forster, their praise at times has a condescending tone. Forster describes the book as a document of a surviving “Neolithic” culture. Such interest is tied up with romantic notions of the Irish primitive, and thus when O’Sullivan tries to find a publisher for his second book, Fiche Bliain faoi Bhláth (in English, Twenty Years a-Flowering), there is little interest, as this narrative necessarily departs from the romantic realm of turf fires and pipe-smoking wise-women.

In 1934, O’Sullivan leaves the Guards and settles in Connemara. He drowns on June 25, 1950, while swimming off the Connemara coast. Dylan Thomas commences, but does not finish, a screenplay of Fiche Blian ag Fás.

(Pictured: The ruins of the house in which Maurice O’Sullivan grew up on the Great Blasket Island)