seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Joan Denise Moriarty, Ballet Dance & Choreographer

joan-denise-moriartyJoan Denise Moriarty, Irish ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher of ballet and traditional Irish dancer and musician, dies on January 24, 1992. She is a key figure in the development of both amateur and professional ballet in Ireland.

Little is known of Moriarty’s early life. Her year of birth is estimated between 1910 and 1913 but no documentation has been found. The place of her birth is also unknown, and even the country is uncertain. She grows up as the daughter of Michael Augustus Moriarty, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College and contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his wife, Marion (née McCarthy). The Moriartys are originally from Mallow, County Cork, where her grandfather John Moriarty was a successful solicitor.

Moriarty is brought up in England. She studies ballet until her early teens with Dame Marie Rambert. She is an accomplished Irish step-dancer and traditional musician, and becomes the champion Irish step-dancer of Britain on April 24, 1931. She also wins a swimming championship. She is a member of the Liverpool branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge.

In the autumn of 1933 Moriarty returns with her family to their native Mallow in County Cork. In 1934, she sets up her first school of dance there. From 1938 she also gives weekly classes in Cork in the Gregg Hall and Windsor School. During the 1930s she takes part in the Cork Feis, annual arts competitions with a focus on traditional dance and music, competing in Irish step-dancing, warpipes and operatic solo singing. She performs on the warpipes in various public concerts and gives at least two broadcasts. In 1938 she is invited by Seán Neeson, lecturer in Irish music at University College Cork, to perform at a summer school which the Music Department organises for primary school teachers.

Moriarty’s mother dies in February 1940. The following November she moves to Cork where she sets up the Moriarty School of Dancing. The early years during the war are very difficult financially. In the early 1940s she performs with her dancers in musicals and variety shows at the Cork Opera House.

In 1945 the composer Aloys Fleischmann invites Moriarty to perform in his Clare’s Dragoons for baritone, war pipes, choir and orchestra, which had been commissioned by the national broadcasting company, Radio Éireann, for the Thomas Davis centenary. Moriarty agrees, on condition that his Cork Symphony Orchestra would play for her Ballet Company’s annual performances, which marks the beginning of a lifelong collaboration.

Branches of the Moriarty School of Dance are established in Bandon, Clonmel, Fermoy, Killarney, Mallow, Tralee, Waterford, and Youghal. Moriarty bequeaths her Cork school to Breda Quinn, a long-standing member of the Cork Ballet Company, who runs it with another Moriarty student, Sinéad Murphy, who creates a new dance school, Cork School of Dance, after Breda’s death in 2009.

Moriarty founds the Cork Ballet Group in 1947, the members recruited from her school. It gives its first performance in June of that year at the Cork Opera House. In 1954 the group is registered as a company under the name “Cork Ballet Company.” The company’s final season is 1993, the year following Moriarty’s death.

Irish Theatre Ballet is founded by Moriarty in the summer of 1959, and gives its first performance in December 1959. It is a small touring company of 10 to 12 dancers, which travels all over Ireland, going to some 70 venues annually with extracts from the classical ballets, contemporary works and folk ballets. In an attempt to resolve the constant financial difficulties, the Arts Council in 1963 insists on a merger with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet. The amalgamation does not bring a solution to the financial problems besetting both companies and, after one joint season, the amalgamated company, Irish National Ballet, has to be disbanded in March 1964.

In 1973, the Irish government decides to fund a professional ballet company, the Irish Ballet Company, and entrusts it to Moriarty. Like Irish Theatre Ballet, it is a touring company which travels all over Ireland in two annual seasons. The company has a number of striking successes between 1978 and 1981. In 1983 the name of the company is changed to Irish National Ballet. The severe recession in Ireland during the 1980s and shrinking funds force the Irish National Ballet to disband in 1989.

Moriarty spends almost 60 years working for ballet in Ireland. Her amateur Cork Ballet Company is still the longest-lasting ballet company the country’s history. Her two professional touring companies bring ballet to all parts of Ireland for 21 years. She receives numerous awards for her work, among them an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1979.

During the last years of her life, Moriarty suffers ill-health, but continues her work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringing the shows to towns in the county. She dies on January 24, 1992 in Dublin.

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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.


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The Cork Opera House Fire

cork-opera-house-fire-1955The Cork Opera House is destroyed by fire on December 12, 1955. It is originally built in 1855, and is built on a template that the architect had used for the exhibition buildings at the Irish Industrial Exhibition. Since then it survives the burning of much of Cork by British forces in 1920.

“The final curtain has fallen. The Cork Opera House is no more. A hundred years of stage history has come to an end. Never had the last moments of any drama, played on this stage, such an audience as last night’s farewell one. In heavy rain, a vast crowd stood silently as flames enveloped a proud landmark in our city. They watched it from the short first burst of fire on its roof until the building crumbled before their eyes.”

So reads the main news in The Cork Examiner on Tuesday, December 13, 1955, after the disastrous fire tore at the heartstrings of the people of Cork, leaving the city without a major theatre for the first time in 250 years. It is the boast of the Opera House that its tradition is continuous. When fighting in the South was at its bitterest, even when most of Cork was burned down, the Opera House kept running, only closing for pantomime rehearsals and in Holy Week. It is during the rehearsals for the forthcoming Christmas pantomime that the fatal fire starts. Fortunately, all people are evacuated, but the building built entirely from wood does not stand a chance from the merciless fire. What begins as an electrical fault blazes into an inferno within minutes. Soon the skyline of the city is lit up as the fire does its worst.

Ten years later, on February 23, 1963, the tender of Messrs. O’Shea, South Mall is accepted for the rebuilding of the Opera House. A month later the work begins and the foundation stone is laid by Lord Mayor Seán Casey on June 21, 1963. The citizens watch the building construction with keen interest as the new building gradually takes shape. Finally the day arrives for the casting aside of hoardings and scaffoldings.

Immediately controversy begins regarding the much disputed North-Wall. Unfavorable comment and criticism is levelled at the lack of architectural or artistic embellishment on the exterior of the new building and the square, squat tower on top of the roof designed to ease set changing. This is a very natural reaction as the old Opera House had a very special place in the hearts of Corkonians of every generation during its existence. Most of the criticism is uninformed, for few are aware of the difficulties, financially and technically, that the project incurred. Despite the criticism about the exterior appearance, everyone who has an opportunity to inspect the interior of the theatre can find no fault. There is nothing but praise for the design, the decor, the layout of the seating accommodation and, above all, the intimate atmosphere which has been a traditional part of the venerable old building, and which is now faithfully preserved in the new.


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Birth of Playwright & Poet Lennox Robinson

lennox-robinsonEsmé Stuart Lennox Robinson, playwright, poet, theatre producer, and director who is involved with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Westgrove, Douglas, County Cork, on October 4, 1886.

Robinson is raised in a Protestant and Unionist family in which he is the youngest of seven children. His father, Andrew Robinson, is a middle-class stockbroker who in 1892 decides to become a clergyman in the Church of Ireland in the small Ballymoney parish, near Ballineen in West Cork. A sickly child, Robinson is educated by private tutor and at Bandon Grammar School. In August 1907, his interest in the theatre begins after he goes to see an Abbey production of plays by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory at the Cork Opera House. He publishes his first poem that same year. His first play, The Cross Roads, is performed in the Abbey in 1909 and he becomes manager of the theatre towards the end of that year. He resigns in 1914 as a result of a disastrous tour of the United States but returns in 1919. He is appointed to the board of the theatre in 1923 and continues to serve in that capacity until his death. His Abbey career and production involvement can be found in the Abbey archives.

As a playwright, Robinson shows himself as a nationalist with plays like Patriots (1912) and Dreamers (1915). On the other hand, he belongs to a part of Irish society which is not seen as fully Irish. This division between the majority native Irish (Roman Catholics) on one side and the Anglo-Irish (Protestants) on the other can be seen in a play such as The Big House (1926), which depicts the burning of a Protestant manor home by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Robinson’s most popular play is The Whiteheaded Boy (1916).

Other plays include Crabbed Youth and Age (1924), The Far Off Hills (1928), Drama at Inish (1933), and Church Street (1935). Drama at Inish, which is presented in London and on Broadway as Is Life Worth Living?, is revived as part of the 2011 season at the Shaw Festival  at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, with Mary Haney in the role of Lizzie Twohig. Robinson’s fiction includes Eight Short Stories (1919). In 1931 he publishes a biography of Bryan Cooper, who had recently died. In 1951, he publishes Ireland’s Abbey Theatre, the first full-length history of the company.

He publishes an edited edition of Lady Gregory’s diaries in 1947. In 1958 he co-edits with Donagh MacDonagh The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. He is also a director and producer, in 1930 producing a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called The Reapers. In 1931 he is co-director of A Disciple along with W.B. Yeats and Walter Starkie.

Melancholic and alcoholic in later years, Lennox Robinson dies in Monkstown, County Dublin, on October 15, 1958. He is buried St. Patrick’s Cathedral.