seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Musician William (Billy) Brown

william-billy-brownWilliam (Billy) Brown, a musician and artist from Northern Ireland, dies on June 6, 1999 of a heart attack at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. He is best remembered as a singer, saxophonist, and pianist with The Freshmen, one of Ireland’s most popular showbands of the 1960s and 1970s.

Brown is born in Larne, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. While studying at the Belfast College of Art he joins Billy McFarland’s Showband. Later he forms The Freshmen with some friends. Through Brown’s skillful arrangements, the band is able to reproduce sophisticated vocal harmonies in their covers of songs such as “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow,” “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” and “Carpet Man.”

Brown leaves The Freshmen in the mid-1970s to pursue other musical challenges, albeit with limited success. He later rejoins the band and, in 1977, they have one of their biggest hits with his composition, “Cinderella.” Following the breakup of The Freshmen, he has a minor solo hit in 1980 with his own song, “Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me.”

In his latter years, Brown develops his interest in wildlife, becoming a successful painter of nature scenes, as well as contributing his insights into the natural world on RTÉ 2fm‘s children’s show, Poporama.

Billy Brown dies of a heart attack on June 6, 1999, at his home in Johnstown, County Kildare. In its obituary, the Irish Independent refers to him as “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation.”

In a tribute to Brown following his death, Freshmen founder-member, Maurice Henry, describes his late friend’s pivotal role in the band:

“You could say Billy was The Freshmen and without his talent and innovative musical skills we would certainly not have achieved as much, either as a showband or in our recordings.”

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Birth of William King, Archbishop of Dublin

william-kingWilliam King, Anglican divine in the Church of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin from 1703 to 1729, is born in County Antrim on May 1, 1650. He is an author and supports the Glorious Revolution. He has considerable political influence in Ireland, including for a time what amounts to a veto on judicial appointments.

King is educated at The Royal School, Dungannon, County Tyrone, and thereafter at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating BA on 23 February 23, 1670 and MA in 1673.

On October 25, 1671, King is ordained a deacon as chaplain to John Parker, Archbishop of Tuam, and on July 14, 1673 Parker gives him the prebend of Kilmainmore, County Mayo. King, who lives as part of Parker’s household, is ordained a priest on April 12, 1674.

King’s support of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 serves to advance his position. He becomes Bishop of Derry in 1691. His years as a bishop are marked by reform and the building of churches and glebe houses, and by the dispensing of charity. His political influence is considerable. He is always consulted on judicial appointments and at times seems to have an effective veto over candidates he considers unsuitable.

He is advanced to the position of Archbishop of Dublin in 1703, a post he holds until his death. He gives £1,000 for the founding of “Archbishop King’s Professorship of Divinity” at Trinity College in 1718. His influence declines after the appointment of Hugh Boulter as Archbishop of Armagh in 1724.

William King dies in May 1729. Much of his correspondence survives and provides a historic resource for the study of the Ireland of his time.


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Birth of Minister William Dool Killen

william-dool-killenWilliam Dool Killen, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and church historian, is born at Church Street, Ballymena, County Antrim, on April 16, 1806.

Killen is the third of four sons and nine children of John Killen (1768–1828), a grocer and seedsman in Ballymena, by his wife Martha, daughter of Jesse Dool, a farmer in Duneane. His paternal grandfather, a farmer at Carnmoney, marries Blanche Brice, a descendant of Edward Brice. A brother, James Miller Killen (1815–1879), is a minister in Comber, County Down. Thomas Young Killen is his father’s great-nephew.

After attending local primary schools, Killen goes to Ballymena Academy around 1816, and in November 1821 enters the collegiate department of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, under James Thomson. In 1827, he is licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ballymena, and on November 11, 1829 he is ordained minister at Raphoe, County Donegal.

In July 1841 Killen is appointed, by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, its professor of church history, ecclesiastical government, and pastoral theology, in succession to James Seaton Reid. He concentrates on history. When Assembly’s College, Belfast is set up in 1853, he becomes one of the professors there. In 1869 he is appointed president of the college, in succession to Henry Cooke, and undertakes fundraising for professorial endowments and new buildings. In 1889 he resigns his chair but continues as president.

During his career Killen receives the degrees of D.D. (1845) and of LL.D. (1901) from the University of Glasgow. His portrait, painted by Richard Hooke, hangs in the Gamble library of the college.

William Dool Killen dies on January 10, 1902, and is buried in Balmoral Cemetery, Belfast, where a monument marks his resting place.


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Birth of Actress Valerie Hobson

valerie-hobsonValerie Hobson, Irish-born actress who appears in a number of films during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, is born Babette Valerie Louise Hobson in Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on April 14, 1917. Her second husband is John Profumo, 5th Baron Profumo, a government minister who becomes the subject of a sensational sex scandal in 1963.

In 1935, still in her teens, Hobson appears as Baroness Frankenstein in Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Colin Clive. She plays opposite Henry Hull that same year in Werewolf of London, the first Hollywood werewolf film. The latter half of the 1940s sees Hobson in perhaps her two most memorable roles: as the adult Estella in David Lean‘s adaptation of Great Expectations (1946), and as the refined and virtuous Edith D’Ascoyne in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

In 1952 she divorces her first husband, film producer Sir Anthony Havelock-Allan. In 1954, she marries Brigadier John, 5th Baron Profumo, an MP, giving up acting shortly afterwards. Baron Profumo is a prominent politician of Italian descent. Hobson’s last starring role is in the original London production of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s musical play The King and I, which opens at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on October 8, 1953. She plays Mrs. Anna Leonowens opposite Herbert Lom‘s King. The show runs for 926 performances.

After Profumo’s ministerial career ends in disgrace in 1963, following revelations he had lied to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler, Hobson stands by him. They worked together for charity for the remainder of her life, though she does miss their more public personas.

Hobson’s eldest son, Simon Anthony Clerveaux Havelock-Allan, is born in May 1944 with Down syndrome. Her middle child, Mark Havelock-Allan, is born on April 4, 1951 and becomes a judge. Her youngest child is the author David Profumo, who writes Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir (2006) about the scandal. In it, he writes his parents told him nothing of the scandal and that he learned of it from another boy at school.

Valerie Hobson dies on November 13, 1998 at the age of 81 at a Westminster, London Hospital following a heart attack. After her death, her body is cremated in accordance with her wishes. Half her ashes are interred in the family vault in Hersham. The rest are scattered on January 1, 1999 by her sons David Profumo and Mark Havelock-Allan, near the family’s farm in Scotland.

Hobson is portrayed by Deborah Grant in the film Scandal (1989), and by Joanna Riding in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s stage musical Stephen Ward, which opens at the Aldwych Theatre on December 19, 2013.


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Birth of James White, Science Fiction Writer

james-whiteJames White, author of science fiction novellas, short stories and novels, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 7, 1928.

White is educated in Belfast at St. John’s Primary School and St. Joseph’s Technical Secondary School. As a teenager he lives with foster parents. He wants to study medicine but financial circumstances prevented this. Between 1943 and 1965 he works for several Belfast tailoring firms and then as assistant manager of a Co-op department store. He marries Margaret “Peggy” Sarah Martin, another science fiction fan, in 1955 and the couple has three children. He later works for the aeroplane builders Short Brothers as a technical clerk, publicity assistant and publicity officer.

White becomes a science fiction fan in 1941, attracted particularly by the works of E. E. “Doc” Smith, which features good aliens as well as evil ones, and of Robert A. Heinlein, many of whose stories concern ordinary people. In 1947 he meets another Irish fan, Walt Willis, and the two help to produce the fan magazines Slant and Hyphen, which feature stories and articles by noted authors including John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler and Bob Shaw. In 2004 both White and Willis are nominated for the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer of 1953, although neither wins. White says that he started writing stories because the Slant team felt that Astounding Stories of Super-Science was too dominated by prophesies of nuclear doom, and his friends dared him to write the kind of story that they all liked to read. Getting published is fairly easy during the 1950s, as the World War II restrictions on paper are ended, and there are at least 12 science magazines in Britain and about 40 in the United States. His first published short story, Assisted Passage, a parody of 1950s Anglo-Australian emigration policies, appears in the January 1953 edition of the magazine New Worlds. Further stories appear in New Worlds during the next few years, but White’s attempt to access the more lucrative American market by submitting stories to Astounding Stories of Super-Science stall after the publication of The Scavengers. As a result, White’s work is little-known outside the UK until the 1960s.

In 1957, Ace Books publishes White’s first novel, The Secret Visitors, which includes locations in Northern Ireland. Ace Books’ science fiction editor, Donald A. Wollheim, thinks the original ending is too tame and suggests that White should insert an all-out space battle just after the climactic courtroom scene. In November of the same year New Worlds publishes White’s novella Sector General, and editor John Carnell requests more stories set in the same universe, founding the series for which White is known best. White gains a steady following for his scientifically accurate stories, which are examples of hard science fiction in New Worlds, despite the magazine’s promotion of literary New Wave science fiction during the 1960s.

White keeps his job with Short Brothers and writes in the evenings, as his stories do not make enough money for him to become a full-time author. In 1980 he teaches a literature course at a Belfast branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. When diabetes has severely impaired his eyesight, he takes early retirement in 1984 and relocates to the north County Antrim resort town of Portstewart, where he continues to write. For many years he is a Council Member of the British Science Fiction Association and, with Harry Harrison and Anne McCaffrey, a Patron of the Irish Science Fiction Association. He is also a strong pacifist.

James White dies of a stroke in Portstewart, Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 23, 1999, while his novels Double Contact and The First Protector are being prepared for publication.


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The Islandmagee Witch Trial

islandmagee-witch-trialEight women from Islandmagee, County Antrim, in what is today Northern Ireland, are imprisoned and pilloried on March 31, 1711 for “bewitching” a woman named Mary Dunbar, who has experienced strange fits and visions. The Islandmagee witch trial takes place in 1710–1711 on Islandmagee and is believed to be the last witch trial to take place in Ireland.

In March 1711, in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, eight women are put on trial and found guilty of witchcraft. The women are put in stocks and then jailed for one year. The trial is the result of a claim by Mrs. James Haltridge that 18-year-old Mary Dunbar exhibited signs of demonic possession such as “shouting, swearing, blaspheming, throwing Bibles, going into fits every time a clergyman came near her and vomiting household items such as pins, buttons, nails, glass and wool.” Assisted by local authorities, Dunbar picks out eight women she claims are witches that have attacked her in spectral form.

During the trial, Mary Dunbar is dumb and unable to give evidence. Evidence is given by twenty individuals, of whom four are clergymen of the Presbyterian church. The trial lasts from 6:00 AM until 2:00 PM. For the accused, it is said they are industrious, attend public worship, some having latterly received the sacrament. Judge Upton says, “real witches could not assume or retain the form of religion by frequenting worship. The jury should not find them guilty on the sole testimony of the visionary images of the afflicted person.” Judge Macartney believes they might, from the evidence, bring them in guilty and they do.

According to Andrew Sneddon, history lecturer at University of Ulster, “Mary Dunbar was making up the whole thing.” Sneddon writes that “Mary Dunbar learned the part of a demoniac from accounts about Salem or Scotland, or someone told her about it. Remember, this was a time when people were pouring in from Scotland.”

Records of what happened to Mary Dunbar or those convicted of witchcraft are apparently lost when the Public Records Office in question is burned down in June 1922 during the Battle of Dublin in the Irish Civil War.

A memorial to the eight women convicted is proposed by the author Martina Devlin. However the memorial is objected to by Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) councillor Jack McKee who believes the plaque could become a “shrine to paganism” and furthermore states that he is not convinced the women were not guilty and that he believes the proposal to be “anti-god.”


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.