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


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Birth of Maura O’Connell, Singer & Actress

maura-oconnellMaura O’Connell, singer and actress known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish traditional music, strongly influenced by American country music, is born on September 16, 1958 in Ennis, County Clare.

Born into a musical family, O’Connell is the third of four sisters. Her mother’s family owns Costello’s fish shop in Ennis where O’Connell works until music becomes her full-time career. She grows up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlour music records. Her father’s interest leans towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O’Connell gets very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronts folk rock outfit Stockton’s Wing, they perform a country music set, as a duo called “Tumbleweed.”

O’Connell attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point from 1971 to 1974, where she takes part in the school choir. She is also a member of the “Cúl Aodha Choir”, led by Peader Ó Riada, that sings at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.

O’Connell begins her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the United States in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she is featured on the band’s landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, which becomes something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she becomes very interested in the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths cross. She moves to the United States in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she meets progressive bluegrass pioneers Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she works on most of her records.

O’Connell records her first solo album in 1983, however, it does not make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. She receives a Grammy Award nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which is her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1990) and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992) register a move toward a pop synthesis. Her versions of “Living in These Troubled Times” and Cheryl Wheeler‘s “Summerfly” become standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman’s Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman’s Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith‘s “Trouble in the Fields” and Gerry O’Beirne’s “Western Highway.” After numerous albums heavily inspired by American newgrass music, she returns to her Irish roots with the 1997 release Wandering Home.

As the new millennium approaches, O’Connell signs with Sugar Hill Records in late 2000 and begins working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, she has Ray Kennedy produce Walls and Windows, which is released in 2001, and features an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don’t I Know, contains musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel guitar and B-3 organ.

Naked With Friends (2009) is O’Connell’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to her solo work, O’Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, John Gorka, Béla Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison’s 1988 project with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton’s Wing on Take A Chance.

Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese casts O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th-century epic Gangs of New York, released in 2002.

O’Connell announces the end of her solo career in 2013.

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The Sack of Cashel

rock-of-cashelThe Sack of Cashel (also known as the Massacre of Cashel) is a notorious atrocity which occurs in County Tipperary on September 15, 1647, during the Irish Confederate Wars, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

In the summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin, the Irish Protestant commander of the Protestant army of Cork, commences a campaign against the Irish Catholic strongholds in Munster. The counties of Limerick and Clare are raided and he soon turns his attention to the bountiful eastern counties of Munster. In early September, his forces quickly take the Cahir Castle in Tipperary. This strong castle is well positioned to become a base for the Cork Protestant army, and it is used to raid and devastate the surrounding countryside. The Munster army under Lord Taaffe does not make any serious effort to oppose Inchiquin, probably the result of the political scheming of Donough MacCarty, 2nd Viscount Muskerry and other powerful Irish lords who hope to keep the Munster army intact for their own ends. As such, Inchiquin is allowed to make a major push towards the town and ecclesiastical centre of Cashel.

Inchiquin has already launched two minor raids against Cashel, and he now has the opportunity to launch a major assault. The Parliamentarian forces first storm nearby Roche Castle, putting fifty warders to the sword. This attack terrifies the local inhabitants of the region, some of whom flee to hiding places, while hundreds of others flee promptly to the Rock of Cashel, a stronger place than the town itself. Lord Taaffe has placed six companies in the fortified churchyard that sits upon the rock, and considers the place defensible, though he himself does not stay to put it to the test, leaving command to the Governor Lieutenant-Colonel Butler.

Arriving with his army at the Rock, Inchiquin calls for surrender within an hour. The defenders of the churchyard offer to negotiate but that is refused, and on the afternoon of September 15 the assault commences. The Parliamentarians are first reminded of earlier atrocities against Protestants, and then begin to deploy. The attack is led by around 150 dismounted horse officers with the remainder of the infantry following. Troops of horse ride along the flanks of the advancing force to encourage the infantry. The Irish soldiers attempt to drive off the attackers with pikes while the civilians inside hurl rocks down from the walls. In turn the attackers hurl firebrands into the compound, setting some of the buildings inside on fire. Although many are wounded, the Parliamentarians gradually fight their way over the walls, pushing the garrison into the church.

Initially, the Irish defenders manage to protect the Church, holding off the attackers trying to get through the doors, but the Parliamentarians then place numerous ladders against the many windows in the church and swarm the building. For another half an hour fighting rages inside the church, until the depleted defenders retreat up the bell tower. Only sixty soldiers of the garrison remain at this point, and they thus accept a call to surrender. However, after they have descended the tower and thrown their swords away, all are killed.

In the end all the soldiers and most of the civilians on the Rock are killed by the attackers. The Bishop and Mayor of Cashel along with a few others survive by taking shelter in a secret hiding place. Apart from these a few women are spared, after being stripped of their clothes, and a small number of wealthy civilians are taken prisoner, but these are the exceptions. Overall, close to 1,000 are killed, amongst them Lieutenant-Colonel Butler and catholic scholar Theobald Stapleton. The bodies in the churchyard are described by a witness as being five or six deep.

The slaughter is followed by extensive looting. There is much of value inside, for apart from pictures, chalices and vestments of the church, many of the slain civilians had also brought their valuables with them. The sword and ceremonial mace of the mayor of Cashel, as well as the coach of the bishop are captured. The plunder is accompanied by acts of iconoclasm, with statues smashed and pictures defaced. The deserted town of Cashel is also torched.

The atrocity at Cashel causes a deep impact in Ireland, as it is the worst single atrocity committed in Ireland since the start of fighting in 1641. Previously, the most infamous massacre amongst the Catholic population is that at Timolin in 1643, when 200 civilians are killed by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde‘s English Royalist army, but many more than this are killed at Cashel, and the Rock of Cashel is one of the chief holy places of Ireland. The slaughter of the garrison at Cashel and the subsequent devastation of Catholic held Munster earns Inchiquin the Irish nickname, Murchadh na Dóiteáin or “Murrough of the Burnings.”


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Death of Philologist Eugene O’Curry

eugene-ocurryEugene O’Curry, philologist and antiquary, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on July 30, 1862.

O’Curry is born at Doonaha, near Carrigaholt, County Clare, the son of Eoghan Ó Comhraí, a farmer, and his wife Cáit. Eoghan has spent some time as a traveling peddler and has developed an interest in Irish folklore and music. Unusual for someone of his background, he is literate and is known to possess a number of Irish manuscripts. It is likely that Eoghan is primarily responsible for his son’s education.

Having spent some years working on his father’s farm and as a school teacher, O’Curry moves to Limerick in 1824 and spends seven years working there at a psychiatric hospital. He marries Anne Broughton, daughter of John Broughton of Killaderry near Broadford, County Limerick on October 3, 1824. He is a supporter of Catholic emancipation and in 1828 writes a poem congratulating Daniel O’Connell on his election as an MP.

During this period O’Curry is establishing a reputation for his knowledge of the Irish language and Irish history, and, by 1834, is in correspondence with the antiquary John O’Donovan. He is employed, from 1835 to 1842, on O’Donovan’s recommendation, in the topographical and historical section of Ordnance Survey Ireland. O’Donovan goes on to marry O’Curry’s sister-in-law, Mary Anne Broughton, in 1840. O’Curry spends much of the remainder of his life in Dublin and earns his living by translating and copying Irish manuscripts. The catalogue of Irish manuscripts in the British Museum (1849) is compiled by him for a fee of £100. He is responsible for the transcripts of Irish manuscripts from which O’Donovan edits the Annals of the Four Masters between 1848 and 1851.

In 1851 O’Curry is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and, on the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854, he is appointed professor of Irish history and archaeology. He works with George Petrie on the Ancient Music of Ireland (1855). In 1852, he and O’Donovan propose the Dictionary of the Irish Language, which is eventually begun by the Royal Irish Academy in 1913 and finally completed in 1976.

O’Curry’s lectures are published by the university in 1860, and give a better knowledge of Irish medieval literature than can be obtained from any other one source. Three other volumes of lectures are published posthumously, under the title On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish (1873). His voluminous transcripts, notably eight huge volumes of early Irish law, testify to his unremitting industry. The Celtic Society, of the council of which he is a member, publishes two of his translations of medieval tales.

Eugene O’Curry dies of a heart attack at his home in Dublin on July 30, 1862, and is survived by two sons and two daughters. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. O’Curry Road in the Tenters area of Dublin 8 is named in his honour.


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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.


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Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


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Birth of Patrick Hillery, Sixth President of Ireland

patrick-hilleryPatrick John Hillery, Irish politician and the sixth President of Ireland, is born in Spanish Point, County Clare on May 2, 1923. He serves two terms in the presidency and, though widely seen as a somewhat lacklustre President, is credited with bringing stability and dignity to the office. He also wins widespread admiration when it emerges that he has withstood political pressure from his own Fianna Fáil party during a political crisis in 1982.

Hillery is educated locally at Milltown Malbay National school before later attending Rockwell College. At third level he attends University College Dublin where he qualifies with a degree in medicine. Upon his conferral in 1947 he returns to his native town where he follows in his father’s footsteps as a doctor.

Hillery is first elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Clare, and remains in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he serves as Minister for Education (1959–1965), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1965–1966), Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1969–1973).

Following Ireland’s successful entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, Hillery is rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission, serving until 1976 when he becomes President. In 1976 the Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition under Liam Cosgrave informs him that he is not being re-appointed to the Commission. He considers returning to medicine, however fate takes a turn when Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan launches a ferocious verbal attack on President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, calling him “a thundering disgrace” for referring anti-terrorist legislation to the courts to test its constitutionality. When a furious President Ó Dálaigh resigns, a deeply reluctant Hillery agrees to become the Fianna Fáil candidate for the presidency. Fine Gael and Labour decide it is unwise to put up a candidate in light of the row over Ó Dálaigh’s resignation. As a result, Hillery is elected unopposed, becoming President of Ireland on December 3, 1976.

When Hillery’s term of office ends in September 1983, he indicates that he does not intend to seek a second term, but he changes his mind when all three political parties plead with him to reconsider. He is returned for a further seven years without an electoral contest. After leaving office in 1990, he retires from politics.

Hillery’s two terms as president, from 1976 to 1990, end before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which sets terms for an end to violence in Northern Ireland. But he acts at crucial moments as an emollient influence on the republic’s policies toward the north, and sets a tone that helps pave the way for eventual peace.

Patrick Hillery dies on April 12, 2008 in his Dublin home following a short illness. His family agrees to a full state funeral for the former president. He is buried at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, near Dublin. In the graveside oration, Tánaiste Brian Cowen says Hillery was “A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.”


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Palmerstown House Burned by the IRA

palmerstown-housePalmerstown House in Johnstown, County Kildare, the home of Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, is burned and destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on January 29, 1923.

The destruction of country houses in Ireland is a phenomenon of the Irish revolutionary period (1919–1923), which sees at least 275 country houses deliberately burned down, blown up, or otherwise destroyed by the Irish Republican Army.

The vast majority of the houses, known in Ireland as Big Houses, belong to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the Protestant Ascendancy. The houses of some Roman Catholic unionists, suspected informers, and members or supporters of the new Irish Free State government are also targeted. Although the practice by the IRA of destroying country houses begins in the Irish War of Independence, most of the buildings are destroyed during the Irish Civil War (1922–23).

Attacks are planned and organised, and generally focused on Irish peers who have sat in the House of Lords, members of the Senate of the Irish Free State and former Irish Unionist Party politicians. The assault on the “Big Houses” is part of a wider campaign against Free State supporters as a reprisal for the executions policy of the Government.

At least 76 country houses are destroyed in the War of Independence as thirty “Big Houses” are burned in 1920 and another 46 in the first half of 1921, mostly in the conflict’s Munster heartland which includes counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick. It is believed that 199 country houses are destroyed during the Irish Civil War. Some houses are destroyed in the fighting of the early months of the war, but the campaign against them begins in earnest in late 1922.

In most cases, no one is injured during the destruction of the house. It is recorded that in several cases, members of the IRA help the targeted family to remove their possessions from the house before it is destroyed. When Dermot Bourke’s house is attacked on January 29, 1923, he describes the IRA guerrillas as being “excessively polite” and apologetic. Nonetheless, there are incidents of violence and deaths in such attacks. The Church of Ireland Gazette records numerous instances of Unionists and Loyalists being shot, burned out or otherwise forced from their homes during the early 1920s.

Today, most of the targeted buildings are in ruins or have been demolished. Some have been restored by their owners, albeit often smaller in size, or have been rebuilt and are now used for other purposes.