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


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Birth of Stephen Lucius Gwynn, Writer & Politician

stephen-lucius-gwynnStephen Lucius Gwynn, journalist, biographer, author, poet, Protestant Nationalist politician, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is born on February 13, 1864 in St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin, where his father John Gwynn, a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman, is a warden.

Gwynn spends his early childhood in rural County Donegal, which shapes his later view of Ireland. He is educated at St. Columba’s College and goes on to Brasenose College, Oxford, where, as scholar, in 1884 he is awarded first-class honours in classical moderations and in 1886 literae humaniores. During term holidays he returns to Dublin, where he meets several of the political and literary figures of the day.

After graduating Gwynn moves to France where he works as a schoolmaster for ten years. In December 1889 he marries his cousin Mary Louisa Gwynn. They have four sons and two daughters. Having dabbled in journalism since his student days, he moves to London in 1896 to pursue a career as a writer. He soon becomes a prominent figure in literary and journalistic circles.

In 1904 the Gwynns return to Ireland to live in Raheny, County Dublin. In November 1906 he wins a seat for Galway Borough, which he represents as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party until 1918. During this time he also becomes active with the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Revival.

At the outbreak of World War I, Gwynn gives his support to John Redmond that Irishmen should enlist in the British forces. At the age of fifty-one he enlists as a private in the 7th Leinster Regiment and is later commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers, attached to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is promoted to captain in 1915 and serves with his battalion at the battles of Ginchy and Guillemont during the Somme offensive and also at Messines in 1917, leaving the front line shortly afterwards.

Gwynn is appointed to the Dardanelles Commission in 1916, an investigation into the unsuccessful 1915 Gallipoli Campaign.

After the war Gwynn continues with his writing and political life. He receives honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland in 1940 and the University of Dublin in 1945. He dies on June 11, 1950 at his home in Terenure, Dublin and is buried at Tallaght cemetery.

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Birth of Herbert Brenon, Director, Actor & Screenwriter

herbert-brenonHerbert Brenon, Irish film director, actor and screenwriter during the era of silent movies through the 1930s, is born Alexander Herbert Reginald St. John Brenon on January 13, 1880.

Brenon is born at 25 Crosthwaite Park, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin) to journalist, poet, and politician Edward St. John Brenon and Francis Harries.

In 1882, the family moves to London, where Brenon is educated at St. Paul’s School and at King’s College London. He starts out as a stagehand in New York City and by 1909 he operates a small picture theatre in Pennsylvania. Before becoming a director, he performs in vaudeville acts with his wife, Helen Oberg.

In 1911 Brenon is hired as a writer by Carl Laemmle, directing his first short the following year. Signed by William Fox in 1915, he graduates to feature films. With Paramount Pictures from 1923, he directs several spectacular productions with British themes, including the silent version of Beau Geste (1926). He regards sound pictures with a measure of apprehension.

Some of his more noteworthy films are the first movie adaptations of Peter Pan (1924) and the aforementioned Beau Geste (1926), Sorrell and Son (1927) for which he is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director in the 1st Academy Awards, Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928) with Lon Chaney, and The Flying Squad (1940), his last.

Brenon returns to Great Britain in 1934, but his career is well on the decline and he retires in 1940.

Herbert Brenon dies in Los Angeles, California on June 21, 1958 and is interred in a private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.


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Birth of William Lewery Blackley, Divine & Social Reformer

william-lewery-blackley

William Lewery Blackley, divine and social reformer, is born at Dundalk, County Louth on December 30, 1830.

Blackley is the second son of Travers Robert Blackley of Ashtown Lodge, County Dublin and Eliza, daughter of Colonel Lewery, who is taken prisoner by the French at Verdun. His maternal grandfather is Travers Hartley, MP for Dublin (1776-1790) and governor of the Bank of Ireland.

In boyhood Blackley is sent with his brother John to a school at Brussels kept by Dr. Carl Martin Friedlander, a Polish political refugee, whose daughter, Amelia Jeanne Josephine, he subsequently marries on July 24, 1855. There he acquires proficiency in French, German, and other foreign languages. In 1847 he returns to Ireland, entered Trinity College, Dublin, graduating B.A. in 1850, M.A. in 1854, and takes holy orders. In 1854 he becomes curate of St. Peter’s, Southwark, but an attack of cholera compels his retirement from London. From 1855 to 1867 he has charge of two churches at Frensham, near Farnham, Surrey. He is rector of North Waltham, Hampshire (1867-1883), and King’s Somborne (1883-1889). In 1883 he is made honorary canon of Winchester.

Blackley, who is an energetic parish priest and is keenly interested in social questions, carefully elaborates a scheme for the cure of pauperism by a statutory enforcement of thrift which has far-reaching results at home and abroad. In November 1878 he contributes to the Nineteenth Century an essay entitled National Insurance a Cheap, Practical, and Popular Way of Preventing Pauperism, and thenceforth strenuously advocates a scheme of compulsory insurance, which the National Providence League, with the Earl of Shaftesbury as president, is formed in 1880 to carry into effect. At the same time he recommends temperance as a means of social regeneration. His views reach a wide public through his writings, which include How to teach Domestic Economy (1879), Collected Essays on the Prevention of Pauperism (1880), Social Economy Reading Book, adapted to the New Code (1881), Thrift and Independence; a Word for Working-men (1884).

Blackley’s scheme provides that all persons between eighteen and twenty should subscribe to a national fund, and should receive in return a week in time of sickness, and a week after the age of seventy. The plan is urged on the House of Lords by the Earl of Carnarvon in 1880, and is the subject of inquiry by a select committee of the House of Commons from 1885 to 1887. The majority of the boards of guardians in England and Wales support the proposals, but the commons’ committee, while acknowledging Blackley’s ingenuity and knowledge, reports adversely on administrative and actuarial grounds. At the same time the friendly societies, which Blackley has censured in his Thrift and Independence, regards the principle of compulsion as a menace to their own growth, and their historian and champion, the Rev. John Frome Wilkinson, sharply criticises Blackley’s plan in The Blackley National Providence Insurance Scheme; a Protest and Appeal (1887). Blackley’s plan, although rejected for the time, stimulates kindred movements in the colonies and in foreign countries, and leads directly to the adoption of old age pensions in England by legislation in 1908, while the national insurance scheme which receives parliamentary sanction in 1911 bears some trace of Blackley’s persistent agitation.

In 1887 Blackley, who is director of the Clergy Mutual Insurance Company, makes proposals to the church congress which lead to the formation of the “Clergy Pension Scheme” and of a society for ecclesiastical fire insurance. In the autumn of 1889 Blackley, whose active propagandism brings him constantly to London, becomes vicar of St. James the Less, Vauxhall Bridge Road. There he enlarges the schools and builds a parish hall and a vicarage.

William Lewery Blackley dies after a brief illness at 79 St. George’s Square, on July 25, 1902. Brasses are put up in Blackley’s memory in the churches of St. James the Less, North Waltham, and Frensham.


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.


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Birth of Painter Nathaniel Hone the Younger

nathaniel-hone-the-youngerNathaniel Hone the Younger, Irish painter and great-grand-nephew of painter Nathaniel Hone the Elder, is born in Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin on October 26, 1831. He is the son of Brindley Hone, a merchant and director of the Midland Great Western Railway.

Though a member of a very artistic family, Hone’s initial training is as an engineer at Trinity College Dublin followed by a brief period of work for the Irish Railway before going to Paris in 1853 to study painting. He first studies under Adolphe Yvon, the French military painter, and later Thomas Couture, who is one of the earliest exponents of realism and from whom he learns principles which influence his work throughout his career.

Most of Hone’s later paintings are landscapes, very often enlivened with animals and occasionally with figures. In France he is influenced by the painter Gustav Courbet who is taking a new and quite revolutionary realistic approach. His closest painting tips are, however, from another French impressionist, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He becomes a close friend of one of Corot’s followers at the Barbizon school of landscape painting. At Barbizon he learns to appreciate colour, texture and tone in the landscape and applies it in strong and confident brushworks to the painting of Irish subjects on his return. In Paris he also works closely with artist Édouard Brandon, also a follower of Corot.

Hone’s paintings which are completed in France have many similarities to those that he completes at his country farm in County Dublin, but the finish is perhaps more polished and professional in the later Irish works.

From 1876, except for four years, Hone exhibits at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is elected a full member in 1880 and in 1894 becomes Professor of Painting. His exhibition with John Butler Yeats in 1901 is one of the turning points for the history of Irish art as it is their paintings which convince Sir Hugh Lane that Dublin should have a gallery of modern art.

Nathaniel Hone dies in Dublin on October 14, 1917. After his death his widow bequeaths the contents of his studio to the National Gallery of Ireland. He rarely dates his work so it is difficult to establish chronology. The similarity of many of his motifs and subjects often make it difficult to tell whether a view is Irish or French. Equally it is difficult to chart his developments on stylistic grounds alone.

(Pictured: Nathaniel Hone, the younger, self-portrait as an old man)


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Birth of James Hope, United Irishmen Leader

james-hopeJames “Jemmy” Hope, Society of United Irishmen leader who fights in the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and 1803 against British rule in Ireland, is born in Templepatrick, County Antrim on August 25, 1764.

Hope is born to a Presbyterian family originally of Covenanter stock. He is apprenticed as a linen weaver but attends night school in his spare time. Influenced by the American Revolution, he joins the Irish Volunteers, but upon the demise of that organisation and further influenced by the French Revolution, he joins the Society of the United Irishmen in 1795.

Hope quickly establishes himself as a prominent organiser and is elected to the central committee in Belfast, becoming close to leaders such as Samuel Neilson, Thomas Russell, and Henry Joy McCracken. He is almost alone among the United Irish leaders in targeting manufacturers as well as landowners as the enemies of all radicals. In 1796, he is sent to Dublin to assist the United Irish organisation there to mobilise support among the working classes, and he is successful in establishing several branches throughout the city and especially in The Liberties area. He also travels to counties in Ulster and Connacht, disseminating literature and organizing localities.

Upon the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion in Leinster, Hope is sent on a failed mission to Belfast by Henry Joy McCracken to brief the leader of the County Down United Irishmen, Rev. William Steel Dickson, with news of the planned rising in County Antrim, unaware that Dickson had been arrested only a couple of days before. He manages to escape from Belfast in time to take part in the Battle of Antrim where he plays a skillful and courageous role with his “Spartan Band,” in covering the retreat of the fleeing rebels after their defeat.

Hope manages to rejoin McCracken and his remaining forces after the battle at their camp upon Slemish mountain, but the camp gradually disperses, and the dwindling band of insurgents are then forced to go on the run. He successfully eludes capture, but his friend McCracken is captured and executed on July 17. Upon the collapse of the general rising, he refuses to avail of the terms of an amnesty offered by Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis on the grounds that to do so would be “not only a recantation of one’s principles, but a tacit acquiescence in the justice of the punishment which had been inflicted on thousands of my unfortunate associates.”

Hope lives the years following 1798 on the move between counties Dublin, Meath and Westmeath but is finally forced to flee Dublin following the failure of Robert Emmet‘s rebellion in 1803. He returns to the north and evades the authorities attentions in the ensuing repression by securing employment with a sympathetic friend from England. He is today regarded as the most egalitarian and socialist of all the United Irish leadership.

James Hope dies in 1846 and is buried in the Mallusk cemetery, Newtownabbey. His gravestone features the outline of a large dog, which supposedly brought provisions to him and his compatriots when they were hiding following the Battle of Antrim.


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Death of Ronnie Drew, Folk Musician & Singer

ronnie-drew-1Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, dies on August 16, 2008 in Dublin, County Dublin.

Drew is most recognised for his lead vocals on the singles “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover,” both charting in the UK top 10 and then performed on Top of the Pops. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which was once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door.”

Drew is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on September 16, 1934 and is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure (the DART) and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ One to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.