seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Playwright & Broadcaster Máiréad Ní Ghráda

Máiréad Ní Ghráda, poet, playwright, and broadcaster, dies on June 13, 1971. She is a tireless promoter of the Irish language and writes many educational texts, some of which are still widely used today including Progress in Irish.

Máiréad is born and raised in Kilmaley, County Clare, a Breac Ghaeltacht, with Irish speaking parents. She wins a university scholarship while attending the local Convent of Mercy School and receives a BA in English, Irish, and French and an MA in Irish from University College Dublin (UCD).

An active member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan, she is imprisoned in 1920 for selling flags on behalf of the Gaelic League on Grafton Street. After a short time teaching in St. Brendan’s private school, Glenageary, County Dublin, Máiréad is employed as organiser and later as secretary to Ernest Blythe in the first Dáil Éireann and during the Irish Civil War. In 1923, she marries Richard Kissane, a civic guard (Garda Síochána). They have two sons and settle in Ranelagh, Dublin.

Beginning in 1926 she spends nine years working for 2RN (now Radió Éireann). She is the first female announcer with 2RN, engaged as Woman’s Organiser with the national radio station for many years, a job which involves programming for women and children. She is the first female announcer in Ireland and Britain, and perhaps in Europe.

Máiréad writes her first play in 1931 while teaching Irish in a domestic science college in Kilmacud. An Uacht, a one act comedy based on Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, is produced by Michéal Mac Liammóir at the Gate Theatre (1931). Her writing for theatre includes Mícheál, 1933 (adaptation of Michael, a story by Leo Tolstoy), An Grádh agus an Garda (1937), Giolla an tSoluis (1945), Hansel & Gretel (1951), Lá Buí Bealtaine (1953), Úll glas Oíche Shamhna (1955), Ríte (1955), Súgán Sneachta (1959), Mac Uí Rudaí (1961) and Stailc Ocrais (1962). An Triail (1964) and On Trial (1965) and Breithiúnas (1968), although critical of Irish society at the time, are her greatest successes.

Her enormous contribution to Irish language theatre includes eleven original plays, more than any other playwright in Irish.


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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.


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Death of Arkle, the Greatest Irish Steeplechaser

Arkle, the greatest Irish steeplechaser of all time, dies at the early age of thirteen on May 31, 1970. A bay gelding by Archive out of Bright Cherry, Arkle is the grandson of the unbeaten flat racehorse and prepotent sire Nearco.

Arkle is born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, by Mrs. Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin. He is named after the mountain Arkle in Sutherland, Scotland that borders the Duchess of Westminster’s Sutherland estate. Owned by Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, he is trained by Tom Dreaper at Greenogue, Kilsallaghan in County Meath, and ridden during his steeplechasing career by Pat Taaffe.

At 212, his Timeform rating is the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser. Only Flyingbolt, also trained by Dreaper, has a rating anywhere near his at 210. Next on their ratings are Sprinter Sacre on 192 and then Kauto Star and Mill House on 191. Despite his career being cut short by injury, Arkle wins three Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Blue Riband of steeplechasing, and a host of other top prizes.

In December 1966, Arkle races in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse but strikes the guard rail with a hoof when jumping the open ditch, which results in a fractured pedal bone. Despite this injury, he completes the race and finishes second. He is in plaster for four months and, though he makes a good enough recovery to go back into training, he never runs again. He is retired and ridden as a hack by his owner and then succumbs to what has been variously described as advanced arthritis or possibly brucellosis and is put down at the early age of thirteen.

Arkle becomes a national legend in Ireland. His strength is jokingly claimed to come from drinking Guinness twice a day. At one point, the slogan Arkle for President is written on a wall in Dublin. The horse is often referred to simply as “Himself,” and the story goes that he receives items of fan mail addressed to “Himself, Ireland.”

The government-owned Irish National Stud, at Tully, Kildare, County Kildare, has the skeleton of Arkle on display in its museum. A 1.1 scale bronze statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne, County Meath on April 19, 2014.


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Birth of Cillian Murphy, Stage & Screen Actor

Cillian Murphy, actor of stage and screen, is born in Douglas, County Cork, on May 25, 1976.

Since making his debut in his home country in the late 1990s, Murphy has also become a presence in British and American cinemas noted by critics for his performances in many independent and mainstream films. He is best known as Jim in 28 Days Later (2002), the Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005–12), Jackson Rippner in Red Eye (2005), Robert Capa in Sunshine (2007), Robert Fischer in Inception (2010) and Thomas Shelby in the BBC series Peaky Blinders.

Murphy begins his performing career as a rock musician. After turning down a record deal, he makes his professional acting debut in the play Disco Pigs in 1996. While continuing with stage work he also begins appearing in independent films, first coming to international attention in 2002 as the hero of Danny Boyle‘s post-apocalyptic film 28 Days Later. Murphy’s profile continues to grow in 2005 when he appears in a series of successful films including as the Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan‘s 2005 blockbuster Batman Begins, a role he reprises in The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and in the action-thriller Red Eye (2005). For his performance as a transgender woman in Breakfast on Pluto (2005), Murphy receives a Golden Globe award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

In 2006, Murphy plays the lead role in Ken Loach‘s Palme d’Or-winning film The Wind That Shakes the Barley. He teams up again with Boyle for the science-fiction film Sunshine (2007), and with Nolan for the highly successful thriller Inception (2010). Since 2013, Murphy has played the lead in the BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders. He continues to work on stage, and wins the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance for Misterman in 2011.

In 2011 Murphy becomes patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is closely associated with the work of Professor Pat Dolan Director UCFRC and UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement.

Murphy lives with his wife, Yvonne McGuinness, and two children in Monkstown, County Dublin.


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Birth of Fighter Pilot George Edward Henry McElroy

Captain George Edward Henry McElroy, a leading Irish-born fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I, is born at Donnybrook, County Dublin, on May 14, 1893. He is credited with 47 aerial victories.

McElroy enlists promptly at the start of World War I in August 1914, and is shipped out to France two months later. He is serving as a corporal in the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers when he is first commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 9, 1915. While serving in the Royal Irish Regiment he is severely affected by mustard gas and is sent home to recuperate. He is in Dublin in April 1916, during the Easter Rising, and is ordered to help quell the insurrection. McElroy refuses to fire upon his fellow Irishmen, and is transferred to a southerly garrison away from home.

On June 1, 1916 McElroy relinquishes his commission in the Royal Irish Regiment when awarded a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduates on February 28, 1917, and is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

McElroy is promptly seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, being trained as a pilot at the Central Flying School at Upavon, and is appointed a flying officer on June 28. On July 27 his commission is backdated to February 9, 1916, and he is promoted to lieutenant on August 9. On August 15 he joins No. 40 Squadron RFC, where he benefits from mentoring by Edward “Mick” Mannock. He originally flies a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By the year’s end McElroy is flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s and claims his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignores often overwhelming odds, McElroy’s score soon grows rapidly. He shoots down two German aircraft in January 1918, and by February 18 has run his string up to eleven. At that point, he is appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain and transferred to No. 24 Squadron RFC. He continues to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, when he is awarded the Military Cross, he is up to 18 “kills.” On April 1, the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are merged to form the Royal Air Force, and his squadron becomes No. 24 Squadron RAF. McElroy is injured in a landing accident on April 7 when he brushes a treetop while landing. By then he has run his score to 27. While he is sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he is awarded a bar to his Military Cross. Following his convalescence, McElroy returns to No. 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on the 26th, 28th, and 30th. The latter two triumphs are observation balloons. That runs his tally to thirty.

In July, he adds to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on the 1st, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success is threatened on the 20th by a vibrating engine that entails breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that leaves him with scratches and bruises. There is a farewell luncheon that day for his friend Gwilym Hugh “Noisy” Lewis. Their mutual friend Edward “Mick” Mannock pulls McElroy aside to warn him about the hazards of following a German victim down within range of ground fire.

On July 26, Mannock is killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, “McIrish” McElroy receives the second Bar to his Military Cross. He is one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy’s continues apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting can have only one end. On July 31, 1918, he reports destroying a Hannoversche Waggonfabrik C for his 47th victory. He then sets out again. He fails to return from this flight and is posted missing. Later it is learned that McElroy has been killed by ground fire. He is 25 years old. McElroy is interred in Plot I.C.1 at the Laventie Military Cemetery in La Gorgue, northern France.

McElroy receives the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar arrives still later, on September 21, and lauds his low-level attacks. In summary, he shoots down four enemy aircraft in flames and destroys 23 others, one of which he shares with other pilots. He drives down 16 enemy aircraft “out of control” and out of the fight. He also destroys three balloons.


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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 Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

Sarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, is born on March 22, 1848, in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin, and raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford. She is educated in Switzerland and afterwards studies at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin and in Paris at the Académie Julian.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. She is also associated with the stained glass movement, founding a stained glass workshop, An Túr Gloine, in 1903. Some of her stained glass work is commissioned from as far as New York City, including a window at Christ Church, Pelham dedicated to the memory of Katharine Temple Emmet and Richard Stockton Emmet, grandson of the Irish patriot, Thomas Addis Emmet. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions, famously commenting, “I went through the British aristocracy like the measles.”

In 1977 Bruce Arnold noted, “some of her finest and most sensitive work was not strictly portraiture, for example, An Irish Idyll in the Ulster Museum, and Le Petit Déjeuner (in the National Gallery of Ireland).”

Sarah Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House to house the gallery. In 1923 she becomes the first female member of the Royal Hibernian Academy.

Until her death she lives for years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. After her death in Dublin on August 7, 1943, it is demolished and is developed into apartments. She is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Stained glass window in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by Sarah Purser made in 1906: a depiction of King Cormac of Cashel)