seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Butler Yeats, Poet & Nobel Prize Winner

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, is born in Sandymount, County Dublin on June 13, 1865.

Yeats is the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trained as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandons art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Cathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen ni Houlihan. Around that time, he helps found the Irish National Theatre Society, serving as its president and co-director, with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, he is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). He dies on January 28, 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.


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Birth of Irish Composer Gráinne Mulvey

grainne-mulveyIrish composer Gráinne Mulvey is born on March 10, 1966 in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin. Her music is timbrally and rhythmically complex — a legacy of her work in the electroacoustic field. Her microtonally-inflected language derives ultimately from the natural harmonic series, placing her somewhat in the spectral tradition.

Mulvey studies with Eric Sweeney at Waterford Regional Technical College, Hormoz Farhat at Trinity College Dublin and Agustín Fernández at Queen’s University, Belfast. In 1999 she gains a DPhil in Composition at the University of York under Nicola LeFanu. In 2001 she is appointed Head of Composition at Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama.

Mulvey is appointed as one of the Course Directors of the IMRO Summer School of Composition in 2014. In 2001, 2010 and 2011, she was on the adjudicator’s panel for the Guido d’Arezzo Composers’ Composition Competition in Italy. She has curated concerts for the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland in 2011 and 2012, the Association of Irish Composers in May 2016 and a retrospective concert of her work at The Carlow Arts Festival in June 2016.

Mulvey’s music has been widely performed both in Ireland and abroad and her works have been broadcast by radio stations across the globe. One of her earliest works Étude, for piano (1994), is selected for that year’s International Rostrum of Composers in Paris, an honour that is to be repeated with 2004’s orchestral work Scorched Earth, and in 2015 with Diffractions for orchestra, in Slovenia. She is a featured composer in the 2007 Horizons concert series, with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, conductor Robert Houlihan, performing three of her orchestral works. She has the distinction of being selected for the ISCM World Music Days in consecutive years with Akanos (Vilnius, Lithuania, 2008 and Växjö, Sweden, 2009).

In April 2010, Mulvey is elected to membership of Aosdána, the State-recognised affiliation of creative artists in Ireland. A CD Akanos & Other Works, dedicated to her recent work, is released in February 2014 on the Navona label.


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.


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The Sinking of the PS Queen Victoria

ps-queen-victoriaPS Queen Victoria, a paddle steamer built for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company in 1838, hits the rocks near Howth, County Dublin in the early hours of February 15, 1853 with the loss of more than 80 passengers and crew.

Queen Victoria is built by Wilson shipbuilders of Glasgow, Scotland in 1838 for The City Of Dublin Steam Packet Company. She has a wooden hull, is 150 feet long and is powered by a two-cylinder steam engine.

The Queen Victoria leaves Liverpool on the night of February 14, 1853 with cargo and approximately 100 passengers. As it approaches the Irish coast at Howth it is hit by a snowstorm. It strikes Howth Head around 2:00 AM on February 15. The Captain backs the ship away from the Head in hopes of being able to navigate into the harbor. The damage to the ship is more extensive than the captain thinks and it quickly begins to fill with water. It drifts, dead in the water, and strikes below the Baily Lighthouse. It sinks 100 yards south of the lighthouse within 15 minutes of the second hit. Approximately 83 passengers and crew perish, including the Captain. One lifeboat, with 17 passengers, makes it to shore.

A subsequent Board of Trade inquiry blames the ship’s captain and first officer, as well as the lighthouse crew. A fog bell is supposed to have been installed in the lighthouse in 1846, seven years earlier, but is delayed due to costs of other construction projects. The bell is finally installed in April 1853, as a result of the Queen Victoria shipwreck and the subsequent inquiry.

At least one attempt to raise the ship is made afterwards, which fails, and the ship is salvaged where she lay. The wreck is still in place.

Members of the Marlin Sun Aqua Club, Dublin discover the wreck in 1983. They report their discovery to the authorities, and are in part responsible for having the first Underwater Preservation Order placed on a shipwreck in Irish waters. They also carry out the first underwater survey on such a wreck. The wreck is the first to be protected by The National Monuments Act (Historic Wreck), when the order is granted in 1984, thanks to representations made by Kevin Crothers, IUART, and the Maritime Institute of Ireland.

(Pictured: PS Queen Victoria’s shipwreck as depicted in The Nation)


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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Death of Arthur Guinness

arthur-guinnessArthur Guinness, entrepreneur, visionary, philanthropist, brewer, and the founder of the Guinness brewery business, dies at Mountjoy Square, Dublin, on January 23, 1803.

Arthur Guinness is believed to be born in Celbridge, County Kildare on September 25, 1725 into the Protestant Guinness family, part of the Anglo-Irish aristrocracy. They claim to descend from the Gaelic Magennis clan of County Down. However, recent DNA evidence suggests descent from the McCartans, another County Down clan, whose spiritual home lay in the townland of “Guiness” near Ballynahinch, County Down.

Guinness’s place and date of birth are the subject of speculation. His gravestone in Oughter Ard, County Kildare, reads that he dies on January 23, 1803, at the age of 78, and that he is born some time in 1724 or very early in 1725. This contradicts the date of September 28, 1725 chosen by the Guinness company in 1991, apparently to end speculation about his birthdate. The place of birth is perhaps his mother’s home at Read homestead at Ardclough, County Kildare.

In 2009 it is claimed that Guinness is born in nearby Celbridge where his parents live in 1725 and where his father later becomes land steward for the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr. Arthur Price. In his will, Dr. Price leaves £100 each to “his servant” Arthur and his father in 1752.

Guinness leases a brewery in Leixlip in 1755, brewing ale. Guinness also purchases a long lease of an adjacent site from George Bryan of Philadelphia in 1756 that is developed as investment property. He leaves his younger brother in charge of the Leixlip enterprise in 1759 and moves on to another at St. James’ Gate, Dublin. He signs a 9,000-year lease for the brewery, effective from December 31, 1759. The lease is presently displayed in the floor at St. James’ Gate. By 1767 he is the master of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers. His first actual sales of porter are listed on tax data from 1778. From the 1780s his second son, Arthur, works at his side and becomes the senior partner in the brewery in 1803.

Guinness’ major achievement is the expansion of his brewery in 1797–1799. Thereafter he brews only porter and employs members of the Purser family who have brewed porter in London from the 1770s. The Pursers become partners in the brewery for most of the 19th century. By the time of his death in 1803, the annual brewery output is over 20,000 barrels. Subsequently Arthur and/or his beer is nicknamed “Uncle Arthur” in Dublin. Guinness’ florid signature is still copied on every label of bottled Guinness.

From 1764, Guinness and his wife Olivia, whom he marries in 1761, live at Beaumont House, which Guinness has built on a 51-acre farm which is now a part of Beaumont Convalescent Home, behind the main part of Beaumont Hospital, between Santry and Raheny in north County Dublin. His landlord is Charles GardinerBeaumont, meaning beautiful hill, is named by Arthur and the later Beaumont parish copies the name. From March 1798 he lives at Mountjoy Square in Dublin, which is then in the process of being built in the style of elegant Georgian architecture. Three of his sons are also brewers, and his other descendants eventually include missionaries, politicians, and authors.

Sir Arthur Guinness dies in Mountjoy Square, Dublin, on January 23, 1803 and is buried in his mother’s family plot at Oughter Ard, County Kildare.

To further honour Arthur Guinness’s legacy, in 2009 Guinness & Co. established the Arthur Guinness Fund (AGF). An internal fund set up by the Company, its aim is to enable and empower individuals with skills and opportunities to deliver a measured benefit to their communities. Guinness has donated more than €7 million to the Fund since its inception. Arthur Guinness is also one of a handful of Irish people commemorated twice on stamps, in 1959 and 2009.