seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Siobhán McKenna

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923.

McKenna grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.


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The Ballyturin House Ambush

In what is known as the Ballyturin House Ambush, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in County Galway ambushes a motor car as it leaves Ballyturin House near Gort on May 15, 1921.

The IRA gets into position at about 1:00 PM. They see Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Cecil Blake arrive, as they have positively identified him through prior reconnaissance. They take over the gatehouse, and make any passersby prisoner in it, seventeen in all, until Blake’s car is seen about 8:30 PM. Passengers in the car with Blake include his wife Eliza, Captain Cornwallis of the 17 Lancers, Lieutenant McCreery of the 17 Lancers, and the daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory of Coole Park.

The car drives down the long drive to the gate. When they get there, one of the gates is closed, unbeknown to them a ploy by the IRA ambushers to force the car to stop. The car stops and Captain Cornwallis gets out to open the gate. It is at this point that they are ambushed by a group of twenty IRA men.

One of the IRA men in the bushes to the right shouts, “Hands up.” Cornwallis dashes outside the gate to protect himself from the men in the bushes, and fires a couple of revolver shots at the group. He is completely protected from them by the wall, but completely exposed to the men in the gatehouse and is shot and killed.

Mrs. Gregory gets out of the car on the side facing the IRA ambushers, which is believed to have saved her life, as they leave her alone. She works her way around to the back of the car and is led back towards the house by some of the IRA men after the firing stops.

Blake, Mrs. Blake, and Lt. McCreery are apparently killed without firing a shot. The IRA men then move in and remove the guns of their victims.

John and Anna Bagot, who are the owners of Ballyturin House, run down the long drive to the gate when they hear the shooting. Mrs. Gregory was handed over to Miss Molly Bagot. She tells the inquiry that she does not recognise any of the men. John Bagot is held at gunpoint and handed a note which apparently reads, “Volunteer HQ. Sir, if there is any reprisals after this ambush, your house will be set on fire as a return. By Order IRA.”

John Bagot dies on the April 27, 1935. His wife, Anna, lives until January 17, 1963. She dies in London at the age of 96 and is buried at Gresford Church near Wrexham, North Wales. Ballyturin House is abandoned and falls into a total ruin.

The ambush is believed to be in retaliation for an incident in which soldiers or police had tortured three local men for information by forcing them to dig their own graves and then threatening to bury them alive. It is also rumoured in the vicinity, although unsubstantiated, that Lady Gregory conspires with the IRA in planning the ambush which is why her daughter-in-law survives.

(Pictured: Death on a Summer’s evening: The deadly ambush at Ballyturin House on May 15 1921. London Illustrated News May 28 1921)


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Birth of Writer Walter Macken

Walter Macken, writer of short stories, novels and plays, is born at 18 St. Joseph’s Terrace in Galway, County Galway on May 3, 1915.

Macken’s father, Walter Macken, Sr., formerly a carpenter, joins the British Army in 1915 and is killed in March of the following year at St Eloi. The family therefore has to rely on lodgers and a small service pension to sustain them.

Macken attends the Presentation Convent for Infants from (1918-1921), St. Mary’s, a Diocesan College where they train people who want to become priests (1923-1924), and Patrician Brothers both Primary and Secondary (1921-1922 and 1924-1934), where he takes his Leaving Certificate. He is writing short stories, novels, and plays in exercise books from the age of eight and carries on these works well into his teens.

Macken is originally an actor, principally with the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in Galway, where he meets his wife Peggy, and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He also plays lead roles on Broadway in M. J. Molloy‘s The King of Friday’s Men and his own play Home Is the Hero. The success of his third book, Rain on the Wind, winner of the Literary Guild award in the United States, enables him to focus his energies on writing.

Macken also acts in films, notably in Arthur Dreifussadaptation of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow. He is perhaps best known for his trilogy of Irish historical novels Seek the Fair Land, The Silent People, and The Scorching Wind.

His son Ultan Macken is a well-known journalist in the print and broadcast media of Ireland, and wrote a biography of his father, Walter Macken: Dreams on Paper.

Walter Macken dies of heart failure at the age of 51 in Menlo, County Galway, on April 22, 1967.


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Birth of Davy Carton, Co-Founder of The Saw Doctors

Davy Carton, singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist, is born in Islington, London, on April 10, 1959. He is best known as a core member of The Saw Doctors, the folk-rock band he co-founds with Leo Moran and others in 1987.

Carton moves permanently to Tuam, County Galway, with his family in 1966. As a teenager he attends Tuam’s Christian Brothers school, where he forms the punk band Blaze X with fellow students Paul Cunniffe, Paul Ralph, and Ja Keating. He works in a local textile factory after leaving school, but continues to play with Blaze X until the band dissolves in 1981, the year Carton marries his girlfriend Trisha.

Working full-time in the textile factory throughout Ireland’s economically bleak 1980s, Carton largely puts his musical career on hold to support his wife and three young sons.

In the late 1980s, Carton gets together for a pint with Leo Moran, formerly of Irish reggae band Too Much for the White Man. Carton and Moran begin gigging around Galway with a handful of their own rootsy-rock compositions.

The duo adopts the name Saw Doctors — travellers who earn money by sharpening saws in old Ireland — until they can think of something better. As the band grows, the opportunity to find a better name never arises.

Carton finally gives up his day job in 1989, when the Saw Doctors rise to prominence and begin touring with bands including The WaterboysHothouse Flowers, and The Stunning.

Carton’s achievements with the Saw Doctors include six studio albums, two live albums, a concert DVD, several compilation albums, and extensive tours throughout Europe and the United States. Noted for his witty, rapacious lyrics, Carton has co-written almost all of the band’s songs, including “I Useta Lover,” one of the all-time best-selling singles in Ireland.

The Saw Doctors’ lyrics tend to stay out of political issues. “I’m not a politician, and I never will be a politician,” Carton tells the website PopMatters in 2003. “What I like to do is go into a room of people and make them sing along and whatever. I’m not going to tell them how to vote – there’s enough people doing that already. I’d rather talk about girlfriends and football. We don’t like to write about things we don’t really know about. We know about rejection from girls and all that, so we can write about that.”


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Death of St. Ruadhán of Lorrha

St. Ruadhán mac Fergusa Birn, also known as Rowan and Rodan, Irish Christian abbot who founds the monastery of Lorrha near Terryglass in County Tipperary, dies at the monastery on April 5, 584. Known for his prophesies, he is venerated as a saint and as one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” after his death.

Ruadhán is educated in Clonard, County Meath, by St. Finnian and is known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He is said to replace St. Brendan the Navigator at Lorrha after Brendan precedes to cross the River Shannon and set up his monastery at Clonfert, County Galway.

Ruadhán founds a monastic settlement at Lorrha that consists of a monastery and various other buildings including cells for the many monks that live there. Also a ditch or large mound is built around the settlement to keep animals in and intruders out, the outlines of which remain visible today. Life for the monks is tough but simple, rising early from their beds which consist of rushes or straw placed on the bare ground. They then pray and fast between their domestic chores. The settlement is self-sufficient providing everything from food, clothing, to shelter. Villages and towns, such as the village of Lorrha, often pop up around monastic settlements as trade and refuge attracts the local people.

His embassy in 556 to King Diarmait mac Cerbaill at Tara, is worked into a legend known as the “Curse of Tara”, but the high-king continues to reside at Tara until his death in 564. Diarmuid Mac Cerbhaill violates the sanctity of the church by taking a hostage from its protection. The downfall of Tara from a once thriving royal residence is credited to Ruadhán.

Ruadhán gives the prophecy that Diarmait will be killed by the roof-beam of his hall at Tara. Diarmait has the beam cast into the sea. Diarmait then asks his druids to find the manner of his death, and they foretell that he will die of slaughter, drowning, and burning, and that the signs of his death will be a shirt grown from a single seed of flax and a mantle of wool from a single sheep, ale brewed from one seed of corn, and bacon from a sow which has never farrowed.

On a circuit of Ireland, Diarmait comes to the hall of Banbán at Ráith Bec, and there the fate of which he is warned comes to pass. The roof beam of Tara has been recovered from the sea by Banbán and set in his hall, the shirt, mantle, ale, and bacon are duly produced for Diarmait. Diarmait goes to leave Banbán’s hall, but Áed Dub mac Suibni, waiting at the door, strikes him down and sets fire to the hall. Diarmait crawls into an ale vat to escape the flames and is duly killed by the falling roof beam. Thus, all the prophecies are fulfilled.

The bell of St. Ruadhán is found in a well named after the Saint and is preserved in the British Museum. This well is situated across the road from the present day Church of Ireland.

(Pictured: Lorrha Priory of St. Ruadhán)


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Birth of Physician & Writer William James MacNeven

William James MacNeven, Irish American physician and writer, is born on March 21, 1763, at Ballynahowna, near Aughrim, County Galway. One of the oldest obelisks in New York City is dedicated to him at St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway while a second obelisk is dedicated to Thomas Emmet, a fellow United Irishman and Attorney General of New York. MacNeven’s monument features a lengthy inscription in Irish, one of the oldest existent dedications of this kind in the Americas.

The eldest of four sons, at the age of 12 MacNeven is sent by his uncle Baron MacNeven to receive his education abroad, for the penal laws render education impossible for Catholics in Ireland. This Baron MacNeven is William O’Kelly MacNeven, an Irish exile physician, who for his medical skill in her service has been created an Austrian noble by the Empress Maria Theresa. Young MacNeven makes his collegiate studies at Prague. His medical studies are made at Vienna where he is a pupil of Pestel and takes his degree in 1784. The same year he returns to Dublin to practise.

MacNeven becomes involved in the United Irishmen of the time, with such men as Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Addis Emmet, and his brother Robert Emmet. He is arrested in March 1798, and confined in Kilmainham Gaol, and afterwards in Fort George, Scotland, until 1802, when he is liberated and exiled. In 1803, he is in Paris seeking an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte in order to obtain French troops for Ireland. Disappointed in his mission, MacNeven comes to America, landing at New York on July 4, 1805.

In 1807, MacNeven delivers a course of lectures on clinical medicine in the recently established College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here in 1808, he receives the appointment of professor of midwifery. In 1810, at the reorganization of the school, he becomes the professor of chemistry, and in 1816 is appointed in addition to the chair of materia medica. In 1826 with six of his colleagues, he resigns his professorship because of a misunderstanding with the New York Board of Regents, and accepts the chair of materia medica in Rutgers Medical College, a branch of the New Jersey institution of that name, established in New York as a rival to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The school at once becomes popular because of its faculty, but after four years is closed by legislative enactment on account of interstate difficulties. The attempt to create a school independent of the regents results in a reorganization of the University of the State of New York.

MacNeven’s best known contribution to science is his “Exposition of the Atomic Theory” (New York, 1820), which is reprinted in the French Annales de Chimie. In 1821 he publishes with emendations an edition of Brande’s “Chemistry” (New York, 1829). Some of his purely literary works, his “Rambles through Switzerland” (Dublin, 1803), his “Pieces of Irish History” (New York, 1807), and his numerous political tracts attract wide attention. He is co-editor for many years of the “New York Medical and Philosophical Journal.”

William James MacNeven dies on July 13, 1841, at the age of 78 in New York City.


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Birth of George Brent, Irish-Born Actor

george-brentGeorge Brent, Irish-born American stage, film, and television actor in American cinema, is born on March 15, 1904 in Ballinasloe, County Galway.

Brent was born George Patrick Nolan to John J. and Mary (née McGuinness) Nolan. His mother is a native of Clonfad, Moore, County Roscommon. During the Irish War of Independence, Brent is part of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He flees Ireland with a bounty set on his head by the British government, although he later claims only to have been a courier for guerrilla leader and tactician Michael Collins.

Brent arrives in the United States in 1921. Some time later he tours with a production of Abie’s Irish Rose. During the next five years, he acts in stock companies in Colorado, Rhode Island, Florida, and Massachusetts. In 1930, he appears on Broadway in Love, Honor, and Betray, alongside Clark Gable.

He eventually moves to Hollywood, and makes his first film, Under Suspicion, in 1930. Over the next two years, he appears in a number of minor films produced by Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox, before being signed to contract by Warner Bros. in 1932. He remains at Warner Bros. for the next 20 years, carving out a successful career as a top-flight leading man during the late 1930s and 1940s.

Highly regarded by Bette Davis, Brent becomes her most frequent male co-star, appearing with her in 13 films, including Front Page Woman (1935), Special Agent (1935), The Golden Arrow (1936), Jezebel (1938), The Old Maid (1939), Dark Victory (1939), and The Great Lie (1941). Brent also plays opposite Ruby Keeler in 42nd Street (1933), Greta Garbo in The Painted Veil (1934), Ginger Rogers in In Person (1935), Madeleine Carroll in The Case Against Mrs. Ames (1936), Jean Arthur in More Than a Secretary (1936), Myrna Loy in Stamboul Quest (1934) and The Rains Came (1939), Merle Oberon in ‘Til We Meet Again (1940), Ann Sheridan in Honeymoon for Three (1941), Joan Fontaine in The Affairs of Susan (1945), Barbara Stanwyck in So Big! (1932), The Purchase Price (1932), Baby Face (1933), The Gay Sisters (1942), and My Reputation (1946), Claudette Colbert in Tomorrow Is Forever (1946), Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase (1946), Lucille Ball in Lover Come Back (1946), and Yvonne De Carlo in Slave Girl (1947).

Brent drifts into “B” pictures from the late 1940s and retires from film in 1953. He continues to appear on television until 1960, having appeared on the religion anthology series, Crossroads. He is cast in the lead in the 1956 television series, Wire Service. In 1978, he makes one last film, the made-for-television production Born Again.

George Brent receives two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first, at 1709 Vine St., for his film contributions, the second star, at 1614 Vine St., for his work in television.

Brent is married five times: Helen Louise Campbell (1925–1927), Ruth Chatterton (1932–1934), Constance Worth (1937), Ann Sheridan (1942–1943), and Janet Michaels (1947-1974). His final marriage to Janet Michaels, a former model and dress designer, lasts 27 years until her death in 1974. They have a son and a daughter.

Brent also carries on a lengthy relationship with his frequent Warner Bros. co-star, actress Bette Davis, who describes her last meeting with Brent after many years of estrangement. He is suffering from advanced emphysema, and she expresses great sadness at his ill health and deterioration. George Brent dies on May 26, 1979 in Solana Beach, California.