seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Siobhán McKenna, Stage & Screen Actress

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin.

McKenna is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923. She 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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Death of Padraic Fallon, Poet & Playwright

padraic-fallonPadraic Fallon, Irish poet and playwright, dies on October 9, 1974 in Aylesford, England.

Fallon is born in Athenry, County Galway on January 3, 1905. His upbringing and his early impressions of the town and the surrounding landscape are intimately described in his poetry. After passing the civil service exams in 1923 he moves to Dublin to work in the Customs House. In Dublin he becomes part of the circle of George William Russell (Æ) who encourages his literary ambitions and arranges for the publication of his early poetry. He forms close friendships with Seumas O’Sullivan, editor of The Dublin Magazine, the poets Austin Clarke, Robert Farren, F.R. Higgins and Patrick McDonagh, and later the novelist James Plunkett.

In 1939, Fallon leaves Dublin to serve as a Customs official in County Wexford, living in Prospect House, near Wexford with his wife, Dorothea (née Maher) and his six sons. During this time he becomes a close friend of the painter Tony O’Malley.

Fallon’s early poetry, short stories and literary criticism are published in The Dublin Magazine and The Bell. He is a regular contributor to Raidió Éireann in the 1940s and 1950s, serving variously as a journalist, scriptwriter and literary critic. A number of his short stories and early dramatic pieces are broadcast by the station during the 1940s. The first of his verse plays for radio, Diarmuid and Gráinne, is broadcast by Raidió Éireann in November 1950. This is followed by The Vision of Mac Conglinne (1953), Two Men with a Face (1953), The Poplar (1953), Steeple Jerkin (1954), The Wooing of Étain (1954), A Man in the Window (1955), Outpost (1955), Deirdre’s King (1956), The Five Stations (1957), The Hags of Clough (1957), The Third Bachelor (1958), At the Bridge Inn (1960) and Lighting up Time (1961).

Three plays adapted from Irish mythology, Diarmuid and Gráinne, The Vision of Mac Conglinne and Deirdre’s King, receive particular contemporary critical acclaim. The landscape, mythology and history of Ireland, interwoven with classical themes and religious symbolism, are frequent themes in his poetry and dramatic works. A number of Fallon’s radio plays are later broadcast on BBC Third Programme and, in translation, in Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary. The play The Seventh Step is staged at The Globe Theatre in Dublin in 1954. A second one, Sweet Love ’till Morn, is staged at the Abbey Theatre in 1971. He also writes dramatic pieces for television such as A Sword of Steel (1966) and The Fenians (1967), the latter produced by James Plunkett. In a number of his plays and radio dramas he cooperates with contemporary composers providing incidental music, an example being The Wooing of Étain (1954) with music by Brian Boydell.

Fallon retires from the Civil Service in 1963, returning to Dublin before moving to Cornwall in 1967 to live with his son, the sculptor Conor Fallon and his daughter-in-law, the artist Nancy Wynne-Jones. He and his wife return to Ireland in 1971. He spends his last years in Kinsale. He is visiting his son Ivan Fallon in Kent at the time of his death.

While Fallon’s poetry had previously appeared in The Dublin Magazine, The Bell, The Irish Times and a number of anthologies, his first volume of collected poetry, Poems, incorporating a number of previously unpublished poems, is not produced until 1974, months before his death. Three volumes of his poetry, edited by his son, the journalist and critic Brian Fallon, are published after his death: Poems and Versions in 1983, Collected Poems in 1990, and A Look in the Mirror and Other Poems in 2003. In 2005, three of his verse plays, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, The Poplar, and The Hags of Clough, are published in a single volume. A selection of his prose writings and criticism edited by Brian Fallon, A Poet’s Journal, is published in the same year.


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Death of Dick Dowling, Confederate Commander

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer LibraryRichard William “Dick” Dowling, the victorious confederate commander at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass in the American Civil War, dies of yellow fever in Houston, Texas on September 23, 1867.

Dowling is born in the townland of Knockballyvishteal, Milltown, County Galway on January 14, 1837, the second of eight children, born to tenant farmer Patrick and Bridget Dowling (née Qualter). Following the eviction of his family from their home in 1845, the first year of the Great Famine, nine-year-old Dowling leaves Ireland in 1846 with his older sister Honora, bound for New Orleans in the United States.

As a teenager, Dowling displays his entrepreneurial skills by successfully running the Continental Coffeehouse, a saloon in the fashionable French Quarter. His parents and siblings follow from Ireland in 1851, but the joy of reunion is short-lived. In 1853, a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans takes the lives of his parents and one of his younger brothers. With rising anti-Irish feeling growing in New Orleans, following local elections which see a landslide victory for the “Know Nothing” party, Dowling moves to Houston in 1857.

In 1857 Dowling marries Elizabeth Ann Odlum, daughter of Benjamin Digby Odlum, a Kildare-born Irishman, who had fought in the Texas Revolution, being captured at the Battle of Refugio in 1836.

By 1860, Dowling owns a number of saloons. His most successful is named the Bank of Bacchus, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston. “The Bank” as it is known locally becomes Houston’s most popular social gathering place in the 1860s and is renowned for its hospitality. He is also involved in setting up Houston’s first gaslight company, and is first to have it installed in his home and “The Bank.” He is a founding member of Houston’s Hook and Ladder Company Number One fire department and is also involved in running the city’s first streetcar company.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, Dowling makes a name for himself as an able and successful entrepreneur. Among other things, he is involved with a predominantly Irish militia company which serves a more social than military role in Houston society. Upon Secession, this militia company is mustered straight into the Confederate States Army, with Dowling being elected First Lieutenant. The unit names themselves the “Jefferson Davis Guards” in honor of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis Guards are initially part of a Texas State Troops/Confederate expedition sent to take over Union Army forts and arsenals along the border with Mexico. The expedition is successfully completed without a shot being fired. They participate in the Battle of Galveston on New Year’s Day 1863, following which they are assigned to a newly constructed artillery post near the mouth of the Sabine River called Fort Sabine.

Sabine Pass was important as a point of arrival and departure for blockade runners. It is suspected that the Union Army will attempt an invasion of Texas via Sabine Pass because of its value as a harbor for blockade runners and its proximity 18 miles southeast of Beaumont, which lies on the railroad between Houston and the eastern part of the Confederacy.

To negotiate Sabine Pass all vessels except small boats take one of the two river channels. No seagoing ship can traverse the Pass without great risk of running aground should it stray from one of the channels. The inevitable course of any steam-powered warship, including shallow-draft gunboats then common to the U.S. Navy, would use one of the channels, both of which are within fair range of the fort’s six smoothbores.

Dowling spends the summer of 1863 at the earthen fort instructing his men in gunnery. On September 8, 1863 a Union Navy flotilla of some 22 gunboats and transports with 5,000 men accompanied by cavalry and artillery arrive off the mouth of Sabine Pass. The plan of invasion is sound, but monumentally mismanaged. Four of the flanking gunboats are to steam up the pass at speed and draw the fire of the fort, two in each channel, a tactic which had been used successfully in subduing the defensive fortifications of Mobile and New Orleans prior to this. This time, however, Dowling’s artillery drills pay off as the Confederates pour a rapid and withering fire onto the incoming gunboats, disabling and capturing two, while the others retreat in disarray. The rest of the flotilla retreats from the mouth of the pass and returns ignominiously to New Orleans, leaving the disabled ships with no option but to surrender to Dowling. With a command of just 47 men, Dowling had thwarted an attempted invasion of Texas, in the process capturing two gunboats, some 350 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies and munitions.

The Confederate government offers its gratitude and admiration to Dowling, now promoted to Major, and his unit, as a result of their battlefield prowess. In gratitude, the ladies of Houston present the unit with specially struck medals, which are actually Mexican eight reale coins with both faces sanded down and inscribed “Sabine Pass, 1864” on one side and a Maltese cross with the letters D and G on the other. Because of the official recognition given to the action, it is now accepted that these Davis Guard Medals are the only medals of honor issued by the Confederate government, and consequently are collector’s items today.

After the battle of Sabine Pass Dowling is elevated to hero status in his hometown of Houston. He subsequently serves as a recruiter for the Confederacy and is personally commended for his action at the battle by Jefferson Davis. After the war he returns to his saloon business and quickly becomes one of the city’s leading businessmen.

Dowling’s promising future is cut short by another yellow fever epidemic which devastates Houston in the late summer of 1867, and he dies on September 23, 1867. He is buried at St. Vincent’s Catholic Cemetery, the oldest Catholic cemetery in Houston.


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Birth of Éamonn Ceannt, Irish Republican

eamonn-ceanntÉamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.

Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.

In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.

In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.

As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.

The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.

After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.

Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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Patrick Pearse Arrives in Ros Muc

patrick-pearse-cottagePatrick Pearse arrives in Ros Muc, County Galway on September 13, 1903 and takes up residence at his cottage in Inbhear.

Born in Dublin on November 10, 1879, Pearse joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in September 1913, becoming Director of Military Organisation of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and is later co-opted into the IRB’s secretive Military Council, which infiltrates the Volunteers for the Easter Rising.

A writer and Irish language enthusiast long before he becomes a revolutionary, Pearse first comes to Ros Muc in 1903 as a 23-year-old handpicked by Conradh na Gaeilge to act as an Irish examiner.

Pearse develops a strong affinity with the area, buying land on Loch Eileabhrach in 1905, upon which he builds a cottage in 1909. Unusually for a professional at the time, he has it thatched in the style of poor country dwellings and on his regular visits between 1903 and 1915, spends time in the cabins of the poor, soaking up the folklore which finds its way into his writings.

Pearse has a rival for the affections of the locals in the shape of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Queen’s representative in Ireland. William Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley also spends summers in the area, where he organises hunts with gentry and children’s fetes.

In response, Pearse organises an evening of Irish festivities for Ros Muc. Pearse gives scholarships to local gaeilgeoiri boys to his St. Enda’s School in Dublin.

Pearse’s last visit to the cottage is in 1915, when he composes the rousing oration for the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The following April, he goes one step further, declaring a Republic on the steps of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin.

After Pearse’s execution on May 3, 1916, his cottage passes to his mother Margaret. In 1921 it is burned down by the “Black and Tans” and Auxiliaries. Restored by Ó Conghaile and then again by Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, by 1943 Pearse’s sisters Senator Margaret Mary Pearse and Mary Brigid Pearse hand the cottage to the State.

Opened in 2016, a new visitor centre next to Pearse’s Cottage provides an introduction to the Irish language, Gaeltacht culture, and Pearse’s connection to Ros Muc.

(From: “Patrick Pearse’s cottage: a cultural visit to Ros Muc,” Darragh Murphy, The Irish Times, January 13, 2016)


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Birth of Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Fianna Fáil Politician

maire-geoghegan-quinnMáire Geoghegan-Quinn, former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Carna, County Galway on September 5, 1950. She served as a European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from 2010 to 2014 and as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Galway West constituency from 1975 to 1997.

Geoghegan is educated at Coláiste Muire, Toormakeady, in County Mayo and at Carysfort College in Blackrock, from where she qualifies as a teacher. She is married to John Quinn, with whom she has two children. Her novel The Green Diamond, about four young women sharing a house in Dublin in the 1960s, is published in 1996.

Her father, Johnny Geoghegan, is a Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West from 1954 until his death in 1975. His daughter successfully contests the subsequent by-election. From 1977 to 1979 she works as Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. She serves as a member of Galway City Council from 1985 to 1991.

Geoghegan-Quinn supports Charles Haughey in the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership election and is subsequently appointed to the cabinet post of Minister for the Gaeltacht. Thus, she becomes the first woman to hold an Irish cabinet post since 1922 (after Constance Markievicz had been appointed Minister for Labour in 1919 during the First Dáil) and the first woman to hold such a post in the history of the Irish state.

In 1982, Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills. Her tenure is short because the 23rd Dáil lasts only 279 days, and a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition is elected at the November 1982 general election.

When Fianna Fáil returns to power after the 1987 general election, Geoghegan-Quinn becomes Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach. She expects a senior government position, but is disappointed. She resigns in 1991, in opposition to Charles Haughey’s leadership of the party. The following year Albert Reynolds, whom she backs for the leadership, becomes Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. For her loyalty to Reynolds, she is appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. She becomes Minister for Justice and Equality in 1993, in which post she introduces substantial law reform legislation, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality. She is also briefly acting Minister for Equality and Law Reform in late 1994, following the resignation of Labour minister Mervyn Taylor from Reynolds’ coalition government.

When Reynolds resigns as leader of Fianna Fáil in November 1994, Geoghegan-Quinn is seen as his preferred successor. In the resulting leadership election she stands against Bertie Ahern. A win would make her the first female Taoiseach. On the day of the vote, however, she withdraws from the contest “in the interests of party unity.” It is reported that she has the support of only 15 members of the 66-strong parliamentary party.

At the 1997 general election Geoghegan-Quinn retires from politics completely, citing privacy issues, after details about her 17-year-old son’s expulsion from school appeared in the newspapers. Other reports suggest that she sees her prospects for promotion under Ahern as poor, and a weak showing in constituency opinion polls indicate her seat could be in danger. She becomes a non-executive director of Aer Lingus, a member of the board of the Declan Ganley-owned Ganley Group, and writes a column for The Irish Times.

Geoghegan-Quinn is appointed to the European Court of Auditors in 1999, replacing former Labour minister Barry Desmond. She is appointed for a second term at the Court of Auditors in March 2006, and resigns on February 9, 2010. She is nominated by Taoiseach Brian Cowen to become Ireland’s European Commissioner in November 2009, and is subsequently allocated the Research, Innovation and Science portfolio.

In April 2010, after numerous calls are made over several days for Geoghegan-Quinn to surrender her pensions as an Irish former politician, which are worth over €104,000, while she remains in a paid public office, she does so.

In July 2015, it is announced that Geoghegan-Quinn will chair an independent panel to examine issues of gender equality among Irish higher education staff.