seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Author Eilís Dillon

eilis-dillonEilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, is born in Galway, County Galway on March 7, 1920. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine (née Plunkett), who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway City before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in the Irish language and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Her family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and 17 years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council 1974–1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust. In 1987 she and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993.

Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.

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Murder of Frank Shawe-Taylor

castle-taylor-ardrahanFrank Shawe-Taylor, Irish land agent and ex-High Sheriff of County Galway, is shot and killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush on March 3, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Shawe-Taylor is a member of the Taylor family of Castle Taylor, Ardrahan, County Galway. He is related to Lady Gregory and Captain John Shawe-Taylor. He serves as High Sheriff of County Galway in 1915.

Land disputes in Ireland had been a contentious issue for much of the 19th century, with tenants of landlords insisting on fixity of tenure, which later grows into a demand to own their own land. In addition, The Wyndham Land Act of 1903 enables the transfer of about 9 million acres, up to 1914, from landlords to tenants. However, tenure and ownership of land is still a live issue on the eve of the Irish War of Independence.

Shawe-Taylor is a land agent to a local landlord, and is himself a tenant. Early in January 1920, a group of local IRA soldiers, including Mick Kelly, Bill Freaney and Larry Lardner, approach Shawe-Taylor on behalf of some local people who are requesting a road to travel to Mass. While Shawe-Taylor himself is amenable to their demands, his landlord refuses them outright and makes this known via Shawe-Taylor.

On March 3, 1920, Shawe-Taylor and his driver, Barrett, are making their way to Galway to attend the fair. At 6:00 AM the coach reaches Egan’s Pub, Coshla, where they find the road blocked. The donkey cart of a local, Johnny Kelly, has been stolen and placed across the road. From behind the wall, at least two shooters fire at Barrett and Shawe-Taylor, wounding Barrett and killing Shawe-Taylor. This results in a huge security presence in the area, which in turn leads to more unrest with the locals. This increases with the arrival of the Black and Tans, whose irregular methods result in shootings, assaults, rapes and deaths. Moorpark House is placed under Royal Irish Constabulary protection out of fear of further killings.

Other people who subsequently die as a result of the unrest in Galway include Ellen Quinn, a pregnant mother of six and a tenant of Lady Gregory, Fr. Michael Griffin, Tom Egan and brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane. In addition, there are numerous incidents of violence, many of which are recorded with horror by Lady Gregory in her journal, who remarks that “the country has gone wild since the killing of Frank Shawe-Taylor.”

No one is ever tried for Frank Shawe-Taylor’s killing, though the identities of those involved are known to some locals at the time. His widow eventually sells their property and, with her young children, moves to England.

Shawe-Taylor is buried in St. Mary’s graveyard, Athenry. The music critic, Desmond Shawe-Taylor (1907–1995) and British racing driver Brian Shawe-Taylor (1915–1999) are his sons. His grandson is Desmond Shawe-Taylor, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures since 2005.

(Pictured: Castle Taylor, near to Ardrahan and Caranavoodaun, Galway, Ireland | Photo © Mike Searle (cc-by-sa/2.0))


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Birth of Playwright Tom Murphy

thomas-murphyTom Murphy, Irish playwright who has worked closely with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and with Druid Theatre, Galway, is born in Tuam, County Galway on February 23, 1935.

Murphy attends the local Archbishop McHale College and later becomes a metalwork teacher. He begins writing in the late 1950s, saying, “In 1958, my best friend said to me, why don’t we write a play? I didn’t think it was an unusual question, because in 1958 everyone in Ireland was writing a play.” His second play, A Whistle in the Dark, is written in his Tuam kitchen on his free Friday and Saturday nights. It is entered into a competition for amateur plays, which it wins, and is eventually performed at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London in 1961. It causes considerable controversy both there and in Dublin when it is later given its Irish premiere at the Abbey having initially been rejected by its artistic director.

Though Murphy is religious as a boy, education by the Christian Brothers leaves him largely irreligious. His 1975 play The Sanctuary Lamp is produced in the Abbey Theatre and receives a hostile reception due to its anti-Catholic nature, with theatregoers walking out and much negative criticism in the media.

Considered by many to be Ireland’s greatest living playwright, a title also often given to Brian Friel prior to his death in 2015, Murphy is honoured by the Abbey Theatre in 2001 by a retrospective season of six of his plays. His plays include the historical epic Famine (1968) which deals with the Irish Potato Famine between 1846 and spring 1847, the anti-clerical The Sanctuary Lamp (1975), The Gigli Concert (1983) and for many his masterpiece, the lyrical Bailegangaire and the bar-room comedy Conversations on a Homecoming (both 1985).

Murphy’s work is characterised by a constant experimentation in form and content from the apparently naturalistic A Whistle in the Dark to the surreal The Morning After Optimism and the spectacularly verbal The Gigli Concert. Recurring themes include the search for redemption and hope in a world apparently deserted by God and filled with suffering. Although steeped in the culture and mythology of Ireland, Murphy’s work does not trade on familiar clichés of Irish identity, dealing instead with Dostoyevskian themes of violence, nihilism and despair while never losing sight of the presence of laughter, humour and the possibilities of love and transcendence.


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Death of Uilleann Piper Willie Clancy

willie-clancyWillie Clancy, uilleann piper and folklorist, dies in Galway, County Galway on January 24, 1973.

Clancy is born into a musical family in the outskirts of Milltown Malbay, County Clare on December 24, 1918. His parents, Gilbert Clancy and Ellen Killeen, both sing and play concertina, and his father also plays the flute. Clancy’s father has been heavily influenced by local blind piper Garret Barry and passes much of Barry’s music on to Willie.

Clancy starts playing the tin whistle at age five, and later takes up the flute. He first sees a set of pipes in 1936 when he sees Johnny Doran playing locally. He obtains his first set of pipes two years later. His influences include Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis, John Potts and Andy Conroy. Clancy wins the Oireachtas competition in 1947. Unable to earn a living from music he emigrates to London where he works as a carpenter.

Returning to Milltown Malbay in 1957 he records some influential 78 rpm recordings for the Gael Linn label, among them the classic reel selection “The Old Bush/The Ravelled Hank of Yarn.” The next decades he stayed in Milltown Malbay. He marries Dóirín Healy in 1962.

Willie Clancy dies suddenly at the early age of 55 on January 24, 1973, leaving a great void. Cór Cúl Aodha sings at his funeral mass, just as Clancy had played at Seán Ó Riada’s funeral only a year earlier. Others who take part include Seán Ach Donnchadha, John Kelly and Séamus Ennis. His funeral cortege to Ballard Cemetery is led by pipers from the Tulla Pipe Band.

The Willie Clancy Summer School is established in his honour in 1973, by Clancy’s friends Junior Crehan, Martin Talty, Seán Reid, Paddy Malone, Paddy McMahon, Frankie McMahon, Jimmy Ward, JC Talty, Harry Hughes, Michael O Friel, Séamus Mac Mathúna and Muiris Ó Rócháin. He is also the subject of a major television documentary “Cérbh É? Willie Clancy” on TG4, first broadcast in November 2009. In this programme, one of a series in which major figures in contemporary traditional music, profile and pay homage to a master of their craft from a bygone age, Peter Browne traces the life and legacy of Clancy.


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Death of Author Violet Florence Martin

violet-florence-martinViolet Florence Martin, Irish author, dies in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. She is the co-author of a series of novels with cousin Edith Somerville under the pen name of Martin Ross in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Martin is born at Ross House in Connemara, County Galway, the youngest of sixteen children of James Martin of Ross (1804–1872). The Martin family, a branch of the Martyn family – one of the Tribes of Galway – had settled at Ross by the early seventeenth century, having previously inhabited the town of Galway for some three hundred years. Her father is a Protestant, his grandfather having converted from the Catholic faith in order to retain the family estates under the Penal Laws. Nevertheless, each child of the family is secretly ‘baptised’ by the family servants.

Martin is a kinswoman of Richard Martin and her contemporary, Edward Martyn, two other notable members of the tribe. Her older brother, Robert Jasper Martin, is a noted songwriter and a well-regarded member of the Tory party in London. She shares a great-grandmother with the writer Maria Edgeworth, whose use of Irish vernacular speech she follows in her work.

Martin’s father manages to save both his estate and his tenants during the Great Famine boasting that not one of his people died during the disaster, but at the cost of bankruptcy. Following his death in 1872, the family moves to Dublin and only returns to Ross in 1888 following revelations of financial fraud of the estate by their agent.

Violet Martin and Edith Somerville are second cousins. They originally meet on January 17, 1886 at Castletownshend, after which they become lifelong companions and literary partners. They come to share a home in Drishane, County Cork. In 1889, Violet adopts the pseudonym Martin Ross, which comprises her surname and the name of her ancestral home. Thus the authors are called Somerville and Ross. Their works include The Real Charlotte (1889), Some Reminiscences of an Irish R.M. and In The Vine Country.

Martin is a convinced Irish Unionist, in opposition to Somerville’s open nationalism. Both she and her brother Robert are well-regarded members of the literary circle in Irish unionism. However, unlike her brother, Martin is a convinced suffragette, becoming vice-president of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. While on friendly terms with the leading members of the Gaelic literary revival such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, she objects to their romantic version of Irish peasantry. She is on good terms with Edward Martyn, partner of Gregory and Yeats – and her kinsman – and shares his love of the Irish language and culture.

Martin is seriously injured in a riding accident in November 1898, from which she never fully recovers. This is a contributing factor to her death in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. Edith Somerville continues to write under their joint literary names, claiming that they are still in contact. The two women leave thousands of letters and 116 volumes of diaries, detailing their lives, much of them yet unpublished. Edith dies at Castletownshend in October 1949, aged 91, and is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork, Ireland.


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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”


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Birth of Brigadier General James Lawlor Kiernan

James Lawlor Kiernan, Irish-born Brigadier General in the American Civil War, is born in Mountbellew, County Galway, on October 26, 1837.

Kiernan’s father is a retired British navy surgeon. Kiernan attends Trinity College, Dublin, before emigrating to the United States around 1854. He studies medicine at New York University and practices law in New York until 1861. Upon the outbreak of American Civil War in 1861 he joins the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment as Assistant Surgeon and serves as such through the First Battle of Bull Run. When the 69th returns to Manhattan, he moves west and becomes the surgeon of the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Kiernan insists on joining the fighting ranks, and in that capacity is seemingly appointed a Major in the 6th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. In May 1863 at Port Gibson, Mississippi, he is wounded in the left lung and left on the battlefield for dead. Recovered and imprisoned, he effects an escape back to Union forces and resigns his commission. On August 1, 1863 he is commissioned a Brigadier General of the United States Volunteers by President Abraham Lincoln, commanding a post at Miliken’s Bend on the Mississippi River. However, ill-health as a result of his battlefield wounds force him to resign on February 3, 1864.

In May 1865 Kiernan gains a U.S. consular post at Chinkiang, China. He manages to make the trip there but his health does not allow him to perform the duties. He returns to New York where he becomes an examining physician for the Bureau of Pensions, a position he holds until his death.

James Lawlor Kiernan dies on November 26, 1869. The official cause of death is “congestion of the lungs.” Perhaps he is killed by that Confederate ball that wounded him six years earlier. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.