seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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Birth of Charles Bianconi, Italo-Irish Entrepreneur

charles-bianconiCharles Bianconi, Italo-Irish passenger car entrepreneur, is born Carlo Bianconi in Tregolo, Costa Masnaga, Italy on September 24, 1786.

Bianconi moves from an area poised to fall to Napoleon and travels to Ireland in 1802, by way of England, just four years after the Irish Rebellion of 1798. At the time, British fear of continental invasion results in an acute sense of insecurity and additional restrictions on the admission of foreigners. He is christened Carlo but anglicises his name to Charles when he arrives in Ireland.

Bianconi works as an engraver and printseller in Dublin, near Essex Street, under his sponsor, Andrea Faroni, when he is 16. In 1806 he sets up an engraving and print shop in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, moving to Clonmel in 1815.

Bianconi eventually becomes famous for his innovations in transport and is twice elected mayor of Clonmel.

Bianconi is the founder of public transportation in Ireland, at a time preceding railways. He establishes regular horse-drawn carriage services on various routes from about 1815 onward. These are known as “Bianconi coaches” and the first service, Clonmel to Cahir, takes five to eight hours by boat but only two hours by Bianconi’s carriage. Travel on one of his carriages cost one penny farthing a mile.

Bianconi also establishes a series of inns, the Bianconi Inns, some of which still exist in Piltown, County Kilkenny and Killorglin, County Kerry.

In 1832 Bianconi marries Eliza Hayes, the daughter of a wealthy Dublin stockbroker. They have three children – Charles Thomas Bianconi, Catherine Henrietta Bianconi and Mary Anne Bianconi, who marries Morgan O’Connell and is the mother of his grandson John O’Connell Bianconi.

Bianconi’s transport services continue into the 1850s and later, by which time there are a number of railway services in the country. The Bianconi coaches continue to be well-patronised, by offering connections from various termini, one of the first and few examples of an integrated transport system in Ireland. By 1865 Bianconi’s annual income was about £35,000.

Charles Bianconi dies on September 22, 1875 at Longfield House, Boherlahan, County Tipperary. Having donated land to the parish of Boherlahan for the construction of a parish church, he wishes to be buried on the Church grounds. He, and his family, are buried in a side chapel, separate from the parish church in Boherlahan, approximately 5 miles from Cashel, County Tipperary.


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Death of Christy Brown, Writer & Painter

christy-brownChristy Brown, Irish writer and painter who has cerebral palsy and is able to write or type only with the toes of one foot, dies on September 7, 1981 in Parbrook, Somerset, England. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot (1954).

Brown is born into a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on June 5, 1932. He is one of 22 siblings of parents Bridget Fagan and Patrick Brown. After his birth, doctors discover that he has severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which leaves him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a hospital, his parents are unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During his adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt becomes aware of his story and begins to visit the Brown family regularly. She brings him books and painting materials as, over the years, he has shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He has also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, he had learned to both write and draw himself with his left leg, the only limb over which he has unequivocal control.

Brown quickly matures into a serious artist. Although he famously receives almost no formal schooling during his youth, he does attend St. Brendan’s School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan’s he comes in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovers that Brown is also a natural novelist and, later, helps use his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown’s struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.

When My Left Foot becomes a literary sensation, one of the many people who write letters to Brown is married American woman Beth Moore. Brown and Moore become regular correspondents and, in 1960, he holidays in North America and stays with Moore at her home in Connecticut. When they meet again in 1965 they began an affair. Brown journeys to Connecticut once more to finish his magnum opus, which he had been developing for years. He finally does so in 1967 with help from Moore, who introduces and administers a strict working regimen, mostly by denying him alcohol until a day’s work is completed. The book, Down All the Days, is published in 1970. It is an ambitious project drawn largely from a playful expansion of My Left Foot. It becomes an international best-seller, translated into fourteen languages. The Irish Times reviewer Bernard Share claims the work is “the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”

Down All the Days is followed by a series of other novels, including A Shadow on Summer (1972), Wild Grow the Lilies (1976) and A Promising Career (published posthumously in 1982). He also publishes three poetry collections: Come Softly to My Wake, Background Music and Of Snails and Skylarks. All the poems are included in The Collected Poems of Christy Brown.

Brown’s fame continues to spread internationally and he becomes a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he is able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister’s family. Though he and Beth had planned to marry and live together at the new home, and though Moore had informed her husband of these plans, it is around this time that he begins an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he meets at a party in London. He then terminates his affair with Moore and marries Carr at the Registry Office, Dublin, in 1972. They move to Stoney Lane, Rathcoole, County Dublin, to Ballyheigue, County Kerry and then to Somerset. He continues to paint, write novels, poetry and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, is based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considers a friend.

Brown’s health deteriorates after marrying Carr. He becomes mainly a recluse in his last years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr’s influence and perhaps abusive nature. He dies at the age of 49 on September 7, 1981 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body is found to have significant bruising, which leads many to believe that Carr had physically abused him. Further suspicions arise after Georgina Hambleton’s biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, reveals a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful. He is buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

A film adaptation of My Left Foot directed by Jim Sheridan is produced in 1989 from a screenplay by Shane Connaughton. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Brown and Brenda Fricker as his mother. Both win Academy Awards for their performances. The film also receives Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Anglo-Irish rock band The Pogues pay tribute to Christy Brown with a song titled “Down All the Days.” It is the seventh track on their 1989 recording Peace and Love. Similarly, U2 releases a song titled “Down All the Days” with the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. The Men They Couldn’t Hang also writes a song “Down All the Days” which appears on their Silver Town album also released in 1989.


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Death of Yann Renard-Goulet, Sculptor & Breton Nationalist

yann-goulet-custom-house-memorialYann Renard-Goulet, French sculptor, Breton nationalist and war-time collaborationist with Nazi Germany who headed the Breton Bagadou Stourm militia, dies in Bray, County Wicklow on August 22, 1999.

Goulet is born in Saint-Nazaire, France on August 20, 1914. Before World War II, he is a member of the Breton National Party and a former member of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). His artistic career begins at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studies art and architecture, and learns sculpture with Auguste Rodin‘s assistant, Charles Despiau. His works in France include bas-reliefs shown at the Exposition International de Paris (1938), and the monument to the youth of the French empire in Lille (1939). He is part of the Breton artistic movement Seiz Breur.

Goulet’s involvement in Breton nationalism leads to accusations that he had orchestrated the destruction of the Monument to the Breton-Angevin Federation at Pontivy on December 18, 1938 by Gwenn ha du, the nationalist terrorist group. He is detained, but then released.

In 1939, he is sent to Strasbourg to study the art of sabotage. He participates in the beginning of World War II fighting for France, and is captured by the Germans on June 11, 1940 while blowing up a bridge on the Aisne with friends from a French corps.

Later in the war, Goulet joins the assault section of Bagadou Stourm, Breton nationalist stormtroopers allied to the Germans. He also collaborates with the pro-Nazi nationalist newspaper L’Heure Bretonne. In 1941 in Paris, he becomes head of Bagadou Stourm and the “Youth Organizations” of the Breton National Party. The promotion of Bagadou Stourm officers is named “Patrick Pearse” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland.

After the liberation of France, Goulet travels with his wife and children to Ireland, and is sentenced to death as a Collaborationist by a French court in his absence. He acquires Irish citizenship in 1952 and becomes an art professor.

Goulet is commissioned to create public works commemorating the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other republicans, including the Custom House Memorial (Dublin), the East Mayo Brigade IRA Memorial, the Republican Memorial (Crossmaglen), and the Ballyseedy Memorial (Kerry). He exhibits regularly at the Royal Hibernian Academy, eventually becoming the RHA Professor of Sculpture. He is also made a member of Aosdána in 1982.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Goulet claims to have taken the reins of the Breton Liberation Front (Front de Libération de la Bretagne, or FLB) and to have been behind all their attacks.

In 1969 Goulet becomes secretary general and chair of the Comité National de la Bretagne Libre and publishes the communiques of the FLB. In 1968, the head of police in Bray congratulate him on organising the previous day’s attack on the CRS barracks in Saint-Brieuc.

Goulet died at Bray, County Wicklow, on August 22, 1999, two days after his 85th birthday.

(Pictured: Custom House Memorial in Dublin by Yann Renard-Goulet, 1957)


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Birth of John B. Keane, Irish Playwright & Novelist

john-b-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, Irish playwright, novelist and essayist, is born in Listowel, County Kerry on July 21, 1928.

Keane is the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah Purtill. He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the United Kingdom between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender and lives in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that he is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the UK, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955 where he writes plays for the local theatre company and sponsors, from 1971, the annual Listowel Writers’ Week. He marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

His first play, Sive (1959), is initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but goes on to win the amateur All-Ireland Drama Festival. Later plays include The Field (1965), which is released in a bowdlerized film version in 1990, and Big Maggie (1969), which is produced on Broadway in 1982. In 1998 Keane is honoured with a medal from the Abbey for his contribution to Irish theatre.

Keane is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish club of PEN International and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

John Keane dies of prostate cancer on May 30, 2002 in Listowel at the age of 73.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Muhammad Ali Fights Al Lewis in Dublin

muhammad-ali-and-al-lewisMuhammad Ali fights Al “Blue” Lewis in Dublin on July 19, 1972 and defeats him via a technical knockout (TKO) in the eleventh round.

After losing to Joe Frazier in March 1971, Ali goes on something of a world tour, fighting 13 times in six countries before defeating Frazier in a rematch in January 1974.

The promotion is the brainchild of a character from County Kerry named Butty Sugrue, known throughout Ireland as a circus strongman, whose alleged claim to fame is pulling double-decker buses by a rope in his teeth. Dublin journalists laugh at him when he first announces his intentions.

But despite the scepticism, the fight is arranged for July 19, 1972. As soon as he steps off the plane at Dublin Airport, Ali, ever the showman, immediately captures the heart of a nation by announcing that he has Irish roots. In the 1860s, Abe Grady left his native Ennis in County Clare and emigrated to the United States. In Kentucky, he met and married an emancipated slave. A century later Abe Grady’s great grandson Muhammad Ali touches down in Dublin.

In the week leading up to the fight Ali meets people from all walks of life in Dublin. He spends time with celebrities, including actor Peter O’Toole, and playfully spars with director John Huston, whose boxing movie, Fat City, is screened with both Ali and Lewis in attendance.

Ali also meets politicians, including Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Leinster House and political activist Bernadette Devlin. The Cork Examiner comments on how popular Ali has proven with politicians in Ireland. “Not since the late President John F. Kennedy was in Dublin in 1963 has a visitor from abroad been given as big a welcome at Leinster House as that accorded to Muhammad Ali.”

Ali is always about so much more than boxing, and that week in Dublin is another case in point, as the fight itself is not a classic. He has a cold and is wary of Lewis, who is a dangerous fighter and a man who had previously served time in prison for manslaughter. Ali who, prior to the bout predicts that his opponent’s chances of victory lay somewhere between “slim and none,” eventually wins with a TKO in the eleventh round.

In 2009, Ali returns to Ireland to visit Ennis in County Clare, the home town of his ancestor Abe Grady, where he is granted the freedom of the town. The huge crowds who come out to meet him are testament to his enduring appeal. But the magic of Muhammad Ali leaves an indelible impact on Ireland after his 1972 visit as the late Budd Schulberg, a legendary boxing writer, said, “Ali was like the Pied Piper. It was really kind of magical. He had enormous influence over there. He was a fellow Irishman.”

(From: “When Ali thrilled Ireland: How ‘the Greatest’ shook up Dublin” by Peter Crutchley, BBC NI Digital & Learning, June 6, 2016)


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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.