seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Conor Pass Ambush

Two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men are killed on Conor Pass in Dingle, County Kerry, on July 13, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.

District Inspector Michael Fallon, accompanied by three other police in a motor car, are ambushed on the Conor Pass between Cloghane and Dingle, County Kerry. The D.I. is returning from an inspection of the barracks at Cloghane when the party is ambushed by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) West Kerry No.1 Brigade who are billetted at Fibough, in the Slieve Mish Mountains. The IRA volunteers include J. Dowling, Paddy Paul Fitzgerald, Dan Jeffers and Mick McMahon among their number.

Constables George Roach 62449 and Michael Linehan 63592 are killed outright. D.I. Fallon and Constable Joseph Campbell 67905, the driver, are both wounded. The IRA removes the bodies from the car and takes away the rifles and revolvers of the police. They then take Constable Campbell prisoner, dropping him off about three miles down the road.

Constable Linehan is 34 years old and single, and is originally from Cork. He has twelve years police service. His funeral takes place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Limerick with burial in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery. A hearse cannot be obtained so the constabulary, in relays, carry the coffin from the church to the cemetery.

Constable Roach has thirteen years service and is from County Clare. He is also a single man.

Compensation awards for gunshot injuries are later made to D.I. Fallon of £850 and to Constable Campbell of £600.

(From: “Constables George Roach and Michael Linehan, killed on the Connor Pass 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum (www.irishconstabulary.com), March 7, 2011)


Leave a comment

Death of Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener

Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, Irish-born senior British Army officer and colonial administrator, drowns in the sinking of the HMS Hampshire west of Orkney, Scotland, on June 5, 1916. He wins notoriety for his imperial campaigns, especially his scorched earth policy against the Boers, his expansion of Lord Robertsinternment camps during the Second Boer War and his central role in the early part of World War I.

Kitchener is born in Ballylongford near Listowel, County Kerry, son of army officer Henry Horatio Kitchener and Frances Anne Chevallier, daughter of John Chevallier, a priest, of Aspall Hall, and his third wife, Elizabeth. The family moves to Switzerland when he is young, where he is educated at Montreux, then at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He joins a French field ambulance unit in the Franco-Prussian War but is returned to England after he comes down with pneumonia.

Kitchener is credited in 1898 for winning the Battle of Omdurman and securing control of the Sudan for which he is made Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. As Chief of Staff (1900–1902) in the Second Boer War he plays a key role in Lord Roberts’ conquest of the Boer Republics, then succeeds Roberts as commander-in-chief, by which time Boer forces have taken to guerrilla warfare and British forces imprison Boer civilians in concentration camps. His term as Commander-in-Chief (1902–09) of the Army in India sees him quarrel with another eminent proconsul, the Viceroy Lord Curzon, who eventually resigns. He then returns to Egypt as British Agent and Consul General.

In 1914, at the start of World War I, Kitchener becomes Secretary of State for War, a Cabinet Minister. One of the few to foresee a long war, lasting for at least three years, and with the authority to act effectively on that perception, he organises the largest volunteer army that Britain had ever seen, and oversees a significant expansion of materials production to fight on the Western Front. Despite having warned of the difficulty of provisioning for a long war, he is blamed for the shortage of shells in the spring of 1915, one of the events leading to the formation of a coalition government, and is stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.

On June 5, 1916, Kitchener is making his way to Russia on HMS Hampshire to attend negotiations with Tsar Nicholas II. At the last minute, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe changes the HMS Hampshire‘s route on the basis of a misreading of the weather forecast and ignoring (or not being aware of) recent intelligence and sightings of German U-boat activity in the vicinity of the amended route. Shortly before 7:30 PM the same day, steaming for the Russian port of Arkhangelsk during a Force 9 gale, HMS Hampshire strikes a mine laid by the newly launched German U-boat U-75 and sinks 1.5 miles west of the Orkney. Only twelve men survive. Amongst the dead are Kitchener and all ten members of his entourage. He is seen standing on the quarterdeck during the approximately twenty minutes that it takes the ship to sink. His body is never recovered.


Leave a comment

Birth of Architect George Coppinger Ashlin

George Coppinger Ashlin, Irish architect particularly noted for his work on churches and cathedrals, is born in County Cork on May 28, 1837. He becomes President of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.

Ashlin is the son of J. M. Ashlin, J.P. He receives his early education at the Collège de St. Servais in Liège, Belgium. He later enrolls at St. Mary’s College, Oscott (1851-55) where he is subsequently a pupil of Edward Welby Pugin. It is during this time that he develops an interest in architecture. By 1858, he enters the Royal Academy Schools, London.

When Pugin receives the commission for SS Peter and Paul’s, Carey’s Lane, Cork, in 1859, he makes Ashlin a partner with responsibility for their Irish work. This partnership lasts until late 1868. In 1861 they open their office at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The practice is primarily ecclesiastical, designing some 25 religious buildings. Their churches and Cathedrals are mainly located in the counties of Wexford, Cork and Kerry, and are all of similar design. By far the most important commission undertaken by this partnership is the building of St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh for Bishop William Keane.

In 1867 Ashlin marries Mary Pugin (1844-1933), sister of Edward Welby Pugin and daughter of Augustus Welby Pugin, the Gothic revivalist. Their only daughter, Miriam, is born ten years later.

The partnership with Pugin is dissolved in 1870. Thereafter Ashlin practises in his own right, branching out to cover the entire island nation. His works of this period include Ballycotten (1901), Ballybunion (1892), Church of the Most Holy Rosary, Midleton (1893) and the Munster & Leinster Bank, both of Midleton, and finally Kildare (1898).

Ashlin is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

George Coppinger Ashlin dies at the age of 84 on December 10, 1921. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


Leave a comment

Birth of Helen Blackburn, Feminist & Women’s Rights Activist

Helen Blackburn, feminist and campaigner for women’s rights, especially in the field of employment, is born in Knightstown, County Kerry, on May 25, 1842. She is also an editor of The Englishwoman’s Review.

Blackburn is the daughter of Bewicke Blackburn, a civil engineer from County Kerry, and Isabella Lamb of County Durham in North East England. When her family moves to London in 1859, she soon comes into contact with the women of the Langham Place Group, especially Jessie Boucherett and Emily Faithfull.

Over the years Blackburn and Boucherett work together in a number of endeavours. Both are editors of The Englishwoman’s Review. Together they establish the Women’s Employment Defence League in 1891 to defend women’s working rights against restrictive employment legislation. Together they also edit The Condition of Working Women and the Factory Acts, 1896.

Blackburn joins the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1872 and is secretary of the executive committee of the Society from 1874 to 1880. She subsequently holds similar positions in a number of related organisations. She also takes opportunities to study, taking a class in Roman Law at University College London in 1875, and later (1886–88) classes at University College, Bristol. In the early 1890s, she assists Charlotte Carmichael Stopes in her writing of British Freewomen: Their Historical Privilege by supplying her own notes on the subject, then by purchasing the whole of the first edition in 1894. She retires in 1895 to care for her aged father, though later returns to take up her work.

Blackburn inspires and funds two collections. The first is an art collection in 1885 that includes pictures and work done by professional women to show the result of women’s industry. She is insistent that this not include voluntary or amateurish work but rather show the products of female professionals. This loan exhibition includes portraits of leading women like Florence Nightingale and Mary Carpenter. This is donated to the University of Bristol, but recent enquiries indicate that this work is now lost. Her second collection is focused on a book collection by women. The books are from her collection, friends and from second hand sources. Bookplates are commissioned and two bookcases which are decorated with paintings of Lydia Becker and Caroline Ashurst Biggs who had been the previous chairs of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage. These bookcases are given to Girton College, Cambridge and are extant. In 1880 she is secretary of the West of England Suffrage Society in Bristol and is the main organizer of a large demonstration.

Blackburn’s long term connection with the women’s movement allows her to write her history of the Victorian women’s suffrage campaign, Women’s suffrage: a record of the women’s suffrage movement in the British Isles, with biographical sketches of Miss Becker, finished in 1902, shortly before her death the following year, at Greycoat Gardens, Westminster, on January 11, 1903. She is buried at Brompton Cemetery. She leaves her archives and the decorated book collection to Girton College, Cambridge. Her will also makes provisions for establishing a loan fund for training young women.

A collaboration with Nora Vynne, published in 1903, titled Women under the Factory Act, criticises legislators for treating women as if they have not the intelligence of animals. Blackburn and Vynne argue that women should be allowed to take risks with their health in the workplace or they may find themselves always in need to protection as if they are incapable. The book is noted for its accuracy, but The Economic Journal recognises its authors as Freedom of Labour Defence members and suspects that it may have political motives arguing for the “equality of men and women.”

Blackburn’s name and picture, as well as those of 58 other women’s suffrage supporters, are on the pedestal of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.


Leave a comment

Birth of John O’Keeffe, Gaelic Footballer

John O’Keeffe, former Gaelic footballer, is born on April 15, 1951 in Tralee, County Kerry. He plays with the local Austin Stacks GAA sports club and is a member of the Kerry GAA senior inter-county team from 1969 until 1984. He is a highly talented midfielder, and one of the most stylish and accomplished full-backs in Gaelic football history. He later becomes the Ireland international rules football team manager.

O’Keeffe’s father, Frank (1923-2014), is also a Gaelic footballer who plays as a left corner-forward for the Kerry senior team.

O’Keeffe wins seven All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals and twelve Munster Senior Club Football Championship medals. Other honours won include seven National Football League medals and eight GAA Interprovincial Championship (Railway Cup) medals between Munster GAA and Combined Universities GAA. He also wins a Munster Junior Championship medal in 1969.

O’Keeffe is among the leading recipients of GAA GPA All Stars Awards, with five awards from 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, and 1979. He is also named the Texaco Footballer of the Year in 1975.

O’Keeffe retires reluctantly on medical advice after the 1984 Munster Final with a serious hip complaint, having played relatively few games in the previous eighteen months. He has hip replacement surgery some twenty years later. His last game for Kerry is in the full back position against Tipperary in the 1984 Munster Senior Club Football Championship semi-final. He always maintains that his most dangerous opponent is likely Dublin‘s Jimmy Keaveney, with whom he enjoys several battles. His performance against Offaly‘s Matt Connor in the 1982 All-Ireland final is all the more remarkable considering he has little or no training preparation owing to injury. He is consistently named as full back in various GAA players/managers best ever team selections, particularly in the years leading up to the GAA’s Centenary and beyond.

O’Keeffe is captain of the Austin Stacks team that wins the 1976 County Senior Football Championship. He also wins medals in 1973, 1974, 1979 and 1986 (following a brief comeback), as well as a Munster Club Championship in 1976 and an All-Ireland in 1977. He also wins a County Minor Hurling Championship with the club in 1967. He also captains the St. Brendan’s College, Killarney side to the school’s first Hogan Cup title in 1969.

With the University College Dublin GAA team, O’Keeffe wins a Dublin County Championship in 1974, and the Leinster Club Championships and All-Ireland Club Championships in 1973-74 and 1974-75. He also wins Sigerson Cup medals in 1973, 1974, and 1975.

O’Keeffe teaches history, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), and Physical Education at Tralee Christian Brothers School before retiring after forty years in 2011.

In May 2020, the Irish Independent places O’Keeffe at number ten in its “Top 20 footballers in Ireland over the past 50 years.”


Leave a comment

Launch of Irish Language Radio Station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, abbreviated RnaG, an Irish language radio station owned and operated by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), goes on the air for the first time on April 2, 1972, launched by President Éamon de Valera. The station is available on FM in Ireland and via satellite and on the Internet. The station’s main-headquarters are in Casla, County Galway with major studios also in Gweedore, County Donegal and Dingle, County Kerry.

After the Irish Free State is formed and the Irish Civil War is concluded, the new state sets up a single radio channel named 2RN in 1926, launched by Douglas Hyde. The channel, operating out of Dublin, largely serves the Anglosphere population and at best reaches as far as County Tipperary, a situation that does not change until more powerful transmitters are adopted in the 1930s at Athlone.

In 1943, de Valera, at the time serving as Taoiseach and whose wife Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin is a keen Conradh na Gaeilge activist, promotes the idea of a Gaeltacht station, but there is no breakthrough. By this time, 2RN has become Radio Éireann and still only has one channel, with limited broadcasting hours, often in competition for listeners with BBC Radio and Radio Luxembourg.

In the 1950s, a general liberalisation and commercialisation, indeed Americanisation begins to occur in Ireland, as a push is made to move Ireland from a rural-agrarian society with a protectionist cultural policy towards a market economy basis, with supply and demand the primarily basis of public communications. In 1960, RTÉ is established and direct control of communications moves from a government ministry position to a non-governmental RTÉ Director-General position, first filled by Edward Roth

In the late 1960s, a civil rights movement in the Gaeltacht emerges, seeking development and services for Irish speakers, including a radio service. Out of the Gluaiseacht Chearta Siabhialta na Gaeltachta‘s advocacy comes the pirate radio station Saor Raidió Chonamara in 1970. This sets the subsequent discourse for Irish language and Gaeltacht issues as a civil rights and minority rights imperative.

Gerry Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, announces in Dáil Éireann in February 1971 that a new radio station for the Gaeltacht will be created. Raidió na Gaeltachta begins broadcasting at 3:00 PM on April 2, 1972 as part of an Easter Sunday programming. During the very first broadcast, the main station at Casla, County Galway is not yet finished and the studios in County Kerry and County Donegal are still under construction, so the broadcast originates from Galway. The first Ceannaire (Controller) Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh opens the show, which is followed by a recording from President Éamon de Valera. A recording of Seán Ó Riada‘s Irish language Mass, Ceol an Aifrinn, from the Seipéal Mhic Dara at Carraroe is also played.

At foundation, the station begins with a staff of seven, including six former teachers and a businessman, and broadcasts for only two hours a day and is only available in or near the three largest Gaeltacht districts. The local studio at Derrybeg in Gweedore, County Donegal aids the native Irish music scene there. In the 1970s, Raidió na Gaeltachta gives early coverage to Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, later the singer for Altan. These groups gain popularity not only in Ireland, but on the international stage, selling millions of records during the 1980s especially. The station is dedicated to bringing the listener general news, both national and international, as well as Gaelic sports coverage and more localised affairs of significance to the community in the Gaeltacht.

For many years RnaG is the only Irish language broadcaster in the country. In recent years it has been joined by a television service, Telefís na Gaeilge (TG4), and by regional community radio stations Raidió na Life in Dublin, Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, and Raidió Rí-Rá.


Leave a comment

The Bahaghs Incident

During the Irish Civil War, five prisoners from Irish Republican Army (IRA) Kerry No. 3 Brigade are killed at Bahaghs, near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 12, 1923. They are taken from a National Army post in the town at gunpoint by Dublin Guard officers under protest from the garrison.

The government and military consistently claim the men died while clearing a land mine although it is generally believed, especially in Republican circles, that the five men were victims of an horrific war crime which saw them shot and strapped to a mine by an Irish Free State death squad.

The victims of the shocking and notorious incident are Michael Courtney Jnr, Eugene Dwyer, Daniel Shea, John Sugrue and William Riordan, all from the Waterville area. The five men are held by Free State troops at Bahaghs workhouse, then in use as a temporary detention centre, following their arrest for irregular activities several days earlier.

In the early hours of March 12 members of the Free State’s Dublin Guard, who had been tasked with defeating irregular forces in Kerry and who had earned a notorious reputation for brutality in the process, arrive at the workhouse and select five of the twenty men in custody there. The five are then brought to an irregular roadblock several miles away where the IRA men are, allegedly, shot in the legs before being laid over a land mine which is detonated by the Free state troops blowing the five men to pieces.

The Bahaghs killings are part of a series of deaths which begin with another horrific incident on March 6, 1923 in which five soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb at the village of Knocknagoshel. Immediately after the Knocknagoshel incident the Free State commander for Kerry, Maj. Gen. Paddy O’Daly, previously head of Michael Collin‘s Dublin assassination squad, authorises the use of republican prisoners to clear mined roads, as “the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” Two separate incidents occur the following day in which thirteen additional Republican prisoners are killed by land mines.

When questioned in the Dáil by Labour Party leader Thomas Johnson, the National Army’s commander-in-chief, Gen. Richard Mulcahy, says he accepts the findings of a military court of inquiry which exonerates the troops of all wrongdoing in any of the incidents.

In recent years, previously confidential state papers have been released which shed new light on one of Kerry’s most terrible episodes. The evidence in the file sharply contradicts the official line on the killings and paints a damning portrait of Free State army brutality and subsequent government efforts to cover up three massacres perpetrated by its troops in Kerry.

Further documents prove that a top official in the Ministry of Home Affairs utterly dismissed the findings of a military inquiry into the killings but the cabinet of the day took no action and rejected all claims for compensation by relatives.

Nothing has ever been done in relation to the three Kerry massacres after the executive council decision and, to this day, the true events of Bahaghs, Countess Bridge and, most famously, Ballyseedy have never been revealed.

(Pictured: Irish Republican Army Brigade in County Kerry)


Leave a comment

The Ballyseedy Massacre

The Ballyseedy Massacre takes place near Ballyseedy, County Kerry, on March 7, 1923. Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Irish Civil War than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.

The day after five Free State soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dugout at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announces that prisoners will be used in the future to clear mined roads.

In Ballyseedy, nine Republican prisoners – Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller – are driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops make sure that they are ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise.’ As they are being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards ask them if they would care to smoke, telling them it will be their last cigarette.

They are taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretches across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans are all tied to the log alongside a mine which is then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survive the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceed to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they are dead.

They succeed in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurls him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he is alive and unhurt he quickly realises that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers come out from their cover after the detonation he crawls along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby Irish Republican Army (IRA) hideout. For days afterwards the birds are eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.

Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners are killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel, 30 miles away. If anyone believes that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.

There is no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war are murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins are sent back to Tralee the next day. What are the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wails, “But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin?” They will not let the mother open that coffin.

For three generations following the Irish Civil War, the country is riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, https://stairnaheireann.net/, Photo: Ballyseedy Massacre Monument, Curraghmacdonagh, County Kerry)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Horse Racing Commentator

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a correspondent for the Press Association, the Daily Express, and Today, is born Newcastle, County Down on March 3, 1918. He is the BBC’s leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he describes some of the greatest moments in the history of the Grand National.

O’Sullevan is the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry). As an infant, the family returns to his parents’ home at Kenmare, County Kerry and he is raised in Surrey, England. He is educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

In the late 1940s O’Sullevan is involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport, and makes many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it is televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentates on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retires in 1997. During his career, he commentates on around 30 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.

During his 50 years of commentating on the Grand National, O’Sullevan commentates on numerous historic victories. These include Bob Champion‘s run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon‘s win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentates on the 1993 Grand National, which is declared void after 30 of the 39 runners fail to realise there had been a false start, and seven go on to complete the course. As the runners approach the second-last fence in the so-called “race that never was,” O’Sullevan declares it “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”

O’Sullevan becomes known as the “Voice of Racing.” In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997, he reveals that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He is knighted the same year – the only sports broadcaster at the time to have been bestowed that honour. He is also a racehorse owner, including of Be Friendly, who wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. He is twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another horse he owns is Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is described by O’Sullevan as the most difficult race to call.

Attivo also wins the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O’Sullevan’s final race commentary comes at Newbury Racecourse for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visits the winners’ enclosure as a winning owner in the race which follows courtesy of Sounds Fyne’s victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He is succeeded as the BBC’s lead commentator by Jim McGrath.

After his retirement, O’Sullevan is actively involved in charity work, fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming. The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (run at the Cheltenham Festival) is named after him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2010, Aintree Racecourse names O’Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends.” His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.

O’Sullevan meets his wife Patricia, daughter of Frank Duckworth of Manitoba, Canada, at a ball in Manchester in 1947. She dies of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

O’Sullevan dies of cancer at his home in London on July 29, 2015.


Leave a comment

Birth of George Fitzmaurice, Playwright & Writer

George Fitzmaurice, Irish dramatist and short story writer, some of whose plays were broadcast on Radio Éireann, is born at Bedford House, Listowel, County Kerry on the January 28, 1877.

Fitzmaurice attends Duagh National School and later St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He is brought up in the Protestant faith as his father is a Protestant clergyman and is the vicar of St. John’s Church, Listowel. His father dies when he is fourteen years old and the family fortune declines. He takes a job in Dublin as a clerk in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland. In 1916 he enlists in the British Army and returns to Dublin after the war and is diagnosed with neurasthenia, rendering him fearful of crowds. On his return to Dublin, he takes up a position working for the Irish Land Commission.

Fitzmaurice and his eleven siblings are the children of a mixed marriage. He and his brothers are brought up as Protestants and his sisters are brought up as Roman Catholics. His family home at Bedford, together with its extensive lands has to be given up as collateral in respect of a £60 debt owed to the local butcher. Neither Fitzmaurice nor any of his eleven siblings are to marry or have any offspring. He is the last Fitzmaurice of Duagh. There are no photographs of him other than a sketch of him in later life.

Fitzmaurice’s first success was in 1907, with an Abbey Theatre production of his comedy The Country Dressmaker which features one of his most famous characters, Luke Quilter, “The man from the mountain.” This character proves to be a favourite with the audience, to the surprise of William Butler Yeats. The play’s commercial success brings necessary income to the Abbey Theatre in 1907. The play is ultimately broadcast by the Radio Éireann Players.

Fitzmaurice’s second play is a dramatic fantasy called The Pie Dish. It is heavily rejected and slated by critics and considered blasphemous. This leads to the rejection of another of his plays called The Dandy Dolls which is now understood as another of his best plays. It is produced in the Abbey Theatre in 1969, six years after his death.

During Fitzmaurice’s lifetime, some of his dramatic works are produced by poet Austin Clarke in Lyric Theatre, Dublin. In 1923 his play Twixt by Giltinans and the Carmodys is also performed on Abbey and eight more of his plays are printed in the literary journey The Dublin Magazine from 1924 to 1925.

The effects of having fought in World War I lead to Fitzmaurice becoming increasingly reclusive over time. With a fear of travelling and people or crowds, he spends his later years following “monotonous routines in Dublin.” On May 12, 1963, he dies in poverty at his home at 3 Harcourt Street, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. In his room there are no pictures of himself, few personal mementos, but he does have a copy of almost every play he had published, as well as some unpublished drafts. Besides his personal clothing, there is little else. He dies without leaving a will.

In 1965, RTÉ reports that “the works of George Fitzmaurice are now undergoing something of a revival.” A fellow Kerry playwright, John B. Keane, states at the time that Fitzmaurice is increasingly being recognised as the great dramatist he truly was. He also describes his work as having “practical clarity of speech coupled with a great conciseness, and a tightness in his writing and in his construction.” Michael Connor, the man who owns the Fitzmaurice property in Daugh, recounts that he often saw Fitzmaurice in the town after his retirement from the civil service but by that time the dramatist had completely lost interest in seeing his own plays on the stage.

In his native Daugh, The George Fitzmaurice Library is founded, and on October 14, 1995 a headstone that is sculpted by a local and commissioned by the Duagh Historical Society, is placed over Fitzmaurice’s grave.