seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Clare Boylan, Author, Journalist & Critic

Clare Boylan, Irish author, journalist and critic for newspapers, magazines and many international broadcast media, dies in Dublin at Our Lady’s Hospice, Harold’s Cross, on May 16, 2006.

Boylan is born in Dublin on April 21, 1948, the youngest of three daughters of Patrick Boylan, a clerk, and his wife Evelyn (née Selby). Her mother feels trapped by the limitations that domesticity imposes on women in 1950s Ireland, and had wanted to have a writing career. She encourages her daughter to send off stories and poems to newspapers. The first piece is published when she is 14, and she wins a prize in the national Texaco Children’s Art Competition when she is about 10 years old.

The family lives in the Dublin suburb of Terenure. Boylan goes to school in the Presentation convent, then St. Louis convent in Rathmines, and does her leaving certificate in Rathmines College.

After leaving St. Louis convent, Boylan takes a job as a sales assistant in a bookshop before beginning her career as a journalist at The Irish Press, now defunct. She marries Alan Wilkes, a journalist who is a colleague at The Irish Press, in St. Patrick’s Church in Straffan, County Kildare, on September 18, 1970. In 1974 she wins the Journalist of the Year award when working in the city for the Evening Press. Later in her career she edits the glossy magazine Image, before largely giving up journalism to focus on a career as an author.

Boylan’s novels are Holy Pictures (1983), Last Resorts (1984), Black Baby (1988), Home Rule (1992), Beloved Stranger (1999), Room for a Single Lady (1997), which wins the Spirit of Light Award and is optioned for a film, and Emma Brown (2003). The latter work is a continuation of a 20-page fragment written by Charlotte Brontë before her death.

Boylan’s short stories are collected in A Nail on the Head (1983), Concerning Virgins (1990) and That Bad Woman (1995). The film Making Waves, based on her short story “Some Ladies on a Tour”, is nominated for an Oscar in 1988.

Boylan’s non-fiction includes The Agony and the Ego (1994) and The Literary Companion to Cats (1994). She writes introductions to the novels of Kate O’Brien and Molly Keane and adapts Keane’s novel Good Behaviour as the classic serial for BBC Radio 4 (2004). Her work has been translated as far afield as Russia and Hong Kong.

In later life, Boylan lives in County Wicklow with her husband. When she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she faces her illness with characteristic strength. She takes up kickboxing and spends time in France, shopping, cooking and entertaining friends. She succumbs to cancer at the age of 58 on May 16, 2006.


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Birth of T. W. Rolleston, Poet, Critic & Journalist

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, poet, critic, and journalist, is born on May 1, 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King’s County (now County Offaly).

Rolleston is the youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the Court of Exchequer, Ireland. He attends St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, where he is head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with an MA in 1878. His literary ambitions first emerge at university, where he wins the vice-chancellor’s prize for English verse in 1876.

In 1879 Rolleston marries Edith Caroline, daughter of Rev. William de Burgh of Naas, County Kildare. She suffers from rheumatism, and this encourages the couple to live in Germany from 1879 to 1883. During this period he develops a fascination for German philosophy and literature and begins a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knows through Edward Dowden. In 1881 he offers to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This is published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year he also publishes a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivers the Taylorian Lectures at the University of Oxford on this subject.

In the meantime Rolleston has returned to Ireland and co-founds the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham in February 1885. In March 1885, under their stewardship the DUR is the first to publish W. B. Yeats. The poetry of Katharine Tynan and the first English translations of Ivan Turgenev also appear in the magazine. He has a fondness for clubs and at this time is associated with the Contemporary Club, where he becomes friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde, and the Young Ireland Society, where he is vice-president and a disciple of John O’Leary. He writes the dedication to O’Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and is encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O’Leary’s influence he flirts with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and is strongly critical of the prominent involvement of Catholic clergy in the home rule movement.

After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 Rolleston moves to London, but remains involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The Wanderings of Oisín (1889), he is friendly with Yeats and they instigate the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He is a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributes to The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The Second Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appears in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he has one collection published, Sea Spray (1909).

Rolleston is first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attends the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies are soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy, centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesces in, if not actively contributes to, Yeats’s defeat. They remain on reasonable terms, but Yeats is resentful. Rolleston edits the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish Poetry (1900), with the Rev. Stopford Augustus Brooke, whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They have four children. His first marriage also produces four children, and he is godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves, is a friend.

In 1894 Rolleston returns to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist, and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he seeks to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to organise classes. He is a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett, and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he is employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he manages the Irish historic collection at the St. Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supports Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry is central to national progress, he believes that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, his own nationalism is tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposes the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he publishes pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.

Rolleston is a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata,’ which wins first prize at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. At one point he suggests the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for Protestants, and provokes controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas cannot be represented in the Irish language. Later, he concedes that he is wrong. In 1909 he settles in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of The Times Literary Supplement, a position he holds until his death. He reinvolves himself in the Irish Literary Society and publishes a number of volumes based on Irish myth, including the influential Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), and Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen. He is a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the World War I he is librarian for the ministry of information and utilises his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor’s department.

Like many involved in cultural activities at this time Rolleston is satirised by George Moore in Hail and Farewell, but he remains very friendly with Moore, who dedicates the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. Rolleston dies suddenly on December 5, 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. His widow donates many of his books to Cork Public Library.

(From: “Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.)” contributed by William Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Molly Keane, Novelist & Playwright

Molly Keane, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, dies on April 22, 1996 in Ardmore, County Waterford.

Keane is born Mary Nesta Skrine on July 20, 1904 in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare. Her mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin House on the banks of the River Slaney, a few miles southeast of Bunclody, County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family, and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bed bound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Keane meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which (including Good Behaviour and Time After Time) have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She is a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, and, following the failure of a play, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is loaned to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages Keane to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Following the death of her husband, Keane moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. She dies on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore at the age of 91. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Birth of Paddy Hopkirk, Northern Irish Rally Driver

Patrick Barron Hopkirk MBE, former rally driver from Northern Ireland, is born in Belfast on April 14, 1933.

Hopkirk is raised as a Catholic, and educated at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare from 1945 to 1949 before attending Trinity College, Dublin until 1953. His academic career, however, is held back by his dyslexia. He first learns the basics of car control at the age of nine, when a local clergyman leaves him his invalid carriage in his will. He later graduates to a motorcycle with a sidecar, which is added at the insistence of his father who feels it would be safer, and upon attending Trinity to study engineering, acquires an Austin 7 “Chummy” Tourer which he uses to make his rally debut. Now bitten by the car bug, he drops out of university to start working for Dublin‘s Volkswagen assembler’s retail operation in Ballsbridge, where he purchases a string of used Volkswagen Beetles to enter in competitions.

Hopkirk’s first win comes in 1953 at the Cairncastle hillclimb at the wheel of a VW Beetle. He is offered a free Beetle for the 1953 Circuit of Ireland by Isaac Agnew of Belfast. It is the first of many Circuit entries. The following year he leads the Circuit on the first day of the competition.

Hopkirk starts his winning career in professional racing and rally driving in 1955, taking a class win at that year’s Circuit of Ireland Rally, and clinching his first Hewison Trophy, awarded to the most successful Irish rally driver of the year. He goes on to win the Trophy for three consecutive years. By this time he has graduated to a Triumph TR2. His success in the Triumph is noticed by the Standard Motor Company, who offers him his first factory drive in a Standard Ten at the 1956 RAC Rally in March of that year, where he takes the early lead before suffering problems later on. Two months later he takes a Standard Eight to third place in the Tulip Rally in the Netherlands, his first trip outside of Britain and Ireland. However he loses his drive with Standard in 1958, after overdriving his car at the Alpine Rally in an effort to make up time lost due to a puncture on the Stelvio Pass, damaging the engine and forcing him to retire from the competition.

In 1959 Hopkirk joins the Rootes Group as a works driver, initially picking up a drive in a Hillman Husky at the Safari Rally after reigning F1 World Champion Mike Hawthorn, who is originally meant to drive the car, is killed in a road accident. Later that year he places third overall and takes a class win at the Alpine Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier, and he leads the 1960 Safari Rally until his Rapier suffers a differential failure. He takes two Circuit of Ireland Rally wins in 1961 and 1962 and another third at the Alpine Rally in 1961. While at Rootes he also takes part in circuit racing, winning his class in a Rapier in the touring car race supporting the 1960 British Grand Prix.

Hopkirk finishes third at the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier. However, he becomes frustrated by the Rapier’s lack of reliability, culminating in all three works cars blowing their engines within the space of a kilometre at that year’s Acropolis Rally. After being impressed by a test drive of Pat MossAustin-Healey 3000, he sets his mind on a move, joining the British Motor Corporation and making his debut in a 3000 at the Liège-Sofia-Liège rally in August. In his second competition with the 3000, the RAC Rally, he finishes in second despite having to complete two miles of a special stage with a shredded tyre after a puncture. He first competes in a Mini at the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, where he finishes sixth. That season he also finishes second on the Tulip Rally, sixth on Liège-Sofia-Liège, and fourth on the RAC Rally. In addition he takes the Mini to third place in the Tour de France Automobile‘s Touring Category behind two 3.8-litre Jaguars, winning his class and the overall on handicap.

Alongside Henry Liddon Hopkirk wins the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper S. They are the most recent all-British crew to have won the event. He also leads BMC to the team win, with fellow Mini drivers Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen pacing fourth and seventh. The victory makes him a household name. He receives telegrams from the then UK Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home and the Beatles, is given the Freedom of the City of Belfast, and appears along with his Mini on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. He goes on to steer an Austin-Healey to victory at his next international rally, the Österreichische Alpenfahrt, later that year.

Hopkirk also travels to Australia during his career to drive for the BMC Works Team in the annual Bathurst 500 race for standard production cars at the Mount Panorama Circuit. He drives at Bathurst in a Morris Cooper S from 1965 to 1967, obtaining a best result of 6th outright and 3rd in class in the 1965 Armstrong 500 when paired with Mäkinen. In 1965, he wins a Coupe d’Argent at the Alpine Rally. He wins the 1965 and 1967 Circuit of Ireland Rally, the 1966 and 1967 Alpine Rally, and the 1967 Rally Acropolis.

Hopkirk is elected as a life member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club in 1967, and is also president of the Historic Rally Car Register, and a patron of disability charity WheelPower.

In 1968 Hopkirk finishes second at the second edition of the Rally de Portugal. The following year, he finishes second in the Circuit of Ireland Rally and the RAC Rally, then fourth at the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally with teammates Tom Nash and Neville Johnston in a Triumph 2.5 PI. He elects to step away from full-time competition at the end of that year, coinciding with British Leyland head Lord Stokes‘ decision to close down BL’s competition department.

In 1977, with co-driver Taylor Mike, Hopkirk takes part once again in a revived edition of the London-Sydney Marathon, the Singapore Airlines London to Sydney Rally, this time driving a Citroën CX 2400, taking third place overall in front of another CX driven by Claude Laurent and Jean-Claude Ogier.

In 1982, Hopkirk wins the RAC Golden 50, a historical anniversary race celebrating the 50th RAC Rally, with co-driver Brian Culcheth in the Mini Cooper with which Timo Mäkinen had won the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally. In 1990, he wins the Pirelli Classic Marathon with co-driver Alec Poole. In 1994, he enters the Monte Carlo Rally again, driving a current Mini Cooper, very similar to the original car, but now produced by Rover Group. He and his co-pilot Ron Crellin finish the race in 60th place against much more modern and powerful machines.

In 2010, Hopkirk is among the first four inductees into the Rally Hall of Fame, along with Timo Mäkinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Erik Carlsson.


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Birth of Kevin Myers, Journalist & Writer

Kevin Myers, English-born Irish journalist and writer, is born in Leicester, England on March 30, 1947. He has contributed to the Irish Independent, the Irish edition of The Sunday Times, and The Irish Times‘s column An Irishman’s Diary. He is known for his controversial views on a number of topics, including single mothers, aid for Africa, and the Holocaust.

Myers grows up in England. His father, an Irish GP, dies when he is 15 and away at Ratcliffe College, a Catholic boarding school. His father’s early death creates financial difficulties, though he manages to stay at the school with the help of both the school and the Local Education Authority (LEA). He moves to Ireland to go to university, and graduates from University College Dublin (UCD) in 1969.

Myers subsequently works as a journalist for Irish broadcaster RTÉ, and reports from Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles. He later works for three of Ireland’s major newspapers, The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, and the Irish edition of The Sunday Times. In 2000, a collection of his An Irishman’s Diary columns is published, with a second volume following in 2007. He is also a presenter of the Challenging Times television quiz show on RTÉ during the 1990s.

In 2001, Myers publishes Banks of Green Willow, a novel, which is met with negative reviews. In 2006, he publishes Watching the Door, about his time as a journalist in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. The book receives positive reviews in The Times, The Guardian, and the New Statesman, while The Independent publishes a more mixed review that wonders whether there is “an element of hyperbole” in Myers’ account.

Myers is a regular contributor to radio programmes on News Talk 106, particularly Lunchtime with Eamon Keane and The Right Hook. He regularly appears on The Last Word on Today FM. He is also a member of the Film Classification Appeals Board, formerly known as the Censorship Board.

Myers is a fervent critic of physical-force Irish republicanism. In 2008, he writes a column condemning the anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising. He describes the Larne gun-running by Ulster Volunteers in 1914 as “high treason, done in collaboration with senior figures in the British army and the Conservative Party.” He has also written that it is a “myth” to say, when discussing Irish republicanism and Ulster loyalism, that “one side is as bad as the other.”

In 2005, Myers attracts considerable criticism for his column, An Irishman’s Diary, in which he refers to children of unmarried mothers as “bastards.” Former Minister of State Nuala Fennell describes the column as “particularly sad.” She says the word “bastard” is an example of pejorative language that is totally unacceptable. Myers issues an unconditional apology two days later. The Irish Times editor, Geraldine Kennedy, also apologises for having agreed to publish the article.

In July 2008, Myers writes an article arguing that providing aid to Africa only results in increasing its population, and its problems. This produces strong reactions, with the Immigrant Council of Ireland making an official complaint to the Garda Síochána alleging incitement to hatred. Hans Zomer of Dóchas, an association of NGOs, and another complainant, take a complaint to the Press Council on the grounds that it breaches four principles of the Council’s Code of Practice: accuracy, fairness and honesty, respect for rights, and incitement to hatred.

At the end of July 2017, Myers contributes an article entitled “Sorry, ladies – equal pay has to be earned” to the Irish edition of The Sunday Times about the BBC gender-pay-gap controversy. He further alleges that Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz are higher paid than other female presenters because they are Jewish. The editor of the Irish edition, Frank Fitzgibbon, issues a statement saying in part “This newspaper abhors anti-Semitism and did not intend to cause offence to Jewish people.” Martin Ivens, editor of The Sunday Times, says the article should not have been published. Ivens and Fitzgibbon apologise for publishing it. After complaints from readers and the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the article is removed from the website. The newspaper announces that Myers will not write for The Sunday Times again. Myers is defended by the chair of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, Maurice Cohen, who states, “Branding Kevin Myers as either an antisemite or a Holocaust denier is an absolute distortion of the facts.”

Myers is married to Rachel Nolan and lives in County Kildare. He is the brother-in-law of TV presenter, producer and UK Big Brother housemate Anna Nolan.


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Birth of Irish Writer Aidan Higgins

Aidan Higgins, Irish writer of short stories, travel pieces, radio drama and novels, is born on March 3, 1927 in Celbridge, County Kildare. Among his published works are Langrishe, Go Down (1966), Balcony of Europe (1972) and the biographical Dog Days (1998). His writing is characterised by non-conventional foreign settings and a stream of consciousness narrative mode. Most of his early fiction is autobiographical – “like slug trails, all the fiction happened.”

Higgins attends local schools and Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school. In the early 1950s he works in Dublin as a copywriter for the Domas Advertising Agency. He then moves to London and works in light industry for about two years. He marries Jill Damaris Anders in London on November 25, 1955. From 1960, he sojourns in southern Spain, South Africa, Berlin and Rhodesia. In 1960 and 1961 he works as scriptwriter for Filmlets, an advertising firm in Johannesburg. These journeys provide material for much of his later work, including his three autobiographies, Donkey’s Years (1996), Dog Days (1998) and The Whole Hog (2000).

His upbringing in a landed Catholic family provides material for Higgins first novel, Langrishe, Go Down (1966). The novel is set in the 1930s in a run-down “big house” in County Kildare, inhabited by the last members of the Langrishe family, three spinster sisters, Catholics, living in not-so-genteel poverty in a once-grand setting. One sister, Imogen, has an affair with a German intellectual, Otto Beck, which transgresses the moral code of the time, bringing her a brief experience of happiness. Otto’s intellectual pursuits contrast with the moribund cultural life of mid-20th century Ireland. The book is awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and is later adapted as a BBC Television film by British playwright Harold Pinter, in association with RTÉ. Langrishe, Go Down also receives the Irish Academy of Letters Award.

Higgins second major novel is Balcony of Europe, taking its name from a feature of the Spanish fishing village, Nerja Andalusia, where it is set. The novel is carefully crafted, and rich in embedded literary references, using Spanish and Irish settings and various languages, including Spanish and some German, in its account of the daily life in the beaches and bars of Nerja of a largely expatriate community. The protagonist, an artist called Dan Ruttle, is obsessed with his friend’s young American wife, Charlotte, and by the contrast between his life among a cosmopolitan artistic community in the Mediterranean, and his Irish origins. The book is re-edited in collaboration with Neil Murphy and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2010, with the Irish material cut and the affair between Dan Ruttle and Charlotte foregrounded.

Higgins later novels include widely acclaimed Bornholm Night Ferry and Lions of the Grunwald. Various writings have been collected and reprinted by the Dalkey Archive Press, including his three-volume autobiography, A Bestiary, and a collection of fiction, Flotsam and Jetsam, both of which demonstrate his wide erudition and his experience of life and travel in South Africa, Germany and London which gives his writing a largely cosmopolitan feel, utilising a range of European languages in turns of phrase.

Higgins lives in Kinsale, County Cork, from 1986 with the writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. They are married in Dublin in November 1997. He is a founder member of Irish artists’ association Aosdána. He dies on December 27, 2015 in Kinsale.


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Birth of Nicholas Joseph Callan, Priest & Scientist

Father Nicholas Joseph Callan, Irish priest and scientist, is born on December 22, 1799, in Darver, County Louth. He is Professor of Natural Philosophy in Maynooth College in Maynooth, County Kildare from 1834, and is best known for his work on the induction coil.

Callan attends school at an academy in Dundalk. His local parish priest, Father Andrew Levins, then takes him in hand as an altar boy and Mass server, and sees him start the priesthood at Navan seminary. He enters Maynooth College in 1816. In his third year at Maynooth, he studies natural and experimental philosophy under Dr. Cornelius Denvir. He introduces the experimental method into his teaching, and has an interest in electricity and magnetism.

Callan is ordained a priest in 1823 and goes to Rome to study at Sapienza University, obtaining a doctorate in divinity in 1826. While in Rome he becomes acquainted with the work of the pioneers in electricity such as Luigi Galvani (1737–1798), who is a pioneer in bioelectricity, and Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), who is known especially for the development of the electric battery. In 1826, he returns to Maynooth as the new Professor of Natural Philosophy (now called physics), where he also begins working with electricity in his basement laboratory at the college.

Influenced by William Sturgeon and Michael Faraday, Callan begins work on the idea of the induction coil in 1834. He invents the first induction coil in 1836. An induction coil produces an intermittent high voltage alternating current from a low voltage direct current supply. It has a primary coil consisting of a few turns of thick wire wound around an iron core and subjected to a low voltage (usually from a battery). Wound on top of this is a secondary coil made up of many turns of thin wire. An iron armature and make-and-break mechanism repeatedly interrupts the current to the primary coil, producing a high voltage, rapidly alternating current in the secondary circuit.

Callan invents the induction coil because he needs to generate a higher level of electricity than currently available. He takes a bar of soft iron, about 2 feet long, and wraps it around with two lengths of copper wire, each about 200 feet long. He connects the beginning of the first coil to the beginning of the second. Finally, he connects a battery, much smaller than the enormous contrivance just described, to the beginning and end of winding one. He finds that when the battery contact is broken, a shock can be felt between the first terminal of the first coil and the second terminal of the second coil.

Further experimentation shows how the coil device can bring the shock from a small battery up the strength level of a big battery. So Callan tries making a bigger coil. With a battery of only 14 seven-inch plates, the device produces power enough for an electric shock “so strong that a person who took it felt the effects of it for several days.” He thinks of his creation as a kind of electromagnet, but what he actually makes is a primitive induction transformer.

Callan’s induction coil also uses an interrupter that consists of a rocking wire that repeatedly dips into a small cup of mercury (similar to the interrupters used by Charles Grafton Page). Because of the action of the interrupter, which can make and break the current going into the coil, he calls his device the “repeater.” Actually, this device is the world’s first transformer. He induces a high voltage in the second wire, starting with a low voltage in the adjacent first wire. The faster he interrupts the current, the bigger the spark. In 1837 he produces his giant induction machine using a mechanism from a clock to interrupt the current 20 times a second. It generates 15-inch sparks, an estimated 60,000 volts and the largest artificial bolt of electricity then seen.

Callan experiments with designing batteries after he finds the models available to him at the time to be insufficient for research in electromagnetism. Some previous batteries had used rare metals such as platinum or unresponsive materials like carbon and zinc. He finds that he can use inexpensive cast iron instead of platinum or carbon. For his Maynooth battery he uses iron casting for the outer casing and places a zinc plate in a porous pot (a pot that had an inside and outside chamber for holding two different types of acid) in the centre. Using a single fluid cell he disposes of the porous pot and two different fluids. He is able to build a battery with just a single solution.

While experimenting with batteries, Callan also builds the world’s largest battery at that time. To construct this battery, he joins together 577 individual batteries (“cells“), which use over 30 gallons of acid. Since instruments for measuring current or voltages have not yet been invented, he measures the strength of a battery by measuring how much weight his electromagnet can lift when powered by the battery. Using his giant battery, his electromagnet lifts 2 tons. The Maynooth battery goes into commercial production in London. He also discovers an early form of galvanisation to protect iron from rusting when he is experimenting on battery design, and he patents the idea.

Callan dies at the age of 64 in Maynooth, County Kildare, on January 10, 1864. He is buried in the cemetery in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The Callan Building on the north campus of NUI Maynooth, a university which is part of St. Patrick’s College until 1997, is named in his honour. In addition, Callan Hall in the south campus, is used through the 1990s for first year science lectures including experimental & mathematical physics, chemistry and biology. The Nicholas Callan Memorial Prize is an annual prize awarded to the best final year student in Experimental Physics.


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Canonisation of Laurence O’Toole by Pope Honorius III

Lorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, is canonised by Pope Honorius III on December 11, 1225. It will be 750 years before another Irish person is canonised.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Diarmaid Mac Murchada, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 26 years old, he is elected Abbot of Glendalough. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of Dublin, then a city ruled by Danes and Norwegians. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, also known by the nickname of “Strongbow.” O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between Henry II of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. King Henry II does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray.

Laurence O’Toole is canonized by Pope Honorius III on December 11, 1225.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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Birth of Michael Kelly Lawler, United States Army Officer

Michael Kelly Lawler, a volunteer militia soldier in the Black Hawk War (1831–32), an officer in the United States Army in both the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, is born on November 16, 1814, in Monasterevin, County Kildare. As a brigadier general in the American Civil War, he commands a brigade of infantry in the Western Theater and serves in several battles.

Born to John Lawler and Elizabeth Kelly, they move to the United States four years later and settle initially in Frederick County, Maryland. In 1819, they move to rural Gallatin County, Illinois. On December 20, 1837 Lawler marries Elizabeth Crenshaw. He receives an appointment as a captain in the Mexican-American War and commands two companies in separate deployments to Mexico. He first leads a company from Shawneetown, Illinois that guards the supply route from Veracruz to General Winfield Scott‘s army. After the fall of Veracruz his company is discharged. He makes a visit to Washington after which he is asked by Illinois Governor Thomas Ford to organize a company of riflemen. He serves in the campaign to take Matamoros, Tamaulipas.

Lawler then returns to his farm in Illinois, where he is residing at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He establishes a thriving mercantile business, dealing in hardware, dry goods, and shoes. He studies law, passes his bar exam, and uses his legal license to help the claims of Mexican War veterans.

In May 1861 Lawler recruits the 18th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and is appointed as its first colonel. His time in command of the regiment in Kentucky and Tennessee is controversial and an “ordeal.” He is wounded during the Battle of Fort Donelson. In November 1862 he is commissioned as a brigadier general, and commands a brigade in the Second Division of the XIII Corps. He fights with distinction in the Vicksburg campaign in 1863. He leads his men in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, and the May 22, 1863 general assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, where troops under his command are the only Union forces to enter the Confederate works at the Railroad Redoubt where they plant the United States flag.

Following the surrender of Jackson, Mississippi, the XIII Corps is split up and divided among other operations in the Western Theater. For the rest of the war, Lawler serves as commander of the 1st Division, XIII Corps in Louisiana in the Department of the Gulf, taking command of the division during the disastrous Red River campaign and leading it on an expedition in June 1864 to secure a crossing of the Atchafalaya River used by Confederate forces.

In the omnibus promotions at the end of the American Civil War, Lawler receives a promotion for distinguished service to major general in the Union army backdated from March 13, 1865. After mustering out of the army in 1866, he returns home and resumes his legal practice and farming near Shawneetown, Illinois.

Lawler dies in Shawneetown on July 22, 1882 and is buried in the Lawler Family Cemetery near Equality, Illinois, at the rear of the Old Slave House property.

A memorial to Lawler stands in Equality, Illinois. He also is honored with a marble bust in Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Chicago renames a street to Lawler Avenue in his memory.


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Birth of Seamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, is born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.