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


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Birth of Sophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Irish Aviator

lady-heathSophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Lady Heath, Irish aviator, is born on November 10, 1896 in Knockaderry, County Limerick, near the town of Newcastle West. She is one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.

When Peirce-Evans is one year old, her father, John Peirce-Evans, bludgeons her mother, Kate Theresa Dooling, to death with a heavy stick. He is found guilty of murder and declared insane. She is taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she is brought up by two maiden aunts, who discourage her passion for sports.

After schooldays in Rochelle School in Cork, Princess Garden Belfast and St. Margaret’s Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she plays hockey and tennis, Peirce-Evans enrolls in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. The college is designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needs. One of the few women in the college, she duly takes a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also plays with the college hockey team and contributes to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library of Ireland.

Before becoming a pilot, Peirce-Evans has already made her mark. She spends two years as a dispatch rider during World War I, based in England and later France. By that time, she has married the first of her three husbands, Major William Elliot Lynn, and, as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, is one of the founders of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association after her move to London in 1922. She is Britain’s first women’s javelin champion and sets a disputed world record for the high jump. Alleging cruelty, her marriage to Elliot Lynn ends in divorce.

In 1925, Elliot-Lynn takes her first flying lessons and two years later becomes the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain. Along the way, she set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane and is the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane.

In an era when the world has gone aviation-mad due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Elliot-Lynn is more than able to hold her own. “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she is known in the United States, makes front-page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London. A scale model of the plane is on display at The Little Museum of Dublin. She writes about the experience later in the book Woman and Flying, which she co-authors with Stella Wolfe Murray. After her great flight from the Cape, she takes a mechanic’s qualification in the United States, the first woman to do so.

On October 11, 1927, Peirce-Evans marries Sir James Heath at Christ Church in Mayfair, London, and assumes the title Lady Heath. In July 1928, she spends a few weeks volunteering as a co-pilot with a civil airline, KLM. She is hoping to be appointed to the newly created Batavia route, which would make her the first female pilot with a commercial airline. The world is not ready for female pilots and her hope is not fulfilled.

In 1929, just when her fame is at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long-distance flights, Lady Heath is badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the accident Lady Heath applies for American citizenship, intending to remain in the United States where she has made a good living on the lecture circuit and as an agent for Cirrus engines. She is never the same after her accident.

Lady Heath divorces Sir James Heath in Reno, Nevada in January 1930. On 12 November 12, 1931 in Lexington, Kentucky, she marries G.A.R Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin. They return to Ireland and she becomes involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus.

Lady Heath dies in St Leonard’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London on May 9, 1939, following a fall inside a double-decker tram. Although alcoholism had been a problem in previous years, a pathologist finds no evidence of alcohol but detailed evidence of an old blood clot which might have caused the fall. On May 15, 1939, according to newspaper reports, her ashes are scattered over Surrey from an aircraft flown by her estranged husband although legend has it that her ashes are returned to Ireland where they are scattered over her native Newcastle West.

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Birth of Novelist Rosina Bulwer Lytton

rosina-bulwer-lyttonNovelist Rosina Bulwer Lytton (née Rosina Doyle Wheeler) is born in Ballywhire, County Limerick on November 4, 1802. She writes and publishes fourteen novels, a volume of essays and a volume of letters. Her husband is Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a novelist and politician. She spells her married surname without the hyphen used by her husband.

Rosina Doyle Wheeler’s mother is Anna Wheeler, the advocate of women’s rights and daughter of the Rev. Nicholas Milley Doyle, a Church of Ireland clergyman, Rector of Newcastle, County Tipperary. Her father is Francis Massey Wheeler, an Anglo-Irish landowner. One of her mother’s brothers, Sir John Milley Doyle (1781–1856), leads British and Portuguese forces in the Peninsular War and the War of the Two Brothers.

Rosina Doyle is educated at Reading Abbey Girls’ School in part by Frances Arabella Rowden, who is not only a poet, but, according to Mary Russell Mitford, “had a knack of making poetesses of her pupils.” This ties Rosina to other of Rowden’s pupils such as Caroline Posonby, later Lady Caroline Lamb, the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon (“L.E.L.”), Emma Roberts, the travel writer and Anna Maria Fielding, who publishes as S.C. Hall.

Rosina Doyle Wheeler marries Edward Bulwer-Lytton, at that time surnamed simply Bulwer, on August 29, 1827. This is against the wishes of his mother, who withdraws his allowance, so that he is forced to work for a living.

His writing and efforts in the political arena take a toll upon their marriage, and the couple legally separates in 1836. Her children are taken from her. In 1839, her novel, Cheveley, or the Man of Honour, in which Edward Bulwer-Lytton is bitterly caricatured, is published.

In June 1858, when her husband is standing as parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire, she appears at the hustings and indignantly denounces him. To silence her, Edward has her committed “insane.” Under the supervision of Robert Gardiner Hill, a British surgeon who specialises in the treatment of lunacy, she is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. She is liberated a few weeks later following a public outcry. This is chronicled in her book A Blighted Life. For years she continues her attacks upon her husband’s character. She outlives him by nine years.

Rosina Bulwer Lytton dies in Upper Sydenham, London, England on March 12, 1882.


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Death of Richard Harris, Actor & Singer

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, Irish actor and singer, dies in London from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pneumonia on October 25, 2002.

Harris is born to a farming family on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, County Limerick. He is the son of Mildred Josephine (Harty) and Ivan John Harris. He is an excellent rugby player with a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ends his aspirations to a rugby career. He becomes fascinated with the theater and skips a local dance one night to attend a performance of Henry IV. He is hooked and goes on to learn his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by several years in stage productions.

Harris makes his film debut in 1959 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. His second film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), quickly scores regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Harris’ breakthrough performance is as the quintessential “angry young man” in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), for which he receives an Academy Award nomination. He then appears in the World War II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next shows up in Hawaii (1966) and plays King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He takes the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which becomes something of a cult film and spawns two sequels.

As the 1970s progress, Harris continues to appear regularly on screen, however, the quality of the scripts vary from above average to woeful. His credits during this period include directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971), the western The Deadly Trackers (1973), the big-budget “disaster” film Juggernaut (1974), the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).

The 1980s kick off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade has him appearing in some very forgettable productions.

However, the luck of the Irish once again shines on Harris’ career and he scores rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for The Field (1990). He then locks horns with Harrison Ford as an Irish Republican Army sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and gets one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). He is firmly back in vogue and rewards his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune comes his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he becomes known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role is as “Lucius Sulla” in Julius Caesar (2002).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002 after spending his final three days in a coma. His body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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Death of Dan Keating, Last Survivor of the Irish War of Independence

dan-keatingDaniel “Dan” Keating, lifelong Irish republican and patron of Republican Sinn Féin, dies in Knockbrack, County Kerry on October 2, 2007. At the time of his death he is Ireland’s oldest man and the last surviving veteran of the Irish War of Independence.

Keating is born on January 2, 1902 in Castlemaine, County Kerry. He receives his education in local schools, including the Christian Brothers’ School in Tralee. Tralee is also the place where Keating does his apprenticeship. During this time he becomes a skillful Gaelic football player in his native Kerry.

Keating joins Fianna Éireann in 1918. In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, he joins the Boherbee B Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Kerry Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA). He first brings a firearm of a Liverpool Irish soldier of the British Army into a public house in which he works. On April 21, 1921, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Denis O’Loughlin is shot dead in Knightly’s public house in Tralee. Keating, Jimmy O’Connor and Percy Hanafin are suspected of the killing and are forced to go on the run. On June 1, Keating is involved in an ambush between Castlemaine and Milltown which claims the lives of five RIC men. On July 10, a day before the truce between the IRA and British forces, his unit is involved in a gun battle with the British Army near Castleisland. This confrontation results in the deaths of four British soldiers and five IRA volunteers.

Keating opposes the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights on the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He is involved in operations in counties Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, before his flying column is arrested by Free State Forces. Keating spends seven months in Portlaoise Prison and the Curragh prison before being released in March 1923.

Keating remains an IRA member for a long time after the Civil War. He is arrested several times during the 1930s on various charges. He is active in London during the 1939/1940 IRA bombing campaign.

In 1933, Keating is involved in an attempt to assassinate the leader of the Irish Blueshirts, Eoin O’Duffy, during a visit to County Kerry. The attack is to happen at Ballyseedy, where Free State forces had carried out the Ballyseedy Massacre during the Irish Civil War. However, the plot fails when the person travelling with O’Duffy refuses to divulge in which car O’Duffy would be riding.

Keating subsequently returns to Dublin and works as a barman in several public houses. He retires and returns to his native Kerry in 1978, living out the rest of his life with relatives in Knockbrack. Until his death he refuses to accept a state pension because he considers the 26-county Republic of Ireland an illegitimate state which usurps the 1916 Irish Republic.

“All the talk you hear these days is of peace. But there will never be peace until the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament without British interference.”

In 2002, Keating refuses the state’s standard €2,500 award to centenarians from President Mary McAleese. After former IRA volunteer George Harrison dies in November 2004, Keating becomes patron of Republican Sinn Féin until his own death. At the time of his death at the age of 105 on October 2, 2007, he is the oldest man in Ireland. He is buried in Kiltallagh Cemetery, Castlemaine.


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The Whiteboys

the-whiteboysThe Whiteboys, a secret Irish agrarian organisation in 18th-century Ireland which uses violent tactics to defend tenant farmer land rights for subsistence farming, is created on October 1, 1761. Their name derives from the white smocks the members wear in their nightly raids. They seek to address rack-rents, tithe collection, excessive priests’ dues, evictions and other oppressive acts. As a result they target landlords and tithe collectors. Over time, Whiteboyism becomes a general term for rural violence connected to secret societies. Because of this generalisation, the historical record for the Whiteboys as a specific organisation is unclear. There are three major outbreaks of Whiteboyism: 1761–64, 1770–76 and 1784–86.

Between 1735 and 1760 there is an increase in land used for grazing and beef cattle, in part because pasture land is exempt from tithes. The landlords, having let their lands far above their value, on condition of allowing the tenants the use of certain commons, now enclose the commons, but do not lessen the rent. As more landlords and farmers switch to raising cattle, labourers and small tenant farmers are forced off the land. The Whiteboys develop as a secret oath-bound society among the peasantry. Whiteboy disturbances had occurred prior to 1761 but were largely restricted to isolated areas and local grievances, so that the response of local authorities had been limited.

Their operations are chiefly in the counties of Waterford, Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary. This combination is not political. It is not directed against the government, but against the local landlords. Members of different religious affiliations take part.

The first major outbreak occurs in County Limerick in November 1761 and quickly spreads to counties Tipperary, Cork, and Waterford. A great deal of organisation and planning seems to have gone into the outbreak, including the holding of regular assemblies. Initial activities are limited to specific grievances and the tactics used non-violent, such as the levelling of ditches that closed off common grazing land, although cattle hamstringing is often practised as the demand for beef prompts large landowners to initiate the process of enclosure. As their numbers increase, the scope of Whiteboy activities begins to widen, and proclamations are clandestinely posted stipulating demands such as that rent not be paid, that land with expired leases not be rented until it has lain fallow for three years, and that no one pay or collect tithes demanded by the Anglican Church. Threatening letters are also sent to debt collectors, landlords, and occupants of land gained from eviction, demanding that they give up their farms.

March 1762 sees a further escalation of Whiteboy activities, with marches in military array preceded by the music of bagpipes or the sounding of horns. At Cappoquin they fire guns and march by the military barracks playing the Jacobite tune “The lad with the white cockade.” These processions are often preceded by notices saying that Queen Sive and her children will make a procession through part of her domain and demand that the townspeople illuminate their houses and provide their horses, ready saddled, for their use. More militant activities often follow such processions with unlit houses in Lismore attacked, prisoners released in an attack on Tallow jail and similar shows of strength in Youghal.

The events of March 1762, however, prompt a more determined response, and a considerable military force under Charles Moore, 1st Marquess of Drogheda is sent to Munster to crush the Whiteboys.

On April 2, 1762 a force of 50 militia men and 40 soldiers set out for Tallow. By mid-April at least 150 suspected Whiteboys have been arrested. Clogheen in County Tipperary bears the initial brunt of this assault as the local parish priest, Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, had earlier spoken out against tithes and collected funds for the defence of parishioners charged with rioting. An unknown number of “insurgents” are reported killed in the “pacification exercise” and Fr. Sheehy is unsuccessfully indicted for sedition several times before eventually being found guilty of a charge of accessory to murder, and hanged, drawn and quartered in Clonmel in March 1766.

In the cities, suspected Whiteboy sympathisers are arrested and in Cork, citizens form an association of about 2,000 strong which offer rewards of £300 for capture of the chief Whiteboy and £50 for the first five sub-chiefs arrested. They often accompany the military on their rampages. The leading Catholics in Cork also offer similar rewards of £200 and £40 respectively.

Acts passed by the Parliament of Ireland (to 1800) and Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (from 1801) to empower the authorities to combat Whiteboyism are commonly called “Whiteboy Acts.”


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Birth of Seán Keating, Romantic-Realist Painter

sean-keating-an-allegorySeán Keating, Irish romantic-realist painter who painted some iconic images of the Irish War of Independence and of the early industrialization of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick on September 28, 1889.

Keating studies drawing at the Limerick Technical School before a scholarship arranged by William Orpen allows him to go study at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin at the age of twenty. Over the next few years, he spends two weeks or so during the late summer on the Aran Islands and his many portraits of island people depict them as rugged heroic figures.

In 1914 he wins the RDS Taylor award with a painting titled The Reconciliation. The prize includes £50.00 which allows him to go to London to work as Orpen’s studio assistant in 1915. In late 1915 or early 1916, he returns to Ireland where he documents the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War. Examples include Men of the South (1921–22) which shows a group of Irish Republican Army (IRA) men ready to ambush a military vehicle and An Allegory (first exhibited in 1924), in which the two opposing sides in the Irish Civil War are seen to bury the tri-colour covered coffin amid the roots of an ancient tree. The painting includes a self-portrait of the artist.

Keating is elected an Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1918, and a full member in 1923. One of the cardinal achievements of the Irish Free State in the 1920s is the building, in partnership with Siemens, of a hydro-electric power generator at Ardnacrusha, near Limerick. Between 1926 and 1927, at his own volition, he produces a considerable number of paintings related to this scheme. He exhibits several examples of the paintings in the RHA exhibitions in 1927 and 1928. Most of the paintings are now in the collection of ESB Group.

In 1936 group of prominent Limerick politicians, artists and patrons establish the first Limerick City Collection of Art from various donations and bequests. Keating is part of this artist-led initiative to form a municipal art gallery in Limerick similar to those already in Dublin and Cork. The collection is formed primarily out of donations and bequests. As a pivotal member of the committee, Keating himself donates many works to the collection which is first exhibited as a municipal collection in the Savoy Cinema, Limerick City on November 23, 1937. It is not until 1948 that an extension to the rear of Limerick Free Library and Museum becomes the home to the City Collection as the Limerick Free Art Gallery. In 1985 the Library and Museum are transferred to larger buildings.

In 1939 Keating is commissioned to paint a mural for the Irish pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. He is President of the RHA from 1950 to 1962, and shows at the annual exhibition for 61 years from 1914. Although he is an intellectual painter in the sense that he consciously sets out to explore the visual identity of the Irish nation, and his paintings show a very idealised realism, he fears that the modern movement will bring back a decline in artistic standards. Throughout his career, he exhibits nearly 300 works at the RHA and also shows at the Oireachtas.

Seán Keating dies on December 21, 1977 at the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin and is buried at Cruagh Cemetery, Rathfarnham. The 1978 RHA Exhibition features a small memorial collection of his work.

Posthumous exhibitions of his work are mounted by The Grafton Gallery, Dublin (1986) and the Electricity Supply Board (1987). Sean Keating – The Pilgrim Soul, a documentary presented and written by his son Justin Keating, airs on RTÉ in 1996.

(Pictured: Photograph of Keating’s “An Allegory” painted between 1922 and 1924. The painting represents Keating’s own disillusionment and loss of idealism resulting from the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. The only figure of the group addressing the observer is a self-portrait of the artist.)


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Birth of Philip Embury, Methodist Preacher

Philip EmburyPhilip Embury, Methodist preacher and a leader of one of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States, is born in Ballingrane, County Limerick on September 21, 1729.

Embury’s parents are members of the colony of Germans that emigrate from the Palatinate to Ireland early in the eighteenth century, and in which Methodism co-founder John Wesley labors with great success. The colony forms from refugees from the War of the Spanish Succession. Embury is educated at a school near Ballingrane and learns the carpentry trade. He is converted on Christmas day 1752, becomes a local preacher at Court-Matrix in 1758 and marries Margaret Switzer that fall.

In 1760, due to rising rents and scarce land, he goes to New York City and works as a school teacher. In common with his fellow emigrants, he begins to lose interest in religious matters and does not preach in New York until 1766 when, moved by the reproaches of his cousin Barbara Heck, sometimes called the “mother of American Methodism,” he begins to hold services first in his own house on Barrack Street, now Park Place, and then in a rigging loft on what is now William Street. The congregation thus forms what is probably the first Methodist congregation in the United States, though it is a disputed question whether precedence should not be given to Robert Strawbridge, who begins laboring in Maryland about this time. Before this, he and Barbara Heck worship along with other Irish Palatines at Trinity Church in Manhattan, where three of his children are baptized.

The first Methodist church is built under Embury’s charge in 1768, in association with Thomas Webb and others, on the site of the present John Street United Methodist Church. He himself works on the building as a carpenter and afterward preaches there gratuitously. In 1769, preachers sent out by John Wesley arrive in New York City, and Embury goes to work in the vicinity of Albany at Camden Valley, New York, where he continues to work at his trade during the week and preaches every Sunday. He and several others receive a grant of 8,000 acres to develop for the manufacture of linen. He organizes among Irish emigrants at Ashgrove, near Camden Valley, the first Methodist society within the bounds of what becomes the flourishing and influential Troy Conference.

Philip Embury dies suddenly in Camden, New York in August 1775, in consequence of an accident in mowing. He is buried on a neighboring farm but in 1832 his remains are removed to Ashgrove churchyard and in 1866 to Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York, where a monument to him is unveiled in 1873, with an address by Bishop Matthew Simpson.

(Pictured: Portrait of Philip Embury by John Barnes, Salem, 1773)