seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Knocklong Ambush

Dan Breen and Seán Treacy rescue their comrade Seán Hogan from a Dublin-Cork train at Knocklong, County Limerick, on May 13, 1919, in what becomes known as the Knocklong Ambush. Two policemen guarding Hogan are killed.

One of the most famous photographs (left) of the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) is taken at Breen’s wedding in June 1921. Breen is already burnishing his reputation as the romantic guerilla campaigner three years before the publication of his bestselling autobiography My Fight for Irish Freedom. On his lap there is a Luger pistol, an incongruity in a wedding photograph, but in keeping with his penchant for self-mythologising. In the background on the left is his best man Hogan who is dressed in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers. Unlike Breen, he looks shy and awkward, his body tilted as if to convey how ill at ease with himself he is.

Had Hogan shown the same diffidence in May 1919, he might have saved himself and his comrades a great deal of trouble. He is the youngest of those involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush on January 21, 1919, the event that is viewed in retrospect as the event that starts the Irish War of Independence.

Hogan is only 18, according to most reports, but to date no birth certificate has been found for him. His youth may explain his lack of caution in early May 1919 when he slips his minder after a dance in Kilshenane, County Tipperary, and ends up, not in the arms of his sweetheart Bridie O’Keeffe, but in the embrace of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). He escorts O’Keeffe back to her relative’s farmhouse where she is spending the night. He sleeps on the sofa. When he wakes up, the house is surrounded. He flees, but is picked up by the RIC in a laneway near the house. He, along with the others involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush, are the most wanted men in Ireland. He faces interrogation and possible execution.

The Knocklong ambush, which occurs on May 13, 1919, saves Hogan from such a fate, but it comes at a terrible price for all those involved. He is put on the 6:00 p.m. train from Thurles to Cork where he is due to be interrogated in the military prison. Knocklong Station, just over the border in County Limerick, is chosen as the place for the escape attempt because of its distance from the nearest RIC barracks.

Four volunteers of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Limerick Brigade get on the train at Emly in order to signal to the men waiting at Knocklong Station the carriage in which Hogan is being detained. He is being escorted to Cork by four RIC men. They face five volunteers, three of whom are armed. A ferocious gun battle ensues, lasting 14 minutes. Constable Michael Enright (30), from Ballyneety, County Limerick, is shot dead immediately.

Sgt. Peter Wallace and Treacy, another of those involved at Soloheadbeg, wrestle over Treacy’s gun. Wallace, who is a huge man, shoots Treacy in the throat before the gun is turned on Wallace, who later dies from his wounds. Hogan smashes his mangled chains in the head of another of his armed guards who is then thrown out of the window of the train. The last remaining guard picks up a rifle and opens fire on the IRA party through the carriage window wounding three volunteers waiting on the platform, including Breen. Hogan is taken immediately to a butcher’s shop where his chains are smashed with a cleaver, setting him free.

Knocklong becomes an exalted event in the iconography of Irish republicanism. At Soloheadbeg, eight armed and ready volunteers faced two unwary policemen. It was not a fair fight. Hogan’s rescue from the train at Knocklong demands organisation, courage and daring of the highest order.

Hogan continues to serve in the Irish War of Independence and on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23). By the time hostilities cease in 1923, he is only 23, but has spent the previous five years in armed combat. The toll on his mind and body are huge. In 1924, he is admitted to St. Bricin’s Military Hospital suffering from “attacks of restlessness and depression – inability to concentrate his mind on anything.” His wife at the time, Christina, runs a nursing home in Tipperary, where her patients include many shellshocked Irish veterans of World War I. The couple later separates.

Hogan’s fortunes change with the change of government in 1932 bringing to power Fianna Fáil, a party which Hogan supports. He is given a job in the Board of Works, but his mental health continues to deteriorate. He complains of the “nerves and all the ailments that go with them.” His circumstances are such that he spends two years living in the family home of Séumas Robinson, the officer commanding at Soloheadbeg.

In early 2019, Robinson’s daughter, Dimphne Brennan, tells The Irish Times, “He had nowhere else to go. He never got over what happened. His nerves were shattered. We were all just kids and we didn’t disturb him in his room. He didn’t talk to us.”

Hogan dies on Christmas Eve 1968 from a cerebral hemorrhage and chronic bronchitis. At the funeral reception, his estranged widow supposedly tells a niece of Hogan, “Well, but wasn’t that some waste of a life.”

Hogan and Christina are buried 50 paces from each other in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Tipperary, divided in death as they were in life. Seán Hogan: His Life: A Troubled Journey, by John Connors, is published by Tipp Revolution.

(From: “Knocklong ambush, on May 13th, 1919 involved a 14-minute gun battle” by Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, May 20, 2019)


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Birth of Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic Missionary

Aengus Finucane, Roman Catholic missionary of the Spiritan Fathers order, is born on April 26, 1932, in Limerick, County Limerick. He organizes food shipments from Ireland to the Igbo people during the Nigerian Civil War. His younger brother, Jack Finucane, also becomes a Holy Ghost priest, and a sister of theirs becomes a nun.

Finucane is educated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers until 1950. He joins the Holy Ghost Fathers in Kimmage Manor, and studies Philosophy, Theology and Education at University College Dublin. He is ordained in Clonliffe College in 1958.

Finucane contributes humanitarian aid during the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the “Nigerian-Biafran War”), from 1967 to 1970. The Nigerian government had blocked food supplies to the successionist state of Biafra causing starvation in the country. This is reported on international television stations and receives worldwide condemnation.

In an effort to save the population from starvation, Finucane organizes food to be sent through makeshift airstrips, including one at Uli, Bafaria, and cargo trips with other Dublin-based workers. This leads to the formation of the organisation Concern Worldwide in 1968. He works with Concern for 41 years and views his mission as “love in action.”

Finucane is banished from Nigeria in January 1970. Following this, he gains a diploma in development studies and a Master of Arts degree in Third World poverty studies from the Swansea University. In 1971, he is again giving food supplies to the population during the operations which are ongoing in Bangladesh and flies often with Mother Teresa during the drop-offs.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) invites Finucane to lead a survey of people displaced in Southeast Asia. During the 1980s and 1990s he leads Concern Worldwide, becoming involved in the response to famine in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. While in Somalia, he is in a convoy that is attacked and results in the death of nurse Valerie Place.

Finucane dies of cancer at the age of 77 on October 6, 2009 in a Dublin Spiritan Fathers’ nursing home in Kimmage Manor. His funeral is held at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Kimmage and is attended by hundreds. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, and Minister for Overseas Development, Peter Power, dub him as a “tireless force for good across the globe for more than four decades.” He is buried at Dardistown Cemetery, in the Spiritan plot.

Finucane’s biography, Aengus Finucane: In the Heart of Concern, written by Deirdre Purcell is published by New Island Books in January 2015.


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Birth of Edmund Pery, 1st Viscount Pery

Edmund Sexton Pery, 1st Viscount Pery, Irish politician who served as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons between 1771 and 1785, is born in Limerick, County Limerick on April 8, 1719.

Pery is born into one of Limerick’s most politically influential families, elder son of the Rev. Stackpole Pery and Jane Twigge. His maternal grandfather is William Twigg, Archdeacon of Limerick.

A trained barrister, Pery becomes a member of the Irish House of Commons for the Wicklow Borough constituency in 1751. On the dissolution of the house following the death of George II, he is elected for the constituency of Limerick City and serves from 1761 until 1785, becoming Speaker of the House in 1771. In 1783, he stands also for Dungannon, however chooses to sit for Limerick City. He is considered one of the most powerful politicians in Ireland in his time, leading a faction which includes his nephew, the future Earl of Limerick, and his relatives by marriage, the Hartstonges. Following his resignation, he is created Viscount Pery, of Newtown Pery, near the City of Limerick, in the Peerage of Ireland, entitling him to a seat in the Irish House of Lords. As he has no male heirs, his title becomes extinct on his death on February 24, 1806.

Pery is also noted for his part in the history of the architecture of Limerick. In 1765, he commissions the engineer Davis Ducart to design a town plan for land that he owns on the southern edge of the existing city, which leads to the construction of the Georgian area of the city later known as Newtown Pery. He is also commemorated in the naming of Pery Square.

Pery marries Patricia (Patty) Martin of Dublin in 1756, who dies a year later, and secondly Elizabeth Vesey, daughter of John Vesey, 1st Baron Knapton, and Elizabeth Brownlow. He and Elizabeth have two daughters:

Pery’s younger brother, William, is a leading figure in the Church of Ireland, becoming Bishop of Killala and Achonry and subsequently Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, and also ennobled as Baron Glentworth. William’s son, Edmund, is made Earl of Limerick in 1803 as a result of his support for the Act of Union. Pery’s younger sister is Lucy Hartstonge, the founder of what is now St. John’s Hospital, Limerick.

(Pictured: “Portrait of Edmund Sexton, later 1st Viscount Pery” by Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, circa 1790, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Death of Nelly O’Brien, Miniaturist, Artist & Activist

Ellen Lucy or Nelly O’Brien, Irish miniaturist, landscape artist, and Gaelic League activist, dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting her brother Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London.

O’Brien is born Ellen Lucy O’Brien on June 4, 1864, at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick. She is the eldest child of Edward William O’Brien and Mary O’Brien (née Spring Rice). Her siblings are Lucy and Dermod, with Dermod also becoming an artist. Her father is a landowner, and her mother is a sculptor and painter and sister of Thomas Spring Rice. Her grandfather is William Smith O’Brien.

While a young child, O’Brien spends two years living on the French Riviera from 1866 to 1868. Her mother later dies of tuberculosis, and the three children are raised by their aunt, the writer and nationalist, Charlotte Grace O’Brien. Their father remarries in 1880, to Julia Marshall, with whom he has two sons and two daughters.

O’Brien attends school in England from 1879, and later enrolls to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. She meets Walter Osborne through her brother Dermod, and considers herself engaged to him, but Osborne dies on April 24, 1903. A portrait of O’Brien by Osborne is held in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

O’Brien returns to Ireland, and begins to paint miniatures on ivory using a magnifying glass. She also paints watercolour landscapes. Her first exhibition with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) is in 1896, where she shows three works including Sketch near Malahide. She exhibits with the RHA on and off until 1922. During some of her time in Dublin, she lives with her half-brother, Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien, on Mount Street.

As part of an exhibition of Irish painters, O’Brien exhibits a number of portrait miniatures at the London Guildhall in 1904. The 1906 Oireachtas na Gaeilge features a number of her paintings, and in the same year she becomes honorary secretary of a newly established art committee. At the MunsterConnacht exhibition in Limerick of 1906, she exhibits a miniature of William Smith O’Brien amongst her 12 works on show. She produces many portraits, including one of Douglas Hyde, which is exhibited by the RHA in 1916.

O’Brien is an early member of the Gaelic League, being present at its first Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1897, and founding the Craobh na gCúig gCúigí (Branch of the Five Provinces). In 1905, she writes a long letter in defence of Douglas Hyde and the Gaelic League in The Church of Ireland Gazette. She holds meetings of Craobh na gCúig gCúigí in her flat at 7 St. Stephen’s Green every Saturday night in 1907. In 1911, she founds Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí (O’Curry Irish College) in Carrigaholt, County Clare, which is named in honour of Eugene O’Curry, with the help of her cousin and friend Mary Spring Rice.

One of her ultimate goals is to create a national Irish church, which would unite Protestants and Catholics through the Irish language. To this end, she establishes the Irish Guild of the Church with Seoirse de Rút in 1914. The aim of the organisation is to provide a communal union for members of the Church of Ireland who are dedicated to “Irish Ireland” ideals.

Acting as a representative for the Gaelic League, she travels to the United States with Fionan MacColuim in 1914 to 1915, to fund raise and promote Irish art and industries. At Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí, she stresses the importance of the Irish language in the home, as well as the skills of housewives and those in domestic service in strengthening the language and Irish culture.

O’Brien notes that she initially thought that the 1916 Easter Rising was “in the nature a demonstration against conscription as it had been announced that the volunteers would resist disarmament.” She is staying with the Hydes at 1 Earlsfort Place during the Rising, as her flat at College Park Chambers had been destroyed. She protests the conscription bill in Ireland as a mass meeting of women at the Mansion House in 1918. She launches the Gaelic Churchman in 1919 as the official publication of the Irish Guild of the Church. In one article entitled A plea for the Irish services, she promotes her campaign for Irish language services in Protestant churches. In her capacity of vice-president of the guild, she invites Éamon de Valera to attend one of their meetings in 1921.

O’Brien dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London. She is buried at the family plot in Cahirmoyle.

(Pictured: Nelly O’Brien by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792)


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Birth of Jeremiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick

Jeremiah Newman, Bishop of Limerick from 1974 to 1995 after having served as Professor and President of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is born in Dromcolliher, County Limerick, on March 31, 1926.

Following a local primary education, Newman attends St. Munchin’s College, Limerick. He studies for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and is ordained there on June 18, 1950.

Newman begins postgraduate studies in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain and is awarded a Doctorate in Philosophy there in 1951. After that he takes up studies in Sociology at the University of Oxford for four years before taking up a teaching post at Queen’s University, Belfast.

In 1953 Newman is appointed Professor of Sociology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, succeeding Peter McKevitt. It is an institution he remains within, and eventually leads with distinction, until he is appointed Bishop of Limerick in May 1974. He publishes two books about the college: Maynooth and Georgian Ireland (1979) followed by Maynooth and Victorian Ireland (1983).

Newman arrives in Limerick with a strong reputation for reform having served a number of years as President of Maynooth where he adapted and shaped the college to the new challenges of the 1970s. His academic background in sociology gives him an informed understanding of the changing dynamic in Irish life, especially rural life which he has been writing about since the early 1960s, especially the dangers of depopulation.

Newman often makes comment on national matters particularly about church-state relations which has been his special area of study for over 20 years. He takes what might be called a broadly ‘conservative’ approach which, as time goes on, jars with wider public opinion especially as Ireland faces a number of constitutional referenda in the 1980s. At least one modern author has quoted the epithet alleged to have been conferred on Newman by Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Mullah of Limerick, for articulating a neo-conservative position more commonly associated with the United States.

Newman’s later years are dogged by periodic bouts of ill-health and he dies in office on April 3, 1995 of hepatoma. He is buried in St. John’s Cathedral, Limerick. He is the subject of many obituaries not least because of his extensive public statements in his years as Bishop of Limerick. The Tablet suggests he was most “well known for his conservatism and taste for controversial remarks” before quoting the homily by Cardinal Cahal Daly that “he seemed to have a strange sense of inadequacy; and, for one who was so lovable, he seemed to have difficulties in believing that others respected and admired and indeed loved him.” The Irish Times obituary says he was a man “who kept fighting the battles of long ago.”

Newman is succeeded as Bishop of Limerick by Bishop Donal Murray.

Limerick City Library holds an extensive set of newspaper articles about Bishop Jeremiah Newman which have been made available online.


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Birth of Rosaleen Brigid Ganly, Painter & Sculptor

Brigid Ganly HRHA, Irish painter and sculptor, is born Rosaleen Brigid O’Brien on January 29, 1909 in Dublin.

Ganly is one of five children born to Dermod O’Brien, a painter, and his wife Mabel Smiley. Her great-grandfather is the Irish Republican William Smith O’Brien. She grows up on a farm in Cahirmoyle, County Limerick, until the family moves to Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin. She goes on to attend the Metropolitan School of Art where she has the opportunity to study under Patrick Tuohy, Seán Keating and Oliver Sheppard. She is a talented sculptor and wins several awards, including the Taylor scholarship in 1929, for her allegorical male nude, Pity. She spends time in Paris in 1951 where she trains with André Lhote. She travels to Greece where Lhote continues to influence her work.

Ganly also studies painting in the Royal Hibernian Academy School where she has Margaret Clarke and Seán O’Sullivan as teachers. She is made an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1928 and becomes a member in 1935 though, in 1969, resigns her membership in protest of the lack of young artists being given the opportunity to exhibit. In 1972 she is made an honorary member and returns.

Ganly is a representational artist and while known as a portrait artist, she also paints landscapes, interiors and may be best known for her still lifes. Some of her best works are portraits of her husband, her sister Ethel, her father, and her friend Sheila Pim. She illustrates the book-jackets of Sheila Pim’s works. She has many exhibitions, with the RHA and the Water Colour Society of Ireland. There is a retrospective of her life in 1998 at the Hugh Lane Gallery and her works are in the collections there. She is also in the collections of the Waterford Municipal Gallery, Crawford Art Gallery, Cork and in The National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland. She is part of the 2014 exhibition ‘Irish Women Artists: 1870-1970.’

Ganly’s sister-in-law is Kitty Wilmer O’Brien with whom she often exhibits. She marries Andrew Ganly, a dental surgeon and writer with a strong involvement in theatre, in 1936. He dies in 1982. They have two children, Eoghan and Phillida.

Brigid Ganly dies on March 25,2002.

(Pictured: “Storm Over Poros” (1964) by Rosaleen Brigid Ganly, HRHA)


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Death of T. P. Gill, Member of the Irish Parliamentary Party

Thomas Patrick (T. P.) Gill, a prominent member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) in the late 19th and early 20th century, dies on January 19, 1931. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons representing the South Louth constituency unopposed from 1885 to 1892. His uncle Peter is an unsuccessful election candidate in 1868 in County Tipperary.

Gill is born on October 25, 1858, in Ballygraigue, Nenagh, County Tipperary, the first of four sons of Robert Gill, a civil engineer who is assistant county surveyor, and Mary (née Clampett), daughter of a woolen merchant, James Clampett of Mount Kennett, County Limerick. He attends St. Joseph’s CBS Nenagh, St. John’s College, Kilkenny, and Trinity College Dublin becoming a journalist, firstly as editor of the Catholic World magazine of New York, and an associate editor of the North American Review (1883–85). He marries Annie Fennell of Dublin in 1882 and they have two sons, Donat and Roy, and a daughter Finola.

Gill is a friend and political ally of Charles Stewart Parnell. After the death of Parnell he remains with the Irish Parliamentary Party. He works with Horace Plunkett in developing the Irish co-operative movement. He is member and honorary secretary to the 1895 Recess Committee which leads to the formation of both the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), forerunner of the Irish Department of Agriculture, and the Vocational Education Committee (VEC). His key work for the Recess Committee is research into the state aid to agriculture in France and Denmark. In February 1900, he is appointed Secretary of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland. In 1907, he is appointed Chairman of the Departmental Committee on Irish Forestry. He also serves on a number of governmental committees concerning agriculture and agricultural production. He is President of the Irish Technical Instruction Association from 1925 to 1929.

A raconteur with, in the words of R. A. Anderson, ‘a queer charm about him,’ Gill moves in Dublin literary circles, and in his retirement he makes a translation of Louis Paul-Dubois’ Le drame irlandais et l’Irlande nouvelle (1927), published posthumously as The Irish struggle and its results (1934).

Gill is an uncle of former Workers’ Party of Ireland president and Dublin West TD Tomás Mac Giolla.

Gill dies in a Dublin hospital on January 19, 1931. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland.

(Pictured: “Portrait of T.P. Gill, Journalist, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction,” oil on canvas by Sarah Purser, 1898, National Gallery of Ireland)


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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Birth of Brian Cleeve, Writer of Novels & Short Stories

Brian Brendon Talbot Cleeve, writer whose published works include twenty-one novels and over a hundred short stories, is born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, on November 22, 1921. He is also an award-winning television broadcaster on RTÉ One.

Cleeve is the second of three sons to Charles Edward Cleeve and his wife Josephine (née Talbot). His father, who was born in Limerick, County Limerick, is a scion of a famous and wealthy family that runs several successful Irish enterprises in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His mother is a native of Essex. The Cleeves came from Canada originally and emigrated to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result of labour troubles and the effects of the Irish Civil War, the Cleeve business fails and the family moves to England.

Cleeve’s mother dies in 1924 and his maternal grandparents, Alfred and Gertrude Talbot, take over responsibility for his upbringing. At age eight, he is sent as a boarder to Selwyn House in Kent, followed at age 12 by three years at St. Edward’s School, Oxford. He is by nature a free-thinker and rejects the assumptions and prejudices that are then part of upper-middle class English life. His unwillingness to conform means that school life is very difficult for him. In the late summer of 1938, he decides not to return to St. Edward’s for his final year. Instead, he runs away to sea.

Cleeve leads an eventful life during the next fifteen years. He serves on the RMS Queen Mary as a commis waiter for several months. At age 17 he joins the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a private soldier, and, because of his age, just misses being sent to Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) when World War II breaks out. In 1940, he is selected for officer training, is commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry, and sent to Kenya as a second lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. A year later he is court-martialed as a result of his objections to the treatment by colleagues of an African prisoner. Stripped of his commission and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude, he is transferred to Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire. There, through the intervention of Sir Alexander Paterson, he is offered parole if he agrees to work for British Intelligence. For the remainder of the war he serves as a counter-spy in neutral ports such as Lisbon and Dublin. As cover, he works as an ordinary seaman in the Merchant Navy.

In 1945, Cleeve takes an Irish passport and comes to Ireland where, in the space of three weeks, he meets and marries Veronica McAdie. A year later, they leave Ireland with baby daughter Berenice on a protracted odyssey that takes them to London, Sweden, the West Indies, and finally South Africa. In 1948, the family settles in Johannesburg where they set up their own perfume business. A second daughter, Tanga, is born to the couple there in 1953. As a result of his friendship with Fr. Trevor Huddleston, he witnesses the conditions in which the black population has to live in townships such as Sophiatown. He becomes an outspoken critic of Apartheid, and, in 1954, he is branded by the authorities as a ‘political intractable’ and ordered to leave South Africa. He returns to Ireland where he lives for the remainder of his life.

Cleeve starts writing poems in his teens, a few of which are published in his school paper, the St. Edward’s Chronicle. During the war he continues to produce poems of a spiritual or metaphysical nature, most of which are never published. In 1945, he turns to novel-writing. After his first two attempts are rejected, his third novel, The Far Hills, is published in 1952. Two further novels about South Africa follow and their unvarnished descriptions of the reality of life for the native population probably contributes to his eventual expulsion from the country.

In the mid-1950s, Cleeve begins to concentrate on the short story form. During the next 15 years over 100 of his short stories are published in magazines and periodicals across five continents. He sells nearly thirty to The Saturday Evening Post alone. In 1966, his story Foxer is honoured with a scroll at the annual Edgar Awards.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Cleeve returns to writing novels with considerable success. He produced a series of well-received mystery and spy thrillers that do not sacrifice character to plot. In 1971, he publishes Cry of Morning, his most controversial and successful novel to date. It is a panoramic depiction of the economic and social changes that affected Ireland during the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a disparate collection of well-drawn characters. He subsequently achieves even greater commercial success, especially in the United States, with a number of historical novels featuring a strong female character as protagonist.

Cleeve also writes several works of non-fiction, principally the Dictionary of Irish Writers. This is a 20-year project to provide to scholars and the general public alike a comprehensive resource on Irish writers at an affordable price. It is a labour of love that consumes a great deal of his time and is effectively subsidised by his more commercial pursuits. The last edition is published in 1985.

On December 31, 1961, Telefís Éireann is launched as the Republic of Ireland‘s first indigenous television station. Cleeve joins the station as a part-time interviewer on the current affairs programme, Broadsheet. Following appearances on two additional programmes, Telefís Éireann does not renew his contract when it expires in 1973.

Following his wife’s death in 1999, Cleeve moves to the village of Shankill, Dublin. His health deteriorates rapidly following a series of small strokes. In November 2001, he marries his second wife, Patricia Ledwidge, and she cares for him during his final months. He suddenly dies of a heart attack on March 11, 2003. His body now lies under a headstone bearing the inscription “Servant of God.”


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Death of Painter William Dermod O’Brien

William Dermod O’Brien, Irish painter commonly known as Dermod O’Brien, dies in Dublin on October 3, 1945. Most of his paintings are landscapes and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

O’Brien is born on June 10, 1865 at Mount Trenchard House near Foynes in County Limerick, the son of Edward William O’Brien and Hon. Mary Spring Rice, granddaughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. For a time after his mother’s death, he is raised by his aunt Charlotte Grace O’Brien, along with his sisters, Nelly and Lucy. His father subsequently remarries in 1880. He is educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

O’Brien marries Mabel Emmeline Smyly, daughter of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, on March 8, 1902. Together they have five children. His son Brendan, a surgeon in Dublin, marries artist Kitty Wilmer O’Brien. His daughter Rosaleen Brigid becomes an artist, also known as Brigid Ganly after her marriage to Andrew Ganly. Another artistic relative is Geraldine O’Brien.

Unlike many of his Irish contemporaries, after graduating from Cambridge O’Brien does not study art in Dublin, opting instead to travel to Paris, where he studies the paintings at the Louvre. In 1887, he visits galleries in Italy and then enrolls at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. At the Academy he is a fellow student of Walter Osborne. He leaves Antwerp in 1891 and returns to Paris, where he studies at Académie Julian. He relocates to London in 1893 and then Dublin in 1901.

O’Brien is designated an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1906, a member in 1907, and is later president between 1910 and 1945. He is made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1912.

O’Brien holds the office of High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1916 and serves as Deputy Lieutenant of County Limerick. He serves in the Artists Rifles during World War I.

(Pictured: Dermod O’Brien by Howard Coster, print, late 1930s, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London by the estate of Howard Coster, 1978)