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


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Death of Irish Language Writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Máirtín Ó Cadhain, one of the most prominent Irish language writers of the twentieth century, dies on October 18, 1970. Perhaps best known for his 1949 work Cré na Cille, Ó Cadhain plays a key role in bringing literary modernism to contemporary Irish language literature.

Born in Connemara, County Galway, Ó Cadhain becomes a schoolteacher but is dismissed due to his membership in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the 1930s he serves as an IRA recruiting officer, enlisting fellow writer Brendan Behan, and participates in the land campaign of the native speakers, which leads to the establishment of the Ráth Cairn neo-Gaeltacht in County Meath. Subsequently, he is arrested and interned in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare during the Emergency years due to his continued involvement in the violent activities of the IRA.

Ó Cadhain’s politics are a nationalist mix of Marxism and social radicalism tempered with a rhetorical anti-clericalism. In his writings concerning the future of the Irish language he is, however, practical about the position of the Catholic Church as a social and societal institution, craving rather for a wholehearted commitment to the language cause even among Catholic churchmen. It is his view that, as the Church is there anyway, it would be better if it were more willing to address the Faithful in the national idiom.

As a writer, Ó Cadhain is acknowledged to be a pioneer of Irish language modernism. His Irish is the dialect of Connemara but he is happy to cannibalise other dialects, classical literature and even Scots Gaelic for the sake of linguistic and stylistic enrichment of his own writings. Consequently, much of what he writes is reputedly hard to read for a non-native speaker.

Ó Cadhain is a prolific writer of short stories. His collections of short stories include Cois Caoláire, An Braon Broghach, Idir Shúgradh agus Dháiríre, An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, An tSraith Tógtha and An tSraith ar Lár. He also writes three novels, of which only Cré na Cille is published during his lifetime. The other two, Athnuachan and Barbed Wire, appear in print only recently. He translates Charles Kickham‘s novel Sally Kavanagh into Irish as Saile Chaomhánach, nó na hUaigheanna Folmha. He also writes several political or linguo-political pamphlets. His political views can most easily be discerned in a small book about the development of Irish nationalism and extremism since Theobald Wolfe Tone, Tone Inné agus Inniu. In the early 1960s he writes, partly in Irish, partly in English, a comprehensive survey of the social status and actual use of the language in the west of Ireland, published as An Ghaeilge Bheo – Destined to Pass. In August 1969 he delivers a speech, published as Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge: Gluaiseacht ar Strae, in which he speaks of the role Irish speakers should take in ‘Athghabháil na hÉireann’, or the Re-Conquest of Ireland as James Connolly first coins the term.

He and Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin are considered the two most innovative Gaelic authors to emerge in the 1960s. He has frequent difficulties to get his work edited, but unpublished writings have appeared at least every two years since the publication of Athnuachan in the mid-nineties.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain dies on October 18, 1970 in Dublin and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

A lecture hall at Trinity College, Dublin is named after Ó Cadhain who was professor of Irish. A bronze bust is also located in the Irish department.

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Death of Hunger Striker Thomas Patrick Ashe

Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, dies on September 25, 1917 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin following a hunger strike.

Ashe is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. He enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.

Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.

Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp and Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, he is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status.

On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at Mater Misericordiae Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street. Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century.


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Birth of Irish Writer Frank O’Connor

Frank O’Connor, Irish writer of over 150 works and best known for his short stories and memoirs, is born Michael Francis O’Donovan in Cork, County Cork, on September 17, 1903. The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.

Raised in Cork, the only child of Minnie (née O’Connor) and Michael O’Donovan, O’Connor attends Saint Patrick’s School on Gardiner’s Hill and North Monastery CBS. His early life is marked by his father’s alcoholism, debt, and ill-treatment of his mother. His childhood is shaped in part by his mother, who supplies much of the family’s income by cleaning houses, because his father is unable to keep steady employment due to his drunkenness. He adores his mother and is bitterly resentful of his father. In his memoirs, he recalls his childhood as “those terrible years,” and admits that he has never been able to forgive his father for his abuse of himself and his mother. When his mother is seventy, O’Connor is horrified to learn from his own doctor that she has suffered for years from chronic appendicitis, which she has endured with great stoicism, as she has never had the time nor the money to see a doctor.

In 1918 O’Connor joins the First Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and serves in combat during the Irish War of Independence. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, working in a small propaganda unit in Cork City. He is one of twelve thousand Anti-Treaty combatants who are interned by the government of the new Irish Free State. Between 1922 and 1923 he is imprisoned in Cork City Gaol and in Gormanston, County Meath.

Following his release, O’Connor takes various positions including that of teacher of Irish, theatre director, and librarian. He begins to move in literary circles and is befriended by George William Russell (Æ), through whom he comes to know most of the well-known Irish writers of the day, including William Butler Yeats, Lennox Robinson, F. R. Higgins and Lady Gregory. In his memoirs, he pays tribute to both Yeats and Russell for the help and encouragement they gave him.

In 1935, O’Connor becomes a member of the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, founded by Yeats and other members of the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1937, he becomes managing director of the Abbey. Following Yeats’s death in 1939, O’Connor’s long-standing conflict with other board members comes to a head and he leaves the Abbey later that year. In 1950, he accepts invitations to teach in the United States, where many of his short stories have been published in The New Yorker and have won great acclaim. He spends much of the 1950s in the United States, although it is always his intention to return eventually to Ireland.

From the 1930s to the 1960s O’Connor is a prolific writer of short stories, poems, plays, and novellas. His work as an Irish teacher complements his plethora of translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman‘s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). Many of O’Connor’s writings are based on his own life experiences – notably his well-known The Man of the House in which he reveals childhood details concerning his early life in County Cork. The Sullivan family in this short story, like his own boyhood family, is lacking a proper father figure.

O’Connor’s early years are recounted in An Only Child, a memoir published in 1961 which has the immediacy of a precocious diary. He continues his autobiography through his time with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in his book My Father’s Son, which is published posthumously in 1968. It contains valuable character sketches of many of the leading Irish literary figures of the 1930s, in particular Yeats and Æ.

Frank O’Connor has a stroke while teaching at Stanford University in 1961, and he later dies from a heart attack in Dublin on March 10, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery two days later.


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Birth of Eugene O’Growney, Priest & Scholar

Eugene O’Growney, Irish priest and scholar, and a key figure in the Gaelic revival of the late 19th century, is born on August 25, 1863 at Ballyfallon, Athboy, County Meath.

The Irish language has largely retreated from Meath when O’Growney is born, and neither of his parents speak it. He becomes interested in the language when he chances upon the Irish lessons in the nationalist newspaper Young Ireland. He has help at first from a few old people who speak the language, and while at Maynooth, where he continues his studies for the priesthood from the year 1882, he spends his holidays in Irish-speaking areas in the north, west and south. He gets to know the Aran Islands and writes about them in the bilingual Gaelic Journal (Irisleabhar na Gaedhilge), which he is later to edit. He is ordained in 1888. His proficiency in the language leads him to be appointed in the re-established Chair of Irish at Maynooth in 1891. He is editor of the Gaelic Journal between 1894 and 1899 and during his tenure ensures that more material is published in Irish.

For O’Growney language, nationality and religion are closely linked. In 1890, writing in the Irish Ecclesiastical Review, he describes literature in Irish as “the most Catholic literature in the world.” He is aware, however, of its other aspects, adding that “even if Irish were to perish as a spoken language, it would remain valuable from the pure literature point of view.”

His Simple Lessons in Irish, first published in the newspaper The Weekly Freeman, proves so popular that they are published in booklet form. There are five books in the series and 320,000 copies have been sold by 1903. In a foreword he states:

“The following course of simple lessons in Irish has been drawn up chiefly for the use of those who wish to learn the old language of Ireland, but who are discouraged by what they have heard of its difficulties… But the difficulties of Irish pronunciation and construction have always been exaggerated. A I myself was obliged to study Irish as a foreign language, and as I have been placed in circumstances which have made me rather familiar with the language as now spoken, I have at least a knowledge of the difficulties of those who, like myself, have no teacher.”

O’Growney is a founding member of the Gaelic League, which is created in Dublin in 1893 “for the purpose of keeping the Irish language spoken in Ireland,” and later becomes its vice-president.

In 1894, failing health causes him to go to Arizona and California, where he dies in Los Angeles on October 18, 1899. Some years later, with the aid of Irish sympathisers in the United States, his body is returned to Ireland. His funeral, held on September 26, 1903 at the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by 6,000 people, including members of the trade guilds, clerics, politicians, members of the nationalist Gaelic Athletic Association and students. He is buried at Maynooth.

(Pictured: Statue of Fr. Eugene O’Growney on the grounds of St. James’ Church in Athboy, courtesy of http://www.athboyparish.ie)


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Death of James Napper Tandy, Irish Revolutionary

James Napper Tandy, Irish revolutionary and member of the Society of United Irishmen, dies in Bordeaux, France on August 24, 1803.

A Dublin Protestant and the son of an ironmonger, Tandy is baptised in St. Audoen’s Church on February 16, 1739. He attends the Quaker boarding school in Ballitore, County Kildare. He starts life as a small tradesman. Turning to politics, he becomes a member of Dublin Corporation and is popular for his denunciation of municipal corruption and his proposal of a boycott of English goods in Ireland in retaliation for the restrictions imposed by the government on Irish commerce.

Tandy and John Binns persuade Dublin Corporation to condemn by resolution William Pitt the Younger‘s amended commercial resolutions in 1785. He becomes a member of the Whig club founded by Henry Grattan, and he actively co-operates with Theobald Wolfe Tone in founding the Society of United Irishmen in 1791, of which he becomes the first secretary.

Sympathy with the French Revolution is rapidly spreading in Ireland. A meeting of some 6,000 people in Belfast vote a congratulatory address to the French nation in July 1791. In the following year, Tandy takes a leading part in organising a new military association in Ireland modelled after the French National Guard. Tandy also, with the purpose of bringing about a fusion between the Defenders and the United Irishmen, took the oath of the Defenders, a Roman Catholic society whose agrarian and political violence had been increasing for several years.

Tandy is about to be tried in 1793 for distributing a seditious pamphlet in County Louth when the government discovers he has taken the oath of the Defenders. Being threatened with prosecution for this step, and also for libel, he takes refuge by changing his Dublin address often until he flees to the United States in 1795, where he remains until 1798. In February 1798 he goes to Paris, where a number of Irish refugees are assembled and planning rebellion in Ireland to be supported by a French invasion, but quarrelling among themselves over tactics.

Tandy accepts the offer of a corvette, the HMS Anacreon, from the French government and sails from Dunkirk accompanied by a few United Irishmen, a small force of men and a considerable quantity of arms and ammunition for distribution in Ireland. He arrives at the isle of Arranmore, off the coast of County Donegal, on September 16, 1798.

Tandy takes possession of the village of Rutland, where he hoists an Irish flag and issues a proclamation. He soon discovers that the French expedition of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert to aid the Irish rebellion has failed. He sails his vessel around the north of Scotland to avoid the British fleet. He reaches Bergen in safety having brought with him a British ship captured along the way. Tandy then made his way with three or four companions to the free port of Hamburg but a peremptory demand from the British government to detain the fugitives was acceded to despite a counter-threat from the French Directory. In 1799 HMS Xenophon, under Commander George Sayer, brings Tandy and some of his associates back to England as state prisoners.

On February 12, 1800, Tandy is put on trial at Dublin and is acquitted. He remains in prison in Lifford Gaol in County Donegal until April 1801, when he is tried for the treasonable landing on Rutland Island. He pleads guilty and is sentenced to death although he is reprieved and allowed to go to France.

In France, where his release is regarded as a French diplomatic victory, he is received, in March 1802, as a person of distinction. When he dies on August 24, 1803 in Bordeaux, his funeral is attended by the military and an immense number of civilians. James Napper Tandy is buried in his family’s burial crypt, St. Mary’s churchyard, Julianstown, County Meath. His fame is perpetuated in the Irish ballad The Wearing of the Green.


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Birth of Richard Robert Madden, Historian & Abolitionist

Richard Robert Madden, Irish doctor, writer, abolitionist and historian of the Society of United Irishmen, is born on August 22, 1798. He takes an active role in trying to impose anti-slavery rules in Jamaica on behalf of the British government.

Madden is born at Wormwood Gate, Dublin to Edward Madden, a silk manufacturer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Corey). His father has married twice and fathered twenty-one children. Luckily for young Richard his father is still affluent enough by the time he is reaching adolescence to afford him a top quality education. This means private schools and a medical apprenticeship in Athboy, County Meath. He studies medicine in Paris, Italy, and St. George’s Hospital, London. While in Naples he becomes acquainted with Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington and her circle.

In 1828 Madden marries Harriet Elmslie, herself coincidentally the youngest of twenty one children. Born in Marylebone in 1801 and baptised there into the Church of England, she is the last child of John Elmslie, a Scot who owns hundreds of slaves on his plantations in Jamaica, and his wife Jane Wallace. Both Harriet’s parents are of Quaker stock, but while living in Cuba she converts to Roman Catholicism. On marriage, Madden stops travelling and practises medicine for five years.

Eventually he realises that he needs to contribute to the abolitionist cause. The slave trade has been illegal in the empire since 1807, but slaves still exist. Abolishing slavery is a popular cause and it is obvious that the trading of slaves is still in progress and many are not actively involved but they are complicit with the activity.

Madden is employed in the British civil service from 1833, first as a justice of the peace in Jamaica, where he is one of six Special Magistrates sent to oversee the eventual liberation of Jamaica’s slave population, according to the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. From 1835 he is Superintendent of the freed Africans in Havana. His son, Thomas More Madden, who later becomes a surgeon and writer, is born there. In 1839 he becomes the investigating officer into the slave trade on the west coast of Africa and, in 1847, the secretary for the West Australian colonies. He returns to Dublin and in 1850 is named secretary of the Office for Loan Funds in Dublin.

Richard Madden dies at his home in Booterstown, just south of Dublin, on February 5, 1886 and is interred in Donnybrook Cemetery.


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Founding of the Tenant Right League

The Tenant Right League, an organisation which aims to secure reforms in the Irish land system, is founded in Dublin on August 9, 1850, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Tenant Protection Societies. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas, the League unites for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.

The political background to the movement is the Encumbered Estates Act and the resultant change in land ownership at landlord level. In the North of Ireland, Protestant and Presbyterian ministers fear that the new landlords will destroy the “Ulster custom” of tenancy, which compensates tenants for any improvement undertaken. Concurrently, in the South of Ireland politically minded young Catholic priests are agitating for the adoption there of the Ulster custom as a measure of reform.

Support for the League initially comes from the Ulster Tenant Right Association led by William Sharman Crawford. The support is short-lived because of the involvement of Catholic clergymen from the south. As a constitutional movement, the League seeks to secure the adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. All of these would aid Irish tenant farms, all of whom lack them.

For the larger tenant farmers fixity of tenure is the priority. On the other hand the league never has the support of smaller tenants, whose prime concern is fair rents. The founders strive to establish a parliamentary party of Irish members who will oppose any government not prepared to grant “Tenant-right” also known as the Ulster Custom.

The Tenant Right League meets with considerable success under its national organiser, John Martin. It has the support of the surviving members of the Repeal Association in the British House of Commons as well as a number of English Radicals. It is agreed, all around, that a Land Act embodying the three F’s would be a real gain. In the 1852 general election, some fifty Tenant Right candidates, including Gavan Duffy, Lucas and John Sadleir, are returned to parliament, where they sit as the Independent Irish Party.

The League’s success is short lived and is ultimately destroyed and weakened when a number of prominent members break away and established the Catholic Defence Association. Supporters of the league are also intimidated by hostile landlords. The most serious blows to its success come when Lucas decides to take his complaint about the Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen to Rome, which alienates clerical support. Lucas dies in October 1855 shortly after the failure of his mission, a month later Gavan Duffy emigrates to Australia.

The League finally dissolves in 1859, and the Independent Irish Party disappears by 1860. The demand for tenants rights is however continued by Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath and taken up again as a popular cause by the Irish National Land League in 1879, when the “Three Fs” are anchored in the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, previously pursued rigorously by Michael Davitt.