seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.

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Death of Harpist & Composer Turlough O’Carolan

turlough-ocarolanTurlough O’Carolan, a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition, dies in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon on March 25, 1738.

Although not a composer in the classical sense, O’Carolan is considered by many to be Ireland’s first great composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition are still living as late as 1792, and ten, including Arthur O’Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó hAmhsaigh, attend the Belfast Harp Festival. Ó hAmhsaigh plays some of O’Carolan’s music but dislikes it for being too modern. Some of O’Carolan’s own compositions show influences of the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of “Gaelic Harping.”

O’Carolan is born in 1670 in Nobber, County Meath, where his father is a blacksmith. The family moves from Meath to Ballyfarnon in 1684. In Roscommon, his father takes a job with the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermott Roe gives Turlough an education, and he shows talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen O’Carolan is apprenticed by Mrs. MacDermott Roe to a good harper. At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he sets out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons.

For almost fifty years, O’Carolan journeys from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing his tunes. One of his earliest compositions is about Brigid Cruise, with whom he is infatuated. Brigid is the teenage daughter of the schoolmaster at the school for the blind attended by O’Carolan in Cruisetown. In 1720, at age 50, O’Carolan marries Mary Maguire. Their first family home is a cottage on a parcel of land near the town of Manachain, now Mohill, in County Leitrim, where they settle. They have seven children, six daughters and one son. Mary dies in 1733.

Turlough O’Carolan dies at Alderford House on March 25, 1738. He is buried in the MacDermott Roe family crypt in Kilronan Burial Ground near Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. The annual O’Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon.

A bronze monument by sculptor Oisín Kelly depicting Turlough O’Carolan playing his harp is erected on a plinth at the Market Square, Mohill, on August 10, 1986, and is unveiled by Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.

A statue is erected to him at his place of birth in 2002, during the Annual O’Carolan Harp Festival, the first of which is held in Nobber in 1988.


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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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The 1947 Blizzard

blizzard-of-1947The worst blizzard in living memory hits Ireland on February 25, 1947. The penetrating Arctic winds had been blowing for several weeks. Munster and Leinster had been battling the snows since the middle of January.

On the evening of February 24, a major Arctic depression approaches the coast of Cork and Kerry and advances northeast across Ireland. By morning, Ireland is being pounded by the most powerful blizzard of the 20th century. The winter of 1946-1947 is the coldest and harshest winter in living memory. Temperatures rarely rise above freezing and the snows that have fallen across Ireland in January remain until the middle of March.

Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piles on top of all that has previously fallen. There is no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24 and March 17, it snows on thirty of them.

“The Blizzard” of February 25th is the greatest single snowfall on record and lasts for almost fifty consecutive hours. It smothers the entire island in a blanket of snow. Driven by persistent easterly gales, the snow drifts until every hollow, depression, arch and alleyway is filled and the Irish countryside becomes a vast ashen wasteland.

Everything on the frozen landscape is a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidify the surface and it is to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows begins to melt.

(Pictured: Snow drifts on Main Street, Boyle, County Roscommon, February 1947)


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Funeral of Actor Tony Doyle

tony-doyleActors from every genre of stage and screen show come together in the chapel at Terenure College in Dublin on February 4, 2000 for the funeral of Irish television and film actor Tony Doyle.

Doyle is born on January 16, 1942 in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. He attends Belcamp College, Dublin as a boarder before going on to University College Dublin, which he does not finish.

Doyle first comes to prominence playing a liberal Catholic priest, Father Sheehy, in RTÉ‘s iconic rural drama The Riordans. He appears in such popular shows as Coronation Street, Between the Lines, 1990, Children of the North and Ballykissangel. He wins an Irish Film and Television Academy award for best leading performance for his role in the 1998 miniseries Amongst Women. He also appears in the first Minder episode, “Gunfight at the OK Laundrette,” playing a drunken Irishman.

Doyle’s most famous film role is as the head of the Special Air Service (SAS), Colonel Hadley, in the 1982 British film Who Dares Wins. His other film roles include appearances in Ulysses (1967), Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970), Loophole (1981), Eat the Peach (1986), Secret Friends (1991), Damage (1992), Circle of Friends (1995), and as Tom French in I Went Down (1997).

Tony Doyle collapses at his home and is taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth, London, England where he dies around 2:00 AM on January 28, 2000.

Brian Quigley, Doyle’s Ballykissangel character, is written out of the show after Doyle’s death in the first episode of the final series where Quigley fakes his own suicide and flees to Brazil.

The Tony Doyle Bursary for New Writing is launched by the BBC following his death. Judges include his friend and Ballykissangel co-star Lorcan Cranitch. Cranitch subsequently stars in the BBC detective series McCready and Daughter, which had been written with Doyle in mind.


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Birth of Irish Writer Arthur Murphy

arthur-murphyArthur Murphy, Irish writer also known by the pseudonym Charles Ranger, is born at Cloonyquin, County Roscommon, on December 27, 1727, the son of Richard Murphy and Jane French.

Murphy studies at Saint-Omer in France, and is a gifted student of the Latin and Greek classics. He works as an actor in the theatre, becomes a barrister, a journalist and finally a playwright. He edits Gray’s Inn Journal between 1752 and 1754. As Henry Thrale‘s oldest and dearest friend, he introduces Samuel Johnson to the Thrales in January 1765. He is appointed Commissioner of Bankruptcy in 1803.

Murphy is known for his translations of Tacitus in 1753, which are still published as late as 1922. He also writes three biographies – Fielding‘s Works (1762), An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson (1792), and Life of David Garrick (1801).

An example of Murphy’s theatrical writings is The Citizen, a farce, first produced at Drury Lane in 1761. Philpot, a wealthy skinflint, has bargained with Sir Jasper Wilding for his son Young Philpot to marry Maria Wilding, and for his daughter Sally to marry Wilding’s son, for settlements and twenty thousand pounds paid to Sir Jasper. Young Philpot has lost a fortune, but borrows money from his father and embarks on an insurance fraud involving shipwrecked goods. Maria plans to marry Beaufort, who loves her. As Young Philpot tries to propose, she convinces him she is half-witted, and he spurns her. In the second act, Philpot senior is visiting Corinna, a lady of loose virtue, but hides under the table when his son calls upon her. He overhears as Young Philpot tells her how he has cajoled the money out of his father. Maria’s brother surprises them, and old Philpot is also discovered, to their mutual shame. In the final scene Sir Jasper with a lawyer obtains Philpot’s signature to the agreements, but meanwhile Maria, an educated girl, shows her strong character to Young Philpot and he again refuses to propose. Having signed away his rights old Philpot offers to marry her, but the lawyer reveals himself as Beaufort, and explains that he has swapped the deeds, so that Philpot has unwittingly signed his agreement for Maria to marry Beaufort.

Murphy is thought to have coined the legal term “wilful misconstruction” whilst representing the Donaldson v. Becket appeal to the House of Lords in 1774 against the perpetual possession of copyright.

Arthur Murphy dies at Knightsbridge, London, on June 18, 1805 and is buried at Hammersmith, London. A biography is written in 1811 by Dr. Jesse Foot. Nathaniel Dance-Holland paints Murphy’s portrait which is thought to now be in the Irish National Portrait Collection.

(Pictured: 1777 portrait of Arthur Murphy by Nathaniel Dance-Holland)


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Birth of Oliver Goldsmith, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

Oliver Goldsmith, novelist, playwright and poet, is born on November 10, 1728. He is best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773). He is thought to have written the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765).

The location of Goldsmith’s birth is uncertain. He is born either in the townland of Pallas, near Ballymahon, County Longford, where his father is the Anglican curate of the parish of Forgney, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, at the Smith Hill house near Elphin, County Roscommon. When Goldsmith is two years old, his father is appointed the rector of the parish of Kilkenny West in County Westmeath. The family moves to the parsonage at Lissoy, between Athlone and Ballymahon, and continues to live there until his father’s death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith enters Trinity College, Dublin. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he falls to the bottom of his class. In 1747, along with four other undergraduates, he is expelled for a riot in which they attempt to storm the Marshalsea Prison. He graduates in 1749 as a Bachelor of Arts, but without the discipline or distinction necessary to gain entry into a profession in the church or the law. He lives for a short time with his mother, tries various professions without success, studies medicine desultorily at the University of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1755, and sets out on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland and Northern Italy, living by his wits.

Goldsmith settles in London in 1756, where he briefly holds various jobs, including an apothecary‘s assistant and an usher of a school. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith produces a massive output as a hack writer on Grub Street for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earn him the company of Samuel Johnson, with whom he is a founding member of “The Club.” There, through fellow Club member Edmund Burke, he makes the acquaintance of Sir George Savile, who later arranges a job for him at Thornhill Grammar School. During this period he uses the pseudonym “James Willington” to publish his 1758 translation of the autobiography of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe.

In character Goldsmith has a lively sense of fun, is totally guileless, and never happier than when in the light-hearted company of children. The money that he sporadically earns is often frittered away or happily given away to the next good cause that presents itself so that any financial security tends to be fleeting and short-lived. His talents are unreservedly recognised by Samuel Johnson whose patronage aids his eventual recognition in the literary world and the world of drama.

Goldsmith is described by contemporaries as prone to envy, a congenial but impetuous and disorganised personality who once planned to emigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship. At some point around this time he works at Thornhill Grammar School, later basing the character Squire Thornhill in The Vicar of Wakefield on his benefactor Sir George Savile and certainly spending time with eminent scientist Rev. John Mitchell, whom he probably knows from London. Mitchell sorely misses good company, which Goldsmith naturally provides in spades.

Oliver Goldsmith’s premature death in 1774 may have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of his kidney infection. He is buried in Temple Church in London. There is a monument to him in the centre of Ballymahon, also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson.