seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Actor Charles John Kean

charles-john-keanCharles John Kean, Irish actor and son of actor Edmund Kean, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on January 18, 1811.

After preparatory education at Worplesdon and at Greenford, near Harrow, Kean is sent to Eton College, where he remains for three years. In 1827, he is offered a cadetship in the East India Company‘s service, which he is prepared to accept if his father would settle an income of £400 on his mother. The elder Kean refuses to do this, so he determines to become an actor. He makes his first appearance at Drury Lane on October 1, 1827 as Norval in John Home‘s Douglas, but his continued failure to achieve popularity leads him to leave London in the spring of 1828 for the provinces. In Glasgow, on October 1 of that year, father and son act together in Arnold Payne’s Brutus, the elder Kean in the title role and his son as Titus.

After a visit to the United States in 1830, where he is received with much favour, Kean appears in 1833 at Covent Garden as “Sir Edmund Mortimer” in George Colman‘s The Iron Chest, but his success is not pronounced enough to encourage him to remain in London, especially as he has already won a high position in the provinces. In January 1838, however, he returns to Drury Lane, and plays Hamlet with a success which gives him a place among the principal tragedians of his time. He marries the actress Ellen Tree (1805-1880) on January 25, 1842, and pays a second visit to the United States with her from 1845 to 1847.

Returning to England, Kean enters on a successful engagement at the Haymarket Theatre, and in 1850, with Robert Keeley, becomes lessee of the Princess’s Theatre, London. The most noteworthy feature of his management is a series of gorgeous Shakespearean revivals that aim for “authenticity.” He also mentors the young Ellen Terry in juvenile roles. In melodramatic parts such as the king in Dion Boucicault‘s adaptation of Casimir Delavigne‘s Louis XI, and Louis and Fabian dei Franchi in Boucicault’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas‘s The Corsican Brothers, his success is complete. In 1854 the writer Charles Reade creates a play The Courier of Lyons for Kean to appear in, which becomes one of the most popular plays of the Victorian era.

From his “tour round the world” Kean returns to England in 1866 in broken health, and dies at the age of 57 in London on January 22, 1868. He is buried in All Saints Churchyard, Catherington, East Hampshire district, Hampshire.


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Birth of Dion Boucicault, Playwright & Actor

dionysius-boucicaultDionysius Lardner “Dion” Boucicault, Irish American playwright and actor and a major influence on the form and content of American drama, is born in Dublin on December 26, 1820.

Educated in England, Boucicault begins acting in 1837 and in 1840 submits his first play to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris at Covent Garden, however it is rejected. His second play, London Assurance (1841), which foreshadows the modern social drama, is a huge success and is frequently revived into the 20th century. Other notable early plays were Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844) and The Corsican Brothers (1852).

In 1853 Boucicault and his second wife, Agnes Robertson, arrive in New York City, where his plays and adaptations are long popular. He leads a movement of playwrights that produces in 1856 the first copyright law for drama in the United States. His play The Poor of New York, based on the panics of 1837 and 1857, has a long run at Wallack’s Theatre in 1857 and is presented elsewhere as, for example, The Poor of Liverpool. The Octoroon (1859) causes a sensation with its implied attack on slavery.

Boucicault and his actress wife join Laura Keene’s theatre in 1860 and begin a series of his popular Irish plays — The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), The O’Dowd (1873), and The Shaughraun (1874). Returning to London in 1862, he provides Joseph Jefferson with a successful adaptation of Rip Van Winkle (1865). In 1872 he returns to the United States, where he remains, except for a trip to Australia that results in his third marriage (for which he renounced the legitimacy of his second marriage). Among his associates in the 1870s is the young David Belasco. At the time of his death on September 18, 1890 in New York City, he is a poorly paid teacher of acting. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings, Westchester County, New York.

About 150 plays are credited to Boucicault, who, as both writer and actor, raises the stage Irishman from caricature to character. To the American drama he brings a careful construction and a keen observation and recording of detail. His concern with social themes prefigures the future development of drama in both Europe and America.

(Pictured: Dionysius Boucicault, taken 1890 or before. Photograph: Harvard Theatre Collection/Wikimedia Commons)


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Death of English Actress Ellen Kean

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Ellen Kean, one of the finest English actresses of her day, dies in Bayswater, City of Westminster, England on August 20, 1880. She is known as Ellen Tree until her marriage in 1842, after which she is known both privately and professionally as Mrs. Charles Kean and always appears in productions together with her husband.

Kean is born Eleanora Tree in Ireland on December 12, 1805, the third of four daughters of Cornelius Tree, an official of the East India Company in London. Her three sisters become actresses, but, unlike Ellen, retire from the stage when they marry. Her professional stage debut is in a musical version of Twelfth Night in London in 1822 as Olivia alongside her sister Maria as Viola. She gains experience touring in the provinces, and from 1826 is a regular member of the companies at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Theatre Royal Haymarket, making a success in The Wonder and The Youthful Queen. At the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden she takes on the roles of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo to the Juliet of Fanny Kemble, Françoise de Foix in Francis I, and Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband.

In 1832, by now established as a leading actress, Tree accepts an engagement in Hamburg, Germany, where a junior member of the company is Charles Kean. He had made an undistinguished debut at Drury Lane in 1827, and he and Tree had acted together in 1828 in a play called Lovers’ Vows and later in Othello. In the German season they fall in love, but are persuaded by family and friends not to marry in haste. Tree returns to London and resumes her successful West End career, including a considerable success in Ion in another breeches role. At the end of 1836, Tree goes to the United States, where she tours in Shakespeare for more than three years, playing heroines such as Rosalind, Viola and Beatrice, among other roles. By the time of her return to England in 1839, she has made a profit of £12,000 on the tour, equivalent to at least £1 million in modern terms.

By 1841 Charles Kean has established himself as a successful actor, and he and Tree appear together in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. They are married the next year, and she at once switches her professional name from Ellen Tree to Mrs. Charles Kean. For the next nine years they appear together at the Haymarket, making a joint visit to the United States in 1846. In 1850, Kean takes over the management of the Princess’s Theatre in London. The Times called this “the most important period of Mrs. Kean’s career…. Hitherto she had been the Rosalind and the Viola of the stage; henceforward her name was to be associated with characters of a more matronly type” in roles including Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in Hamlet. The same writer also credits her for “the good taste and artistic completeness” of Kean’s productions. Ellen Terry, who makes her first stage appearance as the boy Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, remembers Kean “as Hermione wearing a Greek wreath round her head and a crinoline with many layers of petticoats.”

Charles Kean dies in 1868, and his widow retires from the stage, living quietly in Bayswater, in the City of Westminster, where she dies at the age of 73 on August 20, 1880. The Times in its obituary says, “Mrs. Kean is not to be numbered with the greatest votaries of the English stage, but her acting was distinguished by considerable power, tenderness and refinement.” She is buried in a vault alongside her husband at Catherington, Hampshire.

(Pictured: “Charles Kean and Wife Ellen Tree” by Mathew Brady Studio (1844-1894), modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)


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Death of Máire Ni Scolai, Singer & Actress

maire-ni-scolaiMáire Ni Scolai, Irish language singer and actress, dies on June 29, 1985.

Ní Scolaí is born in May 24, 1909 in Dublin. She is the daughter of Michael Scully, a commercial traveler and Mary Scully (née Kavanagh). She attends the Central Model Schools, were she learns Irish through the pilot Irish language courses. She studies Irish further at Ring College, County Waterford. She moves to Galway with her sister Mona as a young adult, and begins teaching Irish singing and dancing. With the Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc, she plays a number of leading roles. In Micheál Mac Liammóir‘s 1928 production of Diarmaid agus Gráinne, she plays Gráinne.

Ní Scolaí’s interpretation of traditional Irish songs gains her fame, and she sings many times on 2RN as well as radio in France, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. She trains as a mezzo-soprano and licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, London, and is noted as one of the few people who combines classical music with sean-nós singing successfully. She wins awards at feiseanna such as Feis Chonnacht and Feis Shligigh, later becoming a judge. She is also an award winner at Aonach Tailteann, as well at the Welsh Eisteddfod, the Scottish mòd, the Manx Tynwald, and the Breton Bretagne celebrations. She performs at London’s Covent Garden and Queen’s Hall. She travels around Gaeltacht areas in Ireland to collect and save songs that might have otherwise been lost. The traditional singers she collects from included Cáit Uí Chonláin in Spiddal and Labhras “Binn” Ó Cadhla. HMV records and releases her performances of Seacht ndolas na Maighduine Mhuire, Caoineadh na dtrí Muire, and Eibhlín a Rún.

On September 9, 1931 she marries Liam Ó Buachalla at University Church, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. She dies on June 29, 1985, and is buried in Galway.

(Pictured: Ciarán Mac Mathúna and Máire Ní Scolaí (1976))


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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)


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Birth of Martin Archer Shee, Portrait Painter

martin-archer-sheeSir Martin Archer Shee, portrait painter and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1769.

Shee is born into an old Irish Catholic family, the son of Martin Shee, a merchant, who regards the profession of a painter as an unsuitable occupation for a descendant of the Shees. He nevertheless studies art in the Royal Dublin Society and comes to London. There, in 1788, he is introduced by Edmund Burke to Joshua Reynolds, on whose advice he studies in the schools of the Royal Academy of Arts.

In 1789 Shee exhibits his first two pictures, the “Head of an Old Man” and “Portrait of a Gentleman.” Over the next ten years he steadily increases in practice. In 1798 he is chosen an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1800 he is elected a Royal Academician. He moves to George Romney‘s former house at 32 Cavendish Square and sets up as his successor.

Shee continues to paint with great readiness of hand and fertility of invention, although his portraits are eclipsed by more than one of his contemporaries, and especially by Thomas Lawrence. His earlier portraits are carefully finished, easy in action, with good drawing and excellent discrimination of character. They show an undue tendency to redness in the flesh painting, a defect which is still more apparent in his later works, in which the handling is less square, crisp and forcible. In addition to his portraits, he executes various subjects and historical works, such as Lavinia, Belisarius, his diploma picture “Prospero and Miranda,” and the “Daughter of Jephthah.”

In 1805 Shee publishes a poem consisting of Rhymes on Art, and a second part follows in 1809. Lord Byron speaks well of it in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. He publishes another small volume of verse in 1814, entitled The Commemoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and other Poems, but this is less successful. He also produces a tragedy, Alasco, set in Poland. The play is accepted at Covent Garden, but is refused a licence, on the grounds that it contains treasonable allusions, and Shee angrily resolves to make his appeal to the public. He carries out his threat in 1824, but Alasco is still on the list of unacted dramas in 1911. He also publishes two novels – Oldcourt (1829, in three volumes) and Cecil Hyde (1834).

On the death of Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1830, Shee is chosen president of the Royal Academy in his stead and shortly afterwards receives a knighthood. In 1831 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In an examination before the parliamentary committee of 1836 concerning the functions of the Royal Academy, he ably defends its rights. He continues to paint until 1845, when illness makes him retire to Brighton. He is deputised for at the Academy by J. M. W. Turner, who had appointed him a trustee of the projected Turner almshouse.

From 1842–1849, Shee is the first president of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

Martin Archer Shee dies in Brighton, Sussex, England on August 13, 1850 and is buried in the western extension to St. Nicholas’ Churchyard in Brighton. His headstone remains but has been laid flat and moved to the perimeter of the site.


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Birth of Actress Margaret “Peg” Woffington

peg-woffingtonMargaret “Peg” Woffington, well-known Irish actress in Georgian London, is born of humble origins in Dublin on October 18, 1720.

Woffington’s father is believed to have been a bricklayer and, after his death, the family becomes impoverished. Her mother is obliged to take in washing while Peg sells watercress door to door. It is said that she is walking through a marketplace as a pre-teen and happens upon Madame Signora Violante, a famous tightrope walker. Violante is so immediately enthralled by Peg’s beautiful face that she accompanies her home and asks her mother permission to take her in as her apprentice.

Around 1730, Violante features Woffington as Polly Peachum in a production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This serves as a springboard for her fame in Dublin, and she continues dancing and acting in the area playing Dorinda in an adaptation of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Dublin in 1735 and joining the Smock Alley Theatre to perform with well known actor David Garrick.

Woffington dances and acts at various Dublin theaters until her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple leads to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden. She becomes well known as an actress thereafter.

Woffington enjoys success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performs at Drury Lane for several years and later returns to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances are in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. She is impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she strives to eliminate.

Woffington lives openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs are numerous and notorious. She becomes friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning, and also shares the stage with the likes of Charles Macklin, Kitty Clive, and the tragedienne Susannah Maria Arne.

Though Woffington is popular with society figures, she is not always favored by her competition. She tends to create rivalries with similar-type actresses at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Her fiercest rivalry is with “equally peppery” actress Kitty Clive. According to Garrick biographer Thomas Davies, “No two women in high life ever hated each other more unreservedly than these two great dames of the stage.” When she returns to Covent Garden, rivalries with these women and with the manager, John Rich, eventually send her back to Dublin, where she is unrivaled and celebrated at the Smock Alley Theatre.

Rich decides to start a Beefsteak Club in 1749, also known as the Sublime Society of Steaks or “the Club.” Some of its members include Garrick and William Hogarth, as well as many other London celebrities. Not only is Woffington the first female member of the all male dining club, in 1750 she becomes president of the club by election. She also educates and supports her sister and cares for and pensions her mother.

For whatever reason, Woffington leaves Garrick in about 1744 and moves to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place. In 1754 she becomes the beneficiary of the will of the Irish impresario Owen Swiny. In 1756, she performs the part of Lady Randolph in Douglas, a part which finds a later exponent in Sarah Siddons.

On May 3, 1757, Woffington is playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It when she collapses on stage. She rallies but would never act again, lingering with a wasting illness. She dies in Queen Square, Westminster on March 28, 1760. She is buried in St. Mary’s Church, the parish church in Teddington.