seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Soprano Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes, world-famous Irish soprano of the Victorian era, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 25, 1818. According to London‘s Daily Express, “Hayes was the ‘Madonna‘ of her day; she was the 19th-century operatic equivalent of the world’s most famous pop star.”

Hayes is born into abject poverty. After five years of vocal study in Paris and Milan she makes her debut at the Italian Opera in Marseilles, in Vincenzo Bellini‘s I Puritani in May 1845, followed by performances of Gaetano Donizetti‘s Lucia di Lammermoor and Gioachino Rossini‘s Mosé in Egitto.

Her debut at La Scala in Milan quickly followed in 1845 with phenomenal success. Shortly thereafter the young Giuseppe Verdi becomes interested in her for one of his new operas. Her great success continues in Vienna, as well as in Venice, Florence, Genoa, Rome and other cities in Italy, where she becomes the most sought after Lucia di Lammermoor.

Early in 1849, Hayes accepts a contract to sing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London where she makes her debut in Linda di Chamounix in April. In June 1849, she receives an invitation to sing at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria and 500 guests. After an evening of Italian music, when the Queen requests an encore, Hayes with a smile sings the beautiful Irish rebel songKathleen Mavourneen.”

During Ireland’s Great Famine in November 1849, her emotional return to her native country results in rave notices for her performance in Lucia di Lammermoor and other operas and concerts in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Her success is now almost complete.

In 1851 Hayes goes to the United States, where Jenny Lind is creating such a wave of success. Hayes gives concerts in New York City, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans and forty-five other places including the river towns along the Mississippi River, with equal success. She meets presidents, statesmen and business leaders along the way. She is also destined to meet her future lover and husband in America, Jenny Lind’s former manager. Her travels take her to the “gold rush” in the San Francisco area in the 1850s, where her presence creates a furor, singing for the miners and the elite of San Francisco. The great showman P.T. Barnum sponsors her tour.

She sings in opera and concerts in Peru and Chile, then travels to Hawaii where she gives a concert before continuing on to Australia. Hayes is the first great European opera star to visit Australia. She is mentioned in most Australian history books about early culture in the young colony.  She also travels to Calcutta, India where she performs for the British Military and then on to Singapore and Batavia (Java) before returning to Australia for more opera and concerts.

Hayes returns to England in August 1856, after an absence of five years.  On October 8, 1857, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, she marries William Avery Bushnell. He soon falls into ill-health and dies at Biarritz, France, on July 2, 1858. After her husband’s death she takes part in concerts in London and the country towns.

Catherine Hayes dies in the house of a friend, Henry Lee, at Roccles, Upper Sydenham, Kent, on August 11, 1861, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


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Birth of Opera Singer Margaret Burke Sheridan

Irish opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan is born in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 15, 1889. She is known as Maggie from Mayo and is regarded as Ireland’s second prima donna, after Catherine Hayes (1818–1861).

Sheridan has her early vocal training while at school at the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street, Dublin, with additional lessons from Vincent O’Brien. In 1908, she wins a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil. From 1909 to 1911 she studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, during which time she is introduced to the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who is instrumental in arranging further studies for her in opera in Rome.

With Marconi’s help Sheridan auditions in 1916 for Alfredo Martino, a prominent singing teacher attached to the Teatro Costanzi, and she makes her début there in January 1918 in Giacomo Puccini‘s La bohème. In July 1919 she appears at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the title role in Iris by Pietro Mascagni.

Sheridan returns to Italy, where her career continues to grow, with performances at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, primarily in Puccini roles. In 1922 she first sings at La Scala, Milan, in La Wally by Alfredo Catalani under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. For the next few years she sings at La Scala with great success. Perhaps her greatest role is Madama Butterfly, which she sings extensively in Italy and at Covent Garden. When she plays the part of Madama Butterfly, Puccini is said to be spellbound.

Despite her successes, Sheridan’s career is short. Suffering vocal difficulties she goes into retirement around 1930 except for a few concerts. Bríd Mahon, in her 1998 book While Green Grass Grows, states that “It was rumoured that an Italian whose overtures she had rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala, Milan, while she was on stage and that after the tragedy she never sang in public again.”

Margaret Sheridan dies in relative obscurity on April 16, 1958, having lived in Dublin for many years, and her remains are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Irish Actor Spranger Barry

spranger-barrySpranger Barry, actor, is born in Skinner’s Row, Dublin, on November 23, 1719. Barry is the son of a silversmith, to whose business he is brought up. He takes over the business but is not successful.

His first appearance on the stage is at the Theatre Royal, Smock Alley, Dublin, on the February 5, 1744, and this engagement at once increases its prosperity. His first London appearance is made in 1746 as Othello at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Here his talents are speedily recognized, and in Hamlet and Macbeth he alternates with David Garrick, arousing the latter’s jealousy by his success as Romeo. This results in his leaving Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750, accompanied by Susannah Maria Cibber, his Juliet. Both houses simultaneously put on Romeo and Juliet for a series of rival performances, and Barry’s Romeo is preferred by the critics to Garrick’s.

In 1758, Barry opens the Crow Street theatre in Dublin, and later a new theatre in Cork. He stages many successful productions but seems to have lived beyond his means. In 1767 he returns to London to play at the Haymarket Theatre, then under the management of Samuel Foote. As his second wife, he marries in 1768 the actress Ann Street Dancer, and he and Mrs. Barry play under Garrick’s management, Barry appearing in 1767, after ten years absence from the London stage, in Othello, his greatest part. In 1774 they both move to Covent Garden, where Barry remains until his death on January 10, 1777.


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Birth of Pianist Charles Lynch

charles-lynchCharles Edgeworth Cagney Lynch, Irish pianist who premiers works by several important 20th-century composers, is born in Parkgariff, County Cork, on October 22, 1906.

Lynch’s father is a British army colonel and his mother comes from a well-known Cork business dynasty, the Suttons. While still a young boy, the family moves to Greenock in western Scotland and it is there, at the Tontine Hotel, that the young pianist gives his first public recital at the age of nine. When he is fifteen, he wins a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studies under York Bowen and, later, Egon Petri.

Lynch becomes a popular recitalist in London during the 1920s and 1930s. He gives the first performance in England of Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, having been coached beforehand by the composer. Sir Arnold Bax‘s Fourth Piano Sonata (1932) is dedicated to the 26-year-old Lynch, whom Bax later describes as “Ireland’s most imaginative pianist.” In addition to concert recitals he broadcasts regularly with the BBC and, in 1937, acts as assistant to Sir Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden. Lynch is the Ballet Rambert‘s pianist for many years, having helped Marie Rambert form the company.

A pacifist, Lynch returns to Ireland following the outbreak of World War II, where he becomes the country’s premier concert pianist. During this phase of his career he premiers a number of works by leading Irish composers, including Brian Boydell‘s Sonata for Cello and Piano (1945) and Sean Ó Riada‘s Nomos No. 4 (1959). Lynch also performs in the world première of English composer Ernest John Moeran‘s Cello Sonata in A minor, given in Dublin in May 1947. He is joined by the composer’s wife, cellist Peers Coetmore.

In February 1971 at Trinity College, Dublin, he plays the entire set of Franz Liszt‘s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies over four successive Saturday evenings.

Lynch continues to give public recitals throughout Ireland until shortly before his death at the age of 77. He also lectures in music at University College Cork and gives masterclasses at the Cork School of Music. In 1982, Lynch receives a doctorate in music from the National University of Ireland.

Lynch’s technique is remarkable for the stillness with which he sits, making the most difficult of music seem almost technically unremarkable. His recorded legacy is small, but includes music by Samuel Barber, Ernest John Moeran‘s Violin Sonata (with Geraldine O’Grady, violin) as well as music by Irish composers such as Aloys Fleischmann.

Toward the end of his life he lives in very reduced circumstances. He dies in Cork on September 15, 1984 at St. Finbarr’s Hospital and is buried near Sir Arnold Bax in St. Finbarrs Cemetery, Glasheen Road, Cork.


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Birth of Tenor John McCormack

john-mccormackJohn McCormack, an Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires and renowned for his diction and breath control, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on June 14, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and later attends Summerhill College in Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peters church in Athlone under choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by composer Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. In 1906, he makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

In less than three years he is singing opera in the United States, as well as beginning a career on the recital stage that makes him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1917 he becomes a citizen of the United States, his adopted country, where his concert appeal has proven to be nearly universal and unrelenting.

McCormack originally ends his career in 1938 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. However, one year after that farewell concert he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He concertizes, tours, broadcasts, and records in this capacity until 1943 when failing health forced him to permanently retire.

Ill with emphysema, he purchases a house near the sea at Booterstown, County Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, just south of Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack dies on September 16, 1945. He is mourned by his countrymen, his English public who had taken him to their hearts as well, a vast number of his fellow citizens in the United States, and music lovers all over the world. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.