seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of John Ford, Award Winning Irish American Film Director

John Ford, film director, is born as John Martin Feeney on February 1, 1894 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is the fourth son among five sons and six daughters of Seán Feeney, Roman Catholic farmer and saloon-keeper, and Barbara ‘Abby’ Feeney (née Curran). His father had emigrated to the United States from Spiddal, County Galway, and his mother from Kilronan, Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands.

From an early age Ford has an interest in painting and sailing, and in July 1914 moves to California, where his older brother Francis is an actor with a small film company. Adopting the name ‘Jack Ford,’ he learns his trade as a filmmaker and acts in a number of silent pictures. Reveling in his Irish heritage, he makes his director’s debut with The Tornado (1917) and follows it with more than forty movies over the next six years. On July 3, 1920, he marries Mary McBryde Smith, a former officer in the army medical corps. They meet at a party thrown by the director Rex Ingram and have one son and one daughter.

In 1921 Ford visits Ireland for the first time and later claims to have travelled on the same boat that brought Michael Collins back from the treaty negotiations. He meets his relatives at Spiddal, falls in love with the countryside, and becomes a fervent Irish nationalist. It is later claimed that he brought over funds for his cousin Martin Feeney, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column.

Returning to Hollywood, Ford becomes friends with the retired marshal Wyatt Earp and makes a number of commercially successful films, now as ‘John Ford’. In 1926 he directs The Shamrock Handicap, a horse-racing yarn partly set in Ireland. In 1928 he shoots Mother Machree, a movie about Irish emigration, starring Victor McLaglen, a regular collaborator. McLaglen also stars in Hangman’s House, made the same year, Ford’s first major movie about Ireland.

In 1934 Ford purchases a luxury yacht which he names the Araner after the Aran Islands. He also begins shooting The Informer, a film set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, and based on a short novel by Liam O’Flaherty. The picture is a major box office success and wins four Academy Awards, including Best Director. O’Flaherty is so impressed with the film that he dedicates his next book, Famine, to Ford.

In 1934 Ford visits Ireland for the second time, and approaches Seán O’Casey about directing a version of The Plough and the Stars. Released in 1936, the film stars Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther, but it is reedited by the studio, much to Ford’s fury, and is a commercial and critical flop.

Stagecoach, shot in 1938, is one of Ford’s masterpieces. It was a western starring his protégé, John Wayne, and marks the beginning of his golden decade. In 1940 and 1941 he wins Best Director Oscars successively for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. With American entry into World War II, he serves in the U.S. Navy, and makes important documentaries such as The Battle of Midway (1942).

In 1952 Ford returns to Ireland to film The Quiet Man, starring Wayne, McLaglen, and Maureen O’Hara. Shot at Ashford Castle, County Mayo, the picture becomes one of the most popular Irish films of all time. He is immensely proud of the work and is in tears leaving Ireland. The following year he makes Mogambo, with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and a young English actor, Donald Sinden, who later recalls that Ford berated him personally for all the problems of Ireland from the time of William of Orange. Ford’s strong sense of Irishness is central to his character and is crucial for any understanding of his work. Back in Ireland in 1956, he shoots The Rising of the Moon, a portmanteau film for which he takes no salary, starring Tyrone Power, Cyril Cusack, and Noel Purcell. A minor film, it makes no impact at the box office.

Two of Ford’s finest movies are made in his later years. The Searchers (1956) is a powerful study of vengeance, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is an elegiac revisionist western which concludes with the famous line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Struck with cancer in his final years, Ford dies on August 31, 1973 at his home in Palm Desert, California, and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. His will disinherits his son, Michael Patrick Roper, and leaves everything to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.

When asked to name the finest American directors, Orson Welles replies simply, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” An alcoholic, Ford is a difficult and often tyrannical director, but he makes films of extraordinary power and vision. He ranks as one of the greatest film-makers of the twentieth century. As Frank Capra concludes, “John is half-tyrant, half-revolutionary; half-saint, half-Satan; half-possible, half-impossible; half-genius, half-Irish.”

(From: “Ford, John,” contributed by Patrick M. Geoghegan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Ria Mooney, Stage & Screen Actress

Ria Mooney, Irish stage and screen actress, artistic director of the Abbey Theatre (1948-1963) and director of the Gaiety School of Acting, dies in Dublin on January 3, 1973. She is the first female producer at the Abbey Theatre.

Mooney is born in 1903 in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin. She starts acting as a child, sings with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society as a teenager, and studies art at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. She is invited to join the Abbey Theatre in 1924 and acts alongside some of the great names of the day, such as Cyril Cusack, Maire O’Neill and F. J. McCormick in numerous plays. She plays the part of Rosie Redmond in The Plough and the Stars on February 8, 1926, when the players are attacked during a riot in the theatre. She goes on to play prominent roles in the period’s most important Irish plays by Sean O’Casey, Teresa Deevy, Paul Vincent Carroll, George Shiels, Lennox Robinson, Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge.

After spells abroad and at the Gate Theatre, Mooney is put in charge of the new Peacock Theatre and the Abbey Experimental Theatre Company at the Abbey in 1937. Her memoirs allude to an affair with the poet F. R. Higgins who is on the board of the Abbey. Ria and Higgins discover they are related, as third cousins, due to a chance conversation when they are both travelling to the United States together. She is shocked at his sudden death of a heart attack on January 6, 1941.

After Higgins’ death Ernest Blythe is named managing director. Mooney leaves the Abbey in 1944 to direct the Gaiety School of Acting. In January 1948 she becomes resident producer at the Abbey. It is a difficult time for the Abbey, and she has to contend with Blythe, a demanding manager with whom she does not see eye-to-eye. An unexpected blow is the death of F. J. McCormick on April 24, 1947. On July 17, 1951, fire destroys the Abbey Theatre. The company leases the old Queen’s Theatre in September and continues in residence there until 1966. She takes the opportunity to employ younger actors, many of whom she knows from her time teaching at the Gaiety. Among them are Ronnie Masterson, Joan O’Hara, Ray McAnally, Philip O’Flynn, Angela Newman, Bill Foley and Doreen Madden. Between 1948 and 1963, seventy-five new plays are produced at the two Abbey locations, with most of these directed by Mooney, and most receive excellent reviews from the Dublin critics.

In 1947 Mooney helps with the setting up of the Radio Éireann Players.


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Death of Cyril Cusack, Irish Film & Television Actor

Cyril James Cusack, Irish actor who appears in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years, dies in Chiswick, London, England on October 7, 1993. In 2020, he is listed at number 14 on The Irish Times‘s list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.

Cusack is born in Durban, Natal, South Africa, on November 26, 1910. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), is an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, is an Irish mounted policeman in the Colony of Natal, South Africa. His parents separate when he is young and his mother takes him to England, and then to Ireland. His mother and her partner, Brefni O’Rorke, join the O’Brien and Ireland Players.

Cusack makes his first stage performance at the age of seven. He is educated at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, then reads law at University College Dublin. He leaves without a degree and joins the Abbey Theatre in 1932. Between then and 1945, he performs in over 60 productions, particularly excelling in the plays of Seán O’Casey. He also performs Irish playwright Teresa Deevy‘s plays Katie Roche and The King of Spain’s Daughter. In 1932 he also joins the Gate Theatre company, appearing with them in many notable productions over the years. In 1947, he forms his own company and stages productions in Dublin, Paris and New York.

In 1963, Cusack joins the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and appears there for several seasons. By this stage he has established a successful career in films, which had started at the age of eight. Also in 1963, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance in the Telefís Éireann production of Triptych. He receives honorary degrees in 1977 and 1980 from the National University of Ireland (NUI) and the University of Dublin respectively.

Cusack, who is bilingual in English and Irish, has a leading role in the controversial Irish language film Poitín (1977). He is also offered the role of the First Doctor in Doctor Who.

Cusack’s last stage performance is in Anton Chekhov‘s Three Sisters (1990), in which three of his daughters play the sisters.

Cusack is twice married, firstly to Mary Margaret “Maureen” Kiely (1920–1977), on April 5, 1945. Together they have five children: Paul (1946), Sinéad (1948), Sorcha (1949), Niamh (1959), and Pádraig (1962). He and his second wife, Mary Rose Cunningham (1979–1993), have one daughter, Catherine (1968).

In later life, Cusack becomes a campaigner for conservative causes in Ireland, notably in his opposition to abortion, where he becomes a frequent letter-writer to the main liberal Irish newspaper, The Irish Times. Regarding his Catholic faith, he comments “Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God.” His religious credentials come under scrutiny following his death and the revelation that he had been unfaithful in his first marriage, with a long-term mistress, Mary Rose Cunningham. He marries Cunningham following his first wife’s death.

Cusack is a longtime friend of Attorney General of Ireland, Chief Justice of Ireland and fifth President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, whom he got to know when they were students at University College Dublin in the early 1930s.

On October 7, 1993, Cusack dies at the age of 82 at home in Chiswick, Greater London, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His acting career had lasted 75 years.

Cusack is the maternal grandfather of Irish Socialist Workers Party Teachta Dála (TD) Richard Boyd Barrett and English actor Max Irons.


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Birth of Mervyn Wall, Novelist & Playwright

Mervyn Wall, novelist and playwright who writes under the pseudonym of Eugene Welply, is born in Dublin on August 23, 1908. He attends Belvedere College and works as a civil servant from 1934-48. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Wall is probably the last survivor of the remarkably gifted generation which emerged from University College Dublin (UCD) in the 1930s. It includes Brian O’Nolan, Donagh MacDonagh, Cyril Cusack, Liam Redmond, Denis Devlin, Niall Sheridan, and the shortlived poet Charles Donnelly who dies in the Spanish Civil War. Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds contains portraits of many of these people, under fictitious names, and evokes the whole ambience of intellectual student life in Dublin at the time.

Like other literary civil servants of the period, Wall often takes a satirical view of bureaucracy. Unlike Brian O’Nolan, however, he can play the bureaucrats at their own game and by most accounts he is a highly efficient public servant in his own right. His late novel Hermitage (1982) has some sharp sidelights on the world of Green Tape.

Wall makes his mark mainly as a novelist, but he begins as a playwright and has at least two works performed in the Abbey Theatre. His first real success comes in 1946 with The Unfortunate Fursey, in which he creates a mythical monk who is tormented by the Devil. The picaresque humour and fantasy of the story are enjoyed by the public as essentially good-natured farce, but it is possible that he also intends it as oblique satire on the Irish clergy in general, at a time when any open criticism of them might invite trouble. Fergus Linehan later turns it into a successful musical.

The first Fursey book has successors, and all of them are published in a single volume in 1985, entitled The Complete Fursey. During the 1950s Wall writes two “serious” novels of social criticism, Leaves for the Burning and No Trophies Raise, in which his satirical sense takes a more direct route. They are praised at the time by respected critics and are still well worth rereading.

Apart from his writing, Wall has a distinguished career in Radio Éireann, where he and his colleagues, the novelist Francis MacManus and the poet Roibeard O Farachain, make up a literary and administrative trio nicknamed “Frank, Incense and Mer” by a staff wit. He later becomes secretary of the Arts Council, a sometimes difficult job which he handles with tact and fairness.

Wall is himself a witty, observant, sometimes catty man in a generation famous for its wit. He and his wife Fanny, who is known as a leading music critic, are for decades an almost indispensable duo in Dublin cultural and social life, although Wall, in spite of his various public roles, is at heart a home loving and industrious man who never seeks publicity.

Wall dies on May 19, 1997, just eight months after his wife, in St. Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, after a short illness.

If and when a fullscale cultural history of Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s comes to be written, Wall’s place in it should be assured. As a successful, long term civil servant, he learned how to work the system in favour of literature and the arts in an age when patronage of them was thin on the ground.


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Ciaran Carty Hails Irish Language Film “Poitín”

ciaran-cartyOn February 26, 1978, film critic Ciaran Carty hails the Irish language film Poitín for its deromanticization of the west.

Poitín is partially conceived as a response to The Quiet Man, also set in the coastal area of Connemara, and its sentimental portrayal of the Irish landscape. Poitín tells of a small community centered on a home-distiller of Irish moonshine whiskey, or poteen.

In Gaelic dialogue, using local actors, with Cyril Cusack as the moonshiner, it shifts between a humorous, whimsical account of two men’s bumbling attempts at theft and a harsh series of revenges. Director Bob Quinn, a strong advocate of Gaelic culture, calls it “a horror story told amusingly.” Carty suggests that Quinn “implicitly deromanticizes the Robert Flaherty image of the rugged West as a place of primal dignity where man does noble battle with the elements.”

Since incurring the wrath of his first editor in 1960 by making Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho his film of the year, Carty has consistently championed the arts, developing a career as one of Ireland’s leading critics and broadcasters. He serves as deputy editor of the Sunday Independent (1961–65) before becoming arts editor for the Sunday Tribune (1985–2011). Since 1988 he has edited the New Irish Writing page for both the Tribune and the Irish Independent, and is curator of the prestigious annual Hennessy Literary Awards. He is the author of Confessions of a Sewer Rat (1995), a two-volume biography of the artist Robert Ballagh (1985, 2011), and has co-edited, with Dermot Bolger, two anthologies of Hennessy fiction (1995, 2006).


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Birth of Actress Sorcha Cusack

sorcha-cusackSorcha Cusack, Irish actress, is born in Dublin on April 9, 1949. Her numerous television credits include playing the title role in Jane Eyre (1973), Casualty (1994–97), Coronation Street (2008) and Father Brown (2013–present).

Cusack is the second daughter of the actors Cyril Cusack (1910-1993) and Maureen Cusack (1920-1977). Her elder sister is actress Sinéad Cusack and her younger sister is actress Niamh Cusack. She is a half-sister to Catherine Cusack. Through her sister Sinéad, she is the sister-in-law of actor Jeremy Irons and the aunt of actor Max Irons and his brother, former child actor Samuel Irons.

Cusack has made many film and television appearances including The Bill, Casualty (as Staff Nurse/Ward Sister Kate Wilson from 1994 to 1997), the 1973 BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre, and the film Snatch (as the traveller mother of Mickey, played by Brad Pitt). In 1998, she plays Mother Duck on the cartoon The First Snow of Winter in UK Version. She also acts for radio, including a guest appearance in the BBC Radio 4 series Baldi and starring as Juno Boyle in the 2014 BBC Radio 3 production of Juno and the Paycock. She plays Helen Connor in Coronation Street in 2008, but because of her other acting commitments the role is played by Dearbhla Molloy when the character returns in July 2009.

In 2011, Cusack plays Mrs. Nicholson in two episodes of the first series of Mrs. Brown’s Boys. Susie Blake takes over the role for the second and third series. Despite this, she plays the part of Justice Dickie in the 2014 film Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie. Since 2013 she has played Mrs. McCarthy, the housekeeper and parish secretary, in the BBC adaptation of the Father Brown mysteries. In 2015, she plays Bridie Stevenson in the BBC television series River.


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.


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Birth of Actor David Kelly

David Kelly, Irish actor who has regular roles in several film and television works from the 1950s onwards, is born in Dublin on July 11, 1929. One of the most recognisable voices and faces of Irish stage and screen, Kelly is known to Irish audiences for his role as Rashers Tierney in Strumpet City, to British audiences for his roles as Cousin Enda in Me Mammy and as the builder Mr. O’Reilly in Fawlty Towers, and to American audiences for his role as Grandpa Joe in the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Another notable role is as Michael O’Sullivan in Waking Ned.

Kelly is educated at Dublin’s Synge Street CBS Christian Brothers school. He begins acting at the age of eight at the city’s Gaiety Theatre, and trains at The Abbey School of Acting. As a backup career, he additionally trains as a draughtsman and calligrapher, and also learns watercolor painting. He appears onstage in the original production of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow, and gains his first major career attention in Samuel Beckett‘s Krapp’s Last Tape at the Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in 1959. By then he has made his screen debut in a small part in director John Pomeroy’s 1958 film noir Dublin Nightmare.

He becomes a familiar face on British television beginning in the 1960s with the BBC comedy Me Mammy, opposite Milo O’Shea and Anna Manahan. He goes on to often-memorable guest roles on such series as Oh Father!, Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width, and On the Buses, and particularly during the 1970s with a long-running role as the one-armed dishwasher Albert Riddle in the Man About the House spin-off Robin’s Nest. He also has a regular long running role alongside Bruce Forsyth in both series of the comedy Slingers Day from 1986 to 1987.

He gains some of his greatest recognition in 1975, playing inept builder Mr. O’Reilly on the second episode of Fawlty Towers. He is in the voice cast of The Light Princess, a partly animated, hour-long family fantasy that airs on the BBC in 1978.

In Ireland, he may be most famous for his portrayal of the character “Rashers” Tierney in the 1980 RTÉ miniseries Strumpet City, which stars Peter O’Toole, Cyril Cusack and Peter Ustinov. He goes on to have starring roles in television shows such as Emmerdale Farm in the 1980s and Glenroe in the 1990s, as well as playing the grandfather in Mike Newell‘s film Into the West (1992).

Following his appearance as Michael O’Sullivan in the 1998 film Waking Ned, Kelly plays roles in such films as Tim Burton‘s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which he plays Grandpa Joe and Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London. He plays title character Frank Kovak in the mystery film The Kovak Box, in a rare villainous role. Stardust, released in 2007, is his final film. He also does extensive radio work, including a guest appearance on the BBC Radio 4 series Baldi.

Kelly wins a 1991 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production, for a Kennedy Center revival of The Playboy of the Western World. As well, he earns a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for the 1998 film Waking Ned. In 2005, he wins the Irish Film & Television Academy‘s Lifetime Achievement Award, in addition to earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

David Kelly dies after a short illness on February 12, 2012 at age of 82. The Irish Times refers to him as the “grand old man of Irish acting.” A Catholic funeral mass takes place on February 16, 2012 at the Church of the Miraculous Medal, in his hometown of Dublin. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium.