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


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Death of Seumas O’Kelly, Journalist, Writer & Playwright

Seumas O’Kelly, journalist, fiction writer, and playwright, dies in Dublin on November 14, 1918, following a cerebral haemorrhage.

O’Kelly is born James Kelly in Mobhill, Loughrea, County Galway, youngest of seven (or possibly eight) children of Michael Kelly, corn merchant, and his wife, Catherine Fitzgerald. His date of birth is uncertain. Some commentators believe he is the James Kelly whose birth was registered on November 16, 1875, but relatives claim this was a sibling and namesake who died prematurely. His death certificate implies he was born in 1878, and family members maintained he was born in 1880.

Loughrea is at the centre of the bitterly-fought plan of campaign agitation on the Clanricarde estate from the late 1880s. Many tenants in the town and surrounding rural districts are evicted for non-payment of rent, and Lord Clanricarde resists reinstatement until the estate is purchased by special legislation shortly before World War I. According to one source, the O’Kellys are themselves evicted during the Plan of Campaign, though they seem to retain a degree of financial stability. A widespread perception that nationalist politicians had exploited the evicted tenants contributes to the relative strength of Parnellism in the area, and the early appearance of Sinn Féin. This background inspires such works as O’Kelly’s 1917 play, The Parnellite.

While growing up in Loughrea, O’Kelly is profoundly influenced by contact with older relatives and country folk from whom he learns some Irish and the folklore/storytelling tradition that shapes many of his stories. The example of his mother and friendship with the local Carmelite fathers, whom he serves as an altar boy, gives him a strong commitment to Catholicism. This coexists in his work with an Ibsenite-Parnellite insistence on individual defiance of conformity, and a gentle exaltation of the sensitive dreamer isolated from the life around him. The mixture is sometimes uneasy. His observations on domestic violence, the sexual exploitation of servant girls by hypocritically pious employers, and prejudice against children born outside marriage or raised in the workhouse are unobtrusive but biting. His play, The Bribe (1913), gives a devastating depiction of the social and economic pressures which induce a small-town shopkeeper and poor law guardian to accept a bribe to appoint an underqualified dispensary doctor, with disastrous results. The corrupt and snobbish doctor is called Power O’Connor, an unsubtle hit at the nationalist MP, T. P. O’Connor. This element of social observation distinguishes him from the more symbolist city-born Daniel Corkery, to whom he is often compared. Much of his writing is recognisably set in Loughrea.

O’Kelly begins working as a journalist on local papers, including the Midland Tribune, the Tuam News, and the Connacht Leader. He becomes editor of The Southern Star, based in Skibbereen, County Cork, in 1903, and is said to be the youngest newspaper editor in Ireland at the time. He moves to Naas, County Kildare, in 1906, as editor of the Leinster Leader. Here he lives in a house by the canal, which provides the inspiration for his linked series of short stories, The Golden Barque, along with his father, a nephew, and his brother Michael. Already a contributor to The United Irishman published by Arthur Griffith, and later its successor, Sinn Féin, he is active in the Naas Sinn Féin club and makes regular weekend visits to Dublin, where Griffith introduces him to Dublin literary circles. Here his closest friends are James Stephens, whose influence is visible in the more whimsical and fantastic elements of O’Kelly’s work, and Seumas O’Sullivan, who recalls O’Kelly as a man of remarkable gentleness and integrity.

O’Kelly’s journalistic career is accompanied by his development as a writer, publishing stories in a variety of outlets, including the Irish Rosary and the Irish Packet. From 1908 he has several plays produced by the Theatre of Ireland, a nationalist-oriented rival to the Abbey Theatre. Lustre (1913), written jointly with Casimir Markievicz, later becomes the basis for a Soviet film.

Around 1911, O’Kelly suffers a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which leaves him with a chronic heart condition and a strong sense of mortality. He continues to write extensively and with increasing skill. He becomes editor of Dublin’s The Saturday Evening Post in 1912 and moves to Dublin, where he lives in Drumcondra. At this time he is an occasional contributor to The Manchester Guardian, turning down a permanent job on that paper. He leaves the Post in 1915 because of continuing ill-health and is offered the editorship of The Sunday Freeman but has to retire after two weeks. He then returns to Naas. At this time his play Driftwood, commissioned by Annie Horniman, is produced in Manchester and London.

When O’Kelly’s brother is interned after the Easter Rising, he resumes the editorship of the Leinster Leader until his brother’s release at Christmas 1916. He also contributes topical articles to the Sunday Independent. His literary reputation continues to increase with a short story collection, Waysiders (1917), and his best-regarded full-length novel, The Lady of Deerpark (1917), a melancholy story about the last heiress of a declining Catholic gentry family. Another novel, Wet Clay (1922), is published posthumously and is the story of the tense relationship between a “returned Yank” and his small-farmer cousins, which shows deeply unresolved ambivalence about the nature and prospects of Irish rural society after the Land War.

When Griffith and many other Sinn Féin activists are arrested and imprisoned in May 1918, O’Kelly returns to Dublin to edit the Sinn Féin paper Nationality. During the days after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, a crowd of soldiers and women whose husbands are serving in the British Army attack the paper’s premises, which are also the headquarters of Sinn Féin. As a result of these attacks O’Kelly suffers a cerebral haemorrhage which leads to his death on November 14, 1918.

O’Kelly’s funeral turns into a major political demonstration and his status as a nationalist martyr leads to the posthumous publication of many of his works. These include the novella, The Weaver’s Grave (1920), generally regarded as his masterpiece. It has been reprinted regularly and translated into several languages. A 1961 Radio Éireann adaptation by Micheal Ó hAodha wins the Prix Italia. The twenty-fifth and fiftieth anniversaries of his death see various commemorations in his honour and a short-lived Seumas O’Kelly Society is founded in 1968. O’Kelly never marries but is said to have cherished a hopeless passion for the actress and nationalist activist, Máire Níc Shiubhlaigh, for whom he writes the play The Shuiler’s Child (1909).

(From: “O’Kelly, Seumas” by Patrick Maume, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)


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Birth of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright, Author & Lord Mayor of Cork

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Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, on March 28, 1879.

MacSwiney is one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. His father had volunteered in 1868 to fight as a papal guard against Giuseppe Garibaldi, had been a schoolteacher in London and later opened a tobacco factory in Cork. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885, leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only eleven issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in counties Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork, on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies in London’s Brixton Prison on October 25, after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Birth of Playwright Thomas Cornelius Murray

thomas-cornelius-murrayThomas Cornelius Murray, Irish dramatist who is closely associated with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Macroom, County Cork on January 17, 1873.

Murray is educated at St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin. He works as a schoolteacher and in 1900 is appointed headmaster of the national school in Rathduff, County Cork. His first play, The Wheel of Fortune, is produced in 1909 by the Little Theatre in Cork, a theatre he had co-founded with Daniel Corkery, Con O’Leary and Terence MacSwiney. The play is revised and renamed Sovereign Love in 1913. In 1915, he moves to Dublin as headmaster of the Model Schools at Inchicore, where he remains until his retirement from teaching in 1932.

Murray’s play Birthright is performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1910 and establishes him as a writer of force. In all, he writes fifteen plays, all of which are produced by the Abbey. His two most highly regarded works are Maurice Harte (1912) and Autumn Fire (1924). Both of these and Birthright are performed in New York City on Broadway, with Autumn Fire having a run of 71 performances. He also writes an autobiographical novel Spring Horizon (1937).

It has been stated both by A. DeGiacomo and by R. Allen Cave that, in the Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, Murray is awarded a bronze medal for his play Birthright. However, according to the official record for the games, although Murray is a participant in the literature category with this play and also with Maurice Harte, he does not win a medal.

T. C. Murray dies in Dublin on March 7, 1959.


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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.


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Birth of Daniel Corkery, Writer & Academic

daniel-corkeryDaniel Corkery, Irish politician, writer and academic, is born in Cork, County Cork on February 14, 1878. He is unquestionably best known as the author of The Hidden Ireland, his 1924 study of the poetry of eighteenth-century Irish Language poets in Munster.

Corkery is educated at the Presentation Brothers and St. Patrick’s College of Education, Dublin where he trains as a teacher. He teaches at Saint Patrick’s School in Cork but resigns in 1921 when he is refused the headmastership. Among his students are the writer Frank O’Connor and the sculptor Seamus Murphy.

After leaving St. Patrick’s, Corkery teaches art for the local technical education committee, before becoming inspector of Irish in 1925, and later Professor of English at University College Cork in 1930. Among his students in UCC are Seán Ó Faoláin and Seán Ó Tuama. He is often a controversial figure in academia for his “nativist” views on Irish literature, views which result in conflict with many Irish Language scholars, most notably Pádraig de Brún and his niece Máire Mhac an tSaoi. Ó Tuama, however, is frequently a staunch defender of Corkery’s reputation.

In his late twenties Corkery learns Irish and this brings him into contact with leading members of the Irish Language revival movement, including Terence MacSwiney, T. C. Murray and Con O’Leary, with whom he founds the Cork Dramatic Society in 1908. His plays Embers and The Hermit and the King are performed by the society. Later plays are staged at the famous Abbey Theatre, including The Labour Leader (1919) and The Yellow Bittern (1920).

Corkery is also a writer of short stories, including the collections A Munster Twilight (1916), The Hounds of Banba (1920), The Stormy Hills (1929), and Earth Out of Earth (1939), and a novel, The Threshold of Quiet (1917).

Corkery also writes non-fiction works, including The Hidden Ireland (1924), a highly influential work about the riches of eighteenth-century Irish poetry. In this he attempts to reconstruct a worldview preserved by Gaelic poets amongst the poor and oppressed Catholic peasantry of the Penal Laws era, virtually invisible in the Anglo-Irish tradition that has dominated the writing of Irish history. “An instant, influential classic,” writes Patrick Walsh, “its version of the past provided powerful cultural underpinning to the traditional nationalist history that became, in the 1930s, the educational orthodoxy of the new state.”

Corkery serves as a member of Seanad Éireann from 1951 to 1954 when he is nominated by the Taoiseach.

Daniel Corkery dies on December 31, 1964. His papers are held in the Boole Library of University College Cork.