seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of James O’Neill, Irish American Theatre Actor

James O’Neill, Irish American theatre actor and the father of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, dies in New London, Connecticut, on August 11, 1920.

O’Neill is born on November 15, 1847 in County Kilkenny. The family emigrates to the United States and settles in Buffalo, New York. In 1857 they move to Cincinnati, Ohio where James is apprenticed to a machinist.

At the age of 21, he makes his stage debut in a Cincinnati production of Dion Boucicault‘s The Colleen Bawn (1867). Also in 1867, he has a minor part in Edwin Forrest‘s production of Virginius, and then joins a travelling repertory company. By the age of 24 he has already established a reputation among theater managers as a box-office draw, particularly with the ladies. But he is also working doggedly at his craft, ridding himself of all vestiges of brogue and learning to pitch his voice resonantly. He is considered a promising actor, quickly working his way up the ranks to become a matinée idol.

In 1874 O’Neill joins Richard M. Hooley‘s company, and the following year tours San Francisco, Virginia City and Sacramento. He then heads back east to join the Union Square Company.

On June 14, 1877, while in New York City, O’Neill marries Mary Ellen Quinlan, daughter of Thomas and Bridget Quinlan. In the fall of 1877, three months after his marriage, a woman by the name of Nettie Walsh sues O’Neill, claiming that he had married her five years earlier, when she was only 15, and that he is the father of her three-year-old son. Nettie Walsh loses her case and the publicity, although it wounds his bride, enhances his reputation as a romantic leading man.

As early as 1875, while a stock star at Hooley’s Theatre in Chicago, O’Neill plays the title role in a stage adaptation of Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo. In early 1883 he takes over the lead role in Monte Cristo at Booth’s Theater in New York, after Charles R. Towne dies suddenly in the wings after his first performance. O’Neill’s interpretation of the part caused a sensation with the theater-going public.

O’Neill soon tires of the Count and his lines come out by rote and his performances become lackadaisical. Monte Cristo remains a popular favorite so he continues the role on tour as regular as clockwork. He goes on to play this role over 6,000 times.

In the middle of 1920 O’Neill is struck by an automobile in New York City and taken to Lawrence+Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He dies, at the age of 72, on August 11, 1920 of colorectal cancer at the family summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, in Connecticut. His funeral at St. Joseph’s Church is attended by, among others, O’Neill’s sister, Mrs. M. Platt of St. Louis and Edward Douglass White, Sr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. O’Neill is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery.


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Opening of the Albany New Theatre

theatre-royal-1821The Albany New Theatre opens in Hawkins Street, Dublin, on January 18, 1821.

In 1820, Henry Harris purchases a site in Hawkins Street and builds the 2,000–seat Albany New Theatre on the site at a cost of £50,000. The theatre is designed by architect Samuel Beazley. The construction work is not completed at the time of opening and early audience figures are so low that a number of side seating boxes are boarded up.

In August 1821, George IV attends a performance at the Albany and, as a consequence, a patent is granted. The name of the theatre is changed to the “Theatre Royal” to reflect its status as a patent theatre.

On December 14, 1822, the Bottle Riot occurs during a performance of She Stoops to Conquer attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Marquess Wellesley. Orangemen angered by Wellesley’s conciliation of Catholics jeer him during the national anthem, and a riot ensues after a bottle is thrown at him. Wellesley’s overreaction, including charging three rioters with attempted murder, undermines his own credibility.

In 1830, Harris retires from the theatre and a Mr. Calcraft takes on the lease. The theatre attracts a number of famous performers, including Niccolò Paganini, Jenny Lind, Tyrone Power, and Barry Sullivan. By 1851, the theatre is experiencing financial problems and closes briefly. It reopens in December under John Harris, who had been manager of the rival Queen’s Theatre. The first production under Harris is a play by Dion Boucicault. Boucicault and his wife are to make their first Dublin personal appearances in the Royal in 1861 in his The Colleen Bawn. The first performance of Boucicault’s play Arrah-na-Pogue is held at the theatre in 1864, with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson, John Brougham, and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

The theatre burns to the ground on February 9, 1880.


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Birth of Gerald Griffin, Novelist & Playwright

gerald-griffinGerald Griffin, Irish novelist, poet, and playwright, born in Limerick on December 12, 1803.

Griffin is the twelfth of the fifteen surviving children in his family. His father, Patrick Griffin, is a brewery farmer, and his mother, Ellen Griffin, of the ancient Gaelic family of the O’Briens, is very cultivated and much interested in literature.

Griffin goes to London in 1823 and becomes a reporter for one of the daily papers. He later turns to writing fiction. One of his most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial he has reported on, that of John Scanlan, a Protestant Anglo-Irish man who murdered Ellen Hanley, a young Irish Catholic girl. The novel is adapted to the stage as The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault.

In September 1838, Griffin informs his family of his intention of joining the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He enters the novitiate at North Richmond Street, Dublin, on September 8. He embarks on his new career with intense dedication, abandoning his literary work entirely. He is then admitted to the religious habit on the feast of St. Theresa and embarks on a two-year novitiate. His distaste for his earlier vocation is allayed to the extent that he is willing to undertake the composition of a few tales of a pious nature, but he is also desperately determined to avoid as much as possible the renewal of old contacts and the reopening of painful associations. Griffin burns most all of his unpublished manuscripts, preserving only a few poems and the tragedy, Gisippus.

Griffin dies at the North Monastery, Cork, from typhus fever on June 12, 1840. He is buried in the community’s graveyard on June 15.

Gerald Griffin has a street named after him in Limerick City and another in Cork City. Loughill/Ballyhahill GAA club in west Limerick plays under the name of Gerald Griffins.