seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mary Ward, Astronomer, Microscopist, Author & Artist

Mary Ward (née King), Irish naturalist, astronomer, microscopist, author, and artist, is born in Ballylin near present-day Ferbane, County Offaly, on April 27, 1827. She is killed in 1869 when she falls under the wheels of an experimental steam car built by her cousins, thereby becoming the first person known to be killed by a motor vehicle.

King is the youngest child of the Reverend Henry King and his wife Harriette. She and her sisters are educated at home, as are most girls at the time. However, her education is slightly different from the norm because she is of a renowned scientific family. She is interested in nature from an early age, and by the time she is three years old she is collecting insects.

King is a keen amateur astronomer, sharing this interest with her cousin, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, who builds the Leviathan of Parsonstown, a reflecting telescope with a six-foot mirror which remains the world’s largest until 1917. She is a frequent visitor to Birr Castle, producing sketches of each stage of the process. Along with photographs made by Parson’s wife, Mary Rosse, her sketches are used to aid in the restoration of the telescope.

King also draws insects, and the astronomer James South observes her doing so one day. She is using a magnifying glass to see the tiny details, and her drawing so impresses him that he immediately persuades her father to buy her a microscope. A compound microscope made by Andrew Ross is purchased for £48 12s 8d. This is the beginning of a lifelong passion. She begins to read everything she can find about microscopy, and teaches herself until she has an expert knowledge. She makes her own slides from slivers of ivory, as glass is difficult to obtain, and prepares her own specimens. The physicist David Brewster asks her to make his microscope specimens, and uses her drawings in many of his books and articles.

Universities and most societies do not accept women at the time, but King obtains information any way she can. She writes frequently to scientists, asking them about papers they had published. During 1848, Parsons is made president of the Royal Society, and visits to his London home allows her to meet many scientists.

King is one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society. The others are Queen Victoria and Mary Somerville, a scientist for whom Somerville College at the University of Oxford is named.

On December 6, 1854, King marries Henry Ward of Castle Ward, County Down, who in 1881 succeeds to the title of Viscount Bangor. They have three sons and five daughters, including Maxwell Ward, 6th Viscount Bangor. Her best-known descendants are her grandson, Edward Ward, the foreign correspondent and seventh viscount, and his daughter, the Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward.

When Ward writes her first book, Sketches with the microscope (privately printed in 1857), she apparently believes that no one will print it because of her gender or lack of academic credentials. She publishes 250 copies of it privately, and several hundred handbills are distributed to advertise it. The printing sells during the next few weeks, which prompts a London publisher to take the risk and contract for future publication. The book is reprinted eight times between 1858 and 1880 as A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope. A new full-colour facsimile edition at €20 is published in September 2019 by the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society, with accompanying essays.

Her books are A Windfall for the Microscope (1856), A World of Wonders, Revealed by the Microscope (1857), Entomology in Sport, and Entomology in Earnest (1857, with Lady Jane Mahon), Microscope Teachings (1864), Telescope Teachings (1859). She illustrates her books and articles herself, as well as many books and papers by other scientists.

Ward is the first known automobile fatality. William Parsons’ sons had built a steam-powered car and on August 31, 1869, she and her husband are traveling in it with the Parsons boys, Richard Clere Parsons and the future steam turbine pioneer Charles Algernon Parsons, and their tutor, Richard Biggs. She is thrown from the car on a bend in the road at Parsonstown (present-day Birr, County Offaly). She falls under its wheel and dies almost instantly. A doctor who lives near the scene arrives within moments, and finds her cut, bruised, and bleeding from the ears. The fatal injury is a broken neck. It is believed that the grieving family destroys the car after the crash.

Ward’s microscope, accessories, slides and books are on display in her husband’s home, Castle Ward, County Down. William Parsons’ home at Birr Castle, County Offaly, is also open to the public.


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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 Ardal O’Hanlon, Comedian & Actor

ardal-o-hanlonArdal O’Hanlon, comedian and actor, is born in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan on October 8, 1965. He plays Father Dougal McGuire in Father Ted, George Sunday/Thermoman in My Hero, and DI Jack Mooney in Death in Paradise.

O’Hanlon is the son of politician and doctor Rory O’Hanlon and Teresa Ward. The episode of Who Do You Think You Are? which airs on October 6, 2008 reveals that his paternal grandfather, Michael O’Hanlon, was a medical student at University College Dublin (UCD) who joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and was a member of Michael Collins‘s squad which assassinated British secret service agents on the morning of Bloody Sunday. Details of his grandfather’s activities survive in UCD Archives, as well as Blackrock College. It also transpires that, on his mother’s side, he is a close relative of Peter Fenelon Collier.

O’Hanlon is schooled in Blackrock College in Dublin and graduates in 1987 from the National Institute for Higher Education, Dublin (now Dublin City University) with a degree in Communications Studies.

Together with Kevin Gildea and Barry Murphy, O’Hanlon founds the International Comedy Cellar, upstairs in the International Bar on Dublin’s South Wicklow Street. Dublin has no comedy scene at the time. As a stand up, he wins the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year competition in 1994. For a time he is the presenter of The Stand Up Show.

O’Hanlon is spotted by Graham Linehan, who casts him as Father Dougal McGuire in Father Ted (1995–98). In 1995 he receives the Top TV Comedy Newcomer at the British Comedy Awards for this role. In 1995, he appears as Father Dougal in a Channel 4 ident and during Comic Relief on BBC One. This is followed by the award-winning short comedy film Flying Saucer Rock’n’Roll.

O’Hanlon moves into straight acting alongside Emma Fielding and Beth Goddard in the ITV comedy-drama Big Bad World, which airs for two series in summer 1999 and winter 2001. He also plays a minor role in The Butcher Boy and appears in an episode of the original Whose Line is it Anyway?.

In 2000, O’Hanlon stars in the comedy series My Hero, in which he plays a very naive superhero from the planet Ultron. His character juggles world-saving heroics with life in suburbia. He stays in the role until the first episode of series 6 in July 2006 where he is replaced by James Dreyfus during the same episode.

O’Hanlon also provides the voice of the lead character in the three Christmas television cartoon specials of Robbie the Reindeer. He appears in the 2005 BBC One sitcom Blessed, written by Ben Elton. Towards the end of 2005, he plays an eccentric Scottish character, Coconut Tam, in the family-based film, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby. Although more commonly on television, he also appears on radio. In 2015 he appears as incompetent angel Smallbone in the sitcom The Best Laid Plans, also on BBC Radio 4.

In 2006, O’Hanlon writes and presesed an RTÉ television series called Leagues Apart, which sees him investigate the biggest and most passionate football rivalries in a number of European countries. He follows this with another RTÉ show, So You Want To Be Taoiseach? in 2007. It is a political series where he gives tongue-in-cheek advice on how to go about becoming Taoiseach of Ireland.

O’Hanlon appears in the Doctor Who episode “Gridlock“, broadcast on April 14, 2007, in which he plays a cat-like creature named Thomas Kincade Brannigan. He appears in Series 3 of the TV show Skins, playing Naomi Campbell’s Politics teacher named Kieran. He then goes on to form a relationship with Naomi’s mother, played by Olivia Colman. He plays the lead role in Irish comedy television programme Val Falvey, TD on RTÉ One.

In February 2011, O’Hanlon returns to the Gate Theatre, Dublin starring in the Irish premiere of Christopher Hampton‘s translation of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, alongside Maura Tierney. In 2011, he appears in the comedy panel show Argumental.

O’Hanlon has written a novel, The Talk of the Town, which is published in 1998. The novel is about a teenage boy, Patrick Scully, and his friends.

In February 2015 O’Hanlon officially launches the 2015 Sky Cat Laughs Comedy Festival which takes place in Kilkenny from May 28–June 1. In 2015 he plays the role of Peter the Milkman in the Sky One sitcom After Hours.

On February 2, 2017, it is announced O’Hanlon will play the lead role in the BBC crime drama Death in Paradise taking the role of DI Jack Mooney following Kris Marshall‘s departure the same day.