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


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Death of Leslie Montgomery, Playwright & Writer

lynn-doyle-ballygullionLeslie Alexander Montgomery, playwright, humorist, and writer who writes under the pen name “Lynn Doyle,” dies in Dublin on August 18, 1961. He adopts the pseudonym for his writing, using a homophone of “linseed oil.” Supposedly, he chooses the name after seeing a large tin of linseed oil in a paint shop, initially signing “Lynn C. Doyle” but later dropping the “C.”

Born in Downpatrick, County Down on October, 5 1873, Montgomery is educated at Dundalk in County Louth. He commences work as a bank clerk at the age of 16, and remains with the Northern Banking Company, working in locations such as Keady and Cushendall before a transfer to the quaint seaside town of Skerries in County Armagh. There he becomes branch manager until his retirement in 1934.

Aside from this rather straight-laced, white collar career, however, Montgomery fosters a life-time passion for writing in various forms and genres, and his contribution to Ulster literature in the early part of the 20th century should not be underestimated.

Montgomery is part of the Ulster Literary Theatre movement founded by Bulmer Hobson and David Parkhill in 1902, and early works include Love and Land, a play that is produced at the Little Theatre in London and represents Montgomery’s first critical success.

Other works during this decade include The Summons and The Lilac Ribbon. By the beginning of the 1920s, Montgomery is a leading northern playwright. He is best known, however for the Ballygullion series, twenty books which fondly caricature Northern Irish village life. The first in the series is published in 1908 and the last in 1957.

Montgomery writes the first book, which would lend its title to the rest of the series, in Dublin. This is followed by other works every few years such as Mr. Wildridge of the Bank, Lobster Salad, Dear Ducks, Me and Mr. Murphy and Rosabelle and Other Stories.

Written in the dialect of the east Ulster region, the stories celebrate an imaginary townland area in the Slieve Gullion region of County Down. They reflect Montgomery’s early years there and in Dundalk. The books also reveal a lot about contemporary Ulster life.

The versatile writer also produces poetry during the 1930s. Ballygullion Ballads, published in 1936 is illustrated by the famous Belfast artist William Conor, as are several of the later editions of his books.

In 1936, Montgomery has the somewhat dubious honour of being the first Irish writer to be appointed to the Censorship Board. He resigns within two years of accepting the job, however, claiming that it is “so terribly easy to read only the marked passages, so hard to wade through the whole book afterwards.”

Following his retirement from the Northern Banking Company, he gains further notoriety as a lecturer, and also regularly broadcasts his stories for the fledgling BBC in Belfast. Indeed his most productive period as a writer is in his 1960s, during which time he writes his autobiography, An Ulster Childhood, in 1954.

Montgomery dies in Dublin on August 18, 1961, but his legacy is preserved in the Lynn Doyle Collection at Belfast Central Library, which consists of a series of archival boxes which were purchased by the library. The collection is extensive, and includes broadcasts and lecture transcripts, manuscripts, essays, short stories, poetry, personal correspondence, photographs, land leases and legal documents.

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Enactment of the Intermediate Education Act

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 5.0The Intermediate Education Act, enacted on August 16, 1878, grants female students the right to participate in public competitive examinations, take university degrees and to enter into careers and professions.

From the early 1870s there had been a growing demand in Ireland for a competitive examinations system which would allow Catholics in particular to enter for the newly created jobs in the Civil Service and for careers in the professions. In response to this pressure, the Irish Intermediate Education Bill is introduced to parliament in 1878. It provides an Examining Board with an annual sum of £32,500 per annum which would cover money prizes for pupils and results fees for schools. Students with the highest marks can gain valuable exhibitions worth up to £50. However, these provisions only apply to boys.

The Bill is in its final stages in parliament, when Isabella Tod of the North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society, arrives with a small delegation of women backed by a handful of Irish MPs, to demand that girls should also be included in the provisions of the Bill. Fortunately, attitudes among a majority of English MPs are favourable to the inclusion of girls in the Bill. The most influential of these MPs is William Ewart Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, who believes the proposal to admit women to the benefits of the Bill is reasonable and fair. Although not in favour of giving women the vote, he is prepared to admit that “we have on the whole done rather less than justice to women as compared to men” when it comes to education.

Charles Henry Meldon, MP for Kildare, strongly objects to what he calls “the victory” which the inclusion of girls would give to the advocates of women’s rights, “whose object was not that there should be a limited measure dealing specially with the education of women, but that the same education should be given to girls as given to men.”

Richard O’Shaughnessy, the only Home Rule MP on Isabella Tod’s delegation, assures Meldon that the question at stake is not one of women’s rights but simply of their education and that the object of the amendment “was nothing more nor less than to educate the women of Ireland that they may be better able to discharge their duties as daughters, wives and mothers.”

So, despite the strong objections of most Irish Home Rule MPs, girls are included in the Intermediate Examination Act. Isabella Tod at a meeting in Dublin to promote the extension of the franchise to women thanks O’Shaughnessy and James Stansfield for their support but declares, “We could not help feeling how easy our task would have been if each of these members had owed some votes to women and felt a distinct responsibility to them.”

There is unease felt about public competitive examinations for girls in Ireland. Some believe that the competitive idea should be carefully excluded from the examinations for women. The ladies present at the suffrage meeting are also urged to press the government to avoid publishing the names of girls in order of merit.

This attitude helps explain why it is felt that girls are not ready to compete on an equal basis with boys. In December 1878, the Intermediate Board decides that girls will compete among themselves for the money prizes. A money prize is offered for every ten pupils who pass. These prizes are, therefore, allocated proportionately according to the numbers of boys and of girls who enter for the examinations. During the first twenty years of the Intermediate examinations, three quarters of the entrants are boys and only one quarter are girls. Girls’ schools, especially convent schools, are particularly handicapped because they have few teachers who know Latin or Greek and extra marks are allotted for other traditional boys’ subjects such as mathematics.

The Intermediate examinations have three levels: Junior, Middle and Senior Grades with strict age limits of under 16, 17 and 18 years of age respectively. This represents a problem for girls’ schools since many girls come late to second level schools, being often 14 or 15 years of age.

The fact that public opinion in Ireland is at first generally against such examinations for girls and that many girls have neither the opportunity nor the means to take immediate advantage of the Act, does not alter its crucial importance as a catalyst for changing the role of women in Irish society.

(Pictured: Isabella Tod, Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland, content from Discovering Women in Irish History, http://womeninhistory.scoilnet.ie)


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Birth of Dan Breen, IRA Volunteer & Fianna Fáil Politician

Irish republican Dan Breen (1967)Daniel “Dan” Breen, volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, is born in Grange, Donohill parish, County Tipperary, on August 11, 1894. In later years, he is a Fianna Fáil politician.

Breen’s father dies when he is six, leaving the family very poor. He is educated locally before becoming a plasterer and later a linesman on the Great Southern Railways.

Breen is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and the Irish Volunteers in 1914. On January 21, 1919, the day the First Dáil meets in Dublin, Breen takes part in the Soloheadbeg Ambush. The ambush party of eight men, led by Seán Treacy, attacks two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who are escorting explosives to a quarry. The two policemen, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, are fatally shot during the incident. The ambush is considered to be the first incident of the Irish War of Independence.

During the conflict, the British put a £1,000 price on Breen’s head, which is later increased to £10,000. He quickly establishes himself as a leader within the Irish Republican Army. He is known for his courage. On May 13, 1919 he helps rescue his comrade Seán Hogan at gunpoint from a heavily guarded train at Knocklong station in County Limerick. Breen, who is wounded, remembers how the battalion is “vehemently denounced as a cold-blooded assassins” and roundly condemned by the Catholic Church. After the fight, Treacy, Séumas Robinson, and Breen meet Michael Collins in Dublin, where they are told to make themselves scarce although they do not necessarily agree.

Breen and Sean Treacy shoot their way out through a British military cordon in the northern suburb of Drumcondra (Fernside). They escape, only for Treacy to be killed the next day. Breen is shot at least four times, twice in the lung.

The British reaction is to make Tipperary a “Special Military Area,” with curfews and travel permits. Volunteer GHQ authorises entrerprising attacks on barracks. The British policy forces Breen and Treacy to retreat to Dublin. They join Michael Collins’ Squad of assassins, later known as the Dublin Guard, and Dublin becomes the centre of the war.

Breen is present in December 1919 at the ambush in Ashtown beside Phoenix Park in Dublin where Martin Savage is killed while trying to assassinate the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount John French. The IRA hides behind hedges and a dungheap as the convoy of vehicles drives past. They have been instructed to ignore the first car but this contains their target, Lord French. Their roadblock fails as a policeman removes the horse and cart intended to stop the car.

Breen utterly rejects the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which makes him, like many others, angry and embittered. In the June 1922 elections Breen is nominated as a candidate by both the pro- and anti-Treaty sides, but is not elected.

Breen is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election as a Republican anti-Treaty Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary constituency. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Breen joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in the civil war, fighting against those of his former comrades in arms who support the Treaty. He is arrested by the National Army of the Irish Free State and interned at Limerick Prison. He spends two months there before going on hunger strike for six days followed by a thirst strike of six days, prompting his release.

Breen writes a best-selling account of his guerrilla days, My Fight for Irish Freedom, in 1924. He represents Tipperary from the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a Republican with Éamon de Valera and Frank Aiken. He is defeated in the June 1927 general election and travels to the United States where he opens a prohibition speakeasy. In 1932 he returns to Ireland and regains his seat as a member of Fianna Fáil in the Dáil at that year’s general election. During World War II he is said to hold largely pro-Axis views. He represents his Tipperary constituency without a break until his retirement at the 1965 election.

Breen dies in Dublin on December 27, 1969 and is buried in Donohill, near his birthplace. His funeral is the largest seen in west Tipperary since that of his close friend and comrade-in-arms Seán Treacy at Kilfeacle in October 1920. An estimated attendance of 10,000 mourners assemble in the tiny hamlet, giving ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held.

Breen is the subject of a 2007 biography Dan Breen and the IRA by Joe Ambrose.


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Birth of Irish Footballer Billy Behan

billy-behanWilliam “Billy” Behan, Irish footballer who plays as a goalkeeper for Shelbourne F.C., Shamrock Rovers F.C. and Manchester United F.C. during the 1930s, is born on August 8, 1911 in Dublin.

Behan makes his Rovers debut on February 8, 1931 in a 5–1 win over Bray Unknowns F.C. at Glenmalure Park. In his first season, he wins the FAI Cup. He signs with Manchester United in September 1933, along with fellow Irishman David Byrne, becoming the first players from the south of Ireland to play for the club in over a decade.

Behan makes his United debut in a Football League Second Division home game against Bury F.C. on March 3, 1934. The following July, he briefly returns to Shelbourne before again returning to the Rovers. Over the next two seasons, he wins another FAI Cup and a League of Ireland Shield. His last game for the Rovers is on August 23, 1936 in a Shield win over Drumcondra F.C..

After his retirement as a player, Behan becomes a respected referee and is in charge of the 1943 FAI Cup Final. He then manages Drumcondra F.C. in the 1950s where he wins the FAI Cup again.

Behan subsequently becomes United’s chief scout in the Republic of Ireland and is credited with discovering, among others, Johnny Carey, Billy Whelan, Tony Dunne, Don Givens, Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath. He also serves as vice chairman of the Dalkey-based Leinster Senior League team, Dalkey United, and it is through this association that he discovers McGrath.

Behan’s father, William Sr., is one of the founder members of Shamrock Rovers. His brothers John and Paddy also play for the Rovers. His son William junior keeps goal for the Rovers side also for a time. His second cousin is Bob Fullam.

Behan’s grandson, Philip Behan, is the former Head of International Football at the Football Association of Ireland and is now a UEFA and FIFA agent organising friendly international matches and tournaments around the world.

Billy Behan dies on November 12, 1991 at the age of 80.


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Premiere of “O’Neil of the Glen”

o-neil-of-the-glenO’Neil of the Glen, the first production released by the Film Company of Ireland (FCOI), premieres at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre on August 7, 1916. The film is adapted by W.J. Lysaght from a book by the acclaimed Irish novelist, Mrs. M. T. Pender. The film is a romantic tale which features two well-known Abbey Theatre members, as well as a host of rising stars.

Formed in March 1916 by James Mark Sullivan and Henry Fitzgibbon, the FCOI becomes the most important indigenous fiction film producer of the 1910s.

On 29 June, FCOI announces a “trial exhibition,” or what would now be called a test screening, of their first completed production, O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Carlton Cinema. Addressing a lunch for the press at the Gresham Hotel following the screening, Fitzgibbon claims that FCOI “had started an industry which would eventually be a source of great revenue in Ireland.” For his part, Sullivan argues that the film showed that Irish productions – taking advantage of Irish “imagination, ideals, and artistic temperament and beautiful scenery” – could compete with those anywhere.

The Bohemian is one of Dublin’s biggest and most luxurious cinemas, and Frederick A. Sparling’s commitment to a run that is twice the usual three days “speaks well for the film and the undoubted drawing powers such a production will have for Irish audiences.” In the event, Sparling also includes an unplanned Sunday show to take advantage of the phenomenal level of interest.

In the following weeks and months, O’Neil of the Glen is exhibited around the country. Following substantial runs in Dublin and Belfast it is announced for a three-day runs at Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre on September 11-13 and Cork’s Coliseum Theatre on September 14-16.


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Birth of Gay Byrne, Radio & Television Presenter

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90Gabriel Mary “Gay” Byrne, veteran Irish presenter of radio and television for several decades and affectionately known as Uncle Gay, Gaybo or Uncle Gaybo, is born in Rialto, Dublin on August 5, 1934. His most known role is as the first host of The Late Late Show over a 37-year period spanning 1962 until 1999.

Byrne attends Rialto National School and a number of other schools for short periods. Subsequently, he is educated by the Irish Christian Brothers at Synge Street CBS.

When he is young, Byrne is inspired by the broadcaster Eamonn Andrews, who has a successful career on British television. In 1958 he moves over to broadcasting when he becomes a presenter on Radio Éireann. He also works with Granada Television and the BBC in England. At Granada, Byrne becomes the first person to introduce the Beatles on television when they make their small screen debut on local news programme People and Places. In 1961, Telefís Éireann, later Radio Telefís Éireann and now Raidió Teilifís Éireann, is established. Byrne works exclusively for the new Irish service after 1969. He introduced many popular programmes, with his most popular and successful programme being The Late Late Show.

On July 5, 1962, the first episode of The Late Late Show is aired on Irish television. Originally the show is scheduled as an eight-week summer filler. The programme, which is still broadcast, has become the world’s second longest running chat show. The show has much to do in shaping the new Ireland that emerges from the 1960s. Byrne presents his last edition of The Late Late Show on May 21, 1999, where he is presented with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle by Bono and Larry Mullen, Jr. Pat Kenny succeeds him as presenter in September 1999.

From 1973 until 1998, Byrne also presents The Gay Byrne Hour, later The Gay Byrne Show when it expands to two hours, on RTÉ Radio 1 each weekday morning.

Byrne does not completely retire in 1999 and continues to feature occasionally on radio and television after leaving The Late Late Show and The Gay Byrne Show, presenting several other programmes, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, The Meaning of Life and For One Night Only on RTÉ One and Sunday Serenade/Sunday with Gay Byrne on RTÉ lyric fm. He launches Joe Duffy‘s autobiography Just Joe in Harry’s Bar in October 2011.

In 1988, Byrne is presented an honorary doctorate in literature from Trinity College, Dublin. In 2006 he is elected Chairman of Ireland’s Road Safety Authority, a public body given the task of improving road safety in the Republic of Ireland. Since retiring he has become the “Elder Lemon of Irish broadcasting.”

On a November 21, 2016 live radio broadcast Byrne reveals that he is to begin treatment for prostate cancer and that the cancer may have also spread to his lower back. He tells listeners he will be taking a break of just one week before returning to work, however, he continues to recover from treatment and he has not yet been back on air.


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The Buttevant Rail Disaster

buttevant-rail-disasterThe Buttevant Rail Disaster, a train crash that occurs at Buttevant Railway Station, County Cork, takes place on August 1, 1980. More than 70 people are injured, and 18 die, resulting as one of Ireland’s worst rail disasters to ever occur and the country’s worst rail disaster during peacetime history.

At 12:45 the 10:00 am Dublin (Heuston) to Cork (Kent) express train enters Buttevant Railway Station carrying some 230 bank holiday passengers. The train is diverted off the main line across a 1:8 temporary set of points into a siding. The locomotive remains upright but carriages immediately behind the engine and generator van jack-knife and are thrown across four sets of rail lines. Two coaches and the dining car are totally demolished by the impact. It results in the deaths of 18 people and over 70 people being injured.

The accident happens because a set of manual facing points are set to direct the train into the siding. These points are installed about four months previously and have not yet been connected to the signal cabin. The permanent way maintenance staff are expecting a stationary locomotive at the Up platform to move into the siding, and set the points for the diversion to the siding, without obtaining permission from the signalman. Upon seeing that this has been done, the signalman at Buttevant manually sets the signals to the Danger aspect and informs the pointsman to reset the points. The train is traveling too fast to stop in time. The train is moving at approximately 60 mph when the derailment occurs.

The train consists of one locomotive, a generator van and eleven coaches. Six of the coaches consist of wooden bodies on steel underframes. Four of these are either destroyed or badly damaged in the impact, the two which survive being at the rear of the train. The remainder of the coaches are light alloy Cravens stock and most survive the crash.

This event, and the subsequent Cherryville junction accident, which kills a further seven people, account for 70% of all Irish rail deaths over a 28-year period. CIÉ and the Government come under severe public pressure to improve safety and to modernise the fleet. A major review of the national rail safety policy is held and results in the rapid elimination of the wooden-bodied coaches that had formed part of the train.

The passengers who are most severely injured or killed are seated in coaches with wooden frames. This structure is incapable of surviving a high speed crash and does not come near to the safety standards provided by modern (post-1950s) metal-body coaches. The expert bodies that review the accident discover that the old timber-frame carriage bodies mounted on a steel frame are totally inadequate as they are prone to complete collapse under the enormous compression forces of a high-speed collision.

The more modern steel-framed carriage bodies survive due to their greater structural rigidity. On this basis the decision to purchase a new fleet of modern intercity coaches based on the British Rail Mark 3 design is quickly made. The Mark 3’s longitudinally corrugated roof can survive compression forces of over 300 tonnes. These coaches, an already well proven design, are built by British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) in Derby, England and, under licence, at CIÉ’s own workshops at Inchicore Railway Works in Dublin between 1983 and 1989.