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


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Birth of Irish American Novelist Thomas Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid, Irish American novelist, who fought in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), is born on April 4, 1818 in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland.

Reid is the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid, a Presbyterian minister and later a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and his wife, a daughter of the Rev. Samuel Rutherford. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he rebels against his father’s plans for him and decides not to pursue a career in the church. He briefly runs a school at Ballyroney before emigrating to the United States in 1839. Arriving in New Orleans, Louisiana, he finds a job as a corn factor’s clerk in the corn market. After six months he leaves because he refuses to whip slaves. Travelling across America, he works as a teacher, a clerk and an Indian-fighter, and anonymously publishes his first poem in August 1843. Later that year he meets Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia and the two become close friends. Poe later admits that Reid was ‘a colossal but most picturesque liar,’ but was impressed by his brilliant story-telling abilities.

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846 Reid enlists in the 1st New York Infantry Regiment and is commissioned second lieutenant. Contributing a series of reports from the front under the pseudonym ‘Ecolier,’ he performs with great bravery in the Battle of Chapultepac on September 13, 1847. Wounded during the battle, he is promoted to first lieutenant three days later. Following his discharge from the army in 1848 he claims to have reached the rank of captain, but this is another of his inventions.

Reid’s first play, Love’s Martyr, is staged at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, for five nights in October 1848, and the following year he publishes an embellished account of his experiences in Mexico entitled War Life. All of his works are published under the name ‘Captain Mayne Reid.’ In July 1849 he sails to England with a group of Hungarian radicals, but decides against accompanying them to the Continent. Returning briefly to Ireland, he settles in London in 1850 and writes a novel, The Rifle Rangers. It is an immediate success and is followed quickly by The Scalp Hunters (1851), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). While in England in 1851 he meets and falls in love with a 13-year old girl, Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat. When he discovers her age he tells her that she is ‘getting old enough to have a lover, and you must have me.’ Two years later he continues with his suit, and this time is successful as they marry in 1853. He is immensely proud of his young bride, and later writes a semi-autobiographical novel The Child Wife (1868), based on their relationship.

Establishing a reputation as one of the most popular novelists of his generation, Reid does much to enhance the romantic image of the American West. His internationally successful books include The White Chief (1855), Bush Boys (1856), Oceola (1859), and The Headless Horseman (1865), and his novel about miscegenation, The Quadroon (1856), is later plagiarised by Dion Boucicault for The Octoroon (1859). A champion croquet player, he writes a treatise on the subject in 1863.

Disaster strikes in November 1866 when Reid is declared bankrupt. He had squandered all his money on the construction of ‘The Ranche,’ a Mexican-style hacienda in England. To raise money he returns to the United States and embarks on a successful lecturing tour. Settling at Newport, Rhode Island, he writes another novel, The Helpless Hand (1868), which is a huge success and alleviates some of his difficulties. His wife hates America, however, and after he is briefly hospitalised in 1870 they decide to return to England.

Ill health, artistic doubts, and financial insecurity plagued Reid’s final years. Diagnosed with acute depression, he is unable to recapture his earlier audience and, despite a pension from the U.S. government, he struggles for money. He dies at Ross in Herefordshire on October 22, 1883 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Although not regarded as an important novelist, Reid none the less has a significant influence on subsequent writers. The young Vladimir Nabokov is deeply impressed by his adventure stories, and one of his own first works is a poetic recreation of The Headless Horseman in French alexandrine. Both Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle are admirers, and politicians as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Leon Trotsky also make reference to his varied output. In total, Reid publishes over sixty novels, which are printed in ten languages.


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Death of Civil War Photographer Mathew Benjamin Brady

Mathew Benjamin Brady, one of the earliest photographers in American history and best known for his scenes of the American Civil War, dies in New York City on January 15, 1896.

Brady leaves little record of his life before photography. Speaking to the press in the last years of his life, he states that he was born between 1822 and 1824 in Warren County, New York, near Lake George. He is the youngest of three children to Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady. In official documents before and during the war, however, he claims to have been born in Ireland.

At age 16, Brady moves to Saratoga, New York, where he meets portrait painter William Page and becomes Page’s student. In 1839, the two travel to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where he continues to study painting with Page, and also with Page’s former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse. Morse had met Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the United States to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady’s involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that hold daguerreotypes. But soon he becomes the center of the New York artistic colony that wishes to study photography. Morse opens a studio and offers classes. Brady is one of the first students.

In 1844, Brady opens his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York, and by 1845, he begins to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opens a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where he meets Juliet Handy, whom he marries in 1850 and lives with on Staten Island. His early images are daguerreotypes, and he wins many awards for his work. In the 1850s ambrotype photography becomes popular, which gives way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produces The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which features noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, is not financially rewarding but invites increased attention to his work and artistry. In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularizes the carte de visite and these small pictures rapidly become a popular novelty, with thousands being created and sold in the United States and Europe.

At first, the effect of the American Civil War on Brady’s business is a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. He readily markets to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers’ images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune. However, he is soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applies to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to have his photographers travel to the battle sites, and eventually, he makes his application to President Abraham Lincoln himself. Lincoln grants permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earns Brady his place in history. His first popular photographs of the conflict are at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he gets so close to the action that he barely avoids capture. While most of the time the battle has ceased before pictures are taken, he comes under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Brady also employs Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O’Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom is given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the American Civil War. He generally stays in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visiting battlefields personally.

This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady’s eyesight has begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady’s collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. He is criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it is intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of his photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opens an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation are graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This is the first time that many Americans see the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous “artists’ impressions.”

Brady, through his many paid assistants, takes thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress taken by him and his associates. The photographs include Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. He is not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in the day is still in the infancy of its technical development and requires that a subject be still for a clear photo to be produced.

Following the conflict, a war-weary public loses interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady’s popularity and practice decline drastically.

During the war, Brady spends over $100,000 (equivalent to $1,691,000 in 2020) to create over 10,000 plates. He expects the U.S. government to buy the photographs when the war ends. When the government refuses to do so he is forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. The United States Congress grants Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remains deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it has ended, and so private collectors are scarce.

Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, Brady dies penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. His funeral is financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry Regiment. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery, which is located in Barney Circle, a neighborhood in the Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C.

Brady photographs 18 of the 19 American presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception is the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who dies in office three years before Brady starts his photographic collection. He photographs Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos is used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.

(Pictured: “Mathew B. Brady,” oil on canvas by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)


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Birth of Dermot Healy, Novelist, Playwright, Poet & Short Story Writer

Dermot Healy, Irish novelist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Finnea, County Westmeath, on November 9, 1947. A member of Aosdána, he is also part of its governing body, the Toscaireacht. He is described variously as a “master,” a “Celtic Hemingway” and as “Ireland’s finest living novelist.”

Healy is the son of a Guard. As a child the family moves to Cavan, where he attends the local secondary school. In his late teens he moves to London and works in a succession of jobs, including barman, security man and as a labourer. He later returns to Ireland, settling in Ballyconnell, County Sligo, a small settlement on the Atlantic coast.

Often overlooked due to his relatively low public profile, Healy’s work is admired by his Irish literary predecessors, peers and successors alike, many of whom idolise him. Among the writers to have spoken highly of him are Seamus Heaney, Eugene McCabe, Roddy Doyle, Patrick McCabe and Anne Enright.

Healy’s work is influenced by an eclectic range of writers from around the world, including Anna Akhmatova, John Arden, Isaac Babel, Matsuo Bashō, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, J. M. Coetzee, Emily Dickinson, Maria Edgeworth, T. S. Eliot, Hermann Hesse, Nâzım Hikmet, Aidan Higgins, Miroslav Holub, Eugène Ionesco, Franz Kafka, Mary Lavin, Federico García Lorca, Guy de Maupassant, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, William Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson. Healy writes in a shed and is fascinated by etymology. However, on being a writer, he is quoted as saying, “I know writing is what I do but I still don’t see myself as one.”

Healy is longlisted for the Booker Prize with his novel A Goats Song. He wins the Hennessy Literary Award (1974 and 1976), the Tom-Gallon Trust Award (1983), and the Encore Award (1995). In 2011, he is shortlisted for the Poetry Now Award for his 2010 poetry collection, A Fool’s Errand. Long Time, No See is nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, the world’s most valuable literary award for a single work in the English language, by libraries in Russia and Norway.

Healy dies at his home in Ballyconnell on June 29, 2014, while awaiting an ambulance after suddenly being taken ill. He is laid to rest at Carrigans Cemetery following funeral mass by Fr. Michael Donnelly at St. Patrick’s Church in Maugherow.


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Birth of Thomas Devin Reilly, Revolutionary & Journalist

Thomas Devin Reilly, Irish revolutionary, Young Irelander and journalist, is born in Monaghan, County Monaghan, on March 30, 1824.

Reilly is the son of a solicitor and completes his education at Trinity College, Dublin. From early on he espouses the republican beliefs of Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet and writes for The Nation and John Martin‘s The Irish Felon in support of economic and political improvements for the working class. He is more interested in the realities of the common man than high idealism.

As a member of the Irish Confederation during the Great Famine, Reilly together with John Mitchel and James Fintan Lalor advocate the refusal to pay rents, retention of crops by small tenant farmers and labourers to feed their own families, and the breaking up of bridges and tearing up of railway lines to prevent the removal of food from the country.

Reilly is involved in the failed Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 and is forced to flee to the United States where he becomes active in U.S. political affairs in support of Irish independence. He is reported to be the founder of The People newspaper in New York City which folds after six months in 1849.

James Connolly claims that as the editor of the Protective Union labour rights newspaper for the printers of Boston, Reilly is a pioneer of American labour journalism and that Horace Greeley believed of his series of articles in The American Review on the European situation “that if collected and published as a book, they would create a revolution in Europe.”

It is possible that Connolly confuses The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, which is known for its political activism, with The American Review, which for a time had Edgar Allan Poe as an editorial assistant. Other sources refer to Reilly as being editor of the New York Democratic Review and later the Washington Union.

Thomas Devin Reilly dies at the age of 30 on March 5, 1854. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington, D.C., together with his infant child Mollie and wife Jennie Miller from Enniskillen.


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Death of Novelist Arthur Henry Ward

arthur-henry-wardArthur Henry “Sarsfield” Ward, prolific English novelist better known as Sax Rohmer, dies on June 1, 1959. He is best remembered for his series of novels featuring the master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu.

Born in Birmingham to a working class family on February 15, 1883, Ward initially pursues a career as a civil servant before concentrating on writing full-time. He works as a poet, songwriter and comedy sketch writer for music hall performers before creating the Sax Rohmer persona and pursuing a career writing fiction.

Like his contemporaries Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, Ward claims membership to one of the factions of the qabbalistic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He also claims ties to the Rosicrucians, but the validity of his claims has been questioned. His doctor and family friend Dr R. Watson Councell may have been his only legitimate connection to such organisations.

Ward’s first published work comes in 1903, when the short story “The Mysterious Mummy” is sold to Pearson’s Weekly. His main literary influences are Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and M. P. Shiel.

Ward gradually transitions from writing for music hall performers to concentrating on short stories and serials for magazine publication. In 1909 he marries Rose Elizabeth Knox. He publishes his first book Pause! anonymously in 1910.

After penning Little Tich in 1911 as ghostwriter for the famous music hall entertainer of the same name, Ward issues the first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, serialised from October 1912 to June 1913. It is an immediate success. The Fu Manchu stories, together with his more conventional detective series characters — Paul Harley, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Morris Klaw and the Crime Magnet — make him one of the most successful and well-paid authors of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 28 years from 1931 to 1959, he adds no fewer than 10 new books to the Fu Manchu series.

Other works by Ward include The Orchard of Tears (1918), The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (1919), Tales of Chinatown (1922) and Brood of the Witch-Queen as well as numerous short stories.

Ward’s work is banned in Nazi Germany, causing him to complain that he could not understand such censorship, stating “my stories are not inimical to Nazi ideals.”

After World War II, Ward and his wife move to New York, only returning to London shortly before his death. He dies on June 1, 1959 at the age of 76, due to an outbreak of Influenza A virus subtype H2N2.


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Birth of Artist & Illustrator Harry Clarke

harry-clarkeHenry Patrick (Harry) Clarke, Irish stained-glass artist and book illustrator, is born in Dublin on March 17, 1889. He is a leading figure in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement.

Clarke is the younger son and third child of Joshua Clarke and Brigid Clarke (née MacGonigal). Church decorator Joshua Clarke moves to Dublin from Leeds in 1877 and starts a decorating business, Joshua Clarke & Sons, which later incorporates a stained glass division. Through his work with his father, Clarke is exposed to many schools of art but Art Nouveau in particular.

Clarke is educated at the Model School in Marlborough Street, Dublin and Belvedere College, which he leaves in 1905. After his mother’s death in 1903, he is apprenticed into his father’s studio and attends evening classes in the Metropolitan College of Art and Design. His The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St. Patrick wins the gold medal for stained glass work in the 1910 Board of Education National Competition. At the art school in Dublin, he meets fellow artist and teacher Margaret Crilley. They marry on October 31, 1914.

Clarke moves to London to seek work as a book illustrator. Picked up by London publisher George G. Harrap and Co., he starts with two commissions which are never completed. Difficulties with these projects makes Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen his first printed work, in 1916. It includes 16 colour plates and more than 24 halftone illustrations. This is followed by an illustrations for an edition of Edgar Allan Poe‘s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, the second version of which, published in 1923, makes his reputation as a book illustrator. His work can be compared to that of Aubrey Beardsley, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac. His final book, Selected Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, is published in 1928.

Clarke also continues to work in stained glass, producing more than 130 windows. His glass is distinguished by the finesse of its drawing and his use of rich colours. He is especially fond of deep blues. His use of heavy lines in his black-and-white book illustrations echoes his glass techniques.

Clarke’s stained glass work includes many religious windows, including the windows of the Honan Chapel in University College Cork. He also produces much secular stained glass such as a window illustrating John KeatsThe Eve of St. Agnes (now in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin) and the Geneva Window, (now in the Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Beach, Florida). Perhaps his most seen works are the windows he creates for Bewley’s on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

Clarke is plagued with ill health, in particular respiratory problems. He is diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1929 and goes to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. Fearing that he will die abroad, he begins his journey back to Dublin in 1931, but dies on this journey on January 6, 1931 in Chur where he is buried. A headstone is erected but local law requires that the family pledge to maintain the grave 15 years after the death. This is not explained to the Clarke family and Harry Clarke’s remains are disinterred in 1946 and reburied in a communal grave.