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


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Death of Gerald Griffin, Novelist, Poet & Playwright

Gerald Griffin (Irish: Gearóid Ó Gríofa), Irish novelist, poet and playwright, dies of typhus fever on June 12, 1840. His novel The Collegians is the basis of Dion Boucicault‘s play The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen. Feeling he is “wasting his time” writing fiction, he joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious congregation founded by Edmund Ignatius Rice, to teach the children of the poor.

Griffin is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on December 12, 1803, the youngest son of thirteen children of a substantial Catholic farming family. Patrick Griffin, his father, also makes a living through brewing, and he participates as one of Henry Grattan‘s Irish Volunteers (18th century). His mother comes from the ancient O’Brien dynasty, and first introduces him to English literature. When he is aged seven, the family moves to Fairy Lawn, a house near Loghill, County Clare, which sits on a hill above the bank of the Shannon Estuary, about twenty-seven miles from Limerick. Here he has an idyllic childhood and receives a classical education.

In 1820 the family at Fairy Lawn is broken up. The parents with several of the children emigrate to the United States and settle in Pennsylvania. Griffin, with one brother and two sisters, is left behind under the care of his elder brother William, a practicing physician in Adare, County Limerick. He meets John Banim in Limerick. Inspired by the successful production of Banim’s play Damon and Pythias (1821), Griffin, at nineteen years of age, moves to London in 1823. After an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a playwright, he endures years of poverty in London, managing only to scrape by through writing reviews for periodicals and newspapers. At the end of two years he obtains steady employment in the publishing house as reader and reviser of manuscripts, and in a short time becomes frequent contributor to some of the leading periodicals and magazines. His early pieces in The Literary Gazette vividly describe the rural setting of his childhood, recount Irish folklore, translate the Celtic Irish language for the English readers, and, as Robert Lee Wolff observes, “waxed richly sardonic about Irishmen who tried to be more English than the English.”

Griffin’s Holland-Tide or Munster Popular Tales is published by Simpkin & Marshall in 1827. Holland-Tide is a collection of seven short stories, all of which are told in the house of a hospitable Munster farmer during All Hallows’ Eve in Munster. Holland-Tide establishes his reputation and he returns to Ireland, where he writes Tales of the Munster Festivals in Pallaskenry to which his brother William has moved.

Experience leads Griffin to modify his expectations in relation to literary work, and, with a view to the legal profession, he enters the University of London as a law student, but in a short time removes to Dublin for the study of ancient Irish history, preparatory to his work The Invasion, which is published in 1832. This work has a good sale and is highly praised by scholars, but never becomes popular.

With the exception of a tour through Scotland and a short trip on the European continent, Griffin lives with his brother, keeping up to some extent his literary labours. By 1833, he is increasingly concerned that he is wasting his time, and begins to devote himself to teaching the poor children of the neighborhood. In 1838, hes all of his unpublished manuscripts and joins the Congregation of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order which has as its special aim the education of children of the poor. Writing to an old friend he says he feels a great deal happier in the practice of this daily routine than he ever did while roving about the great city, absorbed in the modest project of rivaling Shakespeare and throwing Scott in the shade. In June 1839, he is transferred from Dublin to Cork, where he dies of typhus fever at the age of thirty-six on June 12, 1840.

Griffin’s play Gisippus is produced posthumously at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on February 23, 1842 by William Macready, and it runs to a second edition in print.

One of Griffin’s most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial that he had reported on, involving the murder of a young Irish Catholic girl (Ellen Hanley) by a Protestant Anglo-Irish man (John Scanlon). The novel is later adapted for the stage as The Colleen Bawn by Dion Boucicault.

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

(Pictured: “Portrait of Gerald Griffin (1803-1840), Poet and Novelist,” painting by Richard Rothwell (1800-1868), National Gallery of Ireland)


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Birth of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin

Daniel Murray, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, is born on April 18, 1768 at Sheepwalk, near Arklow, County Wicklow.

Murray is the son of Thomas and Judith Murray, who are farmers. At the age of eight he goes to Thomas Betagh‘s school at Saul’s Court, near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. At sixteen, Archbishop John Carpenter sends him to the Irish College at Salamanca, completing his studies at the University of Salamanca. He is ordained priest in 1792 at the age of twenty-four.

After some years as curate at St. Paul’s Church in Dublin, Murray is transferred to Arklow, and is there in 1798 when the rebellion breaks out. The yeomanry shoot the parish priest in bed and Murray, to escape a similar fate, flees to the city where for two years he serves as curate at St. Andrew’s Chapel on Hawkins Street. As a preacher, he is said to be particularly effective, especially in appeals for charitable causes, such as the schools. He is then assigned to the Chapel of St. Mary in Upper Liffey Street where Archbishop John Troy is the parish priest.

In 1809, at the request of Archbishop Troy, Murray is appointed coadjutor bishop, and consecrated on November 30, 1809. In 1811 he is made Administrator of St. Andrew’s. That same year he helps Mary Aikenhead establish the Religious Sisters of Charity. While coadjutor he fills for one year the position of president of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Murray is an uncompromising opponent of a proposal granting the British government a “veto” over Catholic ecclesiastical appointments in Ireland, and in 1814 and 1815, makes two separate trips to Rome concerning the controversy.

Murray becomes Archbishop of Dublin in 1825 and on November 14, 1825 celebrates the completion of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. He enjoys the confidence of successive popes, and is held in high respect by the British government. His life is mainly devoted to ecclesiastical affairs, the establishment and organisation of religious associations for the education and relief of the poor. With the outbreak of cholera in the 1830s, in 1834 he and Mother Aikenhead found St. Vincent’s Hospital. He persuades Edmund Rice to send members of the Christian Brothers to Dublin to start a school for boys. The first is opened in a lumber yard on the City-quay. He assists Catherine McAuley in founding the Sisters of Mercy, and in 1831 professes the first three members.

Edward Bouverie Pusey has an interview with Murray in 1841, and bears testimony to his moderation, and John Henry Newman has some correspondence with him prior to Newman’s conversion from the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. A seat in the privy council at Dublin, officially offered to him in 1846, is not accepted. He takes part in the synod of the Roman Catholic clergy at Thurles in 1850.

Towards the end of his life, Murray’s eyesight is impaired, and he reads and writes with difficulty. Among his last priestly functions is a funeral service for Richard Lalor Sheil who had died in Italy, and whose body had been brought back to Ireland for burial. Murray dies in Dublin on February 26, 1852, at the age of eighty-four. He is interred in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, where a marble statue of him has been erected in connection with a monument to his memory, executed by James Farrell, president of the Royal Hibernian Academy of Fine Arts.

(Pictured: Portrait of Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, by unknown 19th century Irish portrait painter)


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Birth of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, educator, philanthropist, and the founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, is born in Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny on June 1, 1762.

Rice is born into a Catholic family and is one of nine children. It comes as a surprise that a Catholic family can be prosperous in these days but they have a lease of a good-sized farm and are industrious people. In view of his future work in education it is fortunate that he receives a very good education himself, first at a local hedge school and then at a private secondary school in Kilkenny.

Rice is apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford at the age of 17. Waterford is then the second largest port in Ireland with an expanding trade with England, France and Spain and has very special trading links across the Atlantic with Newfoundland. His uncle is involved in providing food and services for the crews and passengers of the ships trading in and out of the port of Waterford. His uncle becomes a very prosperous businessman and his business expands even more after it is handed over to his nephew. His great wealth is later to be used in transforming the lives of countless young boys.

At the age of 25 Rice marries Mary Elliot and is left a widower two years later when she dies after falling from a horse. He is left with a handicapped daughter, Mary. He calls in his step-sister Joan Murphy to help him care for his daughter so he can develop the business he inherited from his uncle.

In 1802, having properly cared for his daughter, Rice begins a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays of Waterford. His deep desire is to found a religious order of men who will educate these poor boys so that they can live with dignity and high self-esteem. But his volunteer assistants cannot stick with it. Neither can the paid teachers he later employs. Just when his spirits are lowest, and he looks to be a failure to all his business colleagues, two men from his native Callan join him not only to educate these unruly boys but also to join him in his plan to found a religious order. To do such a thing is contrary to the law. Nevertheless Rice and his growing number of companions proceed. In 1808 seven of them take religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. They are called Presentation Brothers. This is the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman. Rice has in the meantime built a substantial school out of his own money, but it is already proving too small for the many boys who flock to him for an education.

Gradually an extraordinary transformation takes place in the “quay kids” of Waterford. Rice and his Brothers educate them, clothe and feed them. Other Bishops in Ireland supply him with men whom he prepares for religious life and teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the groups in separate dioceses are not under his control but that of the Bishop. This creates problems when Brothers need to be transferred. Rice seeks and ultimately obtains approval from Pope Pius VII for his Brothers to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General. He is then able to move Brothers to wherever they are most needed. From this time on they are called Christian Brothers. By 1825 there are 30 Christian Brothers working in 12 towns and cities and educating 5,500 boys, free of charge. Many of these boys are also being clothed and fed.

Rice’s life is steeped in a spirituality that is strong and practical. He is forever caring for the poor in the wretched circumstances of their lives, for he believes there is a great need “to give to the poor in handfuls.” Many people, both men and women, from many cultures, young and old are helped and given hope and purpose and a new footing in life. He and his Brothers even card for the inmates of the jails of Waterford. He is privileged to comfort and accompany many a condemned man to the gallows. The poor never forget his love for them and see him as “a man raised up by God.”

Rice endures many and severe trials and in 1829 it seems the Christian Brothers are going to be suppressed by the law of the land. They face extinction but this does not happen. An even worse trial comes to him personally when some of his own Brothers try to undermine his work. Fortunately they are unsuccessful. He gave his Brothers as their motto a text from the Book of Job that means so much to him in his life: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

In 1838, at the age of 76, Rice retires from leadership of the congregation and returns to Waterford. After living in a near-comatose state for more than two years, he dies at Mount Sion, Waterford on August 29, 1844, where his remains lie in a casket to this day.

Rice is declared to be Blessed Edmund Rice by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1996. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is 5 May.

(From: “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice,” Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, http://www.waterfordlismore.ie)