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


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Birth of Charlotte Brontë, Novelist & Poet

charlotte-brontëCharlotte Brontë, English novelist and poet, is born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England on April 21, 1816, the third daughter of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, an Irish Anglican clergyman, and his wife Maria. In 1820 her family moves a few miles to the village of Haworth, where her father has been appointed perpetual curate of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church.

In 1824 the four eldest Brontë daughters are enrolled as pupils at the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge. The following year Maria and Elizabeth, the two eldest daughters, become ill, leave the school and ultimately die. Charlotte and sister Emily, understandably, are brought home. Charlotte ultimately uses the school as the basis for Lowood School in Jane Eyre.

In 1826 Patrick Brontë brings home a box of wooden soldiers for son Branwell. Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Ann, playing with the soldiers, conceive of and begin to write in great detail about an imaginary world which they call Angria.

In 1831 Charlotte becomes a pupil at the school at Roe Head in Mirfield, but she leaves school the following year to teach her sisters at home. She returns to Roe Head School in 1835 as a governess, leaving in 1838. The following year she accepts a position as governess in the Sidgewick family, but leaves after three months and returns to Haworth. In 1841 she becomes governess in the White family, but leaves, once again, after nine months.

Upon her return to Haworth the three sisters, led by Charlotte, decide to open their own school after the necessary preparations have been completed. In 1842 Charlotte and Emily go to Brussels to complete their studies. After a trip home to Haworth, Charlotte returns alone to Brussels, where she remains until 1844.

Upon her return home the sisters embark upon their project for founding a school, which proves to be an abject failure. Their advertisements do not elicit a single response from the public. The following year Charlotte discovers Emily’s poems and decides to publish a selection of the poems of all three sisters. The poems, written under the pseudonyms of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, are published in 1846. She also completes The Professor, which is rejected for publication. The following year, however, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Ann’s Agnes Grey are all published, still under the Bell pseudonyms.

In 1848 Charlotte and Ann visit their publishers in London, and reveal the true identities of the “Bells.” In the same year Branwell Brontë, by now an alcoholic and a drug addict, dies, and Emily dies shortly thereafter. Ann dies the following year.

In 1849 Charlotte, visiting London, begins to move in literary circles, making the acquaintance, for example, of William Makepeace Thackeray. In 1850 she edits her sister’s various works, and meets Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1851 she visits The Great Exhibition in London, and attends a series of lectures given by Thackeray.

The Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, curate of Haworth since 1845, proposes marriage to Charlotte in 1852. Her father objects violently, and Charlotte, who, though she may have pitied him, is not in love with him and refuses the proposal. Nicholls leaves Haworth in the following year, the same in which Charlotte’s Villette is published. By 1854, however, her father’s opposition to the proposed marriage has weakened, and Charlotte and Nicholls become engaged. Nicholls returns as curate at Haworth and they are married, though it seems clear that Charlotte, though she admires him, still does not love him.

Charlotte becomes pregnant soon after her wedding, but her health declines rapidly. She dies at the age of 38, with her unborn child, on March 31, 1855, three weeks before her 39th birthday, at Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Her death certificate gives the cause of death as tuberculosis, but biographers including Claire Harman suggest that she died from dehydration and malnourishment due to vomiting caused by severe morning sickness.

The Professor is published postumously in 1857, having been written in 1845-1846. In that same year, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë is published.

(Pictured: An idealised posthumous portrait by Duyckinick, 1873, based on a drawing by George Richmond)

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The Siege of Derry Begins

siege-of-derryThe Siege of Derry, the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland, begins on April 18, 1689. The siege lasts nearly three and a half months, ending on July 30, 1689 when relief ships bringing the English Army sail down Lough Foyle.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is a relatively bloodless revolution in which James II, King of England, Ireland and Scotland and a Roman Catholic convert, is ousted from power by the Parliament of England. The English throne is then offered to his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III of England, also known as William of Orange. In Scotland, the privy council asks William III to assume responsibility for the government in January 1689, and he and Mary are formally offered the Scottish throne in March. The situation is different in Ireland where most of the population are Catholics. Irish Catholics are hoping that James will re-grant them lands, which had been seized from them after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53). James thus looks to Ireland to muster support in regaining his kingdoms just as his father, Charles I, had done in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

On December 10, James flees London. He is caught but flees a second time on December 23 and makes his way to France. On March 12, James I lands in Kinsale with 6,000 French soldiers. He takes Dublin and marches north with an army of Irish and French Catholics.

In April 1689 reinforcements from England arrive under the command of Colonel John Cunningham, who is a native of the city. He is under instructions to take his orders from the Derry City Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy. Lundy advises Colonel Cunningham to leave as arrangements have been made for the city to be surrendered. Lundy calls a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. That night, Lundy and many others leave the city and board a ship to Scotland. The city’s defence is overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker, also an Anglican priest. Their slogan is “No Surrender.”

As the Jacobite army nears, all the buildings outside the city walls are set alight by the defenders to prevent them being used as cover by the besiegers.

The Jacobite army reaches Derry on April 18. James and his retinue ride to within 300 yards of Bishop’s Gate and demand the surrender of the city. He is rebuffed with shouts of “No surrender!” and some of the city’s defenders fire at him. James asks for surrender three more times but is refused each time. This marks the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire are exchanged and disease takes hold within the city. James returns to Dublin and leaves his forces under the command of Richard Hamilton.

Royal Navy warships under Admiral George Rooke arrive in Lough Foyle on June 11, but initially decline to ram through the heavily defended defensive boom across the River Foyle at Culmore.

On July 28, two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy and Phoenix, sail toward the boom, protected by the frigate HMS Dartmouth under Captain John Leake. Mountjoy rams and breaches the boom, and the ships move in, unloading many tons of food to relieve the siege. The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 4,000 Protestants of a population of 8,000 are said to have died.

The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full Association. Although violence has attended these parades in the past, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.

The song “Derry’s Walls” is written to commemorate the siege.


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RMS Titanic Departs Southampton, England

titanic-departing-southampton-dockThe RMS Titanic leaves port in Southampton, England for her first and only voyage on April 10, 1912. Built by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, the RMS Titanic is the second of the three Olympic-class ocean liners — the first being the RMS Olympic and the third being the HMHS Britannic.

Following the embarkation of the crew the passengers begin arriving at 9:30 AM, when the London and South Western Railway‘s boat train from London Waterloo station reaches Southampton Terminus railway station on the quayside, alongside RMS Titanic‘s berth. In all, 923 passengers board RMS Titanic at Southampton, 179 First Class, 247 Second Class and 494 Third Class. The large number of Third Class passengers means they are the first to board, with First and Second Class passengers following up to an hour before departure. Stewards show them to their cabins, and First Class passengers are personally greeted by Captain Edward Smith upon boarding. Third Class passengers are inspected for ailments and physical impairments that might lead to their being refused entry to the United States, a prospect the White Star Line wishes to avoid, as it would have to carry anyone who fails the examination back across the Atlantic. A total of 922 passengers are recorded as embarking on RMS Titanic at Southampton. Additional passengers are to be picked up at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown.

The maiden voyage begins on time, at noon. An accident is narrowly averted only a few minutes later as RMS Titanic passes the moored liners SS City of New York of the American Line and what would have been her running mate on the service from Southampton, White Star’s RMS Oceanic. Her huge displacement causes both of the smaller ships to be lifted by a bulge of water and then dropped into a trough. SS City of New York‘s mooring cables cannot take the sudden strain and snap, swinging her around stern-first towards RMS Titanic. A nearby tugboat, Vulcan, comes to the rescue by taking SS City of New York under tow, and Captain Smith orders RMS Titanic‘s engines to be put “full astern.” The two ships avoid a collision by a matter of about 4 feet. The incident delays RMS Titanic‘s departure for about an hour, while the drifting SS City of New York is brought under control.

After making it safely through the complex tides and channels of Southampton Water and the Solent, RMS Titanic heads out into the English Channel. She heads for the French port of Cherbourg, a journey of 77 nautical miles. The weather is windy, very fine but cold and overcast. Four hours after RMS Titanic leaves Southampton, she arrives at Cherbourg and is met by the tenders SS Traffic and the SS Nomadic which have to be used to transfer passengers from shore to ship because Cherbourg lacks docking facilities for a ship the size of RMS Titanic. An additional 274 passengers are taken aboard. Twenty-four passengers who have booked passage only cross-channel from Southampton leave aboard the tenders to be conveyed to shore. The process is completed in about 90 minutes. At 8:00 PM RMS Titanic weighs anchor and departs for Queenstown on the south coast of Ireland with arrival scheduled late the following morning.

(Pictured: RMS Titanic departing the Southampton docks on April 10, 1912)


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Death of Songwriter & Lyricist Jimmy Kennedy

jimmy-kennedyJames Kennedy, a Northern Irish songwriter and lyricist, dies in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on April 6, 1984. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics. Until the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Kennedy has more hits in the United States than any other Irish or British songwriter.

Kennedy is born near Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. His father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary, which exists before the partition of Ireland. While growing up in Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings such as the view of the Ballinderry river, the local Springhill house and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. Kennedy later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with The Barmaid’s Song, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley,” for whom Kennedy starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including Oh, Donna Clara (1930), My Song Goes Round the World (1931), and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song Isle of Capri, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including Red Sails in the Sunset (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, Harbor Lights (1937) and South of the Border (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico, and written with composer Michael Carr. Kennedy and Carr also collaborate on several West End theatre shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). My Prayer, with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title Avant de Mourir in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line. His hits also include Cokey Cokey (1945), and the English lyrics to Lili Marlene. After the end of the war, his songs include Apple Blossom Wedding (1947), Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (1953), and Love Is Like a Violin (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song The Banks of the Erne, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar International Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest. He wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81, and was interred in Taunton, Somerset. In 1997 he is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Birth of Harry Furniss, Artist & Illustrator

harry-furnissHarry Furniss, artist and illustrator, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on March 26, 1854. His father is English and his mother Scottish, Furniss identifying himself as English. He is educated at Wesley College in Dublin.

Furniss’s first job as an illustrator is for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, and when it is purchased by the owner of The Illustrated London News he moves to that magazine. There he produces illustrations of social events such as the The Boat Race, Goodwood Racecourse and even the annual fancy dress ball at Brookwood Asylum, as well as acting as a special correspondent reporting on less pleasant aspects of life in contemporary England, such as the scandalous divorce trial of Lady Colin Campbell.

After some years Furniss moves to The Graphic, initially writing and illustrating a series of supplements titled “Life in Parliament,” and he comments that “from this time forward it would be difficult to name any illustrated paper with which I have not at sometime or other been connected.”

Furniss’s most famous humorous drawings are published in Punch, for which he starts working in 1880, and to which he contributes over 2,600 drawings. He leaves Punch in 1894 when its owners discover that he has sold one of his Punch drawings to Pears Soap for use in an advertising campaign.

He illustrates Lewis Carroll‘s novel Sylvie and Bruno in 1889 and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded in 1893. Carroll and Furniss sometimes produce both pictures and text simultaneously. Carroll exerts strong control over Furniss’s illustration, to such an extent that Furniss pretends to be out when Carroll calls at his home. After completing Sylvie and Bruno Concluded Furniss vows never to work for the author again. In 1890, he illustrates the Badminton Library‘s volume on Golf.

Upon leaving Punch, Furniss brings out his own humorous magazine, Lika Joko, but when this fails he moves to the United States where he works as a writer and actor in the fledgling film industry and where, in 1914, he pioneers the first animated cartoon film for Thomas Edison.

His two-volume autobiography, titled The Confessions of a Caricaturist is published in 1902, and a further volume of personal recollections and anecdotes, Harry Furniss At Home, is published in 1904.

Furniss writes and illustrates 29 books of his own, including Some Victorian Men and Some Victorian Women and illustrates 34 works by other authors, including the complete works of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. On some projects, like his illustrations for G. E. Farrow‘s Wallypug books, Furniss collaborates with his daughter, fellow artist Dorothy Furniss.

Harry Furniss dies on January 14, 1925 in London, England.


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Birth of Melesina Trench, Writer, Poet & Diarist

melesina-trenchMelesina Trench (née Chenevix), Irish writer, poet and diarist, is born in Dublin on March 22, 1768. During her lifetime she is known more for her beauty than her writing. It is not until her son, Richard Chenevix Trench, publishes her diaries posthumously in 1861 that her work receives notice.

Melesina Chenevix is born to Philip Chenevix and Mary Elizabeth Gervais. She is orphaned before her fourth birthday and is brought up by her paternal grandfather, Richard Chenevix (1698–1779), the Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The family is of Huguenot extraction.

After the death of Richard Chenevix she goes to live with her other grandfather, the Archdeacon Gervais. On October 31, 1786 she marries Colonel Richard St. George, who dies only four years later in Portugal, leaving one son, Charles Manners St. George, who becomes a diplomat.

Between 1799 and 1800, Melesina travels around Europe, especially Germany. It is during these travels that she meets Lord Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton and the cream of European society, including Antoine de Rivarol, Lucien Bonaparte, and John Quincy Adams while living in Germany. She later recounts anecdotes of these meetings in her memoirs.

On March 3, 1803 in Paris she marries her second husband, Richard Trench, who is the sixth son of Frederick Trench and brother of Frederick Trench, 1st Baron Ashtown.

After the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens, Richard Trench is detained in France by Napoleon‘s armies, and in August 1805 Melesina takes it upon herself to petition Napoleon in person and pleads for her husband’s release. Her husband is released in 1807 and the couple settles at Elm Lodge in Bursledon, Hampshire, England.

Their son, Francis Chenevix Trench, is born in 1805. In 1807, when they are on holiday in Dublin, their son Richard Chenevix Trench is born. He goes on to be the Archbishop of Dublin, renowned poet and contemporary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Her only daughter dies a few years later at the age of four.

Trench corresponds with, amongst others, Mary Leadbeater, with whom she works to improve the lot of the peasantry at her estate at Ballybarney. She dies at the age of 59 in Malvern, Worcestershire on May 27, 1827.

Melesina Trench’s diaries and letters are compiled posthumously by Richard Chenevix Trench as The remains of the late Mrs. Richard Trench in 1861 with an engraving of her taken from a painting by George Romney. Another oil painting, The Evening Star by Sir Thomas Lawrence, has her as a subject, and she is reproduced in portrait miniatures – one in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Isabey and another by Hamilton that is copied by the engraver Francis Engleheart.

Copies of a number of her works are held at Chawton House Library.

(Pictured: “Melesina Chenevix, Mrs. George, later Mrs. Trench,” attributed to George Romney (British, 1734–1802), oil on canvas)