seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Daniel O’Donnell, Singer & Presenter

daniel-o-donnellDaniel Francis Noel O’Donnell, singer, television presenter and philanthropist affectionately known as “Wee Daniel,” is born in Kincasslagh, County Donegal on December 12, 1961. After rising to public attention in 1983 he has since become a household name in Ireland and Britain. He has also had considerable success in the United States and Australia. In 2012, he becomes the first artist to have a different album in the British charts every year for 25 consecutive years.

Known for his close relationship with his fanbase, and his charismatic and engaging stage presence, O’Donnell’s music has been described as a mix of country and Irish folk. He has had twenty UK Top 40 albums as well as fifteen Top 40 singles and has sold 10 million records to date. He is widely considered a “cultural icon” in Ireland, and is often parodied in the media.

During his school years, O’Donnell considers pursuing a career in banking. Despite this, a career in music is also always a possibility. As a youngster, O’Donnell performs in the local religious choir. In 1980, he goes to Galway to pursue business studies, however, he never settles down and by Christmas he is in his sister Margo‘s band.

Not getting enough opportunities to perform solos with the band, in 1983 O’Donnell decides to record his own record. On February 9, 1983, he records his first single, Johnny McCauley‘s My Donegal Shore, with £1,200 of his own money, selling all the copies himself. Later that year, he forms his own musical group, Country Fever. After the group disbands, he forms The Grassroots. In 1985, the manager of the Ritz label, Mick Clerkin, sees him perform and introduces him to Sean Reilly, who remains as his manager to this day.

Under Reilly’s management, O’Donnell starts to sell concerts out in England on a regular basis. By January 1992, he has hit rock bottom with exhaustion. After a three-month recovery break, he returns to the stage, this time at the Point Theatre, Dublin.

By the mid-1990s, O’Donnell has become a household name across Ireland and Great Britain. He appears on popular television shows in both countries and wins various awards. Among the accolades, he is named Donegal Person of the Year in 1989, which he still rates as the best award. He is given the Irish Entertainer of the Year award in 1989, 1992 and 1996. His first chart hit single in the UK is in 1992 with I Just Want to Dance With You (later covered by George Strait). This also leads to his first-ever appearance on Top of the Pops.

During his lengthy career, O’Donnell has made friends with his childhood idols, including Cliff Richard and Loretta Lynn. He has also forged a close professional relationship with the Irish songstress Mary Duff, who regularly tours with O’Donnell.

On November 4, 2002, O’Donnell marries Majella McLennan from Thurles, whom he had met on holiday in Tenerife three years previously. The couple lives in Meenbanad, County Donegal, and spend time at their second home in Tenerife.

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Birth of Kenneth Branagh, Actor, Director & Producer

kenneth-branaghSir Kenneth Charles Branagh, British actor, director, producer, and screenwriter, is born in Belfast on December 10, 1960.

Branagh is the middle of three children of working-class Protestant parents Frances (née Harper) and William Branagh, a plumber and joiner who runs a company that specialises in fitting partitions and suspended ceilings. He lives in the Tiger’s Bay area of the city and is educated at Grove Primary School.

At the age of nine, Branagh moves with his family to Reading, Berkshire, England, to escape the Troubles. He is educated at Whiteknights Primary School, then Meadway School, Tilehurst, where he appears in school productions such as Toad of Toad Hall and Oh, What a Lovely War!. He attends the amateur Reading Cine & Video Society (now called Reading Film & Video Makers) as a member and is a keen member of Progress Theatre for whom he is now the patron. He goes on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and in 2015 succeeds Richard Attenborough as its president.

Branagh has both directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare‘s plays, including Henry V (1989) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Academy Award for Best Director), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Othello (1995), Hamlet (1996) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and As You Like It (2006).

Branagh stars in numerous other films and television series including Fortunes of War (1987), Woody Allen‘s Celebrity (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), The Road to El Dorado (2000), Conspiracy (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Warm Springs (2005), as Major General Henning von Tresckow in Valkyrie (2008), The Boat That Rocked (2009), Wallander (2008–2016), My Week with Marilyn (2011) as Sir Laurence Olivier (nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), and as Royal Navy Commander Bolton in the action-thriller Dunkirk (2017). He directs such films as Dead Again (1991), in which he also stars, Swan Song (1992) (nominated for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) in which he also stars, The Magic Flute (2006), Sleuth (2007), the blockbuster superhero film Thor (2011), the action thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014) in which he also co-stars, the live-action film Cinderella (2015), and the mystery drama adaptation of Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express (2017), in which he also stars as Hercule Poirot.

Branagh narrates the series Cold War (1998), the BBC documentary miniseries Walking with Dinosaurs (1999), Walking with Beasts (2001) and Walking with Monsters (2005). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and has won three BAFTAs, and an Emmy Award. He is appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2012 Birthday Honours and is knighted on November 9, 2012. He is awarded the Freedom of the City of his native city of Belfast in January 2018.


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Death of Historian Richard Bagwell

richard-bagwell-ireland-under-the-tudorsRichard Bagwell, noted historian of the Stuart and Tudor periods in Ireland and a political commentator with strong Unionist convictions, dies on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, Clonmel, County Tipperary. He is the eldest son of John Bagwell, M.P. for Clonmel from 1857 to 1874. His son John Philip Bagwell follows the family tradition in politics becoming a Senator in the government of the Irish Free State in 1923.

Bagwell is educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford in England and is called to the Bar, being admitted to Inner Temple in 1866. He serves as a special local government commissioner (1898–1908) and as a commissioner of national education (1905–18).

As a historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Ireland, Bagwell works for nearly sixty years to produce his two three-volume works, Ireland under the Tudors (1885–90) and Ireland under the Stuarts (1909–16), using manuscript sources throughout. He is the first to treat this period in a systematic and scholarly fashion. For this solid work he is made Member of the Royal Irish Academy (MRIA) and honoured by the University of Dublin and the University of Oxford in 1918. He also writes the historical entry on “Ireland” for the Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago 1911).

A one-time liberal, Bagwell is a founder member (1885) of the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, renamed the Irish Unionist Alliance (IUA) in 1891. A “diehard” unionist, he is one of the most prominent and respected southern unionists. A tireless political publicist, he is an assiduous letter-writer to the newspapers, a didactic pamphleteer, and a regular speaker at political meetings throughout Ireland. He opposes the majority report of the Irish Convention (1917) and is one of the original signatories of the “Call to unionists” that splits the IUA.

Bagwell serves as a Commissioner on National Education between 1905 and 1918 and a member of the Patriotic Union (Southern Unionists). He holds the position of High Sheriff of Tipperary in 1869. He is a Justice of the Peace for County Tipperary, and later for County Waterford, and holds the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Tipperary. He is also Special Local Government Commissioner between 1898 and 1903 and President of the Borstal Association of Ireland.

Bagwell marries Harriet Philippa Joscelyn, fourth daughter of P. J. Newton of Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, on January 9, 1873. The couple has one son, John Philip Bagwell, and three daughters, Emily Georgiana, Margaret and Lilla Minnie.

Richard Bagwell dies one hundred years ago today on December 4, 1918 at Marlfield, having suffered from gout for many years.


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The Londonderry Tragedy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most tragic events of the Great Famine occurs on December 1, 1848 when 72 people suffocate in the small aft cabin of the paddle steamer Londonderry, which often sails between Sligo and Liverpool.

One hundred seventy-two men, women, and children, mostly impoverished farmers from County Mayo and County Sligo, and their families, fleeing the ravages of the Great Famine, board the Londonderry in Sligo in late November. As the steamer is approaching Derry on the first leg of its journey to England, a sudden storm prompts Captain Alexander Johnstone to order his crew to force all the passengers into a small aft cabin, measuring about eighteen feet in length and, at most, twelve feet wide. The situation is exacerbated when the only ventilation available is covered with a tarpaulin to ensure that water does not get into the cabin. As a result, many of the passengers begin to suffocate.

The captain seeks refuge from the storm in the harbour at Derry on December 1. When the hatches of the Londonderry are opened it reveals a horrific scene. The corpses of 31 women, 23 men and 18 children are found in the grossly overcrowded hold. Soldiers are called to the docks as public rage intensifies. The public outcry that follows belatedly forces the British government to publish guidelines for the safe transport of Irish Immigrants, too late unfortunately for the victims of the coffin ship Londonderry.

After the tragic voyage, the master and two mates are arrested. During an inquest, survivors accuse the Scottish crew of being cruel and savage. The captain says that he had given orders for the decks to be cleared for the passengers’ safety while the storm raged.

The coroner’s jury returns a verdict of manslaughter, commenting that more consideration was shown to the cattle than the passengers entrusted to their care.

In 1996 six coffins are found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry, in grounds close to the former workhouse. They are believed to be the remains of some of the poverty-stricken travelers from the ill-fated paddle steamer.

(Pictured: The Great Hunger Plaque, Derry, near Derry County Borough, Derry, Clooney Park, Creggan and Boom Hall)


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)


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Assassination of Ross McWhirter

ross-mcwhirterAlan Ross McWhirter, co-founder of The Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers, is murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on November 27, 1975.

McWhirter is the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret “Bunty” Williamson. He is born at Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England on August 12, 1925. Like his two brothers, he is educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946 he serves as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ross and his twin brother Norris become sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they found an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris McWhirter’s words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” In the same year they publish Get to Your Marks.

While building up their accounts, they both work as sports journalists. One of the athletes they know and cover is runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommends them to Hugh Beaver. After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoy testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agree to start work on the book that becomes The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first 198-page green volume is at the bookstalls, and in four more months it is the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller. Both brothers are regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They are noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continues on the programme after Ross’s death.

In the early 1960s, McWhirter is a Conservative Party activist and seeks, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others found the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

McWhirter advocates various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offers a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In doing so, he recognises that he might then be a target himself. This is considered a “bounty” by the IRA Army Council, a view that leads directly to the events that follow, although the idea is not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.

At 6:45 PM on November 27, 1975, McWhirter is shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom are members of what becomes known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He is shot with a .357 Magnum revolver at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. He is taken to Chase Farm Hospital but dies soon after being admitted. His killers are captured and charged with his and nine other murders. They are sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)