seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Birth of Joe Gilmore, Head Barman

joe-gilmoreJoe Gilmore, one of the longest running Head Barmen at the Savoy Hotel‘s American Bar, is born in Belfast on May 19, 1922.

The Gilmores own a popular tobacconist shop at the top of the Limestone Road, which remains in business through the Troubles until the mid-1990s. But Gilmore has plans to go places so, at the age of sixteen, he sets out with a friend for London.

His first job is packing rolls of wallpaper at a Sanderson’s factory before moving to a Lyons Corner House as a dish washer with the prospect of getting some decent dinners. He begins training as a barman at London’s La Coquille and The Olde Bell at Hurley, where a chance encounter serving a stylish couple sets the scene for the remarkable life that follows.

At the age of eighteen, Gilmore starts as a trainee barman at The American Bar in 1940 and is appointed Head Barman in 1955, a position he holds until he retires in 1976. Over his years as Head Barman, Gilmore invents numerous cocktails to mark special events and important guests, a longstanding tradition at the American Bar.

Gilmore has invented cocktails in honor of a number of royalty, politicians, and celebrities including the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Princess Anne, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Prince Andrew, Sir Winston Churchill, and American Presidents Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon. He also invents cocktails to commemorate the first walk on the moon in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, and the American and Russian link-up in space in 1975.

In addition to serving five generations of royals at private receptions and parties, Gilmore has also served Errol Flynn, Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grace Kelly, George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Noël Coward, Agatha Christie, Alice Faye, Ingrid Bergman, Julie Andrews, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

Gilmore never forgets his Irish roots or family, and never loses his soft Belfast accent. Joe Gilmore dies at the age of 93 on December 18, 2015. His funeral is arranged by A. France & Son, undertakers to Admiral Nelson and near-neighbours in Lamb Conduit Street for more than 50 years. The Savoy sends their senior management and bar staff in their smart white uniforms.