seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Francis McPeake II, Uilleann Piper & Singer

Francis ‘Francie’ McPeake II, uilleann piper and singer, dies in Belfast on July 7, 1986. He is a crucial figure in preserving the great Ulster piping tradition.

McPeake is born on January 20, 1917 at 43 Malcolmson Street, Belfast, the son of Francis J. McPeake (1885–1971), piper and tram conductor, and Mary McPeake (née Loney). His father, a staunch nationalist, wins the Feis piping competition in Belfast in 1909 and represents Ireland together with a Welsh harper, John Page, at the Pan-Celtic Congress in Brussels in 1911. In July 1912 he wins first prize in the learners’ class when he attends the foundation of the Pipers’ Club in Dublin. He represents Ireland in many instances as one of relatively few pipers from Northern Ireland at the time.

McPeake continues the strong musical tradition in the family. He also plays the pipes and father and son are recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952. They appear at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956 and later form the McPeake Trio along with his brother James, who plays the fiddle, the piano accordion, and later a harp made by McFall in Belfast. The trio comes to be known as The McPeakes. They sing in Irish and in English and are closely identified with particular songs, such as “The Jug of Punch,” “The Lament of Aughrim,” and “The Verdant Braes of Skreen,” though the one most associated with them is “Will You Go, Lassie, Go?”

The McPeakes win first prize at the international Eisteddfod in Wales in the late 1950s and acquire a strong international reputation with Bob Dylan being among their fans. The trio is later augmented by members of the next generation, recorded by Peter Kennedy again, and make several recordings, including Irish Folk (1964) and Welcome Home (1967), which is a cassette reissue of a 1962 album for the Topic Records label. Some of Kennedy’s recordings of the McPeake family are released on the compact disc Traditional Songs of Ireland (CD-SDL 411) in 1995. A fourth-generation family group follows, Clan McPeake, inheriting the commitment, much of the repertoire, and the verve of the earlier generations.

McPeakes’s gift for teaching is employed at the Francis McPeake School of Music, which is established in 1977, and he writes a well-reviewed tin whistle tutor entitled Smash the Windows, published by Appletree Press in 1981. He also forms the Clonard Traditional Music Society.

McPeake dies on July 7, 1986. The McPeake family remains closely associated with traditional music and with Belfast. The Francis McPeake International Summer School is established in 2004.

(From: “McPeake, Francis (‘Francie’)” by Ríonach uí Ógáin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International license)


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Death of Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Scholar & Playwright

Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies in Cushendall, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 2, 1962.

Dobbs is born in County Antrim on November 19, 1871 to barrister Conway Edward Dobbs who is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875 and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. Her mother is Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland of Eglantine, County Down. The family spends time living in Dublin where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish, however, when her father dies in 1898 her mother moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs is interested in learning Irish and finds it easier to learn in County Donegal where it is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. She is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The year 1904 sees the “Great Feis” in Antrim and Dobbs is a founder member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are actually performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. Her plays, however, are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique and in the Irish magazine Ériu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. Although her political views are not clearly known, Dobbs has been a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

Dobbs dies at her home, Portnagolan House, Cushendall, on January 2, 1962.


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Birth of Irish Folk Musician Finbar Furey

finbar-fureyFinbar Furey, multi-instrumental Irish folk musician, is born in Ballyfermot, Dublin on September 28, 1946. He is best known for his band of brothers, The Fureys.

Furey’s well-known musician father, Ted, starts him on the Uilleann pipes while he is very young. By his teens, he has won three All Ireland Medals, The Oireachtas, and many Feisanna. He is the only piper to win the All Ireland, the Oireachtas medal and the four province titles in the same year. He is also an Irish Traveller.

Furey popularizes the pipes worldwide while on tour with his brother Eddie in the 1960s. In 1969, he and Eddie begin touring as backup musicians for the influential Irish folk group, The Clancy Brothers. He plays the pipes, as well as the banjo, tin whistle, and guitar with the group in live performances, on television, and on recordings. The Furey brothers leave the group the following year and begin performing as a duo again. They are awarded Single of the Year by John Peel in 1972.

When younger brothers Paul and George join the band several years later, The Fureys enjoy hits including When You Were Sweet Sixteen, Tara Hill, Green Fields of France, Red Rose Café and The Lonesome Boatman. In Britain, they become one of the first Irish folk groups to play on Top of the Pops.

In 1997, after nearly thirty years as The Fureys’ front man, Furey decides the time is right to follow his own path as a singer songwriter. He decides to step aside and pursue his solo career, to present his definitive one-man show and to explore new pastures as a singer, producer and writer.

In the early 2000s, Furey begins an acting career. His first appearance is in the Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York. He also appears in Adam & Paul (2004), Strength and Honour (2007), short Paris Sexy (2010), and the RTÉ Television series Love/Hate.

In 2011 Furey releases the album Colours on Dolphin Music. The album features guest performances from Mary Black and Shayne Ward and is released in North America in 2012 on the Valley Entertainment record label.

In August 2013, Furey appears on the Irish television show The Hit. He records a single pitched by a songwriter, Gerry Fleming. The single, “The Last Great Love Song”, charts at number one in the Irish charts against Mundy‘s song “Jigsaw Man” written by Mark Walsh which charts at number five. The song is performed again with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in the final and comes in first place in the public vote earning the title “The Ultimate Hit.”


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Death of Máire Ni Scolai, Singer & Actress

maire-ni-scolaiMáire Ni Scolai, Irish language singer and actress, dies on June 29, 1985.

Ní Scolaí is born in May 24, 1909 in Dublin. She is the daughter of Michael Scully, a commercial traveler and Mary Scully (née Kavanagh). She attends the Central Model Schools, were she learns Irish through the pilot Irish language courses. She studies Irish further at Ring College, County Waterford. She moves to Galway with her sister Mona as a young adult, and begins teaching Irish singing and dancing. With the Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc, she plays a number of leading roles. In Micheál Mac Liammóir‘s 1928 production of Diarmaid agus Gráinne, she plays Gráinne.

Ní Scolaí’s interpretation of traditional Irish songs gains her fame, and she sings many times on 2RN as well as radio in France, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. She trains as a mezzo-soprano and licentiate of the Trinity College of Music, London, and is noted as one of the few people who combines classical music with sean-nós singing successfully. She wins awards at feiseanna such as Feis Chonnacht and Feis Shligigh, later becoming a judge. She is also an award winner at Aonach Tailteann, as well at the Welsh Eisteddfod, the Scottish mòd, the Manx Tynwald, and the Breton Bretagne celebrations. She performs at London’s Covent Garden and Queen’s Hall. She travels around Gaeltacht areas in Ireland to collect and save songs that might have otherwise been lost. The traditional singers she collects from included Cáit Uí Chonláin in Spiddal and Labhras “Binn” Ó Cadhla. HMV records and releases her performances of Seacht ndolas na Maighduine Mhuire, Caoineadh na dtrí Muire, and Eibhlín a Rún.

On September 9, 1931 she marries Liam Ó Buachalla at University Church, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. She dies on June 29, 1985, and is buried in Galway.

(Pictured: Ciarán Mac Mathúna and Máire Ní Scolaí (1976))


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Death of Joan Denise Moriarty, Ballet Dance & Choreographer

joan-denise-moriartyJoan Denise Moriarty, Irish ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher of ballet and traditional Irish dancer and musician, dies on January 24, 1992. She is a key figure in the development of both amateur and professional ballet in Ireland.

Little is known of Moriarty’s early life. Her year of birth is estimated between 1910 and 1913 but no documentation has been found. The place of her birth is also unknown, and even the country is uncertain. She grows up as the daughter of Michael Augustus Moriarty, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College and contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his wife, Marion (née McCarthy). The Moriartys are originally from Mallow, County Cork, where her grandfather John Moriarty was a successful solicitor.

Moriarty is brought up in England. She studies ballet until her early teens with Dame Marie Rambert. She is an accomplished Irish step-dancer and traditional musician, and becomes the champion Irish step-dancer of Britain on April 24, 1931. She also wins a swimming championship. She is a member of the Liverpool branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge.

In the autumn of 1933 Moriarty returns with her family to their native Mallow in County Cork. In 1934, she sets up her first school of dance there. From 1938 she also gives weekly classes in Cork in the Gregg Hall and Windsor School. During the 1930s she takes part in the Cork Feis, annual arts competitions with a focus on traditional dance and music, competing in Irish step-dancing, warpipes and operatic solo singing. She performs on the warpipes in various public concerts and gives at least two broadcasts. In 1938 she is invited by Seán Neeson, lecturer in Irish music at University College Cork, to perform at a summer school which the Music Department organises for primary school teachers.

Moriarty’s mother dies in February 1940. The following November she moves to Cork where she sets up the Moriarty School of Dancing. The early years during the war are very difficult financially. In the early 1940s she performs with her dancers in musicals and variety shows at the Cork Opera House.

In 1945 the composer Aloys Fleischmann invites Moriarty to perform in his Clare’s Dragoons for baritone, war pipes, choir and orchestra, which had been commissioned by the national broadcasting company, Radio Éireann, for the Thomas Davis centenary. Moriarty agrees, on condition that his Cork Symphony Orchestra would play for her Ballet Company’s annual performances, which marks the beginning of a lifelong collaboration.

Branches of the Moriarty School of Dance are established in Bandon, Clonmel, Fermoy, Killarney, Mallow, Tralee, Waterford, and Youghal. Moriarty bequeaths her Cork school to Breda Quinn, a long-standing member of the Cork Ballet Company, who runs it with another Moriarty student, Sinéad Murphy, who creates a new dance school, Cork School of Dance, after Breda’s death in 2009.

Moriarty founds the Cork Ballet Group in 1947, the members recruited from her school. It gives its first performance in June of that year at the Cork Opera House. In 1954 the group is registered as a company under the name “Cork Ballet Company.” The company’s final season is 1993, the year following Moriarty’s death.

Irish Theatre Ballet is founded by Moriarty in the summer of 1959, and gives its first performance in December 1959. It is a small touring company of 10 to 12 dancers, which travels all over Ireland, going to some 70 venues annually with extracts from the classical ballets, contemporary works and folk ballets. In an attempt to resolve the constant financial difficulties, the Arts Council in 1963 insists on a merger with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet. The amalgamation does not bring a solution to the financial problems besetting both companies and, after one joint season, the amalgamated company, Irish National Ballet, has to be disbanded in March 1964.

In 1973, the Irish government decides to fund a professional ballet company, the Irish Ballet Company, and entrusts it to Moriarty. Like Irish Theatre Ballet, it is a touring company which travels all over Ireland in two annual seasons. The company has a number of striking successes between 1978 and 1981. In 1983 the name of the company is changed to Irish National Ballet. The severe recession in Ireland during the 1980s and shrinking funds force the Irish National Ballet to disband in 1989.

Moriarty spends almost 60 years working for ballet in Ireland. Her amateur Cork Ballet Company is still the longest-lasting ballet company the country’s history. Her two professional touring companies bring ballet to all parts of Ireland for 21 years. She receives numerous awards for her work, among them an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1979.

During the last years of her life, Moriarty suffers ill-health, but continues her work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringing the shows to towns in the county. She dies on January 24, 1992 in Dublin.