seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Playwright Thomas Cornelius Murray

thomas-cornelius-murrayThomas Cornelius Murray, Irish dramatist who is closely associated with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Macroom, County Cork on January 17, 1873.

Murray is educated at St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin. He works as a schoolteacher and in 1900 is appointed headmaster of the national school in Rathduff, County Cork. His first play, The Wheel of Fortune, is produced in 1909 by the Little Theatre in Cork, a theatre he had co-founded with Daniel Corkery, Con O’Leary and Terence MacSwiney. The play is revised and renamed Sovereign Love in 1913. In 1915, he moves to Dublin as headmaster of the Model Schools at Inchicore, where he remains until his retirement from teaching in 1932.

Murray’s play Birthright is performed in the Abbey Theatre in 1910 and establishes him as a writer of force. In all, he writes fifteen plays, all of which are produced by the Abbey. His two most highly regarded works are Maurice Harte (1912) and Autumn Fire (1924). Both of these and Birthright are performed in New York City on Broadway, with Autumn Fire having a run of 71 performances. He also writes an autobiographical novel Spring Horizon (1937).

It has been stated both by A. DeGiacomo and by R. Allen Cave that, in the Art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, Murray is awarded a bronze medal for his play Birthright. However, according to the official record for the games, although Murray is a participant in the literature category with this play and also with Maurice Harte, he does not win a medal.

T. C. Murray dies in Dublin on March 7, 1959.


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Birth of Richard “Humanity Dick” Martin

richard-martinColonel Richard Martin, Irish politician and campaigner against cruelty to animals, is born in Ballynahinch, County Galway on January 15, 1754. He is known as “Humanity Dick,” a nickname bestowed on him by King George IV. He succeeds in getting the pioneering Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, nicknamed ‘Martin’s Act,’ passed into British law.

Martin is brought up at Dangan House, situated on the River Corrib, four miles upriver from the town of Galway. The Martins are one of the Tribes of Galway. They own one of the biggest estates in all of Great Britain and Ireland as well as much of the land in Connemara. He studies at Harrow School in London and then gains admission to Trinity College, Cambridge on March 4, 1773. He does not graduate with a degree but studies for admission to the bar and is admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on February 1, 1776. He serves as a lawyer in Ireland and becomes High Sheriff of Galway Town in 1782.

Martin is elected to represent County Galway in Parliament in 1800. He is very popular with people in Galway and is well known as a duelist and as a witty speaker in the houses of Parliament. He campaigns for Catholic emancipation but is best remembered for his work to outlaw cruelty to animals. He earns the nickname “Humanity Dick” because of his compassion for the plight of animals at that time.

Through Martin’s work the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is enacted in 1822. This is the first piece of legislation which aims to protect animals from cruelty. Most people do not recognise animal rights in those days and people often make fun of him. Cartoons of him with donkey ears appears in the newspapers of the day.

After having the Bill passed by Parliament, Martin actively seeks out cases where cruelty has been inflicted on animals on the streets of London. He is responsible for bringing many people to court for cruelty against horses. He often pays half the fine of the accused in cases where the accused cannot afford it and seems genuinely sorry for his actions.

Due to Martin’s profile as a politician and as the drafter of the anti-cruelty legislation, a public perception develops that he is the initiator and creator of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). At the Society’s first anniversary meeting he sets the public record straight and gives credit to Rev. Arthur Broome, although he maintains an interest in the Society.

After the election of 1826, Martin, now a heavy gambler, loses his parliamentary seat because of a petition which accuses him of illegal intimidation during the election. He flees into hasty exile to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, because he can no longer enjoy a parliamentary immunity to arrest for debt. He dies there peacefully in the presence of his second wife and their three daughters on January 6, 1834. A year after Martin’s death, the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act is extended to cover cruelty to all domestic animals.

Martin’s work continues today. The RSPCA now has members all over the world. In Ireland it is known as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA). Many other groups have been set up which protect animals from cruelty.


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Death of Padraic Colum, Poet & Novelist

padraic-columPadraic Colum, Irish-born American poet, novelist, biographer, playwright, and children’s author whose lyrics capture the traditions and folklore of rural Ireland, dies in Enfield, Connecticut on January 11, 1972. He is one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Colum was born on December 8, 1881 in Columcille, County Longford, the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. In 1892, the family moves to Glasthule, near Dublin and he attends the local national school. He starts writing after he finishes school and meets a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joins the Gaelic League and is a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He becomes a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he meets James Joyce and the two become lifelong friends.

Influenced by the literary activity of the Celtic revival centered in Dublin at the turn of the century, Colum publishes the collection of poetry Wild Earth (1907). He co-founds The Irish Review in 1911, then three years later settles permanently in the United States. His varied literary output includes volumes of poetry including Dramatic Legends (1922) and Creatures (1927), plays such as Broken Soil (first performed 1903) and The Land (1905), novels, anthologies of folklore and children’s books. The reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959) is written with his wife Mary (Maguire), a well-known literary critic.

The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 living in Paris and Nice, where Padraic renews his friendship with James Joyce and becomes involved in the transcription of Finnegans Wake. After their time in France, the couple moves to New York City, where they do some teaching at Columbia University and City College of New York. He is a prolific author and publishes a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. While in New York, he writes the screenplay for the 1954 stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. It is his only screenplay.

Mary dies in 1957 and Colum completes Our Friend James Joyce, which they had worked on together. It is published in 1958. He divides his later years between the United States and Ireland. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awards him the Regina Medal.

Padraic Colum dies on January 11, 1972, at the age of 90, in Enfield, Connecticut. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, Dublin.


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Birth of Francis Sylvester Mahony, Humorist & Journalist

francis-sylvester-mahonyFrancis Sylvester Mahony, Irish humorist and journalist also known by the pen name Father Prout, is born on December 31, 1804 in Cork, County Cork.

Mahony is born to Martin Mahony and Mary Reynolds. He is educated at the Jesuit Clongowes Wood College, in County Kildare, and later in the Abbey of Saint-Acheul, a similar school in Amiens, France and then at Rue de Sèvres, Paris, and later in Rome. He begins teaching at the Jesuit school of Clongowes as master of rhetoric, but is soon after expelled. He then goes to London and becomes a leading contributor to Fraser’s Magazine, under the signature of “Father Prout” (the original Father Prout, whom Mahony knew in his youth, born in 1757, was parish priest of Watergrasshill, County Cork). At one point he is director of this magazine.

Mahony is witty and learned in many languages. One form which his humour takes is the professed discovery of the originals in Latin, Greek, or mediaeval French of popular modern poems and songs. Many of these jeux d’esprit are collected as Reliques of Father Prout. He pretends that these poems had been found in Fr. Prout’s trunk after his death. He wittily describes himself as “an Irish potato seasoned with Attic salt.” Later he acts as foreign correspondent to various newspapers, and during the last eight years of his life his articles form a main attraction of The Globe.

In his native Cork Mahoney is best remembered for his poem “The Bells of Shandon” and his pen-name is synonymous with the city and the Church of St. Anne, Shandon.

Mahony spends the last two years of his life in a monastery and dies on May 18, 1866 in Paris reconciled to the Church.

The Reliques of Father Prout originally appear in two volumes in 1836 with illustrations by Maclise. They are reissued in Henry George Bohn‘s Bohn’s Libraries in 1860. Another volume, Final Reliques, is edited by Douglas Jerrold and published in 1876. The Works of Father Prout, edited by Charles Kent, is published in 1881. Facts and Figures from Italy (1847) is made from his Rome letters to London’s The Daily News.


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Death of William Sampson, United Irishman, Author & Lawyer

william-sampsonWilliam Sampson, member of the Society of United Irishmen, author and Irish Protestant lawyer known for his defence of religious liberty in Ireland and the United States, dies in New York City on December 28, 1836.

Sampson is born in Derry, County Londonderry, to an affluent Anglican family. He attends Trinity College Dublin and studies law at Lincoln’s Inn in London. In his twenties, he briefly visits an uncle in North Carolina. In 1790 he marries Grace Clark and they have two sons, William and John, and a daughter, Catherine Anne.

Admitted to the Irish Bar, Sampson becomes Junior Counsel to John Philpot Curran, and helps him provide legal defences for many members of the Society of United Irishmen. A member of the Church of Ireland, he is disturbed by anti-Catholic violence and contributes writings to the Society’s newspapers. He is arrested at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, imprisoned, and compelled to leave Ireland for exile in Europe.

Shipwrecked at Pwllheli in Wales, Sampson makes his way to exile in Porto, Portugal, where he is again arrested, imprisoned in Lisbon, and then expelled. After living some years in France, and then Hamburg, he flees to England ahead of the approach of Napoleon‘s armies where he is re-arrested. After unsuccessfully petitioning for a return to Ireland, he arrives in New York City on July 4, 1806.

In the United States, Sampson successfully continues his career in the law, eventually sending for his family. He sets up a business publishing detailed accounts of the court proceedings in cases with popular appeal. In 1809 he reports on the case of a Navy Lieutenant Renshaw prosecuted for dueling. That same year he handles a case against Amos and Demis Broad, accused of brutally beating their slave, Betty, and her 3-year-old daughter where Sampson succeeded in having both slaves manumitted. The authorities in Ireland had disbarred Sampson, which causes him some bitter amusement, as it does not affect his work in the United States.

Sampson’s most important case in the United States is in 1813 and is referred to as “The Catholic Question in America.” Police investigating the misdemeanor of receiving stolen goods question the suspects’ priest, the Reverend Mr. Kohlman. He declines to given any information that he has heard in confession. The priest is called to testify at the trial in the Court of General Sessions in the City of New York. He again declines. The issue whether to compel the testimony is fully briefed and carefully argued on both sides, with a detailed examination of the common law. In the end, the confessional privilege is accepted for the first time in a court of the United States.

William Sampson dies on December 28, 1836 and is buried in the Riker Family graveyard on Long Island in what is now East Elmhurst, Queens, New York. He is later reinterred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is now buried in the same plot as Matilda Witherington Tone and William Theobald Wolfe Tone, the wife and son of the Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone, and his daughter Catherine, the wife of William Theobald Wolfe Tone.


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Death of Pat Gillen, Irish D-Day Survivor

pat-gillenFormer Commando Pat Gillen, one of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans, dies at the age of 89 at his home in Cork, County Cork on December 27, 2014. He is among the first wave of troops to land on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A rifleman in the 6 Commando unit charged with securing the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Gillen is never injured despite making a six-mile trek through marshland from the beach to Caen and spending weeks in the trenches at Saulnier. More than half his brigade falls in the face of vicious fire from German forces.

On his return to Ireland, Gillen applies for a job as a male stenographer with Ford Motor Company in Cork, where the company’s first plant outside the United States employs thousands of workers in the 1930s. Having studied Pitman shorthand, typing and bookkeeping at school, he is called for an interview that includes a shorthand test in which the only word “I could just not get right was carburetor.”

Not alone does Gillen land the job with the U.S. car and tractor firm, he also meets Rita, the daughter of his B&B landlady, whom he marries two years later. Blessed with a lively sense of humour, he has a natural flair for getting on with people and is assigned to Ford’s public relations division.

Gillen’s ease when dealing with journalists is an attribute that serves him well during an 11-year spell as Ford’s press officer, especially in the turbulent times leading up to its decision to close the Cork manufacturing plant in 1984, when he also retires after 38 years with the company.

A witty, unassuming man, Gillen’s abiding interests are gardening, his twelve grandchildren, the FCA, and letter-writing to wartime comrades, a practice he keeps up until weeks before his death.

On December 8, 2014, just over two weeks before his death and surrounded by his family in an emotional ceremony at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Gillen is presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, in recognition of his courage and gallantry in the liberation of France. It is the highest French honour.

With characteristic generosity, Gillen dedicates the medal to fellow countrymen, including two cousins who fought in but did not survive World War II. “This award is as much theirs as mine,” he said. “By the grace of God, I survived to be here today while many of my friends sleep in the fields of France.”

At the time of his passing Gillen is surrounded by his family. Predeceased by Rita, he is survived by their four children, Robin, Mary, Patricia, and Gerard, his sister, Mary, and brothers Michael (“Chick”), Liam and Bobby. His sister Angela Scully also predeceases him.

(From: D-Day veteran who became Ford’s PR man in Cork, The Irish Times, January 17, 2015)


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Death of Samuel Beckett, Playwright & Poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, dies in Paris, France on December 22, 1989.

Beckett is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art of evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies on July 17, 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, he dies on December 22, 1989.