seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Frank Ryan, Politician, Journalist & Paramilitary Activist

Frank Ryan, politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist, is born in the townland of Bottomstown, Elton, County Limerick, on September 11, 1902. A fascinating, somewhat mythical figure, he lives during turbulent times when Ireland finally disposes of tyrannical British rule in Ireland and becomes an icon for socialist republicans in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

Ryan’s parents, Vere Foster Ryan and Annie Slattery, are National School teachers at Bottomstown with a taste for Irish traditional music, and they live in a house full of books. He attends St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. From then on he is devoted to the restoration of the Irish language. He studies Celtic Studies at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps. He serves as a flying column member during the murderous Irish War of Independence (1919-21), thereby interrupting his studies. He leaves UCD before graduating to join the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade in 1922.

Ryan fights on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is wounded and interned. In November 1923 he is released and returns to UCD. He secures his degree in Celtic Studies and further secures the editorship of An Phoblacht (The Republic), the newspaper of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The split in the Irish independence party, Sinn Féin, results in regular fist fights between pro and anti-Treaty forces. Cumann na nGaedhael, the pro-Treaty political party in government, recruits the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts) under former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to protect their members from anti-Treaty IRA protesters at annual Armistice Day and Wolfe Tone commemorations. Ryan is a forceful orator at these events and is frequently arrested and beaten up by the Gardai. The fractious politics results in Dáil members Sean Hales and Kevin O’Higgins being shot dead in public.

Ryan resigns from the IRA and founds the Republican Congress with Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Worker’s strikes unite Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic workers protesting against low wages and long hours.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) inspires Ryan to lead the first contingent of Irish volunteers to support the Popular Front government of Republican Spain. A brave and inspiring leader, he serves with Italian and German Republican divisions. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Following recuperation in Ireland, he is appointed adjutant to republican General José Miaja. During the Aragon Offensive he is captured with 150 of his men in April 1938 and sentenced to death. Irish President, Éamon de Valera, intervenes with General Francisco Franco and Ryan’s sentence is commuted to thirty years. His health suffers severely in Burgos Prison, Spain during his two year incarceration.

Franco refuses to release Ryan because he is considered his most dangerous prisoner. In August 1940 he is transferred to Berlin, where he is re-united with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. An attempt to return both men to Ireland by U-boat ends with Russell dying from a perforated ulcer. Ryan voluntarily returns to Germany where he serves as the unofficial IRA ambassador for German intelligence. Irishman Francis Stuart, son-in-law of Maud Gonne, who writes some of William Joyce’s propaganda, takes good care of Ryan until his untimely death at a hospital in Loschwitz in Dresden on June 10, 1944.

Ryan’s funeral in Dresden is attended by Elizabeth Clissmann, wife of Helmut Clissmann, and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwards details of Ryan’s fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death is pleurisy and pneumonia.

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan locates Ryan’s grave in Dresden. Three volunteers of the International Brigades, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan travel to East Germany as a guard of honour to repatriate Ryan’s remains in 1979. On June 21, 1979, his remains arrive in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, his local church when he lived in Dublin. The church is packed with all shades of Republican and left-wing opinion, as well as those from his past such as the Stuarts, the Clissmanns, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, and ex-comrades and sympathizers from all over the world. The cortège on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery halts at the GPO in memory of the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising. His coffin is borne to the grave in Glasnevin Cemetery by Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor, Michael O’Riordan and Terry Flanagan. Con Lehane delivers the funeral oration while a piper plays “Limerick’s Lamentation.” He is buried next to Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

Ryan leads a vicarious life in pursuit of human rights, socialism and republicanism. His life story remains more colourful than fiction.


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Birth of Mary Devenport O’Neill, Poet & Dramatist

Mary Devenport O’Neill, Irish poet and dramatist and a friend and colleague of W. B. Yeats, George Russell, and Austin Clarke, is born in Barrack Street, Loughrea, County Galway, on August 3, 1879.

O’Neill is born Mary Devenport, the daughter of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sub-constable, John Devenport, and his wife Bridget (née Burke). She attends the Dominican convent, Eccles Street, Dublin before enrolling in the Metropolitan School of Art from 1898 to 1903. In 1900 she wins the year’s prize in the School of Art. She apparently considers teaching as a career, as she is listed on the college register as a teacher in training from 1901 to 1903. It is while an art student that she starts to correspond with the writer she admires, Joseph O’Neill. Their relationship develops, and the couple marries on June 19, 1908, settling in Kenilworth Square, Dublin.

Many of O’Neill’s husband’s friends disapprove of her modern and unconventional ideas, but she is popular with “the Rathgar Group” who attends George Russell’s Sunday salons. After a few years, she establishes her own salon referred to as “Thursdays at home,” attended by Russell, Padraic Colum, W. B. Yeats, Richard Irvine Best, Frank O’Connor, Francis Stuart and Iseult Gonne. She becomes particularly close to Yeats, who she confides in. Yeats records their weekly consultations in his diary while working on A Vision (1925). In his Oxford anthology of English verse from 1936, he includes one of O’Neill’s poems. In 1917, she contributes lyrics to her husband’s play The Kingdom Maker. She publishes her only book in 1929, Prometheus and other poems. After this she occasionally contributes primarily modernist plays and poetry to The Dublin Magazine, The Irish Times and The Bell. She collaborates with Austin Clarke from the Lyric Theatre Company on her plays Bluebeard (1933) and Cain (1945).

O’Neill suffers with poor health, which sees her and her husband spending extended periods in the south of France and Switzerland. They sell their home in Dublin in August 1950 and move to Nice, with the intention of settling there. However, due to rapidly depleting finances they are forced to return to Ireland in April 1951. They rent a cottage in Wicklow from their friend Con Curran. When her husband dies in 1953, she goes to live with relatives in Dublin. She dies there in 1967.


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Death of Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Painter, Printmaker, Critic & Writer

Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, Irish painter, printmaker, critic and writer dies in Dublin on May 11, 1969.

Salkeld is born in Assam, India on July 9, 1904. His parents are Henry Lyde Salkeld, a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), and Blanaid Salkeld (née Mullen), a poet. He returns to Ireland with his mother in 1910 following the death of his father in 1909. He attends Mount St. Benedict’s, Gorey, County Wexford, and the Dragon School in Oxford, England. He wins a scholarship to Oundle School in Oundle, North Northhamptonshire, but returns to Dublin where he enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919 to study under Seán Keating and James Sleator. He marries Irma Taesler in Germany in 1922. They have two daughters, Celia and Beatrice. The latter marries Brendan Behan in 1954.

Salkeld works in tempera and oil, as well as etching and wood engraving. In 1921 he travels to Germany to study under Ewald Dulberg at the Kassell Kunstschule. He attends the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf in May 1922, and is exhibited at the Internationale Kunstausstellung. Upon his return to Dublin in 1924, he holds his first solo exhibition in the Society of Dublin Painters gallery. He becomes a member of the Dublin Painters in 1927. With Francis Stuart, he co-edits the first two issues of To-morrow in 1924. His studio is in a converted labourer’s cottage at Glencree, County Wicklow. He also exhibits with the New Irish Salon and the Radical Painters’ Group.

Salkeld wins the 1926 Royal Dublin Society‘s Taylor scholarship, and has his first exhibited work with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1929. He lives in Berlin for a year in 1932. He exhibits in Daniel Egan’s Gallery in Dublin in 1935. He has a wide circle of literary friends, including Samuel Beckett and Flann O’Brien. In O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, the character of Michael Byrne is designed for Salkeld, reflecting his debilitating alcoholism. He also teaches at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, teaching artists such as Reginald Gray.

From 1937 to 1946 Salkeld runs a private press called Gayfield Press. This is co-founded with his mother, and operates from a garden shed at their home, 43 Morehampton Road. The press is a small Adana wooden hand press. He illustrates her 1938 The Engine Left Running, as well as Ewart Milne‘s Forty North Fifty West (1938) and Liam O’Flaherty‘s Red Barbara and Other Stories (1928). In 1951, he loans the press to Liam and Josephine Miller to found the Dolmen Press.

Salkeld’s most famous public work is his 1942 three-part mural in Davy Byrne’s pub. He is a co-founder of the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s in his capacity as a pianist. In 1946 he is appointed an associate member of the RHA. In 1953 his play Berlin Dusk is staged at 37 Theatre Club, Dublin. During the 1950s he is a broadcaster with Radio Éireann as well as a director of cultural events for An Tóstal. He dies on May 11, 1969 in St. Laurence’s Hospital, Dublin.

The National Gallery of Ireland holds a portrait by Salkeld of his daughter, Celia.

(Pictured: “The Climber” by Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, oil on canvas)


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Birth of Neil Shawcross, Post-Impressionist Artist

Neil Shawcross MBE, RHA, HRUA, Post-Impressionist artist, is born in Kearsley, Lancashire, England, on March 15, 1940. He has been a resident of Northern Ireland since 1962.

Shawcross studies at Bolton College of Art from 1955 to 1958, and Lancaster College of Art from 1958 to 1960, before moving to Belfast in 1962 to take up a part-time lecturer’s post at the Belfast College of Art, becoming full-time in 1968. He continues to lecture there until his retirement in 2004.

Primarily a portrait painter, his subjects include Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, novelist Francis Stuart (for the Ulster Museum), former Lord Mayor of Belfast David Cook (for Belfast City Council), footballer Derek Dougan and fellow artists Colin Middleton and Terry Frost. He also paints the figure and still life, taking a self-consciously childlike approach to composition and colour. His work also include printmaking, and he has designed stained glass for the Ulster Museum and St. Colman’s Church, Lambeg, County Antrim.

Shawcross’s academic career includes a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia in 1987, a residency at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont in 1991, and a visiting assistant professorship at Pennsylvania State University in 1993.

Shawcross has exhibited nationally, with one-man shows in London, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast, and internationally in Hong Kong and the United States, and his work is found in many private and corporate collections.

Shawcross is elected an Associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of Art in 1975, and is made a full Academician in 1977. He wins the Academy’s Conor Award in 1975, its gold medal in 1978, 1982, 1987, 1994, 1997 and 2001, and its James Adam Prize in 1998. He is also a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is awarded the Gallaher Portrait Prize in 1966.

Shawcross is conferred an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University Belfast in 2007. He is appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to arts in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, the Merrion Hotel, Dublin, hosts a private collection of the works of Shawcross. In 2015, he exhibits a collection of six foot tall book covers inspired by original Penguin paperbacks at the National Opera House in Wexford, County Wexford. In 2018, he donates to Belfast City Council a collection of 36 paintings dedicated to ‘Writers of Belfast’ in a show of appreciation to his adopted home city. A major retrospective of his works are exhibited at the F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge, County Down, in the same year.

Shawcross is a Patron of the charity YouthAction Northern Ireland. He lives in Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland.