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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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Founding of The Legion of Mary

The Legion of Mary, an international association of practicing members of the Catholic Church who serve the Church on a voluntary basis, is founded as a Roman Catholic Marian Movement by layman by Br. Frank Duff on September 7, 1921 at Myra House, Francis Street, in Dublin.

Duff’s idea is to help Catholic lay people fulfill their baptismal promises and be able to live their dedication to the Church in an organized structure, supported by fraternity and prayer. The Legion draws its inspiration from St. Louis de Montfort‘s book True Devotion to Mary.

The legionaries first start out by visiting hospitals, but they are soon active among the most destitute, notably among Dublin prostitutes. Duff subsequently lays down the system of the Legion in the Handbook of the Legion of Mary in 1928.

The Legion of Mary soon spreads from Ireland to other countries and continents. At first, the Legion is often met with mistrust due to its dedication to lay apostolate which is unusual for the time. After Pope Pius XI expresses praise for the Legion in 1931, the mistrust is quelled.

Most prominent for spreading the Legion is the Irish legionary Venerable Edel Mary Quinn for her activities in Africa during the 1930s and 40s. Her dedication to the mission of the Legion even in the face of her ill health due to tuberculosis brings her great admiration in and outside of the Legion. A canonization process is currently under way for Edel Quinn. She is declared venerable by Pope John Paul II on December 15, 1994, since when the campaign for her beatification has continued.

A beatification process is currently underway for Servant of God Frank Duff. In July 1996, the Cause of Duff’s canonisation is introduced by the Archbishop of Dublin, Desmond Connell. A Cause for Canonization for Servant of God Alfie Lambe (1932-1959), Legion Envoy to South America, is introduced by the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires in 1978 and concluded on March 26, 2015.

Membership in Ireland has been declining but due to efforts by the Concilium to attract younger people to its ranks through the Deus et Patria movement, a substantial increase in membership is now occurring.

On March 27, 2014 the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Bishop Josef Clemens, delivers the decree in which the Legion of Mary is recognized by the Holy See as International Association of the Faithful.


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First Burial at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

glasnevin-towerThe first burial takes place at Glasnevin Cemetery in Glasnevin, Dublin, on February 22, 1832.

Prior to the establishment of Glasnevin Cemetery, Irish Catholics have no cemeteries of their own in which to bury their dead. The repressive Penal Laws of the eighteenth century place heavy restrictions on the public performance of Catholic services, forcing Catholics to conduct a limited version of their own funeral services in Protestant churchyards or graveyards. This situation continues until an incident at a funeral held at St. Kevin’s Churchyard in 1823 provokes public outcry when a Protestant sexton reprimands a Catholic priest for proceeding to perform a limited version of a funeral mass. The outcry prompts Daniel O’Connell, champion of Catholic rights, to launch a campaign and prepare a legal opinion proving that there is actually no law forbidding praying for a dead Catholic in a graveyard. O’Connell pushes for the opening of a burial ground in which both Irish Catholics and Protestants can give their dead a dignified burial.

Glasnevin Cemetery is consecrated and opened to the public for the first time on February 21, 1832. The first burial, that of eleven-year-old Michael Carey from Francis Street in Dublin, takes place on the following day in a section of the cemetery known as Curran’s Square. The cemetery is initially known as Prospect Cemetery, a name chosen from the townland of Prospect, which surrounds the cemetery lands.

Originally covering nine acres of ground, the area of the cemetery has now grown to approximately 124 acres and is the final resting place of some 1.5 million people. The cemetery consists of two parts. The main part, with its trademark high walls and watchtowers, is located on one side of the road from Finglas to the city centre, while the other part, called St. Paul’s, is located across the road and beyond a green space, between two railway lines.SONY DSC

Glasnevin is one of the few cemeteries that allows stillborn babies to be buried in consecrated ground and contains an area called the Angels Plot for that purpose. In 1982, a crematorium is constructed within the cemetery grounds by Glasnevin Trust and has since been used for people of various religious denominations who wish to be cremated.

Glasnevin contains historically notable monuments and the graves of many of Ireland’s most prominent national figures. These include the graves of Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Collins (pictured at right), Éamon de Valera, Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, Kevin Barry, Roger Casement, Constance Markievicz, Pádraig Ó Domhnaill, Seán MacBride, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Frank Duff, Brendan Behan, Christy Brown, and Luke Kelly of the Dubliners.

Glasnevin Cemetery remains under the care of the Dublin Cemeteries Committee and the development, expansion, and refurbishment of the cemetery is an ongoing task.

The Catholic Mass is celebrated by members of the parish clergy every Sunday at 9:45 AM. An annual blessing of the graves takes place each summer as it has since the founding of the cemetery in 1832.