seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Arthur Colahan, Doctor & Songwriter

Arthur Nicholas Whistler Colahan, Irish doctor, British Army officer and songwriter, is born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, on August 12, 1884. The eldest child of Professor Nicholas Whistler Colahan and Elisabeth Quinn of Limerick, the family moves to Galway and he grows up there.

After completing his secondary education at St. Joseph’s College, Galway, he enrolls at University College Dublin in 1900 where he receives an Arts degree and then studies medicine. He transfers to University College, Galway and graduates in 1913. He is a member of the college Literary and Debating Society and participates in drama.

He begins his medical career in the County Infirmary in Galway, and then moves to Holles Street Hospital. He joins the Royal Army Medical Corps and is badly affected by mustard gas in India. After the war he settles in Leicester, where he spends the rest of his career as a neurological specialist.

Colahan is also a composer of popular songs. He is a quiet man who is often homesick for his beloved Galway Bay. These feelings lead him to write his most famous work, “Galway Bay.” Popularised by Bing Crosby, it becomes the biggest selling record of all time at one point. Theories abound as to where the song is written or where it is first heard. Some say it is in the home of Dr. Morris at 1 Montpelier Terrace, while others believe it is in The Vicars Croft on Taylor’s Hill, from where one can see Galway Bay.

Other songs written by Colahan include “Maccushla Mine,” “Asthoreen Bawn,” “Until God’s Day,” “The Kylemore Pass” and “The Claddagh Ring.” Sadly, before his music is selling in the High Street he dies on September 15, 1952, and is buried in an unmarked grave back in his Irish birthplace.


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Death of Author Eilís Dillon

Eilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, dies on July 19, 1994. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine née Plunkett, who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in Irish and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Dillon’s family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and seventeen years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College, Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council from 1974 until 1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust.

In 1987 Dillon and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993. Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.


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The Siege of Limerick

Henry Ireton, Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, lays siege to Limerick city on June 4, 1651. During the Irish Confederate Wars, Limerick is one of the last fortified cities held by an alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists against the forces of the Parliament of England.

By 1650, the Irish Confederates and their English Royalist allies have been driven out of eastern Ireland by the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. They occupy a defensive position behind the River Shannon, of which Limerick is the southern stronghold. Oliver Cromwell himself leaves Ireland in May 1650, delegating his command of the English Parliamentarian forces to Henry Ireton. Ireton moves his forces north from Munster to besiege Limerick in October of that year. However, the weather is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns on June 4, 1651 with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and 4 mortars. He summons Hugh Dubh O’Neill, the Irish commander of Limerick to surrender, but is refused. The siege is on.

Limerick in 1651 is split into two sections, English town and Irish town, which are separated by the Abbey River. English town, which contains the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water, the Abbey River on three sides and the River Shannon on the other, in what is known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is only one bridge onto the island and is fortified with bastioned earthworks. Irish town is more vulnerable, but is also more heavily fortified. Its medieval walls have been buttressed by 20 feet of earth, making it difficult to knock a breach in them. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon which cover its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate. The garrison of the city is 2,000 strong and composed mainly of veterans from the Confederate’s Ulster army, commanded by Hugh Dubh O’Neill, who had distinguished themselves at the siege of Clonmel the previous year.

Because Limerick is very well fortified, Ireton does not risk an assault on its walls. Instead he secures the approaches to the city, cuts off its supplies and builds artillery earthworks to bombard the defenders. His troops take the fort at Thomond bridge, but the Irish destroy the bridge itself, denying the Parliamentarians land access to English town. Ireton then tries an amphibious attack on the city, a storming party attacking the city in small boats. They are initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off.

After this attack fails, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts known as Ireton’s fort and Cromwell’s fort on nearby Singland Hill. An Irish attempt to relieve the city from the south is routed at the battle of Knocknaclashy. O’Neill’s only hope is now to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to raise the siege. To this end, O’Neill tries to send the town’s old men, women and children out of the city so that his supplies will last a little longer. However, Ireton’s men kill forty of these civilians and send the rest back into Limerick.

O’Neill comes under pressure from the town’s mayor and civilian population to surrender. The town’s garrison and civilians suffer terribly from hunger and disease, especially an outbreak of plague. In addition, Ireton finds a weak point in the defences of Irish town, and knocks a breach in them, opening the prospect of an all out assault.

Eventually in October 1651, six months after the siege started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutinies and turns some cannon inwards, threatening to fire on O’Neill’s men unless they surrender. Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrenders Limerick on October 27. The inhabitants lives and property are respected, but they are warned that they could be evicted in the future. The garrison is allowed to march to Galway, which is still holding out, but has to leave their weapons behind.

The lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. A Catholic Bishop Terence Albert O’Brien, an Alderman and the English Royalist officer Colonel Fennell are hanged. O’Neill is also sentenced to death, but is reprieved by the Parliamentarian commander Edmund Ludlow and imprisoned instead in London. Former mayor Dominic Fanning is drawn, quartered, and decapitated, with his head mounted over St. John’s Gate.

Over 2,000 English Parliamentary soldiers die at Limerick, mostly from disease. Among them is Henry Ireton, who dies a month after the fall of the city. About 700 of the Irish garrison and an estimated 5,000 citizens die.

(Pictured: The Treaty Stone on which the treaty of Limerick may have been signed in 1691)


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Birth of Stage & Screen Actress Siobhán McKenna

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923.

McKenna grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.


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Birth of Writer Walter Macken

Walter Macken, writer of short stories, novels and plays, is born at 18 St. Joseph’s Terrace in Galway, County Galway on May 3, 1915.

Macken’s father, Walter Macken, Sr., formerly a carpenter, joins the British Army in 1915 and is killed in March of the following year at St Eloi. The family therefore has to rely on lodgers and a small service pension to sustain them.

Macken attends the Presentation Convent for Infants from (1918-1921), St. Mary’s, a Diocesan College where they train people who want to become priests (1923-1924), and Patrician Brothers both Primary and Secondary (1921-1922 and 1924-1934), where he takes his Leaving Certificate. He is writing short stories, novels, and plays in exercise books from the age of eight and carries on these works well into his teens.

Macken is originally an actor, principally with the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in Galway, where he meets his wife Peggy, and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He also plays lead roles on Broadway in M. J. Molloy‘s The King of Friday’s Men and his own play Home Is the Hero. The success of his third book, Rain on the Wind, winner of the Literary Guild award in the United States, enables him to focus his energies on writing.

Macken also acts in films, notably in Arthur Dreifussadaptation of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow. He is perhaps best known for his trilogy of Irish historical novels Seek the Fair Land, The Silent People, and The Scorching Wind.

His son Ultan Macken is a well-known journalist in the print and broadcast media of Ireland, and wrote a biography of his father, Walter Macken: Dreams on Paper.

Walter Macken dies of heart failure at the age of 51 in Menlo, County Galway, on April 22, 1967.


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Birth of Bishop Eamonn Casey

Eamonn Casey, Irish Roman Catholic prelate who serves as bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh in Ireland from 1976 to 1992, is born in Firies, County Kerry on April 24, 1927.

Casey is educated in Limerick and in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained a priest for the Diocese of Limerick on June 17, 1951 and appointed Bishop of Kerry on July 17, 1969. He holds this position until 1976, when he is appointed Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora. While in Galway, he is seen as a progressive. It is a significant change in a diocese that has been led for nearly forty years by the very conservative Michael Browne.

Casey is well known for his work aiding Irish emigrants in Britain. In addition, he supports the Dunnes Stores‘ staff, who are locked out from 1982 to 1986 for refusing to sell goods from apartheid South Africa.

Casey attends the funeral of the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Óscar Romero. He witnesses first hand the massacre of those attending the funeral by government forces. He then becomes a vocal opponent of United States foreign policy in Central America, and, as a result, opposes the 1984 visit of United States President Ronald Reagan to Ireland, refusing to meet him when he comes to Galway.

Casey is highly influential in the Irish Catholic hierarchy, and serves as bishop until his resignation in 1992. He is a friend and colleague of another highly prominent Irish priest, Father Michael Cleary.

In 1992, newspapers discover that Casey has had a sexual relationship with Annie Murphy, an American divorcée. Together they have a son, Peter, born in 1974 in Dublin. Murphy later claims that Casey had attempted to persuade her to give the child up for adoption at birth. She chooses not to do so and raises him with the help of her parents. When Murphy decides to go public about the relationship and informs The Irish Times, Casey tenders his resignation and leaves the country.

Casey’s resignation is regarded as a pivotal moment when the Roman Catholic hierarchy begins to lose its considerable influence over the society and politics of Ireland. He is succeeded by his Secretary, Bishop James McLoughlin, who serves in the post until his own retirement on July 3, 2005.

Casey opts to embrace the life of a foreign missionary in South America. He works with members of the Missionary Society of St. James in a rural parish in Ecuador, despite his lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. During this time, he travels long distances to reach the widely scattered members of his parish. After his missionary period is completed, instead of returning to Ireland, Casey takes a position in the parish of St. Pauls, Haywards Heath, in South East England. He returns to Ireland in 2006.

In 2005, Casey is investigated in conjunction with the sexual abuse scandal in Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora diocese. He is subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Casey suffers four mini strokes in 2002 and begins to experience memory issues. In August 2011, he is admitted to a nursing home in County Clare. Eamonn Casey dies on March 13, 2017 at the age of 89.


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Birth of Michael D. Higgins, Ninth President of Ireland

Michael Daniel Higgins, politician, human rights activist, university lecturer, poet, and the ninth and current President of Ireland, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on April 18, 1941. He takes office on November 11, 2011 following victory in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

At age five Higgins is separated from his parents, whose struggle to make ends meet is partly the product of his father’s ill health. He is raised in modest means by relatives in County Clare and starts his working life as a clerk in a bank. With a loan from a benefactor, he enters University College Galway, now National University of Ireland, Galway, at age 20 and continues his study with the benefit of scholarships. He serves as president of the student council and becomes involved with the Fianna Fáil party. Under the influence of politician Noël Browne, he soon switches allegiance to socialism and the Labour Party. An unashamed intellectual, Higgins continues his studies at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Manchester. Before beginning a career in politics, he lectures in sociology and political science at Galway and is a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Twice Higgins runs unsuccessfully for a seat in the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, before being appointed to Seanad Éireann, the upper house, by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave in 1973. Higgins is then elected to represent Galway West in the Dáil (1981–82) and serves another term in the Seanad (1983–87), representing the National University of Ireland, before becoming a fixture in the Dáil in the seat for Galway West (1987–2011). He also serves two terms as the mayor of Galway (1982–83, 1991–92). Early on he earns a reputation as a leftist firebrand who opposes participation in coalition government. His radical commitment to human rights and to peace and justice in places such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Cambodia, as well as his advocacy of progressive issues such as equal pay for women and the rights of people with disabilities, remain constant, but he mellows over the years to accept coalition rule.

In 1993, in the Fianna Fáil–Labour coalition government led by Albert Reynolds, Higgins becomes the minister for arts, culture, and the Gaeltacht (the districts in which the Irish language and the traditional national culture are best preserved). In that capacity he champions the Irish film industry and is responsible for the creation of the first Irish-language television station, Teilifís na Gaeilge (TG4). A poet who publishes four books of poetry before his election as president, Higgins earns a reputation as an impassioned and eloquent orator in both Irish and English.

By 2003, when he takes over the leadership of the Labour Party, the diminutive Higgins has become something of a national icon, known to most people simply as “Michael D.” He seeks Labour’s nomination for the presidency in 2004 unsuccessfully, but in 2011 he is elected the ninth president of Ireland with some 40 percent of the first-preference votes. In the process he bests heavily favoured independent Seán Gallagher, who stumbles badly in a televised debate just before the election, as well as Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader who steps down temporarily as the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland to run.