seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Siobhán McKenna, Stage & Screen Actress

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin.

McKenna is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923. She 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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The End of the Siege of Limerick

king-johns-castle-limerickAn alliance of Irish Confederate Catholics and English Royalists led by Hugh Dubh O’Neill surrender to Henry Ireton on October 27, 1651 after a protracted and bitter siege of Limerick during the Irish Confederate Wars.

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 had left 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 1650. The weather, however, is increasingly wet and cold and Ireton is forced to abandon the siege before the onset of winter.

Ireton returns the following June with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces and four mortars. He then 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 contained the citadel of King John’s Castle, is encircled by water and known as King’s Island. Thomond bridge is the only entrance 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. In addition, Irish town has a series of bastions along its walls, mounted with cannon covering its approaches. The biggest of these bastions are at St. John’s Gate and Mungret gate.

Due to Limerick’s fortification, 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, which is initially successful, but O’Neill’s men counterattack and beat them off. After this failed attack, Ireton resolves to starve the city into submission and builds two forts 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 to hold out until bad weather and hunger force Ireton to lift the siege. 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 40 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. Ireton finds a weak point in the defenses 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 had started, part of Limerick’s garrison mutiny and turn 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. However, the lives of the civilian and military leaders of Limerick are excepted from the terms of surrender. 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.

(Pictured: King John’s Castle on King John’s Island, Limerick)


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Birth of Micheál Mac Liammóir, Actor, Writer & Poet

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 80Micheál Mac Liammóir, British-born Irish actor, playwright, impresario, writer, poet and painter, is born Alfred Willmore on October 25, 1899. He is born to a Protestant family living in the Kensal Green district of London. He co-founds the Gate Theatre with his partner Hilton Edwards and is one of the most recognizable figures in the arts in twentieth-century Ireland.

As Alfred Willmore, he is one of the leading child actors on the English stage, in the company of Noël Coward. He appears for several seasons in Peter Pan. He studies painting at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, continuing to paint throughout his lifetime. In the 1920s he travels all over Europe. He is captivated by Irish culture and learns the Irish language which he speaks and writes fluently. He changes his name to an Irish version, presenting himself in Ireland as a descendant of Irish Catholics from Cork. Later in his life, he writes three autobiographies in Irish and translates them into English.

While acting in Ireland with the touring company of his brother-in-law Anew MacMaster, Mac Liammóir meets the man who becomes his partner and lover, Hilton Edwards. Their first meeting takes place in the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Deciding to remain in Dublin, where they live at Harcourt Terrace, the pair assists with the inaugural production of Galway‘s Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc. The play is Mac Liammóir’s version of the mythical story Diarmuid agus Gráinne, in which Mac Liammóir plays the lead role as Diarmuid.

Mac Liammóir and Edwards then throw themselves into their own venture, co-founding the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The Gate becomes a showcase for modern plays and design. Mac Liammóir’s set and costume designs are key elements of the Gate’s success. His many notable acting roles include Robert Emmet/The Speaker in Denis Johnston‘s The Old Lady Says “No!” and the title role in Hamlet.

In 1948, Mac Liammóir appears in the NBC television production of Great Catherine with Gertrude Lawrence. In 1951, during a break in the making of Othello, he produces Orson Welles‘s ghost-story Return to Glennascaul which is directed by Hilton Edwards. He plays Iago in Welles’s film version of Othello (1951). The following year, he goes on to play ‘Poor Tom’ in another Welles project, the TV film of King Lear (1953) for CBS.

Mac Liammóir writes and performs a one-man show, The Importance of Being Oscar, based on the life and work of Oscar Wilde. The Telefís Éireann production wins him a Jacob’s Award in December 1964. It is later filmed by the BBC with Mac Liammóir reprising the role.

Mac Liammóir narrates the 1963 film Tom Jones and is the Irish storyteller in 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1968) which stars Dudley Moore.

In 1969 Mac Liammóir has a supporting role in John Huston‘s The Kremlin Letter. In 1970 he performs the role of narrator on the cult album Peace on Earth by the Northern Irish showband, The Freshmen and in 1971 he plays an elocution teacher in Curtis Harrington‘s What’s the Matter with Helen?.

Mac Liammóir claims when talking to Irish playwright Mary Manning, to have had a homosexual relationship with General Eoin O’Duffy, former Garda Síochána Commissioner and head of the paramilitary Blueshirts in Ireland, during the 1930s. The claim is revealed publicly by RTÉ in a documentary, The Odd Couple, broadcast in 1999. However, Mac Liammóir’s claims have not been substantiated.

Mac Liammóir’s life and artistic development are the subject of a major study by Tom Madden, The Making of an Artist. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christopher Fitz-Simon.

Micheál Mac Liammóir dies at the age of 78 on March 6, 1978. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are buried alongside each other at St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin.


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Premiere of “O’Neil of the Glen”

o-neil-of-the-glenO’Neil of the Glen, the first production released by the Film Company of Ireland (FCOI), premieres at Dublin’s Bohemian Picture Theatre on August 7, 1916. The film is adapted by W.J. Lysaght from a book by the acclaimed Irish novelist, Mrs. M. T. Pender. The film is a romantic tale which features two well-known Abbey Theatre members, as well as a host of rising stars.

Formed in March 1916 by James Mark Sullivan and Henry Fitzgibbon, the FCOI becomes the most important indigenous fiction film producer of the 1910s.

On 29 June, FCOI announces a “trial exhibition,” or what would now be called a test screening, of their first completed production, O’Neil of the Glen, at Dublin’s Carlton Cinema. Addressing a lunch for the press at the Gresham Hotel following the screening, Fitzgibbon claims that FCOI “had started an industry which would eventually be a source of great revenue in Ireland.” For his part, Sullivan argues that the film showed that Irish productions – taking advantage of Irish “imagination, ideals, and artistic temperament and beautiful scenery” – could compete with those anywhere.

The Bohemian is one of Dublin’s biggest and most luxurious cinemas, and Frederick A. Sparling’s commitment to a run that is twice the usual three days “speaks well for the film and the undoubted drawing powers such a production will have for Irish audiences.” In the event, Sparling also includes an unplanned Sunday show to take advantage of the phenomenal level of interest.

In the following weeks and months, O’Neil of the Glen is exhibited around the country. Following substantial runs in Dublin and Belfast it is announced for a three-day runs at Galway’s Victoria Cinema Theatre on September 11-13 and Cork’s Coliseum Theatre on September 14-16.


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Birth of Sir Hudson Lowe, Governor of Saint Helena

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90Sir Hudson Lowe, Anglo-Irish soldier and colonial administrator who is best known for his time as Governor of Saint Helena, where he is the “gaoler” of Napoleon Bonaparte, is born in Galway, County Galway on July 28, 1769.

Lowe is the son of John Lowe, an army surgeon. His childhood is spent in various garrison towns, particularly in the West Indies, but he is educated chiefly at Salisbury Grammar. He obtains a post as ensign in the East Devon Militia when he is eleven. In 1787 he enters his father’s regiment, the 50th Regiment of Foot, which is then serving at Gibraltar under Governor-General Charles O’Hara. In 1791, he is promoted to lieutenant. The same year he is granted eighteen months’ leave, and chooses to spend the time traveling through Italy rather than return to Britain. He chooses to avoid traveling to France as the French Revolution had recently broken out.

Lowe holds several important commands in the war with France from 1793. He is knighted in 1814. He arrives on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon’s last place of exile, in April 1816. Many persons, notably Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, consider the choice ill advised, for Lowe is a conscientious but unimaginative man who takes his responsibility with excessive seriousness. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the charge given him, he adheres rigorously to orders and treats Napoleon with extreme punctiliousness. After October 1816, the news that rescue operations are being planned by Bonapartists in the United States causes Lowe to impose even stricter regulations. The next month he deports Emmanuel, comte de Las Cases, Napoleon’s confidant and former imperial chamberlain, for writing letters about Lowe’s severity.

When, in late 1817, Napoleon first shows symptoms of his fatal illness, Lowe does nothing to mitigate the emperor’s living conditions. Yet he recommends that the British government increase its allowance to Napoleon’s household by one-half. After the emperor’s death on May 5, 1821, Lowe returns to England, where he receives the thanks of King George IV but is met with generally unfavourable opinion and is widely criticized for his unbending treatment of the former emperor. He later commands the British forces on Ceylon (1825–30) but is not appointed governor of that island when the office falls vacant in 1830.

Hudson Lowe dies at the age of 75 at Charlotte Cottage, near Sloane Street, Chelsea, London, of paralysis, on January 10, 1844.


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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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Birth of Author Violet Florence Martin

violet-florence-martinViolet Florence Martin, Irish author, is born at Ross House in Connemara, County Galway on June 11, 1862. She is the co-author of a series of novels with cousin Edith Somerville under the pen name of Martin Ross in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Martin is the youngest of sixteen children of James Martin of Ross (1804–1872). The Martin family, a branch of the Martyn family – one of the Tribes of Galway – had settled at Ross by the early seventeenth century, having previously inhabited the town of Galway for some three hundred years. Her father is a Protestant, his grandfather having converted from the Catholic faith in order to retain the family estates under the Penal Laws. Nevertheless, each child of the family is secretly ‘baptised’ by the family servants.

Martin is a kinswoman of Richard Martin and her contemporary, Edward Martyn, two other notable members of the tribe. Her older brother, Robert Jasper Martin, is a noted songwriter and a well-regarded member of the Tory party in London. She shares a great-grandmother with the writer Maria Edgeworth, whose use of Irish vernacular speech she follows in her work.

Martin’s father manages to save both his estate and his tenants during the Great Famine boasting that not one of his people died during the disaster, but at the cost of bankruptcy. Following his death in 1872, the family moves to Dublin and only returns to Ross in 1888 following revelations of financial fraud of the estate by their agent.

Martin and Edith Somerville are second cousins. They originally meet on January 17, 1886 at Castletownshend, after which they become lifelong companions and literary partners. They come to share a home in Drishane, County Cork. In 1889, Violet adopts the pseudonym Martin Ross, which comprises her surname and the name of her ancestral home. Thus the authors are called Somerville and Ross. Their works include The Real Charlotte (1889), Some Reminiscences of an Irish R.M. and In The Vine Country.

Martin is a convinced Irish Unionist, in opposition to Somerville’s open nationalism. Both she and her brother Robert are well-regarded members of the literary circle in Irish unionism. However, unlike her brother, Martin is a convinced suffragette, becoming vice-president of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. While on friendly terms with the leading members of the Gaelic literary revival such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, she objects to their romantic version of Irish peasantry. She is on good terms with Edward Martyn, partner of Gregory and Yeats – and her kinsman – and shares his love of the Irish language and culture.

Martin is seriously injured in a riding accident in November 1898, from which she never fully recovers. This is a contributing factor to her death in Drishane, County Cork, on December 21, 1915. Edith Somerville continues to write under their joint literary names, claiming that they are still in contact. The two women leave thousands of letters and 116 volumes of diaries, detailing their lives, much of them yet unpublished. Edith dies at Castletownshend in October 1949, aged 91, and is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.