seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Death of Playwright & Broadcaster Máiréad Ní Ghráda

Máiréad Ní Ghráda, poet, playwright, and broadcaster, dies on June 13, 1971. She is a tireless promoter of the Irish language and writes many educational texts, some of which are still widely used today including Progress in Irish.

Máiréad is born and raised in Kilmaley, County Clare, a Breac Ghaeltacht, with Irish speaking parents. She wins a university scholarship while attending the local Convent of Mercy School and receives a BA in English, Irish, and French and an MA in Irish from University College Dublin (UCD).

An active member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan, she is imprisoned in 1920 for selling flags on behalf of the Gaelic League on Grafton Street. After a short time teaching in St. Brendan’s private school, Glenageary, County Dublin, Máiréad is employed as organiser and later as secretary to Ernest Blythe in the first Dáil Éireann and during the Irish Civil War. In 1923, she marries Richard Kissane, a civic guard (Garda Síochána). They have two sons and settle in Ranelagh, Dublin.

Beginning in 1926 she spends nine years working for 2RN (now Radió Éireann). She is the first female announcer with 2RN, engaged as Woman’s Organiser with the national radio station for many years, a job which involves programming for women and children. She is the first female announcer in Ireland and Britain, and perhaps in Europe.

Máiréad writes her first play in 1931 while teaching Irish in a domestic science college in Kilmacud. An Uacht, a one act comedy based on Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, is produced by Michéal Mac Liammóir at the Gate Theatre (1931). Her writing for theatre includes Mícheál, 1933 (adaptation of Michael, a story by Leo Tolstoy), An Grádh agus an Garda (1937), Giolla an tSoluis (1945), Hansel & Gretel (1951), Lá Buí Bealtaine (1953), Úll glas Oíche Shamhna (1955), Ríte (1955), Súgán Sneachta (1959), Mac Uí Rudaí (1961) and Stailc Ocrais (1962). An Triail (1964) and On Trial (1965) and Breithiúnas (1968), although critical of Irish society at the time, are her greatest successes.

Her enormous contribution to Irish language theatre includes eleven original plays, more than any other playwright in Irish.


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Birth of Theatrical Producer Hilton Edwards

hilton-edwardsHilton Edwards, an English-born Irish actor, lighting designer, and theatrical producer, is born in London on February 2, 1903.

Edwards begins his career acting with the Charles Doran Shakespeare Company in 1920 in Windsor and then joins The Old Vic in London, playing in all but two of Shakespeare‘s plays before leaving the company a few years later. Trained in music, he also sings baritone roles with the Old Vic Opera company.

After touring with various companies in Britain and South Africa, Edwards goes to Ireland in 1927 for a season with Anew McMaster’s company and meets McMaster’s brother-in-law, Micheál Mac Liammóir. As he tells an interviewer once, both men want a theater of their own. Mac Liammóir wants it to be in Ireland and Edwards does not care. “I don’t care about nationalism, I care about the theater,” he says.

Edwards and Mac Liammóir co-found the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The two men’s talents are complementary. Mac Liammóir is an actor, designer, and writer. Edwards is a director, actor, producer, and lighting designer. Edwards produces and directs more than 300 plays at the Gate, ranging from the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Henrik Ibsen to the comedies of George Bernard Shaw and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and new Irish plays, by such authors as W.B. Yeats, Brian Friel, and Mac Liammóir.

In New York City in 1948 Edwards plays in and directs John Bull’s Other Island and directs The Old Lady Says No and Where Stars Walk. In 1961 Edwards takes a two-year leave from the Gate to become the first Head of Drama at Telefís Éireann. A year later, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his television series Self Portrait.

Edwards appears in 15 films, including Captain Lightfoot (1955), David and Goliath (1960), Victim (1961), and Half a Sixpence (1967). He also writes and directs Orson Welles‘s Return to Glennascaul (1951). However, he is primarily known for his theatre work. He is nominated for a Tony Award in 1966 for Best Director of a Drama for Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Hilton Edwards dies in a Dublin hospital on November 18, 1982. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christophor Fitz-Simon.


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Birth of Henry Wilfrid Brambell in Dublin

henry-wilfred-brambellHenry Wilfrid Brambell, Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series Steptoe and Son, is born in Dublin on March 22, 1912.

Brambell is the youngest of three sons born to Henry Lytton Brambell, a cashier at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith Marks, a former opera singer. His first appearance is as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during World War I. Upon leaving school he works part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also does repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II, he joins the British military forces entertainment organisation Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His television career begins during the 1950s, when he is cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC Television, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), and Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earn him a reputation for playing old men, though he is only in his forties at the time.

It is this ability to play old men that leads to his casting in his best remembered role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in Steptoe and Son. This begins as a pilot on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, and its success leads to a full series being commissioned, running from 1962 to 1974 including a five-year hiatus. There are two feature film spin-offs, a stage show, and an American incarnation entitled Sanford and Son, some episodes of which are almost exact remakes of the original British scripts.

The success of Steptoe and Son makes Brambell a high-profile figure on British television, and earns him the supporting role of Paul McCartney‘s grandfather in The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In 1965, Brambell tells the BBC that he does not want to do another series of Steptoe and Son and, in September that year, he goes to New York City to appear in the Broadway musical Kelly at the Broadhurst Theatre, however, it closes after just one performance.

Apart from his role as the older Steptoe, Brambell achieves recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy wins him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son. Although he appears throughout the full 94-minute piece, Brambell does not speak a single word.

After the final series of Steptoe and Son is made in 1974, Brambell has some guest roles in films and on television. He and Harry H. Corbett also undertake a tour of Australia in 1977 in a Steptoe and Son stage show.

Brambell dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985, at the age of 72. He is cremated on January 25, 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes are scattered.