seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Butler Yeats, Poet & Nobel Prize Winner

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, is born in Sandymount, County Dublin on June 13, 1865.

Yeats is the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trained as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandons art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Cathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen ni Houlihan. Around that time, he helps found the Irish National Theatre Society, serving as its president and co-director, with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, he is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). He dies on January 28, 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

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Death of Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, an Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, dies at her home in Galway on May 22, 1932.

Augusta is born at Roxborough, County Galway, the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native Irish speaker, who introduces her to the history and legends of the local area.

Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory on March 4, 1880 in St Matthias’ Church, Dublin. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection. He also owns a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day, including Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, John Everett Millais and Henry James.

Augusta’s earliest work to appear under her own name is Arabi and His Household (1882), a pamphlet in support of Ahmed Orabi Pasha, leader of what has come to be known as the Urabi Revolt. In 1893 she publishes A Phantom’s Pilgrimage, or Home Ruin, an anti-Nationalist pamphlet against William Ewart Gladstone‘s proposed second Home Rule Act.

Augusta continues to write prose during the period of her marriage. She also writes a number of short stories in the years 1890 and 1891, although these never appear in print. A number of unpublished poems from this period have also survived. When Sir William Gregory dies in March 1892, Lady Gregory goes into mourning and returns to Coole Park. There she edits her husband’s autobiography, which she publishes in 1894.

A trip to Inisheer in the Aran Islands in 1893 re-awakes for Lady Gregory an interest in the Irish language and in the folklore of the area in which she lives. She organises Irish lessons at the school at Coole, and begins collecting tales from the area around her home. This activity leads to the publication of a number of volumes of folk material, including A Book of Saints and Wonders (1906), The Kiltartan History Book (1909) and The Kiltartan Wonder Book (1910).

With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founds the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and writes numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produces a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identifies closely with British rule, she turns against it. Her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, is emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime.

Lady Gregory, whom George Bernard Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman” dies at home at the age of 80 from breast cancer on May 22, 1932. She is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park are auctioned three months after her death, and the house is demolished in 1941.

Lady Gregory is mainly remembered for her work behind the Irish Literary Revival. During her lifetime her home at Coole Park in County Galway serves as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures. Her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey Theatre is at least as important as her creative writings for that theatre’s development. Lady Gregory’s motto is taken from Aristotle: “To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people.”


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.


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Bloody Sunday 1887 in London

Bloody Sunday takes place in London on November 13, 1887, when a march against unemployment and coercion in Ireland, as well as demanding the release of Member of Parliament (MP) William O’Brien, is attacked by the Metropolitan Police Service and the British Army. The demonstration is organised by the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Irish National League. Violent clashes take place between the police and demonstrators, many “armed with iron bars, knives, pokers and gas pipes.” A contemporary report notes that 400 are arrested and 75 persons are badly injured, including many police, two policemen being stabbed and one protester bayonetted.

William Ewart Gladstone‘s espousal of the cause of Irish home rule has split the Liberal Party and makes it easy for the Conservatives to gain a majority in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The period from 1885 to 1906 is one of Tory dominance, with short intermissions. Coercion Acts are the answer of British governments perturbed by rural unrest in Ireland, and they involve various degrees of suspension of civil rights. Although one purpose of the November 13 demonstration is to protest about the handling of the Irish situation by the Conservative government of Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, it has a much wider context.

The Long Depression, starting in 1873 and lasting almost to the end of the century, creates difficult social conditions in Britain, similar to the economic problems that drive rural agitation in Ireland. Falling food prices create rural unemployment, which results in both emigration and internal migration. Workers move to the towns and cities in thousands, eroding employment, wages and working conditions. By November 1887, unemployed workers’ demonstrations from the East End of London have been building up for more than two years. There have already been clashes with the police and with the members of upper class clubs. Trafalgar Square is seen symbolically as the point at which the working-class East End meets the upper-class West End of London, a focus of class conflict and an obvious flashpoint.

This attracts the attention of the small but growing socialist movement – the Marxists of both the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League, and the reformist socialists of the Fabian Society. Police and government attempts to suppress or divert the demonstrations also bring in the radical wing of the Liberal Party and free speech activists from the National Secular Society.

Some 30,000 persons encircle Trafalgar Square as at least 10,000 protesters march in from several different directions, led by Elizabeth Reynolds, John Burns, William Morris, Annie Besant and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, who are primarily leaders of the Social Democratic Federation. Also marching are the Fabian playwright George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Wilson. Two thousand police and 400 troops are deployed to halt the demonstration. Burns and Cunninghame Graham are arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. Annie Besant, who is a Marxist, Fabian and secularist, speaks at the rally and offers herself for arrest, but the police decline to do so. Of the 400 arrested, 50 are detained in custody.

In the fighting, many rioters are injured by police truncheons and under the hooves of police horses. There are both infantry and cavalry present. Although the infantry are marched into position with bayonets fixed, they are not ordered to open fire and the cavalry are not ordered to draw their swords.

The following Sunday, November 20, sees another demonstration and more casualties. According to a report in the partisan Socialist Review, among them is a young clerk named Alfred Linnell, who is run down by a police horse, dying in hospital a fortnight later from complications of a shattered thigh.

The funeral of Linnell on December 18 provides another focus for the unemployed and Irish movements. William Morris, leader of the Socialist League, gives the main speech and advocates a holy war to prevent London from being turned into a huge prison. A smaller but similar event marks the burial of another of those killed, W. B. Curner, which takes place in January. The release of those imprisoned is celebrated on February 20, 1888, with a large public meeting. Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, violently denounces the Liberal Party and the Radicals who are present.

(Pictured: Bloody Sunday, 1887. This engraving from The Illustrated London News depicts a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from a female protester.)


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George Bernard Shaw Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic and polemicist, wins the Nobel Prize in Literature on November 11, 1925. Born in Dublin on July 26, 1856, Shaw is the only person to receive both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Oscar (1938), for his work on the film Pygmalion, the adaptation of his play of the same name.

Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extends from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, culminating in 1925 with his awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. He has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man, in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that included Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist. The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 he provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award.

Shaw’s appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left. He expresses admiration for both Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death on November 2, 1950, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to William Shakespeare among British dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of English-language playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.


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Death of Frank Harris, Novelist & Journalist

Frank Harris, British editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, dies on August 26, 1931. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris is born James Thomas Harris on February 14, 1855, in Galway, County Galway, to Welsh parents. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. Harris is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb.

From New York Harris moves to the American Midwest, settling in Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, Harris makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas state bar association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the last-named being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, Harris decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 he edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in the Great War. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and to keep the Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his autobiography My Life and Loves. It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of Harris’ purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. Years later, Time Magazine reflects in its March 21, 1960 issue “Had he not been a thundering liar, Frank Harris would have been a great autobiographer….he had the crippling disqualification that he told the truth, as Max Beerbohm remarked, only ‘when his invention flagged’.” A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts at playwriting are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice at the age of 75 on August 26, 1931. He is subsequently buried at Cimetière Caucade in the same city. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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National Gallery of Ireland Act, 1854

A statutory provision, the National Gallery of Ireland Act, 1854, is made on August 10, 1854, for the establishment of a national gallery of paintings, sculpture, and fine arts in Ireland.

The National Gallery of Ireland, which opens its doors ten years later, houses the national collection of Irish and European art. It is located in the centre of Dublin with one entrance on Merrion Square, beside Leinster House, and another on Clare Street. The Gallery has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch masters painting.

The façade of the National Gallery copies the Natural History building of the National Museum of Ireland which is already planned for the facing flank of Leinster House. The building itself is designed by Francis Fowke, based on early plans by Charles Lanyon.

The Gallery is unlucky not to have been founded around an existing collection, but through diligent and skillful purchase, by the time it opens it has 125 paintings. In 1866 an annual purchase grant is established and by 1891 space is already limited. In 1897, the Dowager Countess of Milltown indicates her intention of donating the contents of Russborough House to the Gallery. This gift includes about 223 paintings, 48 pieces of sculpture, 33 engravings, much silver, furniture and a library, and prompts construction from 1899 to 1903 of what is now called the Milltown Wing, designed by Thomas Newenham Deane.

At around this time Henry Vaughan leaves 31 watercolours by J.M.W. Turner with the requirement that they can only be exhibited in January, this to protect them from the ill-effects of sunlight. Though modern lighting technology has made this stipulation unnecessary, the Gallery continues to restrict viewing of the Vaughan bequest to January and the exhibition is treated as something of an occasion.

Another substantial bequest comes with the untimely death in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania of Hugh Lane (1875–1915), since 1914 director of the Gallery. Not only does he leave a large collection of pictures, he also leaves part of his residual estate and the Lane Fund has continued to contribute to the purchase of art works to this day. In addition to his involvement in the Gallery, Hugh Lane has also hoped to found a gallery of modern art, something only realised after his death in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. George Bernard Shaw also makes a substantial bequest, leaving the Gallery a third of royalties of his estate in gratitude for the time he spent there as a youth.

The Gallery is again extended in 1962 with a new wing designed by Frank DuBerry of the Office of Public Works. This opens in 1968 and is now named the Beit Wing. In 1978 the Gallery receives from the government the paintings given to the nation by Alfred Chester Beatty and in 1987 the Sweeney bequest purchases fourteen works of art including paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jack Butler Yeats. The same year the Gallery is once again given some of the contents of Russborough House when Alfred Beit donates 17 masterpieces, including paintings by Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Jan Steen, Johannes Vermeer and Henry Raeburn.

In the 1990s a lost Caravaggio, The Taking of Christ, known through replicas, is discovered hanging in a Jesuit house of studies in Leeson Street in Dublin by Sergio Benedetti, senior conservator of the gallery. The Jesuits generously allow this painting to be exhibited in the Gallery and the discovery is the cause of national excitement. In 1997 Anne Yeats donates sketchbooks by her uncle Jack Yeats and the Gallery now includes a Yeats Museum. Denis Mahon, a well known art critic, promises the Gallery part of his rich collection and eight painting from his promised bequest are on permanent display, including Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by Guercino.