seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Dramatist John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, dies in Dublin, on March 24, 1909. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

Synge is born in Newtown Villas, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is the youngest son in a family of eight children. His parents are members of the Protestant upper middle class. His father, John Hatch Synge, who is a barrister, comes from a family of landed gentry in Glanmore Castle, County Wicklow.

Synge is educated privately at schools in Dublin and Bray, and later studies piano, flute, violin, music theory and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, in 1889. He graduates with a BA in 1892, having studied Irish and Hebrew, as well as continuing his music studies and playing with the Academy Orchestra in the Antient Concert Rooms.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually leads to his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from County Kerry to County Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.

 

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Death of Robert John Kane, Chemist & Educator

robert-john-kaneSir Robert John Kane, chemist and educator, dies at the age of 80 in Dublin on February 16, 1890. In a distinguished career, he founds the Dublin Journal of Medical  & Chemical Science, is Vice-Chancellor of Royal University of Ireland and is director of the Museum of Irish Industry.

Kane is born at 48 Henry Street, Dublin on September 24, 1809 to John and Eleanor Kean (née Troy). His father is involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and flees for a time to France where he studies chemistry. Back in Dublin, Kean (now Kane) founds the Kane Company and manufactures sulfuric acid.

Kane studies chemistry at his father’s factory and attends lectures at the Royal Dublin Society as a teenager. He publishes his first paper in 1828, Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of manganese, in the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and Art. The following year, his description of the natural arsenide of manganese results in the compound being named Kaneite in his honour. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1834 while working in the Meath Hospital. He is appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin in 1831, which earns him the moniker of the “boy professor.” In the following year he participates in the founding of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science.

On the strength of his book Elements of Practical Pharmacy, Kane is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832. He studies acids, shows that hydrogen is electropositive, and proposes the existence of the ethyl radical. In 1836 he travels to Giessen in Germany to study organic chemistry with Justus von Liebig. In 1843 he is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal for his work on the nature and constitution of compounds of ammonia.

Kane publishes a three-volume Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland. This includes the first assessment of the water power potential of the River Shannon, which is not realised until the 1920s at Ardnacrusha.

Kane becomes a political adviser on scientific and industrial matters. He serves on several commissions to enquire into the Great Irish Famine, along with Professors Lindley and Taylor, all more or less ineffective. His political and administrative work means that his contribution to chemistry ceases after about 1844.

Kane’s work on Irish industry leads to his being appointed director of the Museum of Irish Industry in Dublin in 1845. The Museum is a successor to the Museum of Economic Geology, and is housed at 51 St. Stephen’s Green.

Also in 1845 Kane becomes the first President of Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork). He does not spend a lot of time in Cork as he has work in Dublin, and his wife lives there. The science building on the campus is named in his honour. He is knighted in 1846.

In 1873 Kane takes up the post of National Commissioner for Education. He is elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he is appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. After a motion to admit women to the University, put forward by Prof. Samuel Haughton at Academic Council in Trinity College Dublin, March 10, 1880, Kane is appointed to a committee of ten men to look into the matter. He is opposed to the admission of women, and nothing is reported from the committee in the Council minutes for the next ten years.


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Death of Queen Victoria

queen-victoriaQueen Victoria dies at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on January 22, 1901, ending an era in which most of her British subjects know no other monarch.

With a reign of 63 years, seven months and two days, she is the longest-reigning British monarch and the longest-reigning queen regnant in world history until her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II surpasses her on September 9, 2015. She restores dignity to the English monarchy and ensures its survival as a ceremonial political institution. Edward VII accedes to the throne upon her death.

Born on May 24, 1819 in Kensington Palace, London, Victoria comes to the throne after the death of her uncle, King William IV, in 1837. As a young woman ascending to the throne, her future husband describes her “as one whose extreme obstinacy was constantly at war with her good nature.” Her first prime minister, William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, becomes her close friend and adviser, and she succeeds in blocking his replacement by Tory leader Sir Robert Peel in 1839. Two years later, however, an election results in a Tory majority in the House of Commons, and she is compelled to accept Peel as prime minister. Never again does she interfere so directly in the politics of democratic Britain.

In 1839, her first cousin Albert, a German prince, comes to visit the English court at Windsor, and Victoria proposes to him five days after his arrival. Prince Albert accepts and they are married in February 1840. He soon becomes the dominant influence in her life and serves as her private secretary. Among his greatest achievements as Prince Consort is his organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, the first world’s fair, in the Crystal Palace in London. He also steers her support away from the Whigs to the conservative Tories. She later is a vocal supporter of Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party.

Victoria and Albert build royal residences at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and become increasingly detached from London. They have nine children, including Victoria, later the empress of Germany, and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In 1861, Albert dies and Victoria’s grief is such that she does not appear in public for three years. She never entirely gets over the loss and, until the end of her life, has her maids nightly lay out Albert’s clothes for the next day and in the morning replace the water in the basin in his room.

Disraeli coaxes Victoria out of seclusion, and she is impressed by his efforts to strengthen and expand the British Empire. In 1876, he has her made “empress of India,” a title which pleases her and makes her a symbol of imperial unity. During the last few decades of her life, her popularity, which had suffered during her long public absence, increases greatly. She never embraces the social and technological advances of the 19th century but accepts the changes and works hard to fulfill her ceremonial duties as head of state.

Following a custom she maintains throughout her widowhood, Victoria spends the Christmas of 1900 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Rheumatism in her legs has rendered her lame and her eyesight is clouded by cataracts. Through early January, she feels weak and unwell, and by mid-January she is drowsy, dazed and confused. She dies in the early evening of Tuesday, January 22, 1901, at the age of 81. Her son and successor King Edward VII, and her eldest grandson, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, are at her deathbed. Her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turi, is laid upon her deathbed as a last request.

Victoria’s funeral is held on Saturday, February 2, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, and after two days of lying-in-state, she is interred beside Prince Albert in Frogmore Mausoleum at Windsor Great Park. When she dies, she has 37 surviving great-grandchildren, and their marriages with other monarchies give her the name “grandmother of Europe.”


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Birth of Kuno Meyer, Scholar of Celtic Philology

kuno-meyerKuno Meyer, German scholar distinguished in the field of Celtic philology and literature, is born in Hamburg, Germany on December 20, 1858. He was considered first and foremost a lexicographer among Celtic scholars but is known by the general public in Ireland rather as the man who introduced them to Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry (1911). His brother was the distinguished classical scholar, Eduard Meyer.

Meyer studies in Hamburg at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums. He spends two years in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a teenager (1874–1876) learning English. From 1879, he attends Leipzig University, where he is taught Celtic scholarship by Ernst Windisch. He receives his doctorate for his thesis Eine irische Version der Alexandersage, an Irish version of the Romance of Alexander, in 1884.

Meyer then takes up the post of lecturer in Teutonic languages at the new University College, Liverpool, the precursor of the University of Liverpool, which is established three years earlier.

Meyer continues to publish on Old Irish and more general topics on the Celtic languages, as well as producing textbooks for German. In 1896, he founds and edits, jointly with Ludwig Christian Stern, the prestigious Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. He also cofounds Archiv für celtische Lexicographie in 1898 with Whitley Stokes, producing three volumes from 1900 to 1907.

In 1903, Meyer founds the School of Irish Learning in Dublin, and the next year creates its journal Ériu of which he is the editor. Also in 1904, he becomes Todd Professor in the Celtic Languages at the Royal Irish Academy. In October 1911, he follows Heinrich Zimmer as Professor of Celtic Philology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. The following year, a volume of Miscellany is presented to him by pupils and friends in honour of his election, and he is made a freeman of both Dublin and Cork.

At the outbreak of World War I, Meyer leaves Europe for the United States, where he lectures at Columbia University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and elsewhere. A pro-German speech he gives in December 1914 to Clan na Gael on Long Island causes outrage in Britain and some factions among the Irish, and as a result, he is removed from the roll of freemen in Dublin and Cork and from his Honorary Professorship of Celtic at Liverpool. He also resigns as Director of the School of Irish Learning and editor of Ériu. Harvard University also had extended an invitation to Meyer to lecture on campus, but it subsequently cancels the invitation in the fall of 1914 on account of Meyer’s propagandist activity.

Meyer nevertheless accepts candidacy for the post of exchange professor at Harvard, at the recommendation of German professors there. However, when the April 1915 issue of The Harvard Advocate awards first prize to an anti-German satirical poem “Gott mit Uns” written by an undergraduate, Meyer sends the university and the press a letter of protest, rebuking the faculty members who served as judges for failure to exercise neutrality. Meyer also declines his candidacy from the exchange professorship in the letter. In a reply, President Abbott Lawrence Lowell says, in explaining Harvard’s policy, that freedom of speech includes pro-German and pro-Allied voices alike.

Meyer is injured in a railway collision in 1915 and meets 27-year-old Florence Lewis while he is recovering in a California hospital. They marry shortly afterwards. He returns to Germany in 1917 and dies in Leipzig on October 11, 1919.

Posthumously, in 1920, Meyer’s name is restored, both by Dublin and Cork, in their Rolls of Honorary Freemen. The restoration occurs on April 19, 1920 in Dublin, where Sinn Féin had won control of the City Council three months earlier, rescinding the decision taken in 1915 by the Irish Parliamentary Party. The restoration in Cork follows on May 14, 1920.


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The Birth of John Toland, Philosopher & Freethinker

john-tolandJohn Toland, Irish rationalist philosopher and freethinker, and occasional satirist, is born in Ardagh on the Inishowen peninsula, a predominantly Catholic and Irish-speaking region in northwestern Ireland, on November 30, 1670. He writes numerous books and pamphlets on political philosophy and philosophy of religion which are early expressions of the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment.

Very little is known of Toland’s early life. His parents are unknown. He later writes that he had been baptised Janus Junius, a play on his name that recalls both the Roman two-faced god Janus and Lucius Junius Brutus, reputed founder of the Roman Republic. According to his biographer, Pierre des Maizeaux, he adopts the name John as a schoolboy with the encouragement of his school teacher.

Having formally converted from Catholicism to Protestantism at the age of 16, Toland gets a scholarship to study theology at the University of Glasgow. In 1690, at age 19, the University of Edinburgh confers a master’s degree on him. He then gets a scholarship to spend two years studying at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and subsequently nearly two years at the University of Oxford in England (1694–95). The Leiden scholarship is provided by wealthy English Dissenters who hope Toland will go on to become a minister for Dissenters.

In Toland’s first and best known book, Christianity not Mysterious (1696), he argues that the divine revelation of the Bible contains no true mysteries. Rather, all the dogmas of the faith can be understood and demonstrated by properly trained reason from natural principles. For this argument he is prosecuted by a grand jury in London. As he is a subject of the Kingdom of Ireland, members of the Parliament of Ireland propose that he should be burned at the stake. In his absence three copies of the book are burned by the public hangman in Dublin as the content is contrary to the core doctrines of the Church of Ireland. Toland bitterly compares the Protestant legislators to “Popish Inquisitors who performed that Execution on the Book, when they could not seize the Author, whom they had destined to the Flames.”

After his departure from Oxford, Toland resides in London for most of the rest of his life, but is also a somewhat frequent visitor to Continental Europe, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. He lives on the Continent from 1707 to 1710.

John Toland dies in Putney on March 10, 1722. Just before he dies, he composes his own epitaph: “He was an assertor of liberty, a lover of all sorts of learning … but no man’s follower or dependent. Nor could frowns or fortune bend him to decline from the ways he had chosen.” The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of him that at his death in London at age 51 “he died… as he had lived, in great poverty, in the midst of his books, with his pen in his hand.”

Very shortly after his death a lengthy biography of Toland is written by Pierre des Maizeaux.

(Pictured: The only known image of John Toland)


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)


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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.