seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Clare Marsh, Still Life & Portrait Artist

Clare Marsh, still life and portrait artist, is born Emily Cecil Clare Marsh on January 13, 1875, at New Court, Bray, County Wicklow, the house of her maternal grandfather, Andrew McCullagh, a wine merchant.

Marsh’s parents are Arthur and Rachel Marsh (née McCullagh). She has four siblings. Her family is descended from the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, specifically from Francis Marsh of Edgeworth, Gloucestershire, with his wife the great-aunt of James II‘s first wife. The family later moves to Raheen, Clondalkin, and later to Cappaghmore, Clondalkin. There is little information about her early life although she is involved in the suffrage movement.

Marsh meets Mary Swanzy at Mary Manning‘s art classes, with Swanzy remembering Marsh as being from “a background of impecuniosity, which did not apparently worry them in spite of a more affluent upbringing.” She is influenced artistically by her aunt and John Butler Yeats, with whom she becomes close friends. In the summer of 1898, Yeats paints Marsh’s portrait at Manning’s studio. She is more drawn to the work of Yeats than of his son, Jack, and models her portraits on that of the older Yeats. He mentors her, encouraging her to see other artists’ work as much as possible and saying “to produce a picture will force you to think.” He urges her to paint more industriously. She exhibits with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) for the first time in 1900 with East wind effect and Roses. Yeats later claims that Marsh helped him with “line drawing or sketching, by putting him on the track of bulk drawing.”

Alongside Manning’s classes, Marsh takes night classes in sculpture with John Hughes and Oliver Sheppard at the Metropolitan School of Art. Aside from a trip to Paris in 1910 or 1911, she is taught exclusively in Dublin throughout her 20s. She takes a course at Norman Garstin‘s studio in Penzance, and stays in North Wales in 1914, painting two Trearddur Bay scenes. She paints still life and portraits, including one of Lily Yeats. It appears that her portraits of children and dogs are popular based on her submitted works to the RHA, exhibiting without a break from 1900 to 1921. The Hugh Lane Gallery holds her portrait of Lord Ashbourne, which demonstrates her painting style of loose brush strokes with an air of informality. Yeats suggests that she spend some time in the United States, where he is living at the time. She spends two months in New York City, staying with cousins at White Plains and then moves into a room neighbouring that of Yeats in Petitpas. Her uncle strongly disproves of this living arrangement, so she leaves and returns to Ireland in January 1912, which upsets Yeats greatly.

Upon her return from New York, Marsh starts holding classes at her studio at South Anne Street which Swanzy recalls are “well liked and always full,” with Susan Yeats becoming a pupil. She becomes the Professor of Fine Arts at Alexandra College in 1916. In the same year, she paints the fires and destruction of the 1916 Easter Rising. She paints a portrait of Jack Butler Yeats in 1918, which is now held by the Highlanes Gallery. John Butler Yeats later sympathises with her in a letter that she and other women are not elected members of the RHA. Knowing that Yeats is in financial difficulty, she sells some of his drawings and sends the money to him. It appears that over time, she works more with colour, as demonstrated in her portrait of Susan Yeats. Her final paintings are night studies, some of which show a possible influence from Swanzy with whom she shares a studio in the autumn of 1920. She is also believed to be one of the founding members of the Society of Dublin Painters.

Marsh dies on May 5, 1923. A posthumous exhibition of her work is held in October 1923. Due to her early death, she largely falls into obscurity until one of her works is included in the 1987 “Irish Women Artists from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day” exhibition and publication from the National Gallery of Ireland. The National Gallery of Ireland holds a selection of sketches and paintings by Marsh, and a sketch of her by Swanzy. She is included in an exhibition of art by women artists at the Highlanes Gallery in 2012.

(Pictured: “Self-Portrait” by Clare Marsh, oil on canvas, circa 1900, National Gallery of Ireland)


Leave a comment

Death of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles

Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, drowns on December 15, 1619, off the coast of The Skerries, Isle of Anglesey. He is the son and heir apparent of Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormond (1559–1633), whom he predeceases. He resides at Thurles Castle, Thurles, County Tipperary. He is the father of the Irish statesman and Royalist commander James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.

Butler is born the eldest son of Walter Butler and his wife Helen Butler. His father is the 11th Earl of Ormond. His mother is the eldest daughter of Edmund Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret and his wife Grizel FitzPatrick. His father and mother are cousins. Their common great-grandfather is Piers Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond. Their family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by King Henry II of England in 1177.

Some time before 1610, Butler marries Elizabeth Poyntz against his father’s wishes. She is the daughter of Sir John Pointz (died 1633) of Iron Acton in Gloucestershire and his wife Elizabeth Sydenham. He and Elizabeth had seven children, three sons and four daughters:

In 1619 after the beginning of his father’s long imprisonment in the Fleet Prison, Butler is summoned to England to answer charges of treason, specifically, of having garrisoned Kilkenny. However, on December 15 the ship conveying him is wrecked off the coast of The Skerries, Isle of Anglesey and he drowns. Like his father, he is a prominent Catholic and it seems likely that his refusal to conform to the established Anglican religion had angered King James I, and may have been the true motive for his summons.

Butler predeceases his father who dies in 1634. His eldest son James, the future 1st Duke of Ormond, succeeds him as heir apparent and bearer of the courtesy title Viscount Thurles until he succeeds his grandfather as the 12th Earl of Ormond.


Leave a comment

Death of Harry Ferguson, Mechanic & Inventor

Henry George “Harry” Ferguson, a British mechanic and inventor who is noted for his role in the development of the modern agricultural tractor and its three-point linkage system, for being the first person in Ireland to build and fly his own aeroplane, and for developing the first four-wheel drive Formula One car, the Ferguson P99, dies in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, England, on October 25, 1960. Today his name lives on in the name of the Massey Ferguson company.

Ferguson is born on November 4, 1884, at Growell, near Dromore, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland, the son of a farmer. In 1902, he goes to work with his brother, Joe, in his bicycle and car repair business. While working there as a mechanic, he develops an interest in aviation, visiting airshows abroad. In 1904, he begins to race motorcycles.

In the 1900s Ferguson becomes fascinated with the newly emerging technology of powered human flight and particularly with the exploits of the Wright brothers, the American aviation pioneers who made the first plane flight in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

The first person to accomplish powered flight in the UK is Alliot Verdon Roe in June 1908, who also flies an aeroplane of his own design, but this has not yet been achieved in Ireland. Ferguson begins to develop a keen interest in the mechanics of flying and travels to several air shows, including exhibitions in 1909 at Blackpool and Rheims where he takes notes of the design of early aircraft. He convinces his brother that they should attempt to build an aircraft at their Belfast workshop and, working from his notes, they work on the design of a plane, the Ferguson monoplane.

After making many changes and improvements, they transport their new aircraft by towing it behind a car through the streets of Belfast up to Hillsborough Park to make their first attempt at flight. They are at first thwarted by propeller trouble but continue to make technical alterations to the plane. After a delay of nearly a week caused by bad weather, the Ferguson monoplane finally takes off from Hillsborough on December 31, 1909. Ferguson becomes the first Irishman to fly and the first Irishman to build and fly his own aeroplane.

After falling out with his brother over the safety and future of aviation, Ferguson decides to go it alone, and in 1911 founds a company selling Maxwell, Star and Vauxhall cars and Overtime Tractors. He sees at first hand the weakness of having tractor and plough as separate articulated units, and in 1917 he devises a plough that can be rigidly attached to a Ford Model T car — the Eros, which becomes a limited success, competing with the Fordson Model F.

In 1917 Ferguson meets Charles E. Sorensen while Sorensen is in England scouting production sites for the Fordson tractor. They discuss methods of hitching the implement to the tractor to make them a unit. In 1920 and 1921 he demonstrates early versions of his three-point linkage on Fordson tractors at Cork and at Dearborn, Michigan. He and Henry Ford discuss putting the Ferguson system of hitch and implements onto Fordson tractors at the factory, but no deal is struck. At the time the hitch is mechanical. Ferguson and his team of longtime colleagues, including Willie Sands and Archie Greer, soon develop a hydraulic version, which is patented in 1926. After one or two false starts, he eventually founds the Ferguson-Sherman Inc., with Eber and George Sherman.

The new enterprise manufactures the Ferguson plough, incorporating the patented “Duplex” hitch system mainly intended for the Fordson “F” tractor. Following several more years of development, Ferguson’s new hydraulic version of the three-point linkage is first seen on his prototype “Ferguson Black” or ‘Irish tractor’ as he calls it, now in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London. A production version of the “Black” is introduced in May 1936, made at one of the David Brown Engineering Ltd. factories in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and designated Ferguson Model A tractor.

Ferguson’s interests are merged with those of David Brown junior to create the Ferguson-Brown Company.

In October 1938, Ferguson demonstrates his latest tractor to Henry Ford at Dearborn, and they make the famous “handshake agreement.” He takes with him his latest patents covering future improvements to the Ferguson tractor and it is these that lead to the Ford-Ferguson 9N introduction to the world on June 29, 1939.

Henry Ford II, Ford’s grandson, ends the handshake agreement on June 30, 1947, following unsuccessful negotiations with Ferguson, but continues to produce a tractor, the 8N, incorporating Ferguson’s inventions, the patents on almost all of which have not yet expired, and Ferguson is left without a tractor to sell in North America. His reaction is a lawsuit demanding compensation for damage to his business and for Ford’s illegal use of his designs. The case is settled out of court in April 1952 for just over $9 million. The court case costs him about half of that and a great deal of stress and ill health.

By 1952, most of the important Ferguson patents have expired, and this allows Henry Ford II to claim that the case had not restricted Ford’s activities too much. It follows that all the world’s other tractor manufacturers can also use Ferguson’s inventions, which they do. A year later Ferguson merges with Massey-Harris Limited to become Massey-Harris-Ferguson Co., later Massey Ferguson.

Ferguson dies at his home at Stow-on-the-Wold on October 25, 1960, as the result of a barbiturate overdose. The inquest is unable to conclude whether his death had been accidental or not.

A blue plaque commemorating Ferguson is mounted on the Ulster Bank building in Donegall Square, Belfast, the former site of his showroom. A granite memorial has been erected to Ferguson’s pioneering flight on the North Promenade, Newcastle, County Down, and a full-scale replica of the Ferguson monoplane and an early Ferguson tractor and plough can be seen at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.


Leave a comment

Birth of Simon Coveney, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Deputy Leader of Fine Gael

Simon Coveney, Fine Gael politician who has served as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of Fine Gael since 2017 and Minister for Defence since 2020, is born in Cork, County Cork, on June 16, 1972.

Coveney is born to Hugh Coveney, a chartered quantity surveyor and later a TD, and Pauline Coveney. His uncle is Archbishop Patrick Coveney. His brother, Patrick, is chief executive of the food corporation Greencore. He is educated locally in Cork, before later attending Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare. He is expelled from the college in Transition Year but ultimately is invited back to complete his full six years there. He repeats his Leaving Certificate in Bruce College in Cork. He subsequently attends University College Cork and Gurteen College, County Tipperary, before completing a BSc in Agriculture and Land Management from Royal Agricultural College, Gloucestershire.

A keen fan of all competitive sport, Coveney plays rugby for Garryowen, Cork Constitution and Crosshaven Rugby Club. In 1997-98, he leads the “Sail Chernobyl Project” which involves sailing a boat 30,000 miles around the world and raising €650,000 for charity. He is a qualified sailing instructor and lifeguard. He spends several years working as an agriculture adviser and farm manager.

Coveney is first elected to Dáil Éireann in a 1998 by-election as a Fine Gael candidate for Cork South-Central. He holds Shadow Ministries in the areas of Drugs and Youth Affairs, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and Transport. He chairs the Fine Gael Policy Development Committee prior to the 2011 Irish general election.

Coveney is a member of Cork County Council and the Southern Health Board from 1999 to 2003.

Coveney is elected to the European Parliament in 2004 and is a member of the EPP-ED group. He is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. He is the author of the European Parliament’s Annual Report on Human Rights in the World for the year 2004 and again for 2006.

Coveney is named Tánaiste by Leo Varadkar, replacing Frances Fitzgerald, on November 30, 2017, a position he holds until June 27, 2020. He also serves as Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government as well as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. For the six month period ending June 2013 he chairs the EU Council of Agriculture & Fisheries Ministers where he is at the forefront regarding EU efforts in respect of Common Agricultural (CAP) as well as Common Fisheries (CFP) Policy reforms. Under his chairmanship both dossiers are progressed significantly, with a reform package for CFP agreed in May 2013 and a reform package for CAP agreed at the end of the Irish Presidency in July. The Defence portfolio is added to his brief on July 11, 2014.

In July 2008, Simon marries his long-time girlfriend Ruth Furney, an IDA Ireland employee. They have three daughters and currently live in Carrigaline, County Cork.


Leave a comment

Birth of Gerry Rafferty, Singer, Songwriter & Musician

Gerald Rafferty, Scottish singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, is born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on April 16, 1947. His solo hits in the late 1970s include “Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line” and “Night Owl,” as well as “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which is recorded with his band Stealers Wheel in 1973.

Rafferty is the third son of Irish miner and lorry driver Joseph Rafferty and his Scottish wife Mary Skeffington. His abusive alcoholic father dies when Gerry is only sixteen years old. He grows up in a council house on the town’s Glenburn estate and attends St. Mirin’s Academy. Inspired by his Scottish mother, who teaches him both Irish and Scottish folk songs, and the music of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he starts writing his own material. In 1963 he leaves St. Mirin’s Academy and works in a butcher’s shop and as a civil service clerk while also playing with the local group Maverix on weekends.

In the mid-1960s Rafferty earns money busking on the London Underground. In 1966 he meets fellow musician Joe Egan and they are both members of the pop band the Fifth Column. In 1969 he becomes the third member of the folk-pop outfit the Humblebums, which also features comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. He and Connelly record two well-received albums on the Transatlantic Records label as a duo.

Rafferty releases his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?, in 1972. That same year he and Egan form the group Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel has a huge hit with the jaunty and witty song “Stuck in the Middle with You,” which peaks at #6 on the Billboard pop charts. Stealers Wheel has a lesser Top 40 hit with “Star” ten months later and eventually breaks up in 1975.

In 1978 Rafferty hits pay dirt with his second solo album, City to City, which soars to #1 on the Billboard album charts and sells over five million copies worldwide. The album also begets the hit song “Baker Street.” This haunting and poetic ballad is an international smash that goes to #2 in the United States, #3 in the United Kingdom, #1 in Australia, and #9 in the Netherlands.

Rafferty’s third album, Night Owl, likewise does well. Moreover, he has additional impressive chart successes with the songs “Right Down the Line,” “Home and Dry,” “Days Gone Down,” and “Get It Right Next Time.” Alas, a handful of albums he records throughout the 1980s and 1990s all prove to be commercial flops. He sings the vocal on the song “The Way It Always Starts” for the soundtrack of the movie Local Hero.

Rafferty is married to Carla Ventilla from 1970 to 1990. He records his last album, Another World, in 2000 and releases the compilation CD, Life Goes On, in 2009.

Rafferty has problems with alcoholism that directly contributes to his untimely death. In November 2010, he is admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he is put on a life support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, he rallies for a short time, and doctors believe he might recover. He dies, however, of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on January 4, 2011.

A requiem mass is held for Rafferty at St. Mirin’s Cathedral in Paisley on January 21, 2011. The mass is streamed live over the Internet. Politicians in attendance are the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond MSP, Wendy Alexander MSP, Hugh Henry MSP, and Robin Harper MSP. The musicians present include Craig and Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers, former bandmates Joe Egan and Rab Noakes, Barbara Dickson, and Graham Lyle. The eulogy is given by Rafferty’s longtime friend John Byrne. His remains are then cremated at the Woodside Crematorium in Paisley and his ashes scattered on Iona. He is survived by his daughter, granddaughter Celia, and brother Jim.


Leave a comment

The Kilcommon Ambush

On the morning of the December 16, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, an eight man Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) foot patrol under the command of Sergeant Thomas Bray, leaves the barracks at Kilcommon Cross, County Tipperary, to retrieve mail from the Post Office in Kilcommon village, a mile away.

As they approach the crest of a hill on the narrow road between the Cross and the village, approximately twenty men of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) 1st Tipperary Brigade open fire on them. The object of the attack is apparently quite simple – to kill members of the police, and in particular Sergeant Bray.

The ambush, although triggered early, is successful, with the deaths of four of the constables and the serious wounding of one other. The remaining three policemen are able to take cover and return to the barracks, including the Sergeant. Two RIC rifles are lost and there are no casualties on the IRA side.

The dead constables are Patrick Joseph Halford (27) of Meath, Ernest Frederick Harden (21) of Essex, Albert Holman Palmer (24) of Surrey, and Arthur Smith (22) of London. Constable Alfred Edwin Bundy of Gloucestershire is seriously wounded and requires hospital care. He is pensioned out early, in June 1921, as a result of his injuries.

There is some suggestion that the local IRA units are not at all keen on an ambush in their area, for fear of retribution. The brigade commanders push ahead with it however, and the inevitable ‘unofficial reprisals’ are carried out, with the killing of some livestock and the burning of some dwellings, including the home of one of the IRA volunteers.

The total strength in Kilcommon RIC Barracks at this time was around 16 police. Most of them are British recruits – Black and Tans – and under the control of only one Sergeant. Immediately after the ambush a further six men are drafted in as replacements.

Two of the eight police involved in the incident that day remain to be identified. But present in Kilcommon barracks during the period are two constables who are later to have careers in the Palestine Gendarmerie, Arthur Charles Howard and Arthur Fisher. Fisher becomes an officer in the Arab Section of the Palestine Gendarmerie and later the Transjordan Frontier Force (TJFF).

(From: “The Kilcommon Ambush, 16 December 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: The vicinity of the ambush site)


Leave a comment

Death of David Lord, RAF Officer & Victoria Cross Recipient

David Samuel Anthony Lord, VC, DFC, recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, is killed at Arnhem, Netherlands, on September 19, 1944 during World War II. A transport pilot in the Royal Air Force, he receives the award posthumously for his actions during the Battle of Arnhem while flying resupply missions in support of British paratroopers.

Lord is born on October 18, 1913 in Cork, County Cork, one of three sons of Samuel (a warrant officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers) and Mary Lord (née Miller). One of his brothers dies in infancy.

After World War I the family is posted to British India and Lord attends Lucknow Convent School. On his father’s retirement from the Army the family moves to Wrexham and then he is a pupil at St. Mary’s College, Aberystwyth, and then the University of Wales. Later, he attends the English College, Valladolid, Spain, to study for the priesthood. Deciding that it was not the career for him, he returns to Wrexham, before moving to London in the mid-1930s to work as a freelance writer.

Lord enlists in the Royal Air Force on August 6, 1936. After reaching the rank of corporal in August 1938, he applies to undertake pilot training, which he begins in October 1938. Successfully gaining his pilot’s wings, he becomes a sergeant pilot in April 1939, and is posted to No. 31 Squadron RAF, based in Lahore, India. He later flies the Vickers Type 264 Valentia biplane transport. In 1941, No. 31 Squadron is the first unit to receive the Douglas DC-2 which is followed by both the Douglas DC-3 and Dakota C-47 Skytrain transports. That year he is promoted to flight sergeant and then warrant officer. He flies in North Africa, supporting troops in Libya and Egypt for four months, before being posted back to India. Commissioned as a pilot officer in May 1942, he flies supply missions over Burma, for which he is mentioned in despatches.

Lord is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1943, receiving the award at Buckingham Palace, and is promoted to flight lieutenant shortly afterwards. By January 1944, he has joined No. 271 Squadron RAF, based at RAF Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, and begins training as part of preparations for the invasion of Europe. On D-Day, he carries paratroopers into France and his aircraft was hit by flak, returning to base without flaps.

The Battle of Arnhem is part of Operation Market Garden, an attempt to secure a string of bridges through the Netherlands. At Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade are tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine, the final objectives of the operation. However, the airborne forces that drop on September 17 are not aware that the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions are also near Arnhem for rest and refit. Their presence adds a substantial number of Panzergrenadiers, tanks and self-propelled guns to the German defences and the Allies suffer heavily in the ensuing battle. Only a small force manages to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge before being overrun on September 21. The rest of the division becomes trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge and has to be evacuated on September 25. The Allies fail to cross the Rhine, which remains under German control until Allied offensives in March 1945.

Lord is 30 years old, and a flight lieutenant serving with No. 271 Squadron, Royal Air Force during World War II when he is awarded the Victoria Cross. On September 19, 1944, during the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands, the British 1st Airborne Division is in desperate need of supplies. His Dakota III “KG374” encounters intense enemy anti-aircraft fire and is hit twice, with one engine burning. He manages to drop his supplies, but at the end of the run finds that there are two containers remaining. Although he knows that one of his wings might collapse at any moment, he nevertheless makes a second run to drop the last supplies, then orders his crew to bail out. A few seconds later, the Dakota crashes in flames with its pilot and six crew members.

Only the navigator, Flying Officer Harold King, survives, becoming a prisoner of war. It is only on his release in mid-1945, as well as the release of several paratroops from the 10th Parachute Battalion, that the story of Lord’s action becomes known. He is awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

After Arnhem is liberated in April 1945, Grave Registration Units of the British 2nd Army move into the area and began to locate the Allied dead. Lord is buried alongside his crew in the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery. There are many plaques in memory of him, including one at Wrexham Cathedral in Wales.

Several aircraft have carried tributes to Lord. Between 1993 and 1998, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Dakota, serial “ZA947”, is painted in the colours of Lord’s aircraft during the Arnhem battle, and bears the same code letters: YS-DM. Between 1973 and 2005, the Dakota displayed at RAF Museum Cosford is similarly painted and coded to represent Lord’s aircraft. From 1966 until its disbandment in 2005, No. 10 Squadron RAF is equipped with Vickers VC-10s, each of which is named after a Royal Air Force or Royal Flying Corps VC recipient. Aircraft serial number ‘XR810’ is named David Lord VC.

Lord’s Victoria Cross is presented to his parents at Buckingham Palace in December 1945. In 1997, his Victoria Cross, along with his other decorations and medals, are sold at auction by Spinks to Lord Ashcroft. As of 2014, the medal group is on display at the Imperial War Museum.


Leave a comment

Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)


Leave a comment

Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


Leave a comment

Assassination of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars

arthur-vicarsSir Arthur Edward Vicars, genealogist and heraldic expert, is assassinated in Kilmorna, County Kerry by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 14, 1921.

Vicars is born on July 27, 1862 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and is the youngest child of Colonel William Henry Vicars of the 61st Regiment of Foot and his wife Jane (nee Gun-Cunninghame). This is his mother’s second marriage, the first being to Pierce O’Mahony by whom she has two sons. He is very attached to his Irish half-brothers and spends much time at their residences. On completing his education at Magdalen College School, Oxford and Bromsgrove School he moves permanently to Ireland.

Vicars quickly develops an expertise in genealogical and heraldic matters and makes several attempts to be employed by the Irish heraldic administration of Ulster King of Arms, even offering to work for no pay. In 1891 he is one of the founder members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society and remains its honorary secretary until his death.

Vicars first attempts to find a post in the Office of Arms when in 1892 he applies unsuccessfully for the post of Athlone Pursuivant on the death of the incumbent, Bernard Louis Burke. In a letter dated October 2, 1892 his half-brother Pierce Mahony writes that Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, is dying and urges him to move at once. Burke dies in December 1892, and Vicars is appointed to the office by letters patent dated February 2, 1893. In 1896 he is knighted, in 1900 he is appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) and in 1903 he is elevated to Knight Commander of the Order (KCVO). He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and a trustee of the National Library of Ireland.

In 1897 Vicars publishes An Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536 -1810, a listing of all persons in wills proved in that period. This work becomes very valuable to genealogists after the destruction of the source material for the book in 1922 when the Public Record Office at the Four Courts is destroyed at the start of the Irish Civil War.

Vicars’ career is very distinguished until 1907 when it is hit by the scandal of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of St. Patrick, he has custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the “crown jewels.” They are found to be missing on July 6, and a Crown Jewel Commission is established in January 1908 to investigate the disappearance. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy refuse to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings are published on January 25, 1908 and he is dismissed as Ulster five days later.

On November 23, 1912, the Daily Mail publishes serious false allegations against Vicars. The substance of the article is that Vicars had allowed a woman reported to be his mistress to obtain a copy of the key to the safe and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. In July 1913 he successfully sues the paper for libel. The paper admits that the story is completely baseless and that the woman in question does not exist. He is awarded damages of £5,000.

Vicars leaves Dublin and moves to Kilmorna, near Listowel, County Kerry, the former seat of one of his half-brothers. He marries Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, County Westmeath on July 4, 1917. He continues to protest his innocence until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.

In May 1920 up to a hundred armed men break into Kilmorna House and hold Vicars at gunpoint while they attempt to break into the house’s strongroom. On April 14, 1921, he is taken from Kilmorna House, which is set afire, and shot dead in front of his wife. According to the communiqué issued from Dublin Castle, thirty armed men took him from his bed and shot him, leaving a placard around his neck denouncing him as an informer. On April 27, as an official reprisal, four shops are destroyed by British Armed Forces in the town of Listowel. The proclamation given under Martial law and ordering their demolition states:

“For any outrage carried out in future against the lives or property of loyalist officials, reprisals will be taken against selected persons known to have rebel sympathies, although their implication has not been proved.”

Vicars is buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire on April 20, 1921. His wife dies in Somerset in 1946.