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


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Birth of Peter O’Toole, Stage & Film Actor

peter-o-toolePeter Seamus O’Toole, British stage and film actor of Irish descent, is born on August 2, 1932, in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Some sources give his birthplace as Connemara, County Galway. Records from the General Registry Office in Leeds confirm that O’Toole is born in the north England town in 1932.

O’Toole grows up in Leeds and is educated at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He is a reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post in his teens and makes his amateur stage debut at Leeds Civic Theatre. After serving two years in the Royal Navy, he acts with the Bristol Old Vic Company from 1955 to 1958 and makes his London debut as Peter Shirley in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara (1956). He appears with the Shakespeare Memorial Company at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in 1960 in highly praised performances as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, and he plays the lead in Hamlet for the inaugural production of the Royal National Theatre in London in 1963. A prominent film star by this point in his career, he continues to appear on stages throughout the world to great acclaim. He is named associate director of the Old Vic in 1980.

O’Toole makes his motion picture debut in Kidnapped in 1960 and two years later becomes an international star for his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962). In 1964 he plays Henry II of England in Becket, and he has the title role in Lord Jim (1965). He appears as Henry II again in The Lion in Winter (1968), a film notable for the witty verbal sparring matches between O’Toole and costar Katharine Hepburn. The Ruling Class (1972), a controversial black comedy that has become a cult classic, casts O’Toole as a schizophrenic English earl with a messiah complex.

Personal problems contribute to a decline in his popularity during the 1970s, but he makes a strong comeback in the early 1980s with three well-received efforts. He portrays a duplicitous and domineering movie director in The Stunt Man (1980), and his performance as the Roman commander Lucius Flavius Silva in the acclaimed television miniseries Masada (1981) is hailed as one of the finest of his career. His most popular vehicle during this period is My Favorite Year (1982), an affectionate satire on the early days of television, in which he plays Alan Swann, a faded Errol Flynn-type swashbuckling screen star with a penchant for tippling and troublemaking.

O’Toole subsequently maintains his status with fine performances in such films as the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor (1987), the cult favourite Wings of Fame (1989), and Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997), in which he portrays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Notable screen roles in the 21st century included King Priam in the historical epic Troy (2004), an aging romantic in Venus (2006), the voice of a haughty food critic in the animated Ratatouille (2007), and a priest in the historical drama For Greater Glory (2012). In addition, in 2008 he portrays Pope Paul III in the TV series The Tudors.

In 1992 O’Toole publishes a lively memoir, Loitering with Intent: The Child. A second volume, Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice, appears in 1996. He is nominated for an Academy Award eight times — for Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, The Lion in Winter, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, and Venus — but never wins. In 2003 he is awarded an honorary Oscar. He receives an Emmy Award for his performance as Bishop Pierre Cauchon in the television miniseries Joan of Arc (1999).

O’Toole dies on December 14, 2013 at Wellington Hospital in St. John’s Wood, London, at the age of 81. His funeral is held at Golders Green Crematorium in London on December 21, 2013, where his body is cremated in a wicker coffin. His ashes are planned to be taken to Connemara, Ireland. They are being kept at the residence of the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, by President Michael D. Higgins, an old friend of O’Toole. His family has stated their intention to fulfill his wishes and take his ashes to the west of Ireland.

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Birth of Charles Villiers Stanford, Composer & Conductor

charles-villiers-stanfordSir Charles Villiers Stanford, composer, music teacher, and conductor, is born in Dublin on September 30, 1852.

Stanford is born into a well-off and highly musical family, the only son of John James Stanford, a prominent Dublin lawyer, Examiner to the Court of Chancery in Ireland and Clerk of the Crown for County Meath, and his second wife, Mary, née Henn. He is educated at the University of Cambridge before studying music in Leipzig and Berlin. He is instrumental in raising the status of the Cambridge University Musical Society, attracting international stars to perform with it.

While still an undergraduate, Stanford is appointed organist of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1882, at the age of 29, he is one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he teaches composition for the rest of his life. From 1887 he is also Professor of Music at Cambridge. As a teacher, he is skeptical about modernism, and bases his instruction chiefly on classical principles as exemplified in the music of Johannes Brahms. Among his pupils are rising composers whose fame go on to surpass his own, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. As a conductor, he holds posts with the Bach Choir and the Leeds Triennial Music Festival.

Stanford composes a substantial number of concert works, including seven symphonies, but his best-remembered pieces are his choral works for church performance, chiefly composed in the Anglican tradition. He is a dedicated composer of opera, but none of his nine completed operas has endured in the general repertory. Some critics regard him, together with Hubert Parry and Alexander Mackenzie, as responsible for a renaissance in music from the British Isles. However, after his conspicuous success as a composer in the last two decades of the 19th century, his music is eclipsed in the 20th century by that of Edward Elgar as well as former pupils.

In September 1922, Stanford completes the sixth Irish Rhapsody, his final work. Two weeks later he celebrates his 70th birthday and thereafter his health declines. On March 17, 1924 he suffers a stroke and dies on March 29 at his home in London, survived by his wife and children. He is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on April 2 and his ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey the following day.

Stanford’s last opera, The Travelling Companion, composed during World War I, is premiered by amateur performers at the David Lewis Theatre, Liverpool in 1925 with a reduced orchestra. The work is given complete at Bristol in 1928 and at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, in 1935.

Stanford receives many honours, including honorary doctorates from University of Oxford (1883), University of Cambridge (1888), Durham University (1894), University of Leeds (1904), and Trinity College, Dublin (1921). He is knighted in 1902 and in 1904 is elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, Berlin.


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Birth of Irish Author Abraham “Bram” Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker, Irish author best known today for his 1897 Gothic fiction novel Dracula, is born on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin. During his lifetime, he is better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, London, which Irving owns.

Stoker’s father, Abraham Stoker, is a civil servant and his mother, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, is a charity worker and writer. Stoker is a sickly child and is bedridden with an unknown illness until he starts school at the age of seven, when he makes a complete recovery. Growing up his mother tells him a lot of horror stories which may have influence on his later writings.

In 1864 Stoker enters Trinity College, Dublin. While attending college he begins working as an Irish civil servant. He also works part time as a free lance journalist and drama critic. In 1876 he meets Henry Irving, a famous actor, and they soon become friends. Not long after that, Stoker meets and falls in love with an aspiring actress named Florence Balcombe whom he marries on December 4, 1878 at St. Anne’s Parish Church, Dublin. In 1878 he accepts a job working in London as Irving’s personal secretary.

On December 9, Stoker and his new wife move to England to join Irving. His first book The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland though written while he is still in Dublin, is published in 1879. On December 30, 1879 Stoker and his wife have their only child, a son Noel. While in England Stoker also writes several novels and short stories. His first book of fiction, Under the Sunset, is published in 1881.

Stoker visits the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890, a visit that is said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. Before writing Dracula, he meets Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveller. Dracula likely emerges from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian Mountains. Stoker then spends several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which add a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker develops as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula is considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.

The original 541-page typescript of Dracula is believed to have been lost until it is found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It consists of typed sheets with many emendations, plus handwritten on the title page is “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name is shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. The typescript is purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

After suffering a number of strokes, Abraham “Bram” Stoker dies at No. 26 St. George’s Square, London on April 20, 1912. Some biographers attribute the cause of death to tertiary syphilis, others to overwork. He is cremated and his ashes are placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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Birth of Playwright George Bernard Shaw

george-bernard-shawGeorge Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw 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, and in 1925 is awarded 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. Shaw 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 include 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. His 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 Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

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