seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Benedict Kiely, Writer & Broadcaster

benedict-kielyBenedict “Ben” Kiely, Irish writer and broadcaster, is born in Dromore, County Tyrone on August 15, 1919, the youngest of six children.

In 1920, the family moves from Dromore to Omagh. After living for a short time in Castle Street and Drumragh, the family finally settles in St. Patrick’s Terrace in the Gallows Hill area of Omagh. This area is to be a lasting inspiration for Kiely.

Kiely begins to feel the urge to become a writer during his teenage years. He has a keen interest in the work of George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Jonathan Swift. In 1936, after completing his education at Mount St. Columba Christian Brothers School in Omagh, he goes to work as a sorting clerk in the Omagh Post Office.

However, Kiely soon realises that the post office will not provide him with the life of the scholar which he so desires. In the spring of 1937, he leaves Omagh and begins a new life in Emo Park, Portarlington, County Laois, where he decides to train as a Jesuit priest. His life as a Jesuit is not meant to be for, exactly a year later, in the spring of 1938, he suffers a serious spinal injury, which results in a lengthy stay in Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Finglas, Dublin. During his hospitalisation, he is given plenty of time to think about the course his life has already taken, and about a course it might take. He also realises that he lacks a vocation to the priesthood and abandons his training as a Jesuit.

When Kiely gets out of hospital in 1939, he returns to Omagh to recover from his back problem. The following year, he begins working as a part-time journalist in the weekly Catholic Standard newspaper. In 1943, he graduates from National University of Ireland with a B.A. in History and Letters.

In 1945, Kiely begins working for the Irish Independent, where he is employed as a journalist and critic. In 1950, he joins The Irish Press as a literary editor. In 1964, he moves to the United States where, over a period of four years, he is a Writer-in-Residence at Emory University, visiting professor at the University of Oregon, and Writer-in-Residence at Hollins College (Virginia). In 1968, he returns to Ireland. In the spring of 1976, he is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Delaware. He continues to receive acclaim for his writing and journalism, a career which spans over six decades, receiving the Award for Literature from the Irish Academy of Letters. By now, he is one of Ireland’s best known writers. In 1996, he is named Saoi of Aosdána, the highest honour given by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Kiely visits Omagh in 2001 which is marked by the unveiling of a plaque outside his childhood home on Gallows Hill by Omagh’s Plain Speaking Community Arts group. Every September an event is held in Omagh called The Benedict Kiely Literary Weekend to celebrate his many achievements.

Benedict Kiely dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on February 9, 2007.


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Death of Frank Harris, Novelist & Journalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”

dracula-1st-editionThe Gothic horror novel Dracula, written by Bram Stoker of Dublin, is first published on May 26, 1897. The novel tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so that he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and of the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Between 1879 and 1898, Stoker is a business manager for the world-famous Lyceum Theatre in London, where he supplements his income by writing a large number of sensational novels, including the vampire tale Dracula. Parts of the novel are set around the town of Whitby, where he spends summer holidays.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells write many tales in which fantastic creatures threaten the British Empire. Invasion literature is at a peak, and Stoker’s formula of an invasion of England by continental European influences is very familiar by 1897 to readers of fantastic adventure stories. Victorian readers enjoy Dracula as a good adventure story like many others, but it does not reach its iconic legendary status until later in the 20th century when film versions begin to appear.

Before writing Dracula, Stoker spends seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard‘s 1885 essay Transylvania Superstitions. Later he also claims that he has a nightmare, caused by eating too much crab meat covered with mayonnaise sauce, about a “vampire king” rising from his grave.

Despite being the most widely known vampire novel, Dracula is not the first. It is preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu‘s 1871 Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman, and by Varney the Vampire, a lengthy penny dreadful serial from the mid-Victorian period by James Malcolm Rymer. John Polidori creates the image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, in his tale The Vampyre in 1819.

The Lyceum Theatre where Stoker works between 1878 and 1898 is headed by actor-manager Henry Irving, who is Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula’s mannerisms and who Stoker hopes would play Dracula in a stage version. Irving never does agree to do a stage version, but Dracula’s dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms draw their living embodiment from Irving.

The Dead Un-Dead is one of Stoker’s original titles for Dracula, and the manuscript is entitled simply The Un-Dead up until a few weeks before publication. Stoker’s notes for Dracula show that the name of the count is originally “Count Wampyr”, but Stoker becomes intrigued by the name “Dracula” while doing research, after reading William Wilkinson‘s book An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them (London 1820), which he finds in the Whitby Library and consults a number of times during visits to Whitby in the 1890s. The name Dracula is the patronym of the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, who takes the name “Dracul” after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the Romanian language, the word dracul can mean either “the dragon” or, especially in the present day, “the devil.”

Dracula is copyrighted in the United States in 1899 with the publication by Doubleday & McClure of New York. However, when Universal Studios purchases the rights, it comes to light that Bram Stoker has not complied with a portion of U.S. copyright law, placing the novel into the public domain. In the United Kingdom and other countries following the Berne Convention on copyrights, the novel is under copyright until April 1962, fifty years after Stoker’s death.

F. W. Murnau‘s unauthorized film adaptation Nosferatu is released in 1922, and the popularity of the novel increases considerably, owing to the controversy caused when Stoker’s widow tries to have the film removed from public circulation. Florence Stoker sues the film company and wins, however, the company is bankrupt, and Stoker only recovers her legal fees and an order by the court for all copies of the film to be destroyed. Some copies survive and find their way into theatres. Eventually, Florence Stoker simply gives up the fight against public displays of the film.

Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, gothic fiction, and invasion literature. Stoker does not invent the vampire but he defines its modern form, and the novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film, and television interpretations.