seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Joan O’Hara, Actress of Stage, Film & Television

Joan O’Hara, Irish stage, film and television actress, is born in Rosses Point, County Sligo, on October 10, 1930. She is one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and is, at the time of her death, recognisable to television viewers as Eunice Dunstan, a gossip in Fair City on RTÉ One.

O’Hara is born and raised in Rosses Point, the daughter of Major John Charles O’Hara, an officer in the British Corps of Royal Engineers and his wife, Mai (née Kirwan). One of her sisters, Mary (born 1935), is a soprano/harpist. Her brother Dermot (born 1934) now lives with his family in Canada. She attends the same Ursuline convent school as fellow actress and friend Pauline Flanagan.

O’Hara lives most of her life in Monkstown, County Dublin, with a stay in London, with her husband, the poet and architect Francis J. Barry. The couple has four children: Siubhan, Jane, Guy, and Sebastian, an author/playwright, whose works include The Steward of Christendom, and the Booker-shortlisted novels A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture. She is also a year-round sea-swimmer.

O’Hara is a member of the renowned Abbey Players and performs in many plays in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, including those by Seán O’Casey, Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats. She appears as Maurya in the 1988 film The Dawning. She appears in a number of other films, including Ron Howard‘s Far and Away, Da, Footfalls, Home is the Hero and just before her death, How About You. In this her final film, she stars with Vanessa Redgrave and her friend Brenda Fricker. The strength of her performance and bravery in carrying it out is acknowledged by the cast and crew in a standing ovation.

More recently, O’Hara is best known for appearing in the popular Irish television soap opera Fair City, broadcast on RTÉ One. She joins the soap in 1994, portraying the character Eunice Dunstan until her death in 2007. Thus she is described as both one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and as one of the finest actors of her generation on her death. She admires in particular Samuel Beckett, Federico García Lorca and Ingmar Bergman. While she takes a no-nonsense approach to her craft, famously giving the advice that when in doubt, one should relate to the fireplace, she is educated at the Abbey School of Acting and has a deep appreciation and knowledge of theoretical approaches to acting and is an admirer of the European and American avant-garde. As actor Alan Stanford said after her death, “She had the most amazing energy. She was in the truest sense one of the last of the greats.”

Joan O’Hara Barry (she keeps her maiden name as her stage name) dies in Dublin on July 23, 2007 of complications from heart disease, aged 76. Her death is announced on RTÉ News the following day.


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Birth of Walter Beckett, Composer & Music Critic

Walter Beckett, Irish composer, teacher and music critic, is born on July 27, 1914 in Dublin. He is a cousin of the writer Samuel Beckett.

Beckett studies organ with George Hewson and harmony with John Francis Larchet at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), in addition to music at Trinity College Dublin where he is conferred with a Mus.D. (Doctor of Music) in 1942. He lives from 1946 to 1963 in Venice, where he teaches English and piano. He also writes reviews from abroad for The Irish Times and makes a series of orchestral arrangements of Irish traditional music for Radio Éireann.

In addition to Beckett’s activity as a music critic for The Irish Times, he also writes biographical articles for dictionaries, in particular for the first edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. His books include studies on Franz Liszt and ballet music.

Beckett’s more ambitious musical works from the 1940s and 1950s are a Suite for Orchestra (1945), Four Higgins Songs (1946), The Falaingin Dances (1958) and a Suite of Planxties (1960) for harp and orchestra.

In 1963 Beckett moves to England, where he teaches music at various schools before returning to Ireland in 1970 to succeed A. J. Potter at the RIAM as professor of harmony and counterpoint. In the 1980s he produces a number of remarkable works such as Quartet for Strings (1980) and Dublin Symphony (1989) for narrator, chamber choir and large orchestra. While he is never a modernist, his later works nevertheless contain some advanced harmony, particularly in the quartet.

Beckett is forced to retire from the RIAM in 1985 after suffering a stroke. In 1986 he is elected a member of Aosdána and an Honorary Fellow of the RIAM in 1990. He dies in Dublin on April 3, 1996.


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Death of Francis McPeake II, Uilleann Piper & Singer

Francis ‘Francie’ McPeake II, uilleann piper and singer, dies in Belfast on July 7, 1986. He is a crucial figure in preserving the great Ulster piping tradition.

McPeake is born on January 20, 1917 at 43 Malcolmson Street, Belfast, the son of Francis J. McPeake (1885–1971), piper and tram conductor, and Mary McPeake (née Loney). His father, a staunch nationalist, wins the Feis piping competition in Belfast in 1909 and represents Ireland together with a Welsh harper, John Page, at the Pan-Celtic Congress in Brussels in 1911. In July 1912 he wins first prize in the learners’ class when he attends the foundation of the Pipers’ Club in Dublin. He represents Ireland in many instances as one of relatively few pipers from Northern Ireland at the time.

McPeake continues the strong musical tradition in the family. He also plays the pipes and father and son are recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1952. They appear at the Royal Albert Hall in 1956 and later form the McPeake Trio along with his brother James, who plays the fiddle, the piano accordion, and later a harp made by McFall in Belfast. The trio comes to be known as The McPeakes. They sing in Irish and in English and are closely identified with particular songs, such as “The Jug of Punch,” “The Lament of Aughrim,” and “The Verdant Braes of Skreen,” though the one most associated with them is “Will You Go, Lassie, Go?”

The McPeakes win first prize at the international Eisteddfod in Wales in the late 1950s and acquire a strong international reputation with Bob Dylan being among their fans. The trio is later augmented by members of the next generation, recorded by Peter Kennedy again, and make several recordings, including Irish Folk (1964) and Welcome Home (1967), which is a cassette reissue of a 1962 album for the Topic Records label. Some of Kennedy’s recordings of the McPeake family are released on the compact disc Traditional Songs of Ireland (CD-SDL 411) in 1995. A fourth-generation family group follows, Clan McPeake, inheriting the commitment, much of the repertoire, and the verve of the earlier generations.

McPeakes’s gift for teaching is employed at the Francis McPeake School of Music, which is established in 1977, and he writes a well-reviewed tin whistle tutor entitled Smash the Windows, published by Appletree Press in 1981. He also forms the Clonard Traditional Music Society.

McPeake dies on July 7, 1986. The McPeake family remains closely associated with traditional music and with Belfast. The Francis McPeake International Summer School is established in 2004.

(From: “McPeake, Francis (‘Francie’)” by Ríonach uí Ógáin, Dictionary of Irish Biography, content licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International license)


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Death of The Chieftains Harpist Derek Bell

George Derek Fleetwood Bell, harpist, pianist, oboist, musicologist and composer best known for his accompaniment work on various instruments with The Chieftains, dies unexpectedly on October 17, 2002 in Phoenix, Arizona during a recovery period from minor surgery.

Bell is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is something of a child prodigy, composing his first concerto at the age of twelve. He graduates from the Royal College of Music in 1957. While studying there, he became friends with the flautist James Galway. From 1958 to 1990 he composes several classical works, including three piano sonatas, two symphonies, Three Images of Ireland in Druid Times (in 1993) for harp, strings and timpani, Nocturne on an Icelandic Melody (1997) for oboe d’amore and piano and Three Transcendental Concert Studies (2000) for oboe and piano.

As manager of the Belfast Symphony Orchestra, Bell is responsible for maintaining the instruments and keeping them in tune. Out of curiosity, he asks Sheila Larchet-Cuthbert to teach him how to play the harp. In 1965 he becomes an oboist and harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra. He serves as a professor of harp at the Academy of Music in Belfast.

Bell is briefly featured in a 1986 BBC documentary, The Celts, in which he discusses the role and evolution of the harp in Celtic Irish and Welsh society. He also appears with Van Morrison at the Riverside Theatre at the University of Ulster in April 1988.

Bell is an admirer of the music of Nikolai Karlovich Medtner and is the co-founder, with the bass-baritone Hugh Sheehan, of the first British Medtner Society which gives a series of successful concerts of Medtner’s music in the 1970s long before Medtner’s music is recognised as it is today.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1972 Bell performs on the radio the music of Turlough O’Carolan, an 18th-century blind Irish harpist. At that time O’Carolan’s music is virtually unknown, though today almost every album of harp music contains one of his compositions. Working with him on the project are several members of The Chieftains. Bell becomes friends with the leader of The Chieftains, Paddy Moloney. For two precarious years, he records both with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and with The Chieftains, until finally becoming a full-time member of the Chieftains in 1975.

Bell is the only member of the band to wear a necktie at every public performance. He favours socks with novelty designs, such as images of Looney Tunes characters. He wears scruffy suits, often with trousers that are too short. He is eccentric and tells obscene jokes. The title of his 1981 solo album Derek Bell Plays With Himself has a conscious double entendre.

While touring in Moscow he grabs his alarm clock and puts it in his pocket while rushing to catch a plane. He is then stopped by the Soviet police on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. Paddy Moloney affectionately calls him “Ding Dong” Bell. He relishes the eclectic collaborations, such as those with Van Morrison, Sting and the Chinese orchestra. In 1991 he records with his old friend James Galway. He is awarded an MBE in the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to traditional music.

Bell dies of cardiac arrest in Phoenix, Arizona on October 17, 2002, just four days shy of his 67th birthday. He is remembered at Cambridge House Grammar School, Ballymena, as House Patron of Bell House.


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Birth of Irish Folk Singer Moya Brennan

moya-brennanMoya Brennan, born Máire Ní Bhraonáin, Irish folk singer, songwriter, harpist, and philanthropist, is born in Dublin on August 4, 1952.

After leaving secondary school, Brennan spends a few years at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin studying the harp, the piano, and singing. She has also taught music at Holy Cross College in Falcarragh, County Donegal.

In 1970 Brennan joins her two brothers, Pól and Ciarán, and their mother’s twin brothers, Noel and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin, and form the band Clannad. They are identified and introduced to television by Tony MacMahon. After enjoying a decade of being among the world’s foremost Irish musical groups, Clannad graduates to chart success in 1982 with the album Magical Ring. Brennan is at the forefront of the group’s success and her voice suddenly becomes synonymous with Celtic music and Irish music at the time. Brennan records 17 albums with Clannad and wins a Grammy Award, a BAFTA, and an Ivor Novello award with the quintet. Her sister, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, who spends some time with Clannad, continues to pursue a very successful solo career under the name Enya.

Brennan releases her first solo album in 1992, Máire, on Atlantic Records. Misty Eyed Adventures on BGM follows three years later. In 1998, Brennan signs with Word Records and releases Perfect Time, and Whisper to the Wild Water a year later. The album is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 2001.

Brennan’s autobiography, The Other Side of the Rainbow, is published in 2000 and she performs her song Perfect Time live at World Youth Day in Rome in front of crowds of pilgrims and Pope John Paul II. There are 2.1 million people present, making it the largest crowd ever gathered in the Northern Hemisphere.

In film, Brennan is a featured vocalist on King Arthur (2004), co-writing the title theme Tell Me Now (What You See) with Hans Zimmer. She also writes an additional music score for To End All Wars (2001). In 1995, she duets with Shane MacGowan on You’re the One for the movie Circle of Friends. Brennan has collaborated with many other musicians, including Chicane, Alan Parsons, Bono, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Michael McDonald from the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby, Joe Elliott, The Chieftains, Paul Young, Paul Brady, Michael Crawford, Joe Jackson, and Ronan Keating.

In total Brennan has recorded 25 albums, and has sold 20 million records. Brennan and Clannad are credited with the creation of contemporary Celtic music and are held in high esteem for their vast contribution to bringing new life to old Irish songs. They have been compared to Seán Ó Riada, in that they brought the Irish language into popular culture through their music. One critic said, “Clannad’s music offers a terrific fusion between traditional and modern influences.” U2 front man Bono says of her voice, “I think Máire has one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced.”