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


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”

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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.


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Death of Poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Recipient

Seamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, dies in Dublin on August 30, 2013. He is the 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney is born near Castledawson, County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. The family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. After attending Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in the early 1960s and begins to publish poetry. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. Heaney is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and, in 2012, a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky has stated that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he enters the hospital for a medical procedure, but dies at 7:30 the following morning before it takes place. His funeral is held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of September 2, 2013, and he is buried in the evening in the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael reveals at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died. Shortly after Heaney’s death, graffiti artist Maser paints a mural in Dublin referencing this message.

On September 1, the day after his death, a crowd of 81,553 spectators applaud Heaney for three minutes at a semi-final match of the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. His funeral is broadcast live the following day on RTÉ television and radio and is streamed internationally at RTÉ’s website. RTÉ Radio 1 Extra transmits a continuous broadcast, from 8:00 AM until 9:15 PM on the day of the funeral, of his Collected Poems album, recorded in 2009. His poetry collections sell out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.


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Seamus Heaney Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

seamus-heaneySeamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator, and lecturer, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 15, 1995.

Heaney is born in April 1939 near Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland, where his family engages in farming and selling cattle. His education includes studies at Queen’s University Belfast, where he also serves as a lecturer in the late 1960s. He makes his debut as a poet then, but continues to divide his time between his own writing and academia. He works at Carysforth College in Dublin, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Oxford University.

Heaney’s poetry is often down-to-earth. For him, poetry is like the earth – something that must be plowed and turned. Often he paints the gray and damp landscape from the British Isles. Peat moss has a special place in his poetry. The poems often are connected with daily experiences, but they also derive motifs from history, all the way back to prehistoric times. Heany’s profound interest in the Celtic and the pre-Christian as well as in Catholic literary tradition has found expression in a number of essays and translations.

Heaney is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee describes as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” He is on holiday in Greece with his wife, Marie, when the news breaks. No one, not even journalists or his own children, can locate him until he appears at Dublin Airport two days later, though an Irish television camera traces him to Kalamata. Asked how it feels having his name added to the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responds, “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.” He and Marie are immediately whisked straight from the airport to Áras an Uachtaráin for champagne with President Mary Robinson.


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The Sinking of John F. Kennedy’s PT-109

pt-109-crewIn the early morning hours of August 2, 1943, three small American torpedo boats are moving just west of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. In command of PT-109 is a young Irish American destined to one day be the first Catholic president of the United States, Lieutenant John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

On a moonless night, Kennedy’s boat is idling on one engine to avoid detection of her wake by Japanese aircraft when the crew realizes they are in the path of the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, which is returning to Rabaul from Vila, Kolombangara, after offloading supplies and 900 soldiers. Amagiri is traveling at a relatively high speed of between 23 and 40 knots in order to reach harbor by dawn, when Allied air patrols are likely to appear.

The crew of PT-109 has less than ten seconds to get the engines up to speed. The commander of the Amagiri, Kohai Hanami, spots the tiny ship but it is too close to fire upon. Instead, Hanami decides to ram it. PT-109 is cut in half and bursts into flames. Seamen Andrew Jackson Kirksey and Harold W. Marney are killed, and two other members of the crew are badly injured. PT-109 is gravely damaged, with watertight compartments keeping only the forward hull afloat in a sea of flames.

PT-169 launches two torpedoes that miss the destroyer and PT-162‘s torpedoes fail to fire at all. Both boats then turn away from the scene of the action and return to base without checking for survivors.

The eleven survivors cling to PT-109’s bow section as it drifts slowly south. By about 2:00 PM, it is apparent that the hull is taking on water and will soon sink, so the men decide to abandon it and swim for land. Since there are Japanese camps on all the nearby large islands, they choose the tiny deserted Plum Pudding Island, southwest of Kolombangara. They place their lantern, shoes, and non-swimmers on one of the timbers used as a gun mount and begin kicking together to propel it. Kennedy, who had been on the Harvard University swim team, uses a life jacket strap clenched between his teeth to tow his badly-burned senior enlisted machinist mate, MM1 Patrick McMahon. It takes four hours to cover the 3.5 miles to their destination, which they reach without confrontation by sharks or crocodiles.

The island is only 100 yards in diameter and has no food or water. The crew has to hide from passing Japanese barges. Kennedy swims to Naru and Olasana islands, a round trip of about 2.5 miles, in search of help and food. He then leads his men to Olasana Island, which has coconut trees and drinkable water.

The explosion of PT-109 is spotted by an Australian coastwatcher, Sub-lieutenant Arthur Reginald Evans, who mans a secret observation post at the top of the Mount Veve volcano on Kolombangara, where more than 10,000 Japanese troops are garrisoned below on the southeast portion. Evans dispatches islanders Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana in a dugout canoe to look for possible survivors after decoding news that the explosion he had witnessed was likely from the lost PT-109.

Kennedy and his men survive for six days on coconuts before they are found by the scouts. The small canoe is not big enough for passengers. Kennedy quickly carves a note on a coconut for Gasa and Kumana to deliver to Evans. Evans gets word back to the U.S. Navy and, on the night of August 8, all eleven survivors of PT-109 are rescued by PT-157.

John F. Kennedy keeps that carved coconut on his desk in the Oval Office at the White House until the day he is assassinated.


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Birth of Henry Vivien Pierpont Conyngham

henry-vivien-pierpont-conynghamHenry Vivien Pierpont Conyngham, 8th Marquess Conyngham, Anglo-Irish nobleman who holds titles in the Peerages of Ireland and the United Kingdom, is born on May 25, 1951.

The eldest son of Frederick Conyngham, 7th Marquess Conyngham by his wife, Eileen Wren Newsom, he attends Harrow School before studying at Harvard University.

Styled Viscount Slane until 1974 and Earl of Mount Charles from 1974 until 2009, he succeeds his father in the marquessate and other titles in 2009. However, in the Republic of Ireland frequently, and erroneously, he remains referred to as Lord Mountcharles, his former courtesy title. He also inherits the U.K. peerage title Baron Minster, of Minster Abbey in the County of Kent, created in 1821 for his ancestor, the 1st marquess thereby giving the Marquesses Conyngham the automatic right to sit in the British House of Lords until 1999.

As Earl of Mount Charles, he unsuccessfully contests the Louth seat in 1992 for Fine Gael. In 1997 he stands for election to Seanad Éireann for Trinity College Dublin, and runs again without success as a Fine Gael candidate for the European Parliament in 2004.

Lord and Lady Conyngham divide their time between Beauparc House and Slane Castle in County Meath. The latter is the family’s principal ancestral seat until it is badly damaged by fire in 1992. The castle has now been restored.

The Marquess Conyngham enjoys a high profile in Ireland as the author of a weekly column in the Daily Mirror. He has been dubbed the rock and roll aristocrat or the rock and roll peer owing to the very successful series of rock concerts he has hosted since 1981, held in the natural amphitheatre on the grounds of Slane Castle. These concerts have included performances by The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Queen, U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses, Oasis, and Madonna. Lord Conyngham receives the Industry Award at the 2010 Meteor Awards. In his autobiography Public Space–Private Life: A Decade at Slane Castle, he describes his business career and the challenges of being an Anglo-Irish peer in modern Ireland, and how being Anglo-Irish has gradually become more accepted there.


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Birth of Cecil Day-Lewis, Poet & Poet Laureate of the U.K.

Cecil Day-Lewis, poet, novelist, critic, and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 to 1972, is born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, on April 27, 1904. He also writes mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake and is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis is the son of Frank Day-Lewis, Church of Ireland Rector of the parish, and Kathleen Blake. His father takes the surname “Day-Lewis” as a combination of the surnames of his own birth father (Day) and his adoptive father (Lewis). After the death of his mother in 1906, Day-Lewis is brought up in London by his father, with assistance of an aunt, spending summer holidays with relatives in County Wexford. He is educated at Sherborne School and at Wadham College, Oxford. In Oxford, Day-Lewis becomes part of the circle gathered around W. H. Auden and helps him to edit Oxford Poetry 1927. His first collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, appears in 1925.

In 1928, Day-Lewis marries Constance Mary King, the daughter of a Sherborne teacher, and works as a schoolmaster in three schools, including Larchfield School in Helensburgh, Scotland. During the 1940s he has a long and troubled love affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann. His first marriage is dissolved in 1951, and he marries actress Jill Balcon, daughter of Michael Balcon.

During World War II he works as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information, an institution satirised by George Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. During this time his work is now no longer as heavily influenced by Auden and he develops a more traditional style of lyricism. Some critics believe that he reaches his full stature as a poet in Word Over All (1943), when he finally distances himself from Auden. After the war he joins the publisher Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor.

In 1946, Day-Lewis is a lecturer at Cambridge University, publishing his lectures in The Poetic Image (1947). He later teaches poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of Poetry from 1951 until 1956. He is the Norton Professor at Harvard University from 1962 to 1963, and is appointed Poet Laureate in 1968, in succession to John Masefield.

Day-Lewis is chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Member of the Irish Academy of Letters, and a Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London.

Cecil Day-Lewis dies of pancreatic cancer on May 22, 1972, at Lemmons, the Hertfordshire home of Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard, where he and his family are staying. Being a great admirer of Thomas Hardy, he arranges to be buried as close as possible to the author’s grave at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford, Dorset.