seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of C.S. Lewis, Poet & Novelist

clive-staples-lewisClive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist, is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis is schooled by private tutors until age nine when his mother dies in 1908 from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. After the school is closed soon afterward, he attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that he abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions in English literature at both the University of Oxford (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and the University of  Cambridge (Magdalene College, 1954–1963).

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, television, radio and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. He recovers but on July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to the hospital where he suffers a heart attack the following day, lapses into a coma and awakens the next day. After he is discharged from the hospital his condition continues to decline. He is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in mid-November. He collapses and dies in his bedroom on November 22. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, which takes place approximately 55 minutes after Lewis’s collapse.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.


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Birth of Figurative Painter Francis Bacon

francis-baconFrancis Bacon, Irish-born British figurative painter known for his bold, emotionally charged and raw imagery, is born in Dublin on October 28, 1909.

Bacon is best known for his depictions of popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. His abstracted figures are typically isolated in geometrical cage like spaces, set against flat, nondescript backgrounds. Bacon says that he sees images “in series,” and his work typically focuses on a single subject for sustained periods, often in triptych or diptych formats. His output can be broadly described as sequences or variations on a single motif, beginning with the 1930s Pablo Picasso-informed Furies, moving on to the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms or geometric structures, the 1950s screaming popes, and the mid-to-late 1950s animals and lone figures, the 1960s portraits of friends, the nihilistic 1970s self-portraits, and the cooler more technical 1980s late works.

Bacon takes up painting in his late 30s, having drifted as an interior decorator, bon vivant and gambler. He says that his artistic career was delayed because he spent too long looking for subject matter that could sustain his interest. His breakthrough comes with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which seals his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. From the mid-1960s he mainly produces portraits of friends and drinking companions, either as single or triptych panels. Following the 1971 suicide of his lover, George Dyer, his art becomes more sombre, inward-looking and preoccupied with the passage of time and death. The climax of this later period is marked by masterpieces, including Study for Self-Portrait (1982) and Study for a Self-Portrait—Triptych, 1985–86.

Despite his bleak existentialist outlook, solidified in the public mind through his articulate and vivid series of interviews with David Sylvester, Bacon in person is highly engaging and charismatic, articulate, well-read and unapologetically gay. He is a prolific artist, but nonetheless spends many of the evenings of his middle age eating, drinking and gambling in London‘s Soho with like-minded friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Muriel Belcher, Henrietta Moraes, Daniel Farson, Tom Baker, and Jeffrey Bernard.

After Dyer’s suicide he largely distances himself from this circle, and while his social life is still active and his passion for gambling and drinking continues, he settles into a platonic and somewhat fatherly relationship with his eventual heir, John Edwards. The art critic Robert Hughes describes him as “the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world” and along with Willem de Kooning as “the most important painter of the disquieting human figure in the 50’s of the 20th century.” Bacon is the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais.

While on holiday in Madrid in 1992, Francis Bacon is admitted to the Handmaids of Maria, a private clinic, where he is cared for by Sister Mercedes. His chronic asthma, which has plagued him all his life, has developed into a respiratory condition and he is unable to talk or breathe very well. He dies of a heart attack on April 28, 1992, after attempts to resuscitate him fail.

Bacon bequeaths his estate, then valued at £11 million, to John Edwards and Brian Clark, executors. In 1998 the director of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin secures the donation of the contents of Bacon’s chaotic studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington. The contents of his studio are moved and reconstructed in the gallery. Most of his works remain in the Hugh Lane in Dublin today.

Since his death his reputation and market value have grown steadily, and his work is among the most acclaimed, expensive and sought-after. In the late 1990s a number of major works, previously assumed destroyed, including early 1950s popes and 1960s portraits, reemerge to set record prices at auction. In 2013 his Three Studies of Lucian Freud sets the world record as the most expensive piece of art sold at auction.


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Birth of Peter Boyle, Irish American Actor

peter-boylePeter Lawrence Boyle Jr., Irish American character actor and comedian, is born on October 18, 1935 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He is most noted for his role as Frank Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and the comical monster in Mel Brooks‘s film spoof Young Frankenstein (1974).

Boyle is born to Alice (Lewis) and Francis Xavier Boyle. His paternal grandparents are Irish immigrants, and his mother is of mostly French and British Isles descent. He eventually moves to Philadelphia, where his father is a sought-after local TV personality and children’s show host. Following a solid Catholic upbringing, he is a sensitive youth and joins the Christian Brothers religious order at one point while attending La Salle University in Philadelphia. He leaves the monastery after only a few years when he “lost” his calling.

Bent on an acting career, Boyle initially studies with guru Uta Hagen in New York. The tall, hulking, prematurely bald actor wannabe struggles through a variety of odd jobs as a postal worker, waiter and bouncer while simultaneously building up his credits on stage and waiting for that first big break. Things start progressing for him after appearing in the national company of The Odd Couple in 1965 and landing TV commercials on the sly. In the late 1960s Boyle joins Chicago‘s The Second City improv group and makes his Broadway debut as a replacement for Peter Bonerz in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1971).

Boyle gains acclaim for his first starring role, playing the title character, a bigoted New York City factory worker, in the 1970 movie Joe, directed by John G. Avildsen. The film’s release is surrounded by controversy over its violence and language. The role leads to major notoriety, however, and some daunting supporting parts in T.R. Baskin (1971), Slither (1973) and as Robert Redford‘s calculating campaign manager in The Candidate (1972). During this time his political radicalism finds a visible platform after joining Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland on anti-war crusades, which also includes the anti-establishment picture Steelyard Blues (1973). This period also sees the forging of a strong friendship with former Beatle John Lennon.

Destined to be cast as monstrous undesirables throughout much of his career, Boyle plays a monster of another sort in his early film days, and thus avoids a complete stereotype as a film abhorrent. His hilarious, sexually potent Frankenstein’s Monster in the cult Mel Brooks spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) sees him in a sympathetic and certainly more humorous vein. His creature’s first public viewing, in which Boyle shares an adroit tap-dancing scene with “creator” Gene Wilder in full Fred Astaire regalia, is a show-stopping audience pleaser. Late 1970s filmgoers continue to witness him in seamy, urban settings with brutish roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and Hardcore (1979). At the same time he addresses several TV mini-movie roles with the same brilliant darkness such as his Senator Joe McCarthy in Tail Gunner Joe (1977), for which he receives an Emmy nomination, and his murderous, knife-wielding Fatso in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979).

While the following decade finds Boyle in predominantly less noteworthy filming and a short-lived TV series lead as remote cop Joe Bash (1986), the 1990s bring him Emmy glory for a guest role in an episode of The X-Files (1993). Despite a blood clot-induced stroke in 1990 that impairs his speech for six months, he ventures on and caps his enviable career on TV wielding funny but crass one-liners in the “Archie Bunker” mold on the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). A major Emmy blunder has him earning seven nominations for his Frank Barone character without a win, the only prime player on the show unhonored. He survives a heart attack while on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond in 1999, but manages to return full time for the remainder of the series’ run through 2005.

Following a superb turn as Billy Bob Thornton‘s unrepentantly racist father in the sobering Oscar-winner Monster’s Ball (2001), the remainder of Boyle’s films are primarily situated in frivolous comedy fare such as The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), typically playing cranky curmudgeons.

Boyle dies of multiple myeloma and heart disease at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on December 12, 2006. He is interred at Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York. At the time of his death, he has completed his role in the film All Roads Lead Home and is scheduled to appear in The Golden Boys. The end credits of All Roads Lead Home include a dedication to his memory.


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Death of Patrick McGee, Actor & Director

patrick-mcgeePatrick George McGee, Northern Irish actor and director of stage and screen known professionally as Patrick Magee, dies from a heart attack at his flat in Fulham, London on August 14, 1982. He is known for his collaborations with Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, as well as creating the role of the Marquis de Sade in the original stage and screen productions of Marat/Sade. He also appears in numerous horror films and in two Stanley Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon.

McGee is born into a middle-class family in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on March 31, 1922. He is the first born of five children and is educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh.

McGee’s first stage experience in Ireland is with Anew McMaster’s touring company, performing the works of William Shakespeare. It is here that he first works with Pinter. He is then brought to London by Tyrone Guthrie for a series of Irish plays. He meets Beckett in 1957 and soon records passages from the novel Molloy and the short story From an Abandoned Work for BBC Radio. Impressed by “the cracked quality of Magee’s distinctly Irish voice,” Beckett requests copies of the tapes and writes Krapp’s Last Tape especially for the actor. First produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London on October 28, 1958, the play stars McGee and is directed by Donald McWhinnie. A televised version is later broadcast by BBC Two on November 29, 1972.

In 1964, McGee joins the Royal Shakespeare Company, after Pinter, directing his own play, The Birthday Party, specifically requests him for the role of McCann. In 1965 he appears in Peter Weiss‘s Marat/Sade, and when the play transfers to Broadway he wins a Tony Award. He also appears in the 1966 RSC production of Staircase opposite Paul Scofield.

McGee’s early film roles include Joseph Losey‘s The Criminal (1960) and The Servant (1963), the latter an adaptation scripted by Pinter. He also appears as Surgeon-Major James Henry Reynolds in Zulu (1964), Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), Anzio (1968), and in the film versions of Marat/Sade (1967) and The Birthday Party (1968). He is perhaps best known for his role as the victimised writer Frank Alexander, who tortures Alex DeLarge with Ludwig van Beethoven‘s music, in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange (1971). His other role for Kubrick is as Redmond Barry’s mentor, the Chevalier de Balibari, in Barry Lyndon (1975).

McGee also appears in Young Winston (1972), The Final Programme (1973), Galileo (1975), Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (1980), The Monster Club and Chariots of Fire (1981), but is most often seen in horror films. These include Roger Corman‘s The Masque of Red Death (1964), and the Boris Karloff vehicle Die, Monster, Die! (1965) for AIP; The Skull (1965), Tales from the Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), and And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973) for Amicus Productions; Demons of the Mind (1972) for Hammer Film Productions; and Walerian Borowczyk‘s Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981).

Patrick McGee dies from a heart attack at his flat in Fulham, London on August 14, 1982 at the age of 60, according to obituaries in The Herald and The New York Times. On July 29, 2017 a blue plaque is unveiled in Edward Street, Armagh to mark Patrick McGee’s birthplace.


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Death of Novelist Maria Edgeworth

maria-edgeworthMaria Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish writer known for her children’s stories and for her novels of Irish life, dies on May 22, 1849 in Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Edgeworth is born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on January 1, 1768. She is the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth (née Elers). She spends her early years with her mother’s family in England, until her mother’s death when Maria is five. When her father marries his second wife Honora Sneyd in 1773, she goes with him to his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she assists her father in managing his estate. In this way she acquires the knowledge of rural economy and of the Irish peasantry that is to become the backbone of her novels.

Domestic life at Edgeworthstown is busy and happy. Encouraged by her father, Edgeworth begins her writing in the common sitting room, where the 21 other children in the family provide material and audience for her stories. She publishes them in 1796 as The Parent’s Assistant. Even the intrusive moralizing, attributed to her father’s editing, does not wholly suppress their vitality, and the children who appear in them, especially the impetuous Rosamond, are the first real children in English literature since William Shakespeare.

Her first novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), written without her father’s interference, reveals her gift for social observation, character sketch, and authentic dialogue and is free from lengthy lecturing. It establishes the genre of the “regional novel,” and its influence is enormous. Sir Walter Scott acknowledges his debt to Edgeworth in writing Waverley. Her next work, Belinda (1801), a society novel unfortunately marred by her father’s insistence on a happy ending, is particularly admired by Jane Austen.

Edgeworth never marries. She has a wide acquaintance in literary and scientific circles. Between 1809 and 1812 she publishes her Tales of Fashionable Life in six volumes. They include one of her best novels, The Absentee, which focuses attention on a great contemporary abuse in Irish society: absentee English landowning.

Before her father’s death in 1817 she publishes three more novels, two of them, Patronage (1814) and Ormond (1817), of considerable power. After 1817 she writes less. She completes her father’s Memoirs (1820) and devotes herself to the estate. She enjoys a European reputation and exchanges cordial visits with Scott. Her last years are saddened by the Irish famine of 1846, during which she works for the relief of stricken peasants.

After a visit to see her relations in Trim, Maria, now in her eighties, begins to feel heart pains and dies suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on May 22, 1849. She is laid to rest in a vault at Edgeworthstown Church.

The feminist movement of the 1960s leads to the reprinting of her Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795) in the 1970s. Her novels continue to be regularly reprinted in the 21st century.

(Pictured: Maria Edgeworth by John Downman, 1807)


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Birth of Margo, Irish Country Music Singer

margaret-catherine-o-donnellIrish singer Margo, born Margeret Catherine O’Donnell, is born on February 6, 1951 in County Donegal. She rises to prominence during the 1960s in the Irish country music scene and has had an extensive career since.

Margo is brought up in the small village of Kincasslagh, in The Rosses area of County Donegal. She grows up in a Catholic family, with her parents Francis and Julia (née McGonagle) O’Donnell, and her siblings: John, Kathleen, James, and Daniel, who is also a singer. Her father dies of a heart attack when she is a young woman.

Margo starts performing country music at a very young age in 1964 with a local showband, The Keynotes. She records her first single in 1968, Bonny Irish Boy/Dear God, which is a success as is her second single, If I Could See the World Through the Eyes of a Child/Road By the River, released in 1969. She has been a successful singer for five decades and has sold more than 1,000,000 records to date. She has performed with Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. She presents numerous TV shows for RTÉ in the 1970s and has collected many awards during her career.

Margo is sister to Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell, who got his start with Margo’s band in the early 1980s while attending college in Galway. Margo is named “2007 Donegal Person Of The Year” and spends most of 2007 traveling Ireland acting as an ambassador to her native county. She makes her home in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, where she has lived for several decades along with her partner.

Since 1977, Margo has been active in the search for Mary Boyle, a distant relative from Kincasslagh, who went missing at age six near Ballyshannon, County Donegal.


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.