seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Wall, Novelist, Poet & Short Story Writer

William “Bill” Wall, Irish novelist, poet and short story writer, is born in Cork, County Cork, on July 6, 1955.

Wall is raised in the coastal village of Whitegate, County Cork. He receives his secondary education at the Midleton CBS Secondary School in Midleton. He progresses to University College Cork where he graduates in Philosophy and English. He teaches English and drama at Presentation Brothers College, Cork, where he inspires Cillian Murphy to enter acting.

In 1997, Wall wins the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. He publishes his first collection of poetry that same year. His first novel, Alice Falling, a dark study of power and abuse in modern-day Ireland, appears in 2000. He is the author of four novels, two collections of poetry and one of short stories.

In 2005, This Is The Country appears. A broad attack on politics in “Celtic Tiger” Ireland, as well as a rite of passage novel, it is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. It can be read as a satirical allegory on corruption, the link between capitalism and liberal democracy exemplified in the ‘entrepreneurial’ activities of minor drug dealers and gangsters, and reflected in the architecture of business-parks and sink estates. This political writing takes the form of “an insightful and robust social conscience”, in the words of academic John Kenny. Kenny also focuses on what he sees as Wall’s “baneful take on the Irish family, his fundamentally anti-idyllic mood” which has “not entirely endeared Wall to the more misty-eyed among his readers at home or abroad.” The political is also in evidence in his second collection of poetry Fahrenheit Says Nothing To Me. He is not a member of Aosdána, the Irish organisation for writers and artists. In 2006, his first collection of short fiction, No Paradiso, appears. In 2017, he becomes the first European to win the Drue Heinz Literature Prize.

His provocative political blog, The Ice Moon, has increasingly featured harsh criticism of the Irish government over their handling of the economy, as well as reviews of mainly left-wing books and movies. Many of his posts are satirical. He occasionally writes for literary journals, writes for Irish Left Review, and reviews for The Irish Times. His work has been translated into several languages. He has also appeared on the Irish-language channel TG4, such as in the programme Cogar.

He is one of the Irish delegates at the European Writers Conference in Istanbul in 2010.

Described by writer Kate Atkinson as “lyrical and cruel and bold and with metaphors to die for,” critics have focused on Wall’s mastery of language, his gift for “linguistic compression,” his “poet’s gift for apposite, wry observation, dialogue and character,” his “unflinching frankness” and his “laser-like … dissection of human frailties,” which is counterbalanced by “the depth of feeling that Wall invests in his work.” A review of his first novel in The New Yorker declares “Wall, who is also a poet, writes prose so charged—at once lyrical and syncopated—that it’s as if Cavafy had decided to write about a violent Irish household.” In a recent review, his long poem “Job in Heathrow,” anthologised in The Forward Book of Poetry 2010 but originally published in The SHOp, is described as “a chilling airport dystopia.” Poet Fred Johnston suggests that Wall’s poetry sets out to “list the shelves of disillusion under which a thinking man can be buried.” For Philip Coleman, “Ghost Estate is a deeply political book, but it also articulates a profound interest in and engagement with questions of aesthetics and poetics.”

Wall is a longtime sufferer of adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD) and describes his efforts to circumvent the disabling effects of the disease using speech-to-text applications as “a battle between me and the software.”


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Birth of Mary O’Rourke, Former Fianna Fáil Politician

Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan), former Fianna Fáil politician, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on May 31, 1937.

O’Rourke is educated at St. Peter’s in Athlone, Loreto Bray Convent in County Wicklow, University College Dublin and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. She works as a secondary school teacher before beginning her political career.

O’Rourke begins her political career in local politics, serving on Athlone Urban District Council between 1974 and 1987 and on Westmeath County Council between 1979 and 1987. She is elected to Seanad Éireann in 1981 as a Senator for the Cultural and Educational Panel. She stands unsuccessfully for the Dáil at the February 1982 Irish general election, but is subsequently re-elected to the Seanad. At the November 1982 Irish general election, she is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Longford–Westmeath constituency, and from 1992 for the new Westmeath constituency.

In 1987, O’Rourke is appointed Minister for Education by Charles Haughey. She and her brother, Brian Lenihan Snr, become the first brother and sister in Irish history to serve in the same cabinet. In the November 1991 cabinet reshuffle, she becomes Minister for Health. In February 1992, Charles Haughey resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader and she contests the subsequent leadership election along with Michael Woods and Albert Reynolds. Reynolds wins the election and she is subsequently dropped from her ministerial position, but is appointed to a junior ministry as Minister of State for Labour Affairs at the Departments of Industry and Commerce, and later Enterprise and Employment.

In 1994, Bertie Ahern becomes party leader and he appoints O’Rourke as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, serving in the position until 2002. Following Ahern’s election as Taoiseach in June 1997, she becomes Minister for Public Enterprise, holding this position until she loses her Dáil seat at the 2002 Irish general election. This follows a vote management strategy from Fianna Fáil head office which restricts her from campaigning in her traditional areas around Kilbeggan, in an attempt to win 2 of the 3 seats in Westmeath. The loss of her Dáil seat is also attributed to her association with and the championing of, the privatisation of Telecom Éireann, which proves a financial disaster for many small investors, due to the share price falling radically, post privatisation. During this term as Minister, she also becomes the subject of public criticism by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Following the loss of her Dáil seat, she is nominated to Seanad Éireann as a Senator by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern where she becomes Leader of the Seanad and leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad.

In January 2006, O’Rourke receives the party nomination to stand at the 2007 Irish general election. She narrowly defeats her nearest rival and Dáil election running mate, Kevin “Boxer” Moran of Athlone Town Council, causing a controversy when she thanks her election team for working “like blacks.” She is re-elected to the Dáil at the May 2007 Irish general election, with her highest ever vote.

In November 2008, during a march against the re-introduction of college fees, students from the Athlone Institute of Technology lay a funeral wreath at the door of O’Rourke’s constituency office. The card in the wreath states “Sincere sympathies on the death of free fees. We will remember this.” She describes the act as “heinous.” The wreath is placed there because she is not speaking at a rally against the fees.

In July 2010, O’Rourke concedes that she does not expect the party to be in power after the next general election. On RTÉ Radio‘s Today with Pat Kenny programme, she says the government is taking tough decisions to steer the country through the financial crisis and this will make it easy for the opposition. She says there is a general air of “crossness” within the Fianna Fáil party over their standing in the polls, but nobody is harboring leadership ambitions to challenge Brian Cowen.

In November 2010, O’Rourke says there is then more to unite her party and Fine Gael than to divide them. She points to the common approach of the two parties to Northern Ireland, Europe and the current financial crisis. In an address to the 1916–1921 Club in Dublin Castle, she says that most voters no longer defined themselves in terms of Civil War politics.

O’Rourke’s senior years lead her to often being referred to as the “Mammy of the Dáil.”

O’Rourke contests the 2011 Irish general election, but is defeated on the poll. She had been critical of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, saying that he should have resigned after his infamous “congested” radio interview. She supports the attack on Cowen by her nephew, former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan Jnr, who says he is “disappointed” by Cowen’s performance and he had to provide the leadership when the Taoiseach did not.

As well as being a well-known politician, O’Rourke makes regular appearances in the media in a non-political capacity. She has been a contestant on RTÉ‘s reality series Celebrity Bainisteoir, as well as other shows such as Sex & Sensibility. She has guest presented Tonight with Vincent Browne.

In 2012, Just Mary: My Memoir is published. It wins the 2012 Irish Book Award in the “Listeners’ Choice” category.

O’Rourke comes from a strong political family, her father Patrick Lenihan serves as a TD for Longford–Westmeath from 1965 to 1970. Her brother Brian Lenihan is a senior government Minister and Tánaiste. Another brother, Paddy Lenihan, is a County Councillor in Roscommon, but resigns from Fianna Fáil in 1983 and becomes associated with Neil Blaney‘s Independent Fianna Fáil party. Two of her nephews, Brian Lenihan Jnr and Conor Lenihan, both sons of her brother Brian, serve as Ministers. Brian Lenihan Jnr is the Minister for Finance. Conor Lenihan is a Minister of State.

O’Rourke is widowed in January 2001, following the death of her husband, Enda. She has two sons. Aengus O’Rourke, her adopted son, runs for Athlone Town Council in 2009. The other son, Feargal O’Rourke, becomes Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland in 2015 and is considered the “grand architect” of the Double Irish tax system, a major contributor to Ireland’s economic success in attracting U.S. multinationals to Ireland.


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Edna O’Brien Receives the Irish PEN Award for Literature

Josephine Edna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, receives a lifetime achievement award from the society for Irish writers, the Irish PEN Award for Literature, on February 2, 2001 in recognition of her work which spans 25 years. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.”

O’Brien is born on December 15, 1930, the youngest child of farmer Michael O’Brien and Lena Cleary at Tuamgraney, County Clare, a place she would later describe as “fervid” and “enclosed.” Her father inherits a “thousand acres or more” and “a fortune from rich uncles,” but is a “profligate” hard-drinker who gambles away his inheritance, the land sold off or bartered to pay debts. From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the Convent of Mercy boarding school at Loughrea, County Galway – a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. In 1950, having studied at night at pharmaceutical college and worked in a Dublin pharmacy during the day, she is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. She reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In Dublin, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot, and says that when she learned that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was autobiographical, it made her realise where she might turn, should she want to write herself. “Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories”, she says. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, a publishing firm, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. She publishes her first book, The Country Girls, in 1960. This is the first part of a trilogy of novels (later collected as The Country Girls Trilogy), which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and in some cases burned in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. She is accused of “corrupting the minds of young women.” She later says, “I felt no fame. I was married. I had young children. All I could hear out of Ireland from my mother and anonymous letters was bile and odium and outrage.”

In the 1960s, O’Brien is a patient of R. D. Laing. “I thought he might be able to help me. He couldn’t do that – he was too mad himself – but he opened doors,” she later says. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents were vehemently against all things related to literature. Her mother strongly disapproved of her daughter’s career as a writer. Once when her mother found a Seán O’Casey book in her daughter’s possession, she tried to burn it.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of BBC One‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017 she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, O’Brien writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985. Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run and whose research involves visiting Irish republican Dominic McGlinchey who is later killed and whom she calls “a grave and reflective man,” marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

In addition to the Irish PEN Award, O’Brien’s awards include The Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970 for A Pagan Place, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for Lantern Slides. In 2006, she is appointed adjunct professor of English Literature at University College Dublin.

In 2009, O’Brien is honoured with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award during a special ceremony at the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. Her collection Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, with judge Thomas McCarthy referring to her as “the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life.” RTÉ airs a documentary on her as part of its Arts strand in early 2012. For her contributions to literature, she is appointed an honorary Dame of the Order of the British Empire on April 10, 2018.

In 2019, O’Brien is awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature at a ceremony in London. The £40,000 prize, awarded every two years in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature, has been described as the “UK and Ireland Nobel in literature.” Judge David Park says, “In winning the David Cohen Prize, Edna O’Brien adds her name to a literary roll call of honour.”

(Pictured: Edna O’Brien speaking at the 2016 Hay Festival, photo by Andrew Lih and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)


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Death of J.P. Donleavy, Novelist & Playwright

jp-donleavyJames Patrick Donleavy, Irish American novelist and playwright, dies in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which is initially banned for obscenity.

Born in New York City on April 23, 1926 to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, Donleavy receives his education at various schools in the United States. He declares himself to be an atheist at the age of 14. He serves in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ends, he moves to Ireland. In 1946 he begins studying at Trinity College, Dublin, but leaves in 1949 before taking a degree. Also in 1946, he marries Valerie Heron and the couple has two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorce in 1969 and he remarries in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price. That union also ends in divorce in 1989.

Donleavy’s first published work is a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appears in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art in 1950. He gains critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels. The novel, of which his friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan is the first person to read the completed manuscript, is banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield is in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once describes in an interview as a “saint,” though of a Rabelaisian kind.

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the Kitchen Sink artists as well as the “angry young men.” Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provides the title of The Pogues hit song “Fairytale of New York.”

In March 2007, Donleavy is the castaway on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs. In 2015, he is the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

In 2011, it is reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Mary Wilson Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s confirms that Rebecca is the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory is the son of Kieran’s older brother Finn, whom Price marries after her divorce from Donleavy. “My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child,” Donleavy tells The Times, “and after a certain stage, you can’t worry about their parentage.”

J.P. Donleavy dies of an apparent stroke in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017 at the aged of 91.


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Birth of Novelist Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes, Irish novelist and non-fiction writer best known for her work in women’s literature, is born on September 10, 1963, in Limerick, County Limerick. She is an Irish Book Awards winner. More than 22 million copies of her novels have been sold worldwide and her books have been translated into 32 languages. She is regarded as a pioneer of the “chick lit” genre. Her stories usually revolve around a strong female character who overcomes numerous obstacles to achieve lasting happiness.

Raised in Monkstown, Keyes graduates from University of Dublin with a law degree. After completing her studies, Keyes takes an administrative job before moving to London in 1986. During this period she develops alcoholism and clinical depression, culminating in a suicide attempt and subsequent rehabilitation in 1995 at the Rutland Centre in Dublin.

Keyes begins writing short stories while suffering from alcoholism. After her treatment at the Rutland Centre she returns to her job in London and submits her short stories to Poolbeg Press. The publisher encourages her to submit a full-length novel and Keyes begins work on her first book, Watermelon. The novel is published the same year.

Since 1995 she has published twelve novels and three works of nonfiction. After a long hiatus due to severe depression, a food title, Saved by Cake, is released in February 2012. Keyes currently lives in Dún Laoghaire with her husband Tony Baines, after returning to Ireland from London in 1997.

Keyes has written frankly about her clinical depression, which left her unable to sleep, read, write, or talk. She becomes known worldwide for Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and This Charming Man, with themes including domestic violence and alcoholism.

In 2014, after Keyes goes on Marian Finucane‘s RTÉ One show to talk about her new book, she tells her Twitter followers that Finucane has the “compassion and empathy of a cardboard box. Even my mammy called her a bad word.”