seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of M. E. Francis, Novelist & Playwright

Mary Elizabeth Blundell (née Sweetman), prolific Irish novelist and playwright who writes under the pen name M. E. Francis, dies on March 9, 1930. She is described as the best known female novelist of the day.

Blundell is born in 1859 in Killiney Park, County Dublin to Margaret and Michael James Sweetman. The family moves to Brussels in 1873 and she spends her summers in Switzerland. Her family is quite artistic. Her sisters are poet Elinor Sweetman and writer Agnes Castle (aka Mrs. Egerton Castle). Her uncle is the novelist William Sweetman. She marries her husband, Francis Blundell, on November 18, 1879 and moves to Little Crosby, Lancashire, North West England, where his family has been notable Catholics since the 16th century. They have three children: Francis Nicholas Blundell, Conservative politician, and writers Margaret Elizabeth Clementina Mary Blundell and Agnes Mary Frances Blundell.

Blundell’s husband dies after only five years of marriage. She had written her first story, True Joy, when she was just eight years old and has a publication in the Irish Monthly the day of her wedding. She takes up writing professionally after her husband’s death. In later life she writes in collaboration with her daughters. She later retires to Dorset.

The Ireland of her youth, the Lancashire of her married life, and the Dorset of her retirement provide backgrounds for many of her volumes of fiction.


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Death of Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet & Priest

Abram Joseph Ryan, Irish American poet, active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Catholic priest, dies in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886. He has been called the “Poet-Priest of the South” and, less frequently, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.”

Ryan is born Matthew Abraham Ryan in Hagerstown, Maryland on February 5, 1838, the fourth child of Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and his wife, Mary Coughlin, both of Clogheen, County Tipperary, and their first to be born in the United States.

In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.

Ryan then enters the Vincentians, taking the oath of obedience to the Congregation. He does three more years of study at the college during the course of which, on June 19, 1857, he receives minor orders. In 1858, shortly after the death of his father, he is sent to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels near Niagara Falls, New York.

As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.

During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.

Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

On June 24, 1865, Ryan’s most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” appears in the pages of the New York Freeman’s Journal over his early pen-name “Moina.” Starting in 1865, he moves from parish to parish throughout the South. Beginning in November 1881 he spends a year in semi-retirement at Biloxi, Mississippi while completing his second book, A Crown for Our Queen. In Augusta, Georgia, he founds The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he republishes much of his early poetry, along with poetry by fellow-southerners James Ryder Randall, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and Sidney Lanier, as well as an early story by Mark Twain.

In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.

In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan friary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”


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Birth of Patrick Joseph McCall, Songwriter & Poet

patrick-joseph-mccallPatrick Joseph McCall, Irish songwriter and poet known mostly as the author of lyrics for popular ballads, is born at 25 Patrick Street in Dublin on March 6, 1861. He is assisted in putting the Wexford ballads, dealing with the Irish Rebellion of 1798, to music by Arthur Warren Darley using traditional Irish airs. His surname is one of the many anglicizations of the Irish surname Mac Cathmhaoil, a family that were chieftains of Kinel Farry (Clogher area) in County Tyrone.

McCall is the son of John McCall (1822-1902), a publican, grocer, and folklorist from Clonmore near Hacketstown in County Carlow. He attends St. Joseph’s Monastery, Harold’s Cross, a Catholic University School.

He spends his summer holidays in Rathangan, County Wexford, where he spends time with local musicians and ballad singers. His mother came from Rathangan near Duncormick on the south coast of County Wexford. His aunt Ellen Newport provides much of the raw material for the songs and tunes meticulously recorded by her nephew. He also collects many old Irish airs, but is probably best remembered for his patriotic ballads. Airs gathered at rural céilí and sing-songs are delivered back to the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

He contributes to the Dublin Historical Record, the Irish Monthly, The Shamrock, and Old Moore’s Almanac (under the pseudonym Cavellus). He is a member of the group in Dublin which founds the National Literary Society and becomes its first honorary secretary.

He marries Margaret Furlong, a sister of the poet Alice Furlong, in 1901. They live in the suburb of Sutton, near Howth.

In 1902 he is elected as a Dublin City councillor, defeating James Connolly, and serves three terms. As a councillor he concerns himself with local affairs, particularly projects to alleviate poverty.

Patrick Joseph McCall dies on March 5, 1919, one day before his 58th birthday, in Sutton, Fingal, Dublin.