seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.

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Assassination of Billy “King Rat” Wright

billy-wrightBilly “King Rat” Wright, prominent Ulster loyalist death squad leader during the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, is murdered on December 27, 1997 in HM Prison Maze by three members of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) who manage to smuggle guns into the prison.

William Stephen “Billy” Wright, named after his grandfather, is born in Wolverhampton, England on July 7, 1960 to David Wright and Sarah McKinley, Ulster Protestants from Portadown, Northern Ireland. The family returns to Northern Ireland in 1964. While attending Markethill High School, Wright takes a part-time job as a farm labourer where he comes into contact with a number of staunchly unionist and loyalist farmers who serve with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve or the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The conflict known as the Troubles has been raging across Northern Ireland for about five years by this stage, and many young men such as Wright are swept up in the maelstrom of violence as the Provisional Irish Republican Army ramps up its bombing campaign and sectarian killings of Catholics by loyalists continue to escalate. During this time his opinions move towards loyalism and soon he gets into trouble for writing the initials “UVF” on a local Catholic primary school wall. When he refuses to clean off the vandalism, he is transferred from the area and sent to live with an aunt in Portadown.

Wright joins the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in 1975. After spending several years in prison and becoming a born again Christian, he resumes his UVF activities and becomes commander of its Mid-Ulster Brigade in the early 1990s, taking over from Robin “the Jackal” Jackson. According to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, he is involved in the sectarian killings of up to 20 Catholics, although he is never convicted for any. It is alleged that Wright, like his predecessor, is an agent of the RUC Special Branch.

Wright attracts considerable media attention during the Drumcree standoff, when he supports the Protestant Orange Order‘s desire to march its traditional route through the Catholic/Irish nationalist area of his hometown of Portadown. In 1994, the UVF and other paramilitary groups call ceasefires. However, in July 1996, Wright’s unit breaks the ceasefire and carries out a number of attacks, including a sectarian killing. For this, Wright and his Portadown unit of the Mid-Ulster Brigade are stood down by the UVF leadership. He is expelled from the UVF and threatened with execution if he does not leave Northern Ireland. He ignores the threats and, along with many of his followers, defiantly forms the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), becoming its leader.

The LVF carries out a string of killings of Catholic civilians. In March 1997 Wright is sent to the HM Prison Maze for having threatened the life of a woman. While imprisoned, Wright continues to direct the LVF’s activities. On the morning of December 27, 1997 he is assassinated inside the prison by three INLA volunteers – Christopher “Crip” McWilliams, John “Sonny” Glennon and John Kennaway – armed with two smuggled pistols, a FEG PA-63 semi-automatic and a .22 Derringer. The LVF carries out a wave of sectarian attacks in retaliation. There is speculation that the authorities collude in his killing as he is a threat to the peace process. An inquiry finds no evidence of this, but concludes there are serious failings by the prison authorities.

Owing to his uncompromising stance as an upholder of Ulster loyalism and opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process, Wright is regarded as a cult hero, icon, and martyr by hardline loyalists. His image adorns murals in loyalist housing estates and many of his devotees have tattoos bearing his likeness. His death is greeted with relief and no little satisfaction, however, from the Irish nationalist community.


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The Bottle Riot

king-william-of-orange-monumentOn December 14, 1822, a “bottle riot” takes place at a performance of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Among those in attendance is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Richard Wellesley, the brother of the Duke of Wellington. Wellesley is quite unpopular at the time among Orange Order members in the city, owing to what they perceive as his role in stopping an annual ceremony at the statue of King William of Orange on College Green, and other perceived concessions to the Catholic population.

The statue is the location for annual rituals organised by loyalist elements in the city, with events held in July and November being flashpoints on the Dublin calendar. Heavily criticised by Daniel O’Connell and other nationalist voices, Dublin Castle distances itself from the ceremonies, but it is the eventual banning of the November ceremony which infuriates the Orange Order into action.

Following clashes at the event in July 1822, a decision is made by Marquess Wellesley, in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant, to seek a ban against the November event. A heavy military presence prevents the traditional loyalist display. This decision causes great resentment towards Wellesley from loyalists in the city, as would other actions such as appointing a Catholic lawyer to a position of importance in the courts. A visit by him to the Theatre Royal is seen as an opportunity to show that discontent. The Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street is relatively new at the time, having only opened the previous year. The announcement that the Lord Lieutenant would be attending the theatre causes considerable excitement in the city.

Six men meet in a tavern on Wednesday, December 11, all members of the Orange Order. John and George Atkinson, James Forbes, William Graham and Henry and Matthew Handwith drink to “the glorious, immortal and pious memory” of King William of Orange, plotting a protest against the Lord Lieutenant which would grab the attention of the city. On December 13, a meeting of Lodge 1612 of the Orange Order on Werburgh Street decides to fund the purchase of twelve pit tickets for the upcoming play, with the aim of creating a scene which would embarrass the Lord Lieutenant.

The trouble begins inside the theatre with the tossing of pamphlets with the slogan “No Popery” upon them, most of which drift towards the stage. There are some cries of “No Popish Lord Lieutenant,” and the Lord Mayor of Dublin is also subject to ridicule. The play begins as planned, only to be interrupted throughout. A series of items are thrown in the direction of the Lord Lieutenant. The event comes to be known as “The Bottle Riot” in Dublin, owing to the missiles thrown. While the Lord Lieutenant is never in any real physical danger, the incident is hugely embarrassing for the authorities, with mob rule taking centre stage at one of Dublin’s most prestigious venues.

Several days later, the behaviour of the Orangemen is the subject of a protest meeting in Dublin. This meeting is significant as it is addressed by some hugely influential figures, including the Duke of Leinster, Daniel O’Connell, Henry Grattan, Jr. and Arthur Guinness II, son of the famous brewer. Guinness denounces the men as a “mischievous faction” and calls for them to be opposed “by the severe but wholesome discipline of the laws.”

While the instigators of the affair are brought in front of the courts on two separate occasions, both cases collapse causing much anger. Lord Chief Justice of Ireland Charles Kendal Bushe remarks to the jury in his summation that “an audience may cry down a play, or hiss, or hoot an actor,” but that riotous behaviour is not permitted. One effect of the mini-riot is the outlawing of the Orange Order for a period, when the Unlawful Societies Act of 1825 comes into being.

(Pictured: Undated postcard showing the monument of King William of Orange on College Green)


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The Execution of Rory O’Connor

rory-o-connorRory O’Connor, Irish republican revolutionary, is executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922 in reprisal for the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of Irish Free State member of parliament Sean Hales.

O’Connor is born in Kildare Street, Dublin on November 28, 1883. He is educated at St. Mary’s College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and his close friend Kevin O’Higgins, the man who later condemns him to death.

In 1910 O’Connor takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in University College Dublin, then known as the National University. He goes to work as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moves to Canada, where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles of railroad.

After his return to Ireland, O’Connor becomes involved in Irish nationalist politics, joins the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) O’Connor is made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers.

O’Connor does not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State and abolishes the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he and his comrades had sworn to uphold. On March 26, 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin in which they reject the Treaty compromise and repudiate the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament. Asked by a journalist if this means they are proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “you can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor, with 200 other hardline anti-treaty IRA men under his command, takes over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting breaks out.

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped JJ “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shells the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor surrenders after two days of fighting and is arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, three other republicans captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA’s killing of Free State member of parliament Sean Hales. The execution order is given by Kevin O’Higgins, who less than a year earlier had appointed O’Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness of the division that the Treaty has caused. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.


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Death of Michael Cusack, Founder of the GAA

michael-cusackMichael Cusack, teacher and founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association, dies in Dublin on November 25, 1906.

Cusack is born on the eastern fringe of the Burren to Irish speaking parents in Carran, County Clare on September 20, 1847, during the Great Famine. He becomes a national school teacher and in 1874, after teaching in various parts of Ireland, becomes a professor at Blackrock College, then known as the French College. In 1877, he establishes his own civil service academy, Cusack’s Academy, in Dublin which proves successful in preparing pupils for the civil service examinations.

A romantic nationalist, Cusack is also reputed to have been associated with the Fenian movement. He is active in the Gaelic revival, initially as a member of the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language which is founded in 1876, and later the Gaelic League who in 1879 breaks away from the Society. Also in 1879, he meets Pat Nally, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a leading nationalist and athlete. He finds that he and Nally agree on the influence of British landlordism on Irish athletics.

He would recall how both Nally and himself, While walking through Phoenix Park in Dublin and seeing only a handful of people playing sports in the park so depresses Cusack and Nally that they agree it is time to “make an effort to preserve the physical strength of [their] race.” Nally organises a National Athletics Sports meeting in County Mayo in September 1879 which is a success, with Cusack organising a similar event which is open to artisans in Dublin the following April.

On November 1, 1884, Cusack together with Maurice Davin, of Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, calls a meeting in Hayes’ Commercial Hotel, Thurles, County Tipperary, and founds the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Davin is elected president and Cusack becomes its first secretary. Later, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell become patrons. Cusack also becomes involved in the Irish language movement, founding The Celtic Times, a weekly newspaper which focuses on “native games” and Irish culture.

Michael Cusack dies in Dublin on November 27, 1906 at the age of 59. He is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Birth of Charlotte Grace O’Brien

charlotte-grace-obrienCharlotte Grace O’Brien, author, philanthropist, plant collector, and activist in nationalist causes and the protection of female emigrants, is born on November 23, 1845 at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick.

O’Brien is the younger daughter in a family of five sons and two daughters of William Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist, and his wife Lucy Caroline, eldest daughter of Joseph Gabbett, of High Park, County Limerick. Upon her father’s return in 1854 from the penal colony in Tasmania, she rejoins him in Brussels and stays there until his removal to Cahirmoyle in 1856. Upon her mother’s death in 1861 she moves with her father to Killiney, near Dublin, and is his constant companion until his death at Bangor, Gwynedd in 1864.

From 1864 O’Brien lives at Cahirmoyle with her brother Edward, tending his motherless children, until his remarriage in 1880. She then goes to live at Foynes on the River Shannon and there devotes herself to literary pursuits. She has already published in 1878 her first novel, Light and Shade, a tale of the Fenian rising of 1867, the material for which had been gathered from Fenian leaders. A Tale of Venice, a drama, and Lyrics appear in 1880.

By 1881 her interests and pen are absorbed in Irish political affairs, in which she shares her father’s opinions. She contributes articles to the Nineteenth Century on The Irish Poor Man (December 1880) and Eighty Years (March 1881). In the spring of 1881 the attitude of the liberal government towards Ireland leads her to address many fiery letters to The Pall Mall Gazette, then edited by John Morley.

Another interest, however, soon absorbs O’Brien’s activities. The disastrous harvest in Ireland in 1879, combined with Irish political turmoil, leads to much emigration to the United States. At Queenstown, the port of embarkation, female emigrants suffer much from overcrowded lodgings and robbery. She not only induces the board of trade to exercise greater vigilance but also founds in 1881 a large boarding-house at Queenstown for the reception and protection of girls on the point of emigrating.

In order to improve the steamship accommodations for female emigrants, and to study their prospects in America, O’Brien makes several steerage passages to America. She also establishes in New York a similar institution to that in Queenstown for the protection of girls. Many experiences during this period find expression in her Lyrics (Dublin, 1886), a small volume of poems, which gives simple pictures of the emigrants and contains some stirring nationalist ballads.

On her retirement from active public work in 1886, O’Brien returns to Ardanoir, Foynes, on the bank of the Shannon, devoting her leisure to writing and to study of plant life. She contributes much on the flora of the Shannon district to the Irish Naturalist and joins the Roman communion in 1887.

Charlotte Grace O’Brien dies on June 3, 1909 at Foynes, and is buried at Knockpatrick. Selections from her Writings and Correspondence is published at Dublin in 1909. Her verses have dignity and grace, her polemical essays are vigorous and direct, and her essays on nature charm by their simple style.


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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.