seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Siobhán McKenna, Stage & Screen Actress

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin.

McKenna is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923. She grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.

 


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The Siege of Smerwick

smerwick-massacre-memorialFollowing a three-day siege, the English Army beheads over 600 Papal soldiers and civilians at Dún an Óir, County Kerry on November 10, 1580.

On November 5, a naval force led by Admiral Sir William Wynter arrives at Smerwick Harbour, replenishing the supplies of Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, who is camped at Dingle, and landing eight artillery pieces. On November 7, Lord Grey de Wilton lays siege to the Smerwick garrison. The invading forces are geographically isolated on the tip of the narrow Dingle Peninsula, cut off by Mount Brandon, one of the highest mountains in Ireland, on one side and the much larger English force on the other. The English forces begin the artillery barrage on Dún an Óir on the morning of the November 8, which rapidly breaks down the improvised defences of the fort.

After a three-day siege, the commander Sebastiano di San Giuseppe surrenders on November 10. Accounts vary on whether they had been granted quarter. Grey de Wilton orders the summary executions, sparing only the commanders. Grey has also heard that the main Irish rebel army of 4,000 are somewhere in the hills to his east, looking to be rearmed and supplied by Di San Giuseppe, and they might in turn surround his army but this army never appears.

According to Grey de Wilton’s account, contained in a despatch to Queen Elizabeth I dated November 11, 1580, he rejects an approach made by the besieged Spanish and Italian forces to agree to terms of a conditional surrender in which they would cede the fort and leave. Lord Grey de Wilton claims that he insisted that they surrender without preconditions and put themselves at his mercy, and that he subsequently rejects a request for a ceasefire. An agreement is finally made for an unconditional surrender the next morning, with hostages being taken by English forces to ensure compliance. The following morning, an English force enters the fort to secure and guard armaments and supplies.

Local historian Margaret Anna Cusack notes in 1871 that there is a degree of controversy about Lord Grey de Wilton’s version of events to Elizabeth, and identifies three other contemporary accounts, by O’Daly, O’Sullivan Beare and Russell, which contradict it. According to these versions, Grey de Wilton promises the garrison their lives in return for their surrender, a promise which he breaks. Like Grey himself, none of these commentators can be described as neutral, as they are all either serving the state or opposed to it. Cusack’s interpretation of the events cannot be described as unbiased, given her position as a Catholic nun and fervent Irish nationalist at the time.

According to Cusack, the few that are spared suffer a worse fate. They are offered life if they renounce their Catholic faith. On refusal, their arms and legs are broken in three places by an ironsmith. They are left in agony for a day and night and then hanged.

According to the folklore of the area, the execution of the captives takes two days, with many of the captives being beheaded in a field known locally in Irish as Gort a Ghearradh (the Field of the Cutting). Their bodies are later thrown into the sea. Archaeologists have not yet discovered human remains at the site, although a nearby field is known as Gort na gCeann (the Field of the Heads) and local folklore recalls the massacre.

(Pictured: A memorial to the victims of the massacre at Dún an Óir)


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First Issue of “The Nation” Published

the-nation-01-17-1852The first issue of The Nation, an Irish nationalist weekly newspaper, is published on October 15, 1842. It is printed at 12 Trinity Street, Dublin until January 6, 1844. The paper is later published at 4 D’Olier Street from July 13, 1844 until July 28, 1848, when the issue for the following day is seized and the paper suppressed. It is published again in Middle Abbey Street on its revival in September 1849.

The founders of The Nation are three young men, Charles Gavan Duffy, its first editor, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association, which seeks repeal of the disastrous Acts of Union 1800 between Ireland and Britain. This association later becomes known as Young Ireland.

John Mitchel joins the staff of The Nation in the autumn of 1845. On Mitchel’s frequent trips from Banbridge, County Down to Dublin, he had come in contact with the Repeal members who gathered about The Nation office and in the spring of 1843 he becomes a member of the Repeal Association. For the next two years he writes political and historical articles and reviews for The Nation. He covers a wide range of subjects, including the Irish Potato Famine, on which he contributes some influential articles which attract significant attention.

Mitchel resigns his position as lead writer for The Nation in 1847 because he comes to regard as “absolutely necessary a more vigorous policy against the English Government than that which William Smith O’Brien, Charles Gavan Duffy and other Young Ireland leaders were willing to pursue.” Upon his resignation he starts his own paper, The United Irishman.

Women also write for The Nation and publish under pseudonyms such as Speranza (Jane Elgee, Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde‘s mother), Eithne (Marie Thompson) and Eva (Mary Eva Kelly, who would marry Kevin Izod O’Doherty.

The role played by some of its key figures in the paper in the ill-fated Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 cement the paper’s reputation as the voice of Irish radicalism. Dillon is a central figure in the revolt and is sentenced to death, the sentence later commuted. He flees Ireland, escaping first to France and, eventually, to the United States, where he serves the New York Bar.

Its triumvirate of founders follow differing paths. Davis dies at age 30 in 1845. Both Dillon and Duffy become MPs in the British House of Commons. Duffy emigrates to Australia where he becomes premier of the state of Victoria, later being knighted as a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG). Dillon dies in 1866. His son, John Dillon, becomes leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and his grandson, James Dillon, leader of Fine Gael.

The Nation continues to be published until 1900, when it merges with the Irish Weekly Independent. Later political figures associated with the paper included Timothy Daniel Sullivan and J.J. Clancy.


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The Funeral of Charles Stewart Parnell

parnell-grave-stoneThe funeral and burial of Charles Stewart Parnell, Irish nationalist politician who serves from 1875 as Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, takes place in Dublin on October 11, 1891.

Parnell dies of pneumonia at half-past eleven on the night of October 6 at his residence at 10 Walsingham Terrace, Aldrington, near Brighton, England. He dies in the arms of his wife Katherine whom he had married just five months earlier.

Prior to the funeral, Parnell’s body lay in state for several hours and his death is the primary topic of conversation around Dublin. The belief that his demise would close the chasm in the Irish ranks is no longer tenable. His death makes it too wide even to be bridged. His old opponents may have felt inclined to forget and forgive, but this spirit is crushed almost before it is born, and his old adherents are simply ferocious in their enmity.

The city is astir at an unusually early hour, and there is a crowd of thousands in and around the Westland Row Station before seven o’clock. In front, as a guard of honor, stands a body of the Gaelic Athletic Association, armed with camans, around which are bound crape and green ribbon. It is nearly eight o’clock when Parnell’s body is placed in a hearse drawn by four black horses. The Gaels march in front. Thousands join the cortège, which includes several bands and fife corps.

Though an Anglican, Parnell’s funeral at the Irish National nondenominational Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin is attended by more than 200,000 people. His notability is such that his gravestone of unhewn Wicklow granite, erected in 1940, reads only “Parnell.”

Parnell is buried amid warring elements and in the presence of an immense assemblage. As a scene of great but suppressed excitement, and of still greater impressiveness, the funeral and its surroundings will never be forgotten by those who witness it, and it will long furnish a landmark in history for Ireland.


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Proclamation Banning O’Connell’s Repeal Meeting Issued

daniel-oconnellOn the night of Saturday, October 7, 1843, a proclamation is issued from Dublin Castle banning a Repeal Association meeting called by Daniel O’Connell north of the city at Clontarf on the following day.

The proclamation is written by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Sir Robert Peel, who calls the proposed meeting for the restoration of the Parliament of Ireland, abolished in 1801, “an attempt to overthrow the constitution of the British Empire as by law established.”

Two warships, the Rhathemus and the Dee, steam into Dublin Harbour, carrying around 3,000 British troops to ensure the mass rally in favour of Repeal of the Union does not take place. The nationalist newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal, alleges that the troops have been summoned to “cut the people down” and “run riot in the blood of the innocent.”

O’Connell, the charismatic leader of the Repeal Association, has always insisted that his movement is non-violent. On the banning of the meeting and the arrival of troops, he frantically moves to call it off and to prevent “the slaughter of the people.”

Handbills are posted around the streets of Dublin advising his supporters of the meeting’s cancellation. A prominent Dublin builder and O’Connell supporter, Peter Martin, is sent to Clontarf to dismantle the platform erected there. Other activists are sent on horseback to the roads leading into the city to send back the thousands converging on Clontarf for the meeting.

The following day passes without incident. The Freeman’s Journal rages against the “corrupt and impotent Government that has perverted the form of law for the purpose of robbing the people.”

The Warder, a Dublin unionist newspaper, had been urging the suppression of the “plainly illegal under common law” O’Connellite mass meetings for months. The newspaper stops short of calling for civil war in the run–up to the meeting. Now it declares itself satisfied. It congratulates the Conservative government for belatedly seeing sense.

By contrast, the Repeal camp is deeply split. Many, particularly those Young Irelanders grouped around The Nation, blame O’Connell for capitulation to the threat of force and for his unwillingness to confront the British government. They break from him acrimoniously the following year.

With the cancellation of the Clontarf meeting, O’Connell’s strategy of mass mobilisation in pursuit of Irish self government is over. He himself is arrested on charges of “seditious conspiracy” three days later.

(From: “Today in Irish History, The Repeal Meeting at Clontarf is Banned, 8 October 1843, John Dorney, The Irish Story (theirishstory.com), October 8, 2011)


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Birth of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

william-o-brienWilliam O’Brien, journalist and politician who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is corespondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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Founding of “The Freeman’s Journal”

the-freemans-journalThe Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.

In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).

The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.

The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.

The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.