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


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Death of Justin McCarthy, Novelist & Politician

justin-mccarthyJustin McCarthy, Irish nationalist and Liberal historian, novelist and politician, dies on April 24, 1912. He is a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1879 to 1900, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

McCarthy is born in Cork, County Cork on November 22, 1830, and is educated there. He begins his career as a journalist at the age of 18 in Cork. From 1853 to 1859 he is in Liverpool, on the staff of the Northern Daily Times. In March 1855, he marries Charlotte Ailman. In 1860 he moves to London, as parliamentary reporter to the Morning Star, of which he becomes editor in 1864. He gives up his post in 1868 and, after a lecturing tour in the United States, joins the staff of The Daily News as leader-writer in 1870. In this capacity he becomes one of the most useful and respected upholders of the liberal politics of the time. He lectures again in America in 1870–71 and in 1886–87.

McCarthy is first elected to Parliament at a by-election on April 4, 1879, when he is returned unopposed as a Home Rule League MP for County Longford. He is re-elected unopposed as a Parnellite Home Ruler in 1880, and when the two-seat Longford constituency is split into two divisions under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, he is elected as an Irish Parliamentary Party member for the new single-seat Northern division of Longford. His sole opponent, a Conservative, wins only 6% of the votes.

At the 1886 general election, he is returned unopposed in North Longford, but also stands in Londonderry City, where he is declared the loser to the Irish Unionist Alliance candidate by the narrow margin of 1778 votes to 1781. However, the result is later overturned on petition and McCarthy opts to sit for Derry City. During the divorce controversy surrounding Charles Stewart Parnell in November 1890, the British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone expresses a warning, given to McCarthy as intermediary, that if Parnell retains leadership of the Irish Parliamentary Party it will mean the loss of the next election, the end of their alliance and Home Rule. When the annual party leadership election meeting is called later that month, the threat is somehow not conveyed to the members, who re-elect Parnell leader of the Party.

After a further historical meeting of the Irish Party MPs in early December, Parnell refuses to retire and the Party divides. McCarthy becomes chairman of the Anti-Parnellite group, the Irish National Federation, for a year in 1891–1892. His nationalism is of a temperate and orderly kind, and though his personal distinction singles him out for the chairmanship during the party dissensions of this period, he is in no active sense the political leader.

At the 1892 general election, McCarthy again stands both in North Longford and in Derry City. In each seat there is a two-way contest between the Anti-Parnellite McCarthy and a Unionist candidate, but the narrow Unionist victory in Derry is not overturned, and McCarthy sits for North Longford, where he wins over 93% of the votes. He is returned unopposed for North Longford in 1895 general election, and stands down from Parliament at the 1900 general election.

It is claimed that McCarthy’s true vocation is literature. His earliest publications are novels, some of which, such as A Fair Saxon (1873), Dear Lady Disdain (1875), Miss Misanthrope (1878), and Donna Quixote (1879), attain considerable popularity. His most important work is his History of Our Own Times, which treats of the period between Queen Victoria‘s accession and her Diamond Jubilee. He begins a History of the Four Georges (1884–1901) and the latter half is written by his son, Justin Huntly McCarthy.

Justin McCarthy dies at the age of 81 in Folkestone, Kent, England on April 24, 1912.

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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

Sean O’Casey dies of a heart attack at the age of 84 on September 18, 1964, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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The Bombing of Nelson’s Pillar

nelsons-pillar-bombingA powerful explosion destroys the upper portion of Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin in the early morning hours of March 8, 1966, bringing Nelson’s statue crashing to the ground amid hundreds of tons of rubble. All that is left of the Pillar is a 70-foot high jagged stump. The pillar is seen by many as an anachronistic monument to English occupation of Ireland, especially as 1966 is the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Nelson’s Pillar is a large granite column capped by a statue of Horatio Nelson, built in the centre of what is then Sackville Street (later renamed O’Connell Street) in Dublin. It is completed in 1809 when Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Its remnants are later destroyed by the Irish Army.

The decision to build the monument is taken by Dublin Corporation in the euphoria following Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The original design by William Wilkins is greatly modified by Francis Johnston, on grounds of cost. The statue is sculpted by Thomas Kirk. From its opening on October 29, 1809 the Pillar is a popular tourist attraction, but provokes aesthetic and political controversy from the outset. A prominent city centre monument honouring an Englishman rankles as Irish nationalist sentiment grows, and throughout the 19th century there are calls for it to be removed, or replaced with a memorial to an Irish hero.

During the Easter Rising in 1916 an attempt is made to blow up the pillar but the explosives fail to ignite due to dampness. It remains in the city as most of Ireland becomes the Irish Free State in 1922, and the Republic of Ireland in 1949. The chief legal barrier to its removal is the trust created at the Pillar’s inception, the terms of which gave the trustees a duty in perpetuity to preserve the monument. Successive Irish governments fail to deliver legislation overriding the trust. Although influential literary figures such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Oliver St. John Gogarty defend the Pillar on historical and cultural grounds, pressure for its removal intensifies in the years preceding the 50th anniversary of the Rising, and its sudden demise is, on the whole, well received by the public. Although it is widely believed that the action is the work of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the police are unable to identify any of those responsible.

After years of debate and numerous proposals, the site is occupied in 2003 by the Spire of Dublin, a slim needle-like structure rising almost three times the height of the Pillar. In 2000 a former republican activist gives a radio interview in which he admits planting the explosives in 1966, but after questioning him the Gardaí decides not to take action. Relics of the Pillar are found in Dublin museums and appear as decorative stonework elsewhere, and its memory is preserved in numerous works of Irish literature.


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Death of John Redmond, Politician & Barrister

john-edward-redmondJohn Edward Redmond, Irish nationalist politician, barrister, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, dies on March 6, 1918 in London, England. He is best known as leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) from 1900 until his death. He is also leader of the paramilitary organisation the National Volunteers.

Redmond is born to an old prominent Catholic family in Kilrane, County Wexford on September 1, 1856. Several relatives are politicians. He takes over control of the minority IPP faction loyal to Charles Stewart Parnell after Parnell dies in 1891. He is a conciliatory politician who achieves the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act.

The Irish Home Rule Act grants limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, implementation of Home Rule is suspended by the outbreak of the World War I. Redmond calls on the National Volunteers to join Irish regiments of the New British Army and support the British and Allied war effort to restore the “freedom of small nations” on the European continent, thereby to also ensure the implementation of Home Rule after a war that is expected to be of short duration. However, after the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish public opinion shifts in favour of militant republicanism and full Irish independence, resulting in his party losing its dominance in Irish politics.

In sharp contrast to Parnell, Redmond lacks charisma. He works well in small committees, but has little success in arousing large audiences. Parnell had always chosen the nominees to Parliament. Now they are selected by the local party organisations, giving Redmond numerous weak MPs over whom he has little control. He is an excellent representative of the old Ireland, but grows increasingly old-fashioned because he pays little attention to the new forces attracting younger Irishmen, such as Sinn Féin in politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association in sports, and the Gaelic League in cultural affairs.

Redmond never tries to understand the unionist forces emerging in Ulster. He is further weakened in 1914 by the formation of the Irish Volunteers by Sinn Féin members. His enthusiastic support for the British war effort alienates many Irish nationalists. His party has been increasingly hollowed out, and a major crisis, notably the Easter Rising, is enough to destroy it.

Redmond is increasingly eclipsed by ill-health after 1916. An operation in March 1918 to remove an intestinal obstruction appears to progress well initially, but he then suffers heart failure. He dies a few hours later at a London nursing home on March 6, 1918.

Condolences and expressions of sympathy are widely expressed. After a funeral service in Westminster Cathedral his remains are interred, as requested in a manner characteristic of the man, in the family vault at the old Knights Templars‘ chapel yard of Saint John’s Cemetery, Wexford, amongst his own people rather than in the traditional burial place for Irish statesmen and heroes in Glasnevin Cemetery. The small, neglected cemetery near the town centre is kept locked to the public. His vault, which has been in a dilapidated state, has been only partially restored by Wexford County Council.


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John Philip Nolan Wins Co. Galway By-Election

john-philip-nolanCaptain John Philip Nolan, an Irish nationalist landowner and a supporter of home rule and tenant rights, defeats Conservative William Le Poer Trench on February 8, 1872 in a County Galway by-election. He serves in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party representing Galway County (1872–1885) and Galway North (1885–1895, 1900–1906).

Nolan is the eldest son of John Nolan, Justice of the Peace, of Ballinderry, Tuam, and Mary Anne, Walter Nolan, of Loughboy. He receives his education at Clongowes Wood College, Stonyhurst, Trinity College, Dublin, the Staff College, Camberley and Woolwich. He enters the British Royal Artillery in 1857 and serves throughout the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia. As adjutant to Colonel Milward, he is present at the capture of Amba Mariam (then known as Magdala) and is mentioned in despatches. He is awarded the Abyssinian War Medal and retires from the Army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1881.

Nolan becomes involved in the nascent home rule campaign of the Home Rule League. On February 8, 1872 he is elected MP for Galway County in a by-election, defeating by a large majority the Conservative William Le Poer Trench. Of the 4,686 available electors, who are chiefly Catholic, 2,823 vote for Nolan and 658 for Trench.

Trench appeals the result, claiming on petition that there is widespread intimidation during the election campaign. The local Catholic bishops and clergy had strongly supported Nolan, chiefly because the family of his opponent, a Captain Trench, was active in proselytism. The trial of the Galway County Election Petition begins, before Judge William Keogh, on April 1 and ends on May 21, 1872.

Judge Keogh finds that Nolan had been elected by the undue influence and intimidation and in his report states that he found 36 persons guilty of undue influence and intimidation, including John MacHale, the Archbishop of Tuam, the Bishop of Clonfert, Patrick Duggan, and the Bishop of Galway, John McEvilly, and twenty nine named priests, such intimidation being in some cases exercised in the very churches. As a result, Nolan is unseated on June 13, with the seat going to Trench. The judgement causes an uproar. The judge is threatened with removal from the bench and his reputation never recovers.

Nolan retakes the seat at the 1874 election. He remains MP after the 1885 constituency reforms as MP for Galway North until 1895.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s long-term family relationship with Katharine O’Shea, the separated wife of a fellow MP, Nolan sides with his deposed leader and seconds the motion to retain Parnell as chairman at the ill-fated party meeting in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons. He goes on to become whip of the pro-Parnellite rump of the split party, the Irish National League. He loses the Galway North seat to an Anti-Parnellite, Denis Kilbride, in 1895 and stands unsuccessfully as a Parnellite for South Louth in 1896. He is re-elected unopposed at Galway North after the reunification of the Parliamentary Party in 1900, but loses the seat again for the final time in 1906 when he stands as an Independent Nationalist.


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Death of Writer Robert Tressell

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, dies in Liverpool, England on February 3, 1911. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is born in Dublin on April 18, 1870, the illegitimate son of Samuel Croker, a senior member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He is baptised and raised a Roman Catholic by his mother Mary Noonan. His father, who is not Catholic, has his own family, but attempts to provide for Robert until his death in 1875.

By 1875 Noonan is living in London. When he is sixteen, he shows signs of a radical political consciousness. He leaves his family declaring he “would not live on the family income derived largely from absentee landlordism.” It is around this time he changes his surname to his mother’s maiden name.

In 1890, Noonan is a sign writer living in Queen’s Road, Everton, Liverpool. On June 10, 1890 he appears at Liverpool County Intermediate Sessions court at Sessions House, Islington, Liverpool on charges of housebreaking and larceny. He is found guilty and given a six-month prison sentence.

By 1891, Noonan has moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he is a painter and decorator. He marries in 1891, but the marriage is an unhappy one, with his wife having numerous affairs after the birth of their daughter, Kathleen. They divorce in 1895 and Noonan acquires all the property, including their house in an affluent suburb of Cape Town.

Noonan and his daughter move to Johannesburg, where he secures a well-paying job with a construction company. It is here that he learns the ways of the industry he would later write about in his novel, although Noonan’s actual circumstances vary greatly from the proletarian characters of the book. After becoming Secretary of the Transvaal Federated Building Trades Council, he is able to send his daughter to an exclusive convent school and also to employ a black manservant called Sixpence.

In 1897, Noonan leads a successful protest against the employment of black skilled labour. During 1898, he becomes a member of the Transvaal Executive Committee of the Centennial of 1798 Association, which commemorates the revolutionary nationalist Society of United Irishmen. As a 1798 Association member, he helps form the Irish Brigades, an anti-British force that fights alongside the Boers in the Second Boer War. At this point, accounts of his life differ. Some assert he takes up arms and is interned by the British until the end of the war, when he returns to Britain. Others say he leaves South Africa just before hostilities began in October 1899.

In any event, around the turn of the century, Noonan ends up in Hastings, Sussex. Here, he finds work as a sign writer, but at much lower wages and in far poorer conditions than he had experienced in South Africa. He has to take part-time jobs in addition to his full-time position.

Influenced by the Marxist-influenced ideas of designer and socialist William Morris, he joins the Social Democratic Federation in 1906. The next year, after a dispute with his employer, he loses his job. Despite the demand for his skills, his health begins to deteriorate and he eventually develops tuberculosis. Unemployed and unable to remain politically active, he starts writing, something he hopes will earn enough money to keep him from the workhouse.

He writes under the pen name Robert Tressell as he fears the socialist views expressed in the book will have him blacklisted. He completes The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1910, but the 1,600-page hand-written manuscript is rejected by three publishing houses. The rejections severely depress him, and his daughter has to save the manuscript from being burned.

Unhappy with his life in Britain, Noonan decides that he and Kathleen should emigrate to Canada. However, he only reaches Liverpool when he is admitted to the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, where he dies of pulmonary tuberculosis on February 3, 1911, at the age of 40. He is buried in a pauper’s grave at Liverpool Parochial Cemetery, later known as Walton Park Cemetery. The location of the grave is not rediscovered until 1970. Twelve other people are buried in the same plot. The plot is now marked although the land is no longer used as a cemetery and is now used by Rice Lane City Farm.

Kathleen mentions her father’s novel to a friend, writer Jessie Pope, who recommends it to her publisher. In April 1914, the publisher purchases the rights to the book for £25, and it appears in Britain, Canada and the United States later that year, in the Soviet Union in 1920, and in Germany in 1925. The version as originally published is heavily abridged by Pope, with much of the socialist ideology removed.

The original manuscript is subsequently located by F. C. Ball and, after he raises funds to acquire and reassemble the original version, an unabridged edition is published in 1955.


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Birth of Barrister Alexander Martin Sullivan

alexander-martin-sullivanAlexander Martin Sullivan, Irish lawyer best known as the leading counsel for the defence in the 1916 treason trial of Roger Casement, is born in Dublin on January 14, 1871. He is the last barrister in either Ireland or England to hold the rank of Serjeant-at-Law, hence his nickname The Last Serjeant.

A younger son of A.M. Sullivan and Frances Donovan, Sullivan is educated at Ushaw College, Belvedere College, Trinity College, Dublin and King’s Inns. He is called to the Irish Bar in 1892 and practises on the Munster Circuit.

Sullivan is appointed an Irish KC in 1908 and King’s Third Serjeant-at-law (Ireland) in 1912 advancing to Second Serjeant in 1913 and First Serjeant in 1919, the last holder of that position.

A moderate constitutional nationalist and supporter of the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sullivan is a prominent campaigner for the recruitment of Irishmen into the British Army during World War I. His opposition to Sinn Féin republicanism and his prominent role in conducting prosecutions on behalf of the Crown during the Irish War of Independence lead to at least one attempt on his life. As a result, he relocates to England in 1921 and establishes a career at the English Bar, having previously been called to the Middle Temple in 1899. He subsequently becomes a Bencher and Treasurer of Middle Temple. By courtesy, he is always referred to as Serjeant Sullivan, even though that rank no longer exists in England.

Sullivan remains a member of the Irish Bar, and returns at least once to appear in the celebrated case of Croker v Croker, where the children of the former leader of Tammany Hall, Richard “Boss” Croker attempt to overturn his will, which leaves his entire estate to their stepmother.

Sullivan is noted as a fearless advocate, who brings to his English practice the robust manners he had learned in the Irish county courts. He does not hesitate to interrupt the judge, and if he feels that he is not receiving a fair hearing, he is quite capable of walking out of Court.

In 1916 Sullivan is retained as lead counsel in the trial of Sir Roger Casement for treason. No English barrister will defend Casement, and Sullivan is persuaded to take the case by George Gavan Duffy, whose wife Margaret is Sullivan’s sister. Despite his rank of Serjeant at law and King’s Counsel at the Irish bar he is only ranked as a junior barrister in England. As the facts relied on by the prosecution are largely undisputed, Sullivan is limited to arguing a technical defence that the Treason Act 1351 only applies to acts committed “within the realm” and not outside it. The Act’s terms had however been expanded by case law over the previous 560 years, and the defence is rejected by the trial judges and by the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Sullivan writes two books: Old Ireland in 1927 and The Last Serjeant in 1952. He retires from legal practice in 1949. He dies on January 9, 1959.