seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Dramatist John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, dies in Dublin, on March 24, 1909. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

Synge is born in Newtown Villas, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is the youngest son in a family of eight children. His parents are members of the Protestant upper middle class. His father, John Hatch Synge, who is a barrister, comes from a family of landed gentry in Glanmore Castle, County Wicklow.

Synge is educated privately at schools in Dublin and Bray, and later studies piano, flute, violin, music theory and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, in 1889. He graduates with a BA in 1892, having studied Irish and Hebrew, as well as continuing his music studies and playing with the Academy Orchestra in the Antient Concert Rooms.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually leads to his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from County Kerry to County Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.

 

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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)


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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Birth of Thomas Burke, Irish Dominican Preacher

thomas-nicholas-burke-statueThomas Nicholas Burke, Irish Dominican preacher, is born in Galway, County Galway on September 8, 1830.

Burke’s parents, though in moderate circumstances, gave him a good education. He studies at first under the care of the Patrician Brothers, and is afterwards sent to a private school. An attack of typhoid fever when he is fourteen years old and the famine year of 1847 have a sobering effect. Toward the end of that year he asks to be received into the Order of Preachers, and is sent to Perugia in Italy to make his novitiate. On December 29, he is clothed there in the habit of St. Dominic and receives the name of Thomas.

Shortly afterward Burke is sent to Rome to begin his studies at the College of St. Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he is a student of philosophy and theology. He passes thence to the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. His superiors send him, while yet a student, as novice-master to Woodchester, the novitiate of the resuscitated English Province. He is ordained into the priesthood on March 26, 1853. On August 3, 1854, he defends publicly the theses in universâ theologiâ. He is made lector at the College of St. Thomas in 1854.

Early in the following year Burke is recalled to Ireland to found the novitiate of the Irish Province at Tallaght, near Dublin. In 1859 he preaches his first notable sermon on “Church Music.” It immediately lifts him into fame.

Elected Prior of Tallaght in 1863, Burke goes to Rome the following year as Rector of the Dominican Convent of San Clemente and attracts great attention by his preaching. He returns to Ireland in 1867 and delivers his oration on Daniel O’Connell at Glasnevin before fifty thousand people.

Bishop Leahy takes him as his theologian to the First Vatican Council in 1870, and the following year he is sent as Visitor to the Dominican convents in America. He is besieged with invitations to preach and lecture. The seats are filled hours before he appears and his audiences overflow the churches and halls in which he lectures. In New York City he delivers the discourses in refutation of the English historian James Anthony Froude.

In an eighteen month period Burke gives four hundred lectures, exclusive of sermons, with the proceeds amounting to nearly $400,000. His mission is a triumph, but the triumph is dearly won. When he arrives in Ireland on March 7, 1873, he is spent and broken.

During the next decade Burke preaches in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He begins the erection of the church in Tallaght in 1883, and the following May preaches a series of sermons in the new Dominican church, London. In June he returns to Tallaght in a dying condition and preaches his last sermon in the Jesuit church, Dublin, in aid of the starving children of Donegal. A few days afterwards, on July 2, 1882, he dies. He is buried in the church of Tallaght, now a memorial to him.

(Pictured: Statue of Thomas Nicholas Burke by John Francis Kavanagh by Nimmo’s Pier in Galway)


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Birth of Marguerite Gardiner,Novelist & Journalist

marguerite-power-farmer-gardinerMarguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, Irish novelist, journalist, and literary hostess, is born near Clonmel, County Tipperary on September 1, 1789. She becomes acquainted with Lord Byron in Genoa and writes a book about him.

Born Margaret Power, she is a daughter of Edmund Power and Ellen Sheehy, small landowners. She is “haphazardly educated by her own reading and by her mother’s friend Ann Dwyer.” Her childhood is blighted by her father’s character and poverty, and her early womanhood made wretched by a compulsory marriage at the age of fifteen to Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, an English officer whose drunken habits finally bring him as a debtor to the King’s Bench Prison, where he dies by falling out of a window in October 1817. She had left him after three months of marriage.

Marguerite later moves to Hampshire, England to live for five years with the family of Thomas Jenkins, a sympathetic and literary sea captain. Jenkins introduces her to the Irishman Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, a widower with four children and seven years her senior. They marry at St. Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, on February 16, 1818, only four months after the death of her first husband.

Of rare beauty, charm and wit, Lady Blessington is no less distinguished for her generosity and for the extravagant tastes she shares with her second husband, which results in encumbering his estates with debt. On August 25, 1822 they set out for a continental tour with Marguerite’s youngest sister, the 21-year-old Mary Anne, and servants. On the way they meet Count Alfred D’Orsay, who had first become an intimate of Lady Blessington in London in 1821, in Avignon on November 20, 1822, before settling at Genoa for four months from March 31, 1823. There they meet Lord Byron on several occasions, giving Lady Blessington material for her Conversations with Lord Byron.

After that they settle for the most part in Naples, where she meets the Irish writer Richard Robert Madden, who is to become her biographer. They also spend time in Florence with their friend Walter Savage Landor, author of Imaginary Conversations which she greatly admires.

It is in Italy, on December 1, 1827, that Count D’Orsay marries Harriet Gardiner, Lord Blessington’s only daughter by his former wife. The Blessingtons and the newly-wed couple move to Paris towards the end of 1828, taking up residence in the Hôtel Maréchal Ney, where the Earl suddenly dies at the age of 46 of an apoplectic stroke in 1829. D’Orsay and Harriet then accompanied Lady Blessington to England, but the couple separates soon afterwards amidst much acrimony. D’Orsay continues to live with Lady Blessington until her death. Their home, first at Seymour Place, and afterwards Gore House, Kensington, now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, become a centre of attraction for all that is distinguished in literature, learning, art, science and fashion. Benjamin Disraeli writes Venetia whilst staying there, and it is at her home that Hans Christian Andersen first meets Charles Dickens.

After her husband’s death Lady Blessington supplements her diminished income by contributing to various periodicals as well as by writing novels. She is for some years editor of The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake, popular annuals of the day. In 1834 she publishes her Conversations with Lord Byron. Her Idler in Italy (1839–1840), and Idler in France (1841) are popular for their personal gossip and anecdotes, descriptions of nature and sentiment.

Early in 1849, Count D’Orsay leaves Gore House to escape his creditors. Subsequently the furniture and decorations are sold in a public sale successfully discharging Lady Blessington’s debts. She joins the Count in Paris, where she dies on June 4, 1849 of a burst heart. On examination it is discovered that her heart is three times normal size.

(Pictured: Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822)


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Birth of James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont

james-caulfeildJames Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont, Irish statesman, soldier and nationalist, is born in Dublin on August 18, 1728.

Caulfeild, the son of the 3rd Viscount Charlemont, succeeds his father as 4th Viscount in 1734. The title of Charlemont descends from Sir Toby Caulfeild, 1st Baron Caulfeild (1565–1627) of Oxfordshire, England, who is given lands in Ireland, and creates Baron Charlemont (the name of a fort on the Blackwater), for his services to King James I in 1620. The 1st Viscount is the 5th Baron (d. 1671), who is advanced by Charles II.

Lord Charlemont is well known for his love of Classical art and culture and spends nine years on the Grand Tour in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. He returns to Dublin and employs the Scottish architect Sir William Chambers to remodel his main residence Marino House, to design his town house Charlemont House and the unique Neoclassical garden pavilion building, the Casino at Marino.

Lord Charlemont is historically interesting for his political connection with Henry Flood and Henry Grattan. He is a cultivated man with literary and artistic tastes, and both in Dublin and in London he has considerable social influence. He is the first President of the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the Royal Dublin Society. He is appointed Custos Rotulorum of County Armagh for life in 1760. For various early services in Ireland he is made an earl in 1763, but he disregards court favours and cordially joins Grattan in 1780 in the assertion of Irish independence. In 1783 he is made a founding Knight of the Order of St. Patrick.

Lord Charlemont is president of the volunteer convention in Dublin in November 1783, having taken a leading part in the formation of the Irish Volunteers, and he is a strong opponent of the proposals for the Acts of Union 1800. His eldest son, who succeeds him, is subsequently created an English Baron in 1837.

Lord Charlemont dies on August 4, 1799.

(Pictured: Charlemont as painted by Pompeo Batoni, c. 1753-56)