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


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)

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Death of General Daniel Florence O’Leary

daniel-florence-olearyDaniel Florence O’Leary (Irish: Dónall Fínín Ó Laoghaire), a military general and aide-de-camp under Simón Bolívar, dies in Bogotá, Colombia on February 24, 1854.

O’Leary is born around 1800 in Cork, County Cork. His father is Jeremiah O’Leary, a butter merchant. Little is known of his early life.

In 1817, O’Leary travels to London to enlist in a regiment being formed by Henry Wilson. Wilson is recruiting officers and NCOs to go to South America and form a Hussar regiment in service to Simón Bolívar, who goes on to liberate much of South America from Spanish rule.

O’Leary sails for Venezuela with Wilson near the end of 1817, arriving in March 1818. Unlike many of the Irish who fight for Simón Bolívar in his many campaigns to win South American independence, he has not served in the Napoleonic Wars. He first meets Bolívar away from the front shortly his arrival and Bolívar is apparently impressed with the young Irish officer.

In March 1819, O’Leary sees his first action and is promoted to captain. In July, after Bolívar’s famous crossing through the Casanare Swamps and over the Andes, he receives a saber wound in the battle of Pantano de Vargas but he quickly recovers and takes part in the Battle of Boyacá on August 9. Shortly after this, he becomes aide-de-camp to Bolívar. Two years later, after much more fighting, Venezuela is freed.

During the next few years, as the fight continues to free the rest of South American from Spanish domination, O’Leary performs many dangerous missions for “The Liberator,” rising ever higher in his esteem. He continues to serve Bolívar well through the political and military intrigues that follow the freeing of South America from the Spanish.

After Bolívar’s death in December 1830, O’Leary disobeys orders to burn the general’s personal documents and is exiled to Jamaica by the new Venezuelan government. There he writes extensive memoirs that are later edited by his son, Simon Bolivar O’Leary, and published in the 1870s and 1880s. Simon is the eldest of six children O’Leary has with his South American wife. He also writes his own very extensive memoirs, spanning thirty-four volumes, of his time fighting in the revolutionary wars with Bolívar.

In 1833, O’Leary is able to return to Venezuela. He holds a number of diplomatic posts for the Venezuelan government for the next 20 years, and on at least two occasions is able to visit his boyhood home of Cork.

Daniel O’Leary dies in Bogotá on February 24, 1854. The Venezuelans name a plaza after him in Caracas. In 1882, they obtain permission to take O’Leary’s body from Bogotá to Caracas, where it is laid to rest in the National Pantheon of Venezuela to lie forever in death next to the man he had served so faithfully in life, Don Simón Bolívar. A bust and plaque honouring O’Leary are presented by the Venezuelan Government to the people of Cork and unveiled on May 12, 2010 by the Venezuelan Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Samuel Moncada.


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Francis Bacon Triptych Sells for £23 Million

francis-bacon-triptychA triptych of Lucian Freud portraits by his Irish-born friend Francis Bacon sell for £23 million at Sotheby’s in London, three times the pre-sale low estimate, on February 10, 2011.

Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud, which is painted in 1964 and shows Bacon’s friend and fellow artist with a variety of facial expressions, creates a buzz before the sale. The question is not if it will make its pre-sale estimate of £7 – £9 million, but how much higher might it possibly go.

More than 10 bidders from four different continents compete for the work. After seven minutes of bidding, it reaches £20.5 million and a hopeful telephone bidder asks if £20.6 million can be offered. The auctioneer, Tobias Meyer, insists on £21 million. There is applause as he finally bangs his hammer.

Cheyenne Westphal, the auction house’s chairman of contemporary art in Europe, says, “This striking painting has everything a collector in the current market is looking for. It is an artwork that radiates ‘wall-power’ with its brilliant colour and dramatic brushstrokes.”

The triptych has been in the same private collection for nearly 50 years and is a testament to the close friendship of two of the titans of 20th century British art. This triptych, Sotheby’s says, contains an “intensity and intimacy that is rarely seen elsewhere.”

Bacon, who dies in 1992, and Freud are kindred spirits, close friends who often see each other every day. They gamble together, drink in the same Soho dens and paint each other.

At the same auction, Salvador Dalí‘s Portrait of Paul Eluard sells for £13.5 million, at a stroke tripling the record auction price for a Dali set at Christie’s on the previous Wednesday, and becoming the most expensive surrealist artwork sold at any auction.

The paintings are part of a truly wondrous private collection. The sale of 60 works from it also includes paintings by Amedeo Modigliani, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall and Joan Miró. There are many gems, including a tiny 12.5 by 9.5 cm Lucian Freud self-portrait that he painted in Jamaica while visiting Ian Fleming at his house, Goldeneye. It sells for £3.3 million.

(Credit: Mark Brown, Arts Correspondent, The Guardian, Feb. 10, 2011)


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Birth of Richard Robert Madden, Historian & Abolitionist

Richard Robert Madden, Irish doctor, writer, abolitionist and historian of the Society of United Irishmen, is born on August 22, 1798. He takes an active role in trying to impose anti-slavery rules in Jamaica on behalf of the British government.

Madden is born at Wormwood Gate, Dublin to Edward Madden, a silk manufacturer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Corey). His father has married twice and fathered twenty-one children. Luckily for young Richard his father is still affluent enough by the time he is reaching adolescence to afford him a top quality education. This means private schools and a medical apprenticeship in Athboy, County Meath. He studies medicine in Paris, Italy, and St. George’s Hospital, London. While in Naples he becomes acquainted with Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington and her circle.

In 1828 Madden marries Harriet Elmslie, herself coincidentally the youngest of twenty one children. Born in Marylebone in 1801 and baptised there into the Church of England, she is the last child of John Elmslie, a Scot who owns hundreds of slaves on his plantations in Jamaica, and his wife Jane Wallace. Both Harriet’s parents are of Quaker stock, but while living in Cuba she converts to Roman Catholicism. On marriage, Madden stops travelling and practises medicine for five years.

Eventually he realises that he needs to contribute to the abolitionist cause. The slave trade has been illegal in the empire since 1807, but slaves still exist. Abolishing slavery is a popular cause and it is obvious that the trading of slaves is still in progress and many are not actively involved but they are complicit with the activity.

Madden is employed in the British civil service from 1833, first as a justice of the peace in Jamaica, where he is one of six Special Magistrates sent to oversee the eventual liberation of Jamaica’s slave population, according to the terms of the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. From 1835 he is Superintendent of the freed Africans in Havana. His son, Thomas More Madden, who later becomes a surgeon and writer, is born there. In 1839 he becomes the investigating officer into the slave trade on the west coast of Africa and, in 1847, the secretary for the West Australian colonies. He returns to Dublin and in 1850 is named secretary of the Office for Loan Funds in Dublin.

Richard Madden dies at his home in Booterstown, just south of Dublin, on February 5, 1886 and is interred in Donnybrook Cemetery.