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


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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Birth of Thomas Bodkin, Art Historian & Collector

Professor Thomas Patrick Bodkin, lawyer, art historian, art collector and curator, is born in Dublin on July 21, 1887. He serves as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from 1927 to 1935 and founding Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, England from 1935 until 1952, where he acquires the nucleus of the collection described by The Observer as “the last great art collection of the twentieth century.”

Bodkin is the eldest son of Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, a nationalist journalist, judge and Member of Parliament. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland in 1908 he practises law from 1911 until 1916 while collecting art privately, influenced by his uncle Sir Hugh Lane. With the death of Lane in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, Bodkin is charged with ensuring that Lane’s collection of art is displayed in Dublin, a dispute that would only finally be settled in 1957 and about which Bodkin is to write Hugh Lane and his Pictures in 1932.

Bodkin leaves the legal profession in 1916 to become a Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, being appointed Director in 1927. He also serves in 1926 on the committee that commissions the design of the new coinage of the Republic of Ireland from Percy Metcalfe.

In 1935 Bodkin leaves Ireland upon being appointed Director of the newly established Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Barber Professor of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham. The funds available to the Barber Institute for the purchase of new works compare favourably even to some national museums and Bodkin is able to make a string of exceptional purchases in the depressed art market around the time of World War II. The collection that in 1935 numbers just seven works, by 1939 holds major pieces such as Tintoretto‘s Portrait of a Youth (1554), Simone Martini‘s St. John the Evangelist (1320), Nicolas Poussin‘s Tancred and Erminia (1634) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler‘s Symphony in White No. III (1867). Bodkin retires in 1952 but retains control over acquisitions until 1959. His successor as Director and Professor, Ellis Waterhouse, wistfully refers to Bodkin’s wayward later purchases as “Acts of Bod.”

Bodkin is also an active broadcaster and author, publishing personal reminiscences and translations of modern French poetry as well as works of art history and criticism. In particular, his The Approach to Painting (1927), an introduction for a popular audience, runs through many editions over the succeeding thirty years.

A few years before his death Bodkin appears on the BBC panel show Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? identifying curiosities from around the world, along with museum curator Hugh Shortt and archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

Bodkin is awarded the Civil Division of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for services to his church. A bust of Bodkin, previously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1958, is donated to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts by its sculptor, Sir Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy and a personal friend of Bodkin’s, on the latter’s death.

Bodkin is the subject of This Is Your Life in March 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Costa Green Studios in Birmingham.

Thomas Bodkin dies in Birmingham, England on April 24, 1961. His remains are interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.