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


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Birth of Novelist & Playwright Molly Keane

Molly Keane, née Mary Nesta Skrine, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, is born in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare, on July 20, 1904.

Keane’s mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin in County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bedbound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Molly meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a County Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which, including Good Behaviour and Time After Time, have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She was a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, after which she moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. Following the failure of a play shortly after her husband’s death, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages her to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Keane dies at the age of 91 on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Birth of George Salmon, Mathematician & Theologian

Rev. Prof. George Salmon, distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian, is born in Dublin on September 25, 1819. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, he devotes the last forty years of his life to theology. His entire career is spent at Trinity College Dublin.

Salmon, the son of Michael Salmon and Helen Weekes, spends his boyhood in Cork, where his father is a linen merchant. There he attends Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School before attending Trinity College in 1833, graduating with First Class Honours in mathematics in 1839. In 1841 he attains a paid fellowship and teaching position in mathematics at Trinity. In 1845 Salmon is additionally appointed to a position in theology at the university, after having been ordained a deacon in 1844 and a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1845.

In the late 1840s and the 1850s Salmon is in regular and frequent communication with Arthur Cayley and J. J. Sylvester. The three of them together with a small number of other mathematicians develop a system for dealing with n-dimensional algebra and geometry. During this period he publishes about 36 papers in journals.

In 1844 Salmon marries Frances Anne Salvador, daughter of Rev. J. L. Salvador of Staunton-upon-Wye in Herefordshire, with whom he has six children, of which only two survive him.

In 1848 Salmon publishes an undergraduate textbook entitled A Treatise on Conic Sections. This text remains in print for over fifty years, going through five updated editions in English, and is translated into German, French and Italian. From 1858 to 1867 he is the Donegall Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity.

In 1859 Salmon publishes the book Lessons Introductory to the Modern Higher Algebra. This is for a while simultaneously the state-of-the-art and the standard presentation of the subject, and goes through updated and expanded editions in 1866, 1876 and 1885, and is translated into German and French. He also publishes two other mathematics texts, A Treatise on Higher Plane Curves (1852) and A Treatise on the Analytic Geometry of Three Dimensions (1862).

In 1858 Salmon is presented with the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy. In June 1863 he is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society followed in 1868 by the award of their Royal Medal. In 1889 he receives the Copley Medal of the society, the highest honorary award in British science, but by then he has long since lost his interest in mathematics and science.

From the early 1860s onward Salmon is primarily occupied with theology. In 1866 he is appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, at which point he resigns from his position in the mathematics department. In 1871 he accepts an additional post of chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Salmon is Provost of Trinty College from 1888 until his death in 1904. The highlight of his career is likely when in 1892 he presides over the great celebrations marking the tercentenary of the College, which had been founded by Queen Elizabeth I. His deep conservatism leads him to strongly oppose women receiving degrees from the University.

Salmon dies at the Provost’s House on January 22, 1904 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin. An avid reader throughout his life, his obituary refers to him as “specially devoted to the novels of Jane Austen.”

Salmon’s theorem [ru] is named in honor of George Salmon.


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Death of Novelist Maria Edgeworth

maria-edgeworthMaria Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish writer known for her children’s stories and for her novels of Irish life, dies on May 22, 1849 in Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Edgeworth is born at Black Bourton, Oxfordshire, England on January 1, 1768. She is the second child of Richard Lovell Edgeworth and Anna Maria Edgeworth (née Elers). She spends her early years with her mother’s family in England, until her mother’s death when Maria is five. When her father marries his second wife Honora Sneyd in 1773, she goes with him to his estate, Edgeworthstown, in County Longford. There, she assists her father in managing his estate. In this way she acquires the knowledge of rural economy and of the Irish peasantry that is to become the backbone of her novels.

Domestic life at Edgeworthstown is busy and happy. Encouraged by her father, Edgeworth begins her writing in the common sitting room, where the 21 other children in the family provide material and audience for her stories. She publishes them in 1796 as The Parent’s Assistant. Even the intrusive moralizing, attributed to her father’s editing, does not wholly suppress their vitality, and the children who appear in them, especially the impetuous Rosamond, are the first real children in English literature since William Shakespeare.

Her first novel, Castle Rackrent (1800), written without her father’s interference, reveals her gift for social observation, character sketch, and authentic dialogue and is free from lengthy lecturing. It establishes the genre of the “regional novel,” and its influence is enormous. Sir Walter Scott acknowledges his debt to Edgeworth in writing Waverley. Her next work, Belinda (1801), a society novel unfortunately marred by her father’s insistence on a happy ending, is particularly admired by Jane Austen.

Edgeworth never marries. She has a wide acquaintance in literary and scientific circles. Between 1809 and 1812 she publishes her Tales of Fashionable Life in six volumes. They include one of her best novels, The Absentee, which focuses attention on a great contemporary abuse in Irish society: absentee English landowning.

Before her father’s death in 1817 she publishes three more novels, two of them, Patronage (1814) and Ormond (1817), of considerable power. After 1817 she writes less. She completes her father’s Memoirs (1820) and devotes herself to the estate. She enjoys a European reputation and exchanges cordial visits with Scott. Her last years are saddened by the Irish famine of 1846, during which she works for the relief of stricken peasants.

After a visit to see her relations in Trim, Maria, now in her eighties, begins to feel heart pains and dies suddenly of a heart attack in Edgeworthstown on May 22, 1849. She is laid to rest in a vault at Edgeworthstown Church.

The feminist movement of the 1960s leads to the reprinting of her Moral Tales for Young People, 5 vol. (1801) and Letters for Literary Ladies (1795) in the 1970s. Her novels continue to be regularly reprinted in the 21st century.

(Pictured: Maria Edgeworth by John Downman, 1807)


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Publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield”

the-vicar-of-wakefieldThe Vicar of Wakefield, a novel written from 1761 to 1762 by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith is first published on March 27, 1766. It is one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians.

Soon after Goldsmith had completed the novel, his landlady arrests him for being delinquent on his rent. He summons one of his closest friends, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who takes the novel and sells it to bookseller and publisher Francis Newbery for sixty pounds. Johnson returns and gives Goldsmith the money which he uses to pay his landlady. Newbery holds the novel for two years before releasing it for publication. It is later illustrated by English illustrator Arthur Rackham for the 1929 edition.

In literary history books, The Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar’s values are apparently not compatible with the real “sinful” world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill’s help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose’s suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.

The novel is mentioned in George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, Stendhal‘s The Life of Henry Brulard, Arthur Schopenhauer‘s The Art of Controversy, Jane Austen‘s Emma, Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein, Sarah Grand‘s The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë‘s The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott‘s Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit.

Silent film adaptations of the novel are produced in 1910, in 1913, and in 1916.


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Birth of Illustrator Hugh Thomson

Hugh Thomson, illustrator, is born on Kingsgate Street, Coleraine, County Londonderry on June 1, 1860. He is best known for his pen-and-ink illustrations of works by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and J. M. Barrie.

Thomson is born to tea merchant John Thomson (1822–1894) and shopkeeper Catherine (née Andrews). He is the eldest of their three surviving children. Although he has no formal artistic training, as a young boy he often fills his schoolbooks with drawings of horses, dogs, and ships. He attends Coleraine Model School, but leaves at the age of fourteen to work as a clerk at E. Gribbon & Sons, Linen Manufacturers. Several years later his artistic talents are discovered, and in 1877 he is hired by printing and publishing company Marcus Ward & Co.

On December 29, 1884 Thomson marries Jessie Naismith Miller in Belfast. Soon afterwards they move back to London for Thomson’s career. They have one son together, John, born in 1886.

In 1911, he and his family move to Sidcup, hoping to improve their “ever delicate health.” Thomson’s correspondence reflects the fact that he misses being close to the National Gallery and the museums where he usually compiles research for his illustrations. During World War I, demand for Thomson’s work decreases to a few propaganda pamphlets and some commissions from friends. By 1917, Thomson has fallen on financial hardship and he has to take a job with the Board of Trade, where he works until 1919.

Hugh Thomson dies of heart disease at his home at 8 Patten Road in Wandsworth Common, London, on May 7, 1920.