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


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Birth of Irish Writer Aidan Higgins

Aidan Higgins, Irish writer of short stories, travel pieces, radio drama and novels, is born on March 3, 1927 in Celbridge, County Kildare. Among his published works are Langrishe, Go Down (1966), Balcony of Europe (1972) and the biographical Dog Days (1998). His writing is characterised by non-conventional foreign settings and a stream of consciousness narrative mode. Most of his early fiction is autobiographical – “like slug trails, all the fiction happened.”

Higgins attends local schools and Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school. In the early 1950s he works in Dublin as a copywriter for the Domas Advertising Agency. He then moves to London and works in light industry for about two years. He marries Jill Damaris Anders in London on November 25, 1955. From 1960, he sojourns in southern Spain, South Africa, Berlin and Rhodesia. In 1960 and 1961 he works as scriptwriter for Filmlets, an advertising firm in Johannesburg. These journeys provide material for much of his later work, including his three autobiographies, Donkey’s Years (1996), Dog Days (1998) and The Whole Hog (2000).

His upbringing in a landed Catholic family provides material for Higgins first novel, Langrishe, Go Down (1966). The novel is set in the 1930s in a run-down “big house” in County Kildare, inhabited by the last members of the Langrishe family, three spinster sisters, Catholics, living in not-so-genteel poverty in a once-grand setting. One sister, Imogen, has an affair with a German intellectual, Otto Beck, which transgresses the moral code of the time, bringing her a brief experience of happiness. Otto’s intellectual pursuits contrast with the moribund cultural life of mid-20th century Ireland. The book is awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and is later adapted as a BBC Television film by British playwright Harold Pinter, in association with RTÉ. Langrishe, Go Down also receives the Irish Academy of Letters Award.

Higgins second major novel is Balcony of Europe, taking its name from a feature of the Spanish fishing village, Nerja Andalusia, where it is set. The novel is carefully crafted, and rich in embedded literary references, using Spanish and Irish settings and various languages, including Spanish and some German, in its account of the daily life in the beaches and bars of Nerja of a largely expatriate community. The protagonist, an artist called Dan Ruttle, is obsessed with his friend’s young American wife, Charlotte, and by the contrast between his life among a cosmopolitan artistic community in the Mediterranean, and his Irish origins. The book is re-edited in collaboration with Neil Murphy and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2010, with the Irish material cut and the affair between Dan Ruttle and Charlotte foregrounded.

Higgins later novels include widely acclaimed Bornholm Night Ferry and Lions of the Grunwald. Various writings have been collected and reprinted by the Dalkey Archive Press, including his three-volume autobiography, A Bestiary, and a collection of fiction, Flotsam and Jetsam, both of which demonstrate his wide erudition and his experience of life and travel in South Africa, Germany and London which gives his writing a largely cosmopolitan feel, utilising a range of European languages in turns of phrase.

Higgins lives in Kinsale, County Cork, from 1986 with the writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. They are married in Dublin in November 1997. He is a founder member of Irish artists’ association Aosdána. He dies on December 27, 2015 in Kinsale.


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Birth of Brian Cleeve, Writer of Novels & Short Stories

Brian Brendon Talbot Cleeve, writer whose published works include twenty-one novels and over a hundred short stories, is born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, on November 22, 1921. He is also an award-winning television broadcaster on RTÉ One.

Cleeve is the second of three sons to Charles Edward Cleeve and his wife Josephine (née Talbot). His father, who was born in Limerick, County Limerick, is a scion of a famous and wealthy family that runs several successful Irish enterprises in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His mother is a native of Essex. The Cleeves came from Canada originally and emigrated to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result of labour troubles and the effects of the Irish Civil War, the Cleeve business fails and the family moves to England.

Cleeve’s mother dies in 1924 and his maternal grandparents, Alfred and Gertrude Talbot, take over responsibility for his upbringing. At age eight, he is sent as a boarder to Selwyn House in Kent, followed at age 12 by three years at St. Edward’s School, Oxford. He is by nature a free-thinker and rejects the assumptions and prejudices that are then part of upper-middle class English life. His unwillingness to conform means that school life is very difficult for him. In the late summer of 1938, he decides not to return to St. Edward’s for his final year. Instead, he runs away to sea.

Cleeve leads an eventful life during the next fifteen years. He serves on the RMS Queen Mary as a commis waiter for several months. At age 17 he joins the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a private soldier, and, because of his age, just misses being sent to Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) when World War II breaks out. In 1940, he is selected for officer training, is commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry, and sent to Kenya as a second lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. A year later he is court-martialed as a result of his objections to the treatment by colleagues of an African prisoner. Stripped of his commission and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude, he is transferred to Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire. There, through the intervention of Sir Alexander Paterson, he is offered parole if he agrees to work for British Intelligence. For the remainder of the war he serves as a counter-spy in neutral ports such as Lisbon and Dublin. As cover, he works as an ordinary seaman in the Merchant Navy.

In 1945, Cleeve takes an Irish passport and comes to Ireland where, in the space of three weeks, he meets and marries Veronica McAdie. A year later, they leave Ireland with baby daughter Berenice on a protracted odyssey that takes them to London, Sweden, the West Indies, and finally South Africa. In 1948, the family settles in Johannesburg where they set up their own perfume business. A second daughter, Tanga, is born to the couple there in 1953. As a result of his friendship with Fr. Trevor Huddleston, he witnesses the conditions in which the black population has to live in townships such as Sophiatown. He becomes an outspoken critic of Apartheid, and, in 1954, he is branded by the authorities as a ‘political intractable’ and ordered to leave South Africa. He returns to Ireland where he lives for the remainder of his life.

Cleeve starts writing poems in his teens, a few of which are published in his school paper, the St. Edward’s Chronicle. During the war he continues to produce poems of a spiritual or metaphysical nature, most of which are never published. In 1945, he turns to novel-writing. After his first two attempts are rejected, his third novel, The Far Hills, is published in 1952. Two further novels about South Africa follow and their unvarnished descriptions of the reality of life for the native population probably contributes to his eventual expulsion from the country.

In the mid-1950s, Cleeve begins to concentrate on the short story form. During the next 15 years over 100 of his short stories are published in magazines and periodicals across five continents. He sells nearly thirty to The Saturday Evening Post alone. In 1966, his story Foxer is honoured with a scroll at the annual Edgar Awards.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Cleeve returns to writing novels with considerable success. He produced a series of well-received mystery and spy thrillers that do not sacrifice character to plot. In 1971, he publishes Cry of Morning, his most controversial and successful novel to date. It is a panoramic depiction of the economic and social changes that affected Ireland during the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a disparate collection of well-drawn characters. He subsequently achieves even greater commercial success, especially in the United States, with a number of historical novels featuring a strong female character as protagonist.

Cleeve also writes several works of non-fiction, principally the Dictionary of Irish Writers. This is a 20-year project to provide to scholars and the general public alike a comprehensive resource on Irish writers at an affordable price. It is a labour of love that consumes a great deal of his time and is effectively subsidised by his more commercial pursuits. The last edition is published in 1985.

On December 31, 1961, Telefís Éireann is launched as the Republic of Ireland‘s first indigenous television station. Cleeve joins the station as a part-time interviewer on the current affairs programme, Broadsheet. Following appearances on two additional programmes, Telefís Éireann does not renew his contract when it expires in 1973.

Following his wife’s death in 1999, Cleeve moves to the village of Shankill, Dublin. His health deteriorates rapidly following a series of small strokes. In November 2001, he marries his second wife, Patricia Ledwidge, and she cares for him during his final months. He suddenly dies of a heart attack on March 11, 2003. His body now lies under a headstone bearing the inscription “Servant of God.”


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Birth of Edel Quinn, Roman Catholic Lay Missionary

Edel Mary Quinn, Roman Catholic lay missionary and Envoy of the Legion of Mary to East Africa, is born in Castlemagner, County Cork, on September 14, 1907.

Quinn is the eldest child of bank official Charles Quinn and Louisa Burke Browne of County Clare. She is a great-granddaughter of William Quinn, a native of County Tyrone who settled in Tuam to build St. Mary’s Cathedral.

During Quinn’s childhood, her father’s career brought the family to various towns in Ireland, including Tralee, County Kerry, where a plaque is unveiled in May 2009 at Bank Of Ireland House in Denny Street commemorating her residence there between 1921 and 1924. She attends the Presentation Convent in the town between 1921-1925.

Quinn feels a call to religious life at a young age. She wishes to join the Poor Clares but is prevented by advanced tuberculosis. After spending eighteen months in a sanatorium, her condition unchanged, she decides to become active in the Legion of Mary, which she joins in Dublin at the age of 20. She gives herself completely to its work in the form of helping the poor in the slums of Dublin.

In 1936, at the age of 29 and dying of tuberculosis, Quinn becomes a Legion of Mary Envoy, a very active missionary to East and Central Africa, departing in December 1936 for Mombasa. She settles in Nairobi having been told by Bishop Heffernan that this is the most convenient base for her work. By the outbreak of World War II, she is working as far off as Dar es Salaam and Mauritius. In 1941, she is admitted to a sanatorium near Johannesburg. Fighting her illness, in seven and a half years she establishes hundreds of Legion branches and councils in today’s Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Mauritius. John Joseph “J.J.” McCarthy, later Bishop of Zanzibar and Archbishop of Nairobi, writes of her:

“Miss Quinn is an extraordinary individual; courageous, zealous and optimistic. She wanders around in a dilapidated Ford, having for sole companion an African driver. When she returns home she will be qualified to speak about the Missions and Missionaries, having really more experience than any single Missionary I know.”

All this time Quinn’s health is never good, and in 1943 she takes a turn for the worse, dying in Nairobi, Kenya of tuberculosis on May 12, 1944. She is buried there in the Missionaries’ Cemetery.

The cause for her beatification is introduced in 1956. She is declared venerable by Pope John Paul II on December 15, 1994, since when the campaign for her beatification has continued.


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Sonia O’Sullivan Wins 10,000m at European Championships

Sonia O’Sullivan, track and field athlete, wins the 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary on August 19, 1998.

Born on November 28, 1969 in Cobh, County Cork, O’Sullivan is educated in Cobh Community College. She completes her leaving certificate in 1987. Her first major international competition is the 1990 European Athletics Championships at Split, Yugoslavia where she finishes 11th in the 3,000 metres.

O’Sullivan first comes to prominence when winning the 1,500 metres at the 1991 Summer Universiade, before going on to finish fourth in the 3,000 metres final at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. She then wins a silver medal in the 1,500 metres at the 1993 World Championships and a gold medal in the 5,000 metres at the 1995 World Championships. She is the favourite for the 5,000 metres title at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta but drops out of the final due to illness. Her 2,000 metres world record of 5:25.36, set in 1994, stands until 2017.

After a disappointing end to her 1997 season, O’Sullivan makes an impressive comeback in 1998. At the World Athletics Cross Country Championships at Marrakesh in March, she enters both the short course (4 km) and long course (8 km) events. On successive days, she wins both events, and her 4 km time of 12:20 is 14 seconds ahead of her nearest rival. She continues this form into the track season, where her performances in the 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres are close to those she had produced at her peak in 1994 and 1995.

At the European Athletics Championships in Budapest, the 1,500 metres and 5,000 metres finals, events at which O’Sullivan usually doubles at major championships, are scheduled to be run on the same day, thus denying her the opportunity of competing in both events. Undeterred, she enters the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres, having never run the latter event before on the track. In the 10,000 metres final, on August 19, she shadows the leaders, and then produces an astonishing 28.1 second final 200 metres to win the gold medal in 31:29.33 in her debut at the distance. Four days later, in the more familiar territory of the 5,000 metres, the pace is set by Romanian Gabriela Szabo, but again, O’Sullivan produces an explosive finishing sprint to defeat Szabo in 15:06.50.

At the IAAF World Cup held the following month in Johannesburg, South Africa, O’Sullivan wins her second major international 5,000 metres competition of the year, again sprinting clear of the opposition following a very slow pace. She concludes her year by winning the Bupa Great North Run.

At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, O’Sullivan wins a silver medal in the 5,000 metres. She wins silver medals in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 2002 European Athletics Championships, and competes at her fourth Olympic Games in 2004. She is known for her dramatic kick, clocking 28-second final 200 metre splits in some of her races.

O’Sullivan is only one of two women (the other being Tirunesh Dibaba) who have won the short and long course World Cross Country title at the same championship (1998 in Marrakesh).


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Birth of Robert Tressell, Irish Writer

robert-tressellRobert Noonan, Irish writer born Robert Croker and best known by the pen name Robert Tressell, is born in Dublin on April 17, 1870. He is best known for his novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.

Noonan is 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 County 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 John Barry, Victoria Cross Recipient

john-barry-vcJohn Barry is born on February 1, 1873 in St. Mary’s Parish, Kilkenny, County Kilkenny. He is by birth an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Little is known of Barry’s early life prior to his enlistment with the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army. Shortly after his enlistment, he finds himself sailing to South Africa for the outbreak of the Second Boer War, a conflict which ultimately leads to the award of the Victoria Cross, albeit tragically posthumously.

During the night attack on Monument Hill on January 7-8, 1901, Private Barry, although surrounded and threatened by the Boers at the time, smashes the breach of the Maxim gun, thus rendering it useless to its captors. It is in doing this splendid act for his country that he meets his death.

Barry dies of wounds received during his VC action at Monument Hill, South Africa. At the time, no posthumous awards of the VC can be made. However, as so often in the history of the Victoria Cross it is an individual, the mother of Alfred Atkinson, that brings about a decisive move to investigate those servicemen who would have been recommended for the award of the VC if they had not died beforehand. The outcome of the War Office investigation results in an announcement being published in The London Gazette on August 8, 1902. In fact, Barry’s family had already received his medal via registered post on April 30, 1902.

Barry is buried in Belfast Cemetery, east of Johannesburg, South Africa. His medals are sold at auction on September 22, 2000 and purchased at a hammer price of £85,000 by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery in the Imperial War Museum, London.


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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.