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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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Birth of Lady Gregory, Writer & Playwright

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (née Isabella Augusta), Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, is born on March 15, 1852 at Roxborough, County Galway. Her translations of Irish legends, her peasant comedies and fantasies based on folklore, and her work for the Abbey Theatre, play a considerable part in the late 19th-century Irish Literary Revival.

Augusta is the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. Her mother, Frances Barry, is related to Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore, and her family home, Roxborough, is a 6,000-acre estate located between Gort and Loughrea, the main house of which is later burned down during the Irish Civil War. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native speaker of the Irish language, who introduces the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

In 1880 Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory, a neighbouring landowner who had previously served as a Member of Parliament and as governor of Ceylon. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and his estate at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory is eager to explore. He also has a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time.

Lady Gregory’s literary career does not begin until after Sir Gregory’s death in 1892. In 1896 she meets William Butler Yeats and becomes his lifelong friend and patron. She takes part in the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and becomes a director of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, which owes much of its success to her skill at smoothing the disputes among its highly individualistic Irish nationalist founders. As a playwright, she writes pleasant comedies based on Irish folkways and picturesque peasant speech, offsetting the more tragic tones of the dramas of Yeats and John Millington Synge.

Lady Gregory writes or translates nearly forty plays. Seven Short Plays (1909), her first dramatic works, are among her best, vivid in dialogue and characterization. The longer comedies, The Image and Damer’s Gold, are published in 1910 and 1913 and her strange realistic fantasies, The Golden Apple and The Dragon, in 1916 and 1920. She also arranges and makes continuous narratives out of the various versions of Irish sagas, translating them into an Anglo-Irish peasant dialect that she labels “Kiltartan.” These are published as Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).

Lady Gregory returns to live in Galway after ill health forces her retirement from the Abbey Theatre board in 1928, although she continues to visit Dublin regularly. The house and demesne at Coole Park is sold to the Irish Forestry Commission in 1927, with Lady Gregory retaining life tenancy. Her Galway home had long been a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival, and this continues after her retirement. On a tree in what were the grounds of the house, one can still see the carved initials of Synge, Æ, Yeats and his artist brother Jack, George Moore, Seán O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Katharine Tynan and Violet Martin.

Lady Gregory, whom Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman,” dies at the age of 80 on May 22, 1932 at home from breast cancer. She is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park are auctioned three months after her death, and the house is demolished in 1941.


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Birth of Dolores Keane, Folk Singer & Actress

dolores-keaneDolores Keane, folk singer and occasional actress, is born on September 26, 1953 in the small village of Sylane, near Tuam, in rural County Galway. She is a founding member of the successful group De Dannan, and has since embarked on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.

Keane is raised from the age of four by her aunts Rita and Sarah Keane, who are also well-known sean-nós singers. She starts her singing at a very young age, due to the influence of her musical aunts. She makes her first recording for Radio Éireann in 1958 at the age of five. This early start sets her on the path to a career in music. Her brother, Seán, also goes on to enjoy a successful music career.

In 1975, Keane co-founds the traditional Irish band De Dannan, and they release their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gains international recognition and enjoys major success in the late 1970s in the United States. She tours with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” is a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she leaves De Dannan and is replaced by Andy Irvine, who records live with the band on April 30, 1976, during the 3rd Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Soon thereafter, she marries multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently records three albums of folk music.

Keane lives and works in London for several years with Faulkner before they move to Ireland in the early 1980s. They work on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and form two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period she records her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This is followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gives credit to Faulkner. In the mid-1980s she rejoins De Dannan and records the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Keane turns her attention, once again, to her solo career in 1988. It sees the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album, A Lion in a Cage (1989), features a song written by Faulkner called “Lion in a Cage” protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It serves as Keane’s second Irish number one and she performs the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expands her reputation and popularity worldwide. A new facet is added to her career when she plays the female lead in the Dublin production of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage. The opening night is attended by Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland at the time.

In 1992, Keane is among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album goes on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 is released in late 1994 and emulates its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, Solid Ground, is released on the Shanachie Records label and receives critical acclaim in Europe and America.

In August 1995, Keane is awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, County Down, for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture.” In that same year, she takes to the stage in the Dublin production of John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World. She contributes to the RTÉ/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home,” a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America.

In August 1997, Keane goes to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album, Night Owl, is released in 1998. It sees her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it does well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she goes on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s, where she plays to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham, Alabama and New York City.

Keane puts an end to recording and touring in the late 1990s, due to depression and alcoholism, for which she receives extensive treatment. As of June 2014, she is given the all clear after suffering from cancer.


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Birth of William Butler Yeats, Poet & Nobel Prize Winner

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, is born in Sandymount, County Dublin on June 13, 1865.

Yeats is the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trained as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandons art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Cathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen ni Houlihan. Around that time, he helps found the Irish National Theatre Society, serving as its president and co-director, with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, he is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). He dies on January 28, 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.


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Birth of Actress Máire O’Neill

maire-oneillMary Agnes “Molly” Allgood, actress of stage and film under the stage name of Máire O’Neill, is born at 40 Middle Abbey Street in Dublin on January 12, 1885.

Allgood is one of eight children of compositor George and french polisher Margaret (née Harold) Allgood. Her father is sternly Protestant and against all music, dancing and entertainment, while her mother is a strict Catholic. After her father dies in 1896, she is placed in an orphanage. She is apprenticed to a dressmaker and her brother Tom becomes a Catholic priest.

Maud Gonne sets up Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1900 to educate women about Irish history, language and the arts, and Allgood and her sister Sara join the association’s drama classes around 1903. Their acting teacher, William “Willie” Fay, enrolls them in the National Theatre Society, later known as the Abbey Theatre. Allgood is part of the Abbey Theatre from 1906-1918 where she appears in many productions. In 1904 she is cast in a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called Katie Roche where she plays the part of Margaret Drybone. There are 38 performances in this production.

In 1905 Allgood meets Irish playwright John Millington Synge and they fall in love, a relationship regarded as scandalous because it crosses the class barriers of the time. In September 1907 he has surgery for the removal of troublesome neck glands, but a later tumour is found to be inoperable. They become engaged before his death in March 1909. Synge writes the plays The Playboy of the Western World and Deirdre of the Sorrows for Allgood.

In June 1911 Allgood marries G. H. Mair, drama critic of the Manchester Guardian, and later Assistant Secretary of the British Department of Information, Assistant Director of the League of Nations Secretariat in Geneva, and head of the League of Nations office in London, with whom she has two children. He dies suddenly on January 3, 1926. Six months later she marries Arthur Sinclair, an Abbey actor. They have two children but the marriage ends in divorce.

Under her professional name Maire O’Neill, Allgood appears in films from 1930-53, including Alfred Hitchcock‘s film version of Seán O’Casey‘s play Juno and the Paycock (1930). She makes her American debut in New York City in 1914 in the play General John Regan at the Hudson Theatre.

Allgood dies at the age of 66 in Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, England, on November 2, 1952, where she is receiving treatment after being badly burned in a fire at her London home.

Joseph O’Connor‘s 2010 novel, Ghost Light, is loosely based on Allgood’s relationship with Synge.


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Birth of John Millington Synge, Poetic Dramatist

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, is born at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, on April 16, 1871. 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.

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 causes 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 Kerry to Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.