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


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Founding of the Irish Literary Society

The Irish Literary Society is formally founded at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, London on May 12, 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President and Evelyn Gleeson as its first secretary. Among its founders are William Butler Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde as well as other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society succeeds the Southwark Irish Literary Club.

Stopford Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.” The lecture is published by Bloomsbury House on March 11, 1893, its delivery delayed to allow for the start of the National Literary Society in Ireland. Although the business of the ILS has always been conducted in English, the Society is influential in nurturing the revival of the Irish language by programming language classes even before the Gaelic League was formed in 1893. It also sponsored the Petrie Collection of Irish Music and twelve-volume Irish library of history and literature published between 1893 and 1904.

A Book of Irish Verse, designed to publicise the new societies, is published in 1895, edited by Yeats and dedicated “To the Members of the National Literary Society of Dublin and the Irish Literary Society of London.” It features poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, George William Russell (Æ) and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brings Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others.

By 1910 the Society has grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helps to bring into existence the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society develops a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.

Its objects are ‘to afford a centre of social and literary intercourse for persons of Irish nationality, and to promote the study of the Irish language, Irish history, literature, music, and art.’ Honorary membership is originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.

Arthur Conan Doyle, of Irish descent, and with a keen interest in Ireland, chaired the Irish Literary Society’s dinner on February 13, 1897. He spoke on ‘The Irish Brigade.’

(From: The website of the Irish Literary Society, Cumman Éireannach na liteardhachta, irishlitsoc.org)


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Birth of T. W. Rolleston, Poet, Critic & Journalist

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, poet, critic, and journalist, is born on May 1, 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King’s County (now County Offaly).

Rolleston is the youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the Court of Exchequer, Ireland. He attends St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, where he is head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with an MA in 1878. His literary ambitions first emerge at university, where he wins the vice-chancellor’s prize for English verse in 1876.

In 1879 Rolleston marries Edith Caroline, daughter of Rev. William de Burgh of Naas, County Kildare. She suffers from rheumatism, and this encourages the couple to live in Germany from 1879 to 1883. During this period he develops a fascination for German philosophy and literature and begins a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knows through Edward Dowden. In 1881 he offers to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This is published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year he also publishes a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivers the Taylorian Lectures at the University of Oxford on this subject.

In the meantime Rolleston has returned to Ireland and co-founds the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham in February 1885. In March 1885, under their stewardship the DUR is the first to publish W. B. Yeats. The poetry of Katharine Tynan and the first English translations of Ivan Turgenev also appear in the magazine. He has a fondness for clubs and at this time is associated with the Contemporary Club, where he becomes friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde, and the Young Ireland Society, where he is vice-president and a disciple of John O’Leary. He writes the dedication to O’Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and is encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O’Leary’s influence he flirts with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and is strongly critical of the prominent involvement of Catholic clergy in the home rule movement.

After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 Rolleston moves to London, but remains involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The Wanderings of Oisín (1889), he is friendly with Yeats and they instigate the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He is a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributes to The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The Second Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appears in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he has one collection published, Sea Spray (1909).

Rolleston is first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attends the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies are soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy, centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesces in, if not actively contributes to, Yeats’s defeat. They remain on reasonable terms, but Yeats is resentful. Rolleston edits the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish Poetry (1900), with the Rev. Stopford Augustus Brooke, whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They have four children. His first marriage also produces four children, and he is godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves, is a friend.

In 1894 Rolleston returns to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist, and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he seeks to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to organise classes. He is a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett, and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he is employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he manages the Irish historic collection at the St. Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supports Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry is central to national progress, he believes that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, his own nationalism is tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposes the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he publishes pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.

Rolleston is a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata,’ which wins first prize at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. At one point he suggests the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for Protestants, and provokes controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas cannot be represented in the Irish language. Later, he concedes that he is wrong. In 1909 he settles in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of The Times Literary Supplement, a position he holds until his death. He reinvolves himself in the Irish Literary Society and publishes a number of volumes based on Irish myth, including the influential Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), and Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen. He is a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the World War I he is librarian for the ministry of information and utilises his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor’s department.

Like many involved in cultural activities at this time Rolleston is satirised by George Moore in Hail and Farewell, but he remains very friendly with Moore, who dedicates the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. Rolleston dies suddenly on December 5, 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. His widow donates many of his books to Cork Public Library.

(From: “Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.)” contributed by William Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Irish Poet Francis Edward Ledwidge

Francis Edward Ledwidge, Irish poet from County Meath, sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds,” is killed in action He was later also known as a World War I war poet. He was killed in action on July 31, 1917 at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge near Boezinge, Ypres Salient, Belgium.

Born on August 19, 1887 to a poor family in Slane, County Meath, Ledwidge starts writing at an early age, and is first published in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. Finding work as a labourer and miner, he is also a trade union activist and a keen patriot and nationalist, associated with Sinn Féin. He becomes friendly with a local landowner, the writer Lord Dunsany, who gives him a workspace in the library of Dunsany Castle and introduces him to literary figures including William Butler Yeats and Katherine Tynan, with whom he has a long-term correspondence. He is elected to a local authority post and helps organise the local branch of the Irish Volunteers, while Dunsany edits and helps him secure publication for a first volume of his poetry.

Having sided with the faction of the Irish Volunteers which oppose participation in the war, he enlists in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and continues to write poetry on assignment, sending work to Lord Dunsany and to family and other friends. The poems he writes on active service reveal his pride at being a soldier, as he believes, in the service of Ireland. He often wonders whether he would find a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ypres.

According to Irish author and lecturer Alice Curtayne, “Ledwidge and his comrades had been toiling since the early morning at road-making. The army’s first need was men; their second, guns; their third roads. These latter consisted mainly of heavy beech planks bolted together, which could be rapidly laid down. No advance could be supported in that sodden land without a sufficiency of these communications tracks, six or seven feet wide. Supplies were conveyed by pack mules over the wooden paths. Survivors concur in placing the road work done by B Company that day one mile northeast of Hellfire Corner, so called because it was very exposed to German shelling. There was a violent rainstorm in the afternoon, shrouding the region in a gray monochrome. Sullenly, the enemy’s long-range guns continued to fling their shells far behind the lines. Road-work could not be suspended, however, as the tracks were in use as fast as they were laid down. Tea was issued to the men and, drenched to the skin, they stopped to swallow it. A shell exploded beside Ledwidge and he was instantly killed.”

A Roman Catholic military chaplain, Father Devas, is the first on the scene. That night, Father Devas writes in his diary, “Crowds at Holy Communion. Arranged for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.”

Ledwidge is first buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, at Boezinge, where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in action on the same day, also lies buried.

Dunsany arranges for the publication of more of Ledwidge’s poems, and a collected edition in 1919. Further poems, from the archives at Dunsany Castle and some material held by family, are later published by Ledwdige’s biographer, Alice Curtayne, and by one of the Ledwidge memorial societies. Ledwidge is selected as one of twelve prominent war poets for the exhibition Anthem for Doomed Youth at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2002, and memorialised at an event in Inchicore, Dublin, in 2017, with his work set to music by Anúna. A museum of his life and work is opened in his birthplace cottage in 1982. Some of his manuscripts are held in the National Library of Ireland and more in the archives of Dunsany Castle.


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Death of Helena Moloney, Feminist & Labour Activist

helena-moloneyHelena Mary Molony, prominent Irish republican, feminist and labour activist, dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967. She fights in the 1916 Easter Rising and later becomes the second woman president of the Irish Trades Union Congress (ITUC).

Molony is born in Dublin on January 15, 1883, to Michael Molony, a grocer, and Catherine McGrath. Her mother dies early in her life. Her father later remarries, but both became alcoholics, something which influences her years later.

In 1903, inspired by a pro-nationalist speech given by Maud Gonne, Molony joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann and begins a lifelong commitment to the nationalist cause. In 1908 she becomes the editor of the organisation’s monthly newspaper, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland). The newspaper brings together a nationalist group – Constance Markievicz designs the title page and writes the gardening column, Sydney Gifford writes for the paper and is on its production team and contributors include Eva Gore-Booth, Susan L. Mitchell, and Katharine Tynan, as well as Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, George William Russell, Roger Casement, Arthur Griffith and James Stephens.

Molony is central to the school meals activism of the movement. With Maud Gonne, Marie Perolz and others, she organises the supply of daily school meals to children in impoverished areas, and pressures Dublin Corporation and other bodies to provide proper meals to the starved children of Dublin city.

Molony also has a career as an actress, and is a member of the Abbey Theatre. However her primary commitment is to her political work. She is a strong political influence, credited with bringing many into the movement, including Constance Markievicz and Dr. Kathleen Lynn.

As a labour activist, Molony is a close colleague of Markievicz and of James Connolly. In November 1915 Connolly appoints her secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, in succession to Delia Larkin. This union had been formed during the strike at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory that was part of the 1913 Dublin lock-out. She manages the union’s shirt factory in Liberty Hall, founded to give employment to the strikers put out of work and blacklisted after the strike. She is friendly with the family of Thomas MacDonagh and his wife, Muriel, and is the godmother of their daughter Barbara, whose godfather is Patrick Pearse.

Fianna Éireann, the cadet body of the Irish Volunteers, is founded by Constance Markievicz in Molony’s home at 34 Lower Camden Street, Dublin, on August 16, 1909. Markievicz works closely with Molony and Bulmer Hobson in organising the fledgling Fianna. It is during this period of working together in building the Fianna that Molony and Hobson grow close and became romantically linked. However, the relationship does not last.

Molony is a prominent member of Cumann na mBan, the republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in April 1914 as an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan train alongside the men of the Irish Volunteers in preparation for the armed rebellion against the English forces in Ireland.

During the 1916 Easter Rising, Molony is one of the Citizen Army soldiers who attacks Dublin Castle. During the defence of City Hall, her commanding officer, Sean Connolly, is killed and she is captured and imprisoned until December 1916.

After the Irish Civil War, Molony becomes the second female president of the Irish Trades Union Congress. She remains active in the republican cause during the 1930s, particularly with the Women’s Prisoner’s Defense League and the People’s Rights Association.

Molony retires from public life in 1946, but continued to work for women’s labour rights. She dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967.


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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 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 Katharine Tynan, Novelist & Poet

katharine-tynanKatharine Tynan, Irish writer, known mainly for her novels and poetry, is born into a large farming family in Clondalkin, County Dublin, on January 23, 1859.

Tynan is educated at St. Catherine’s, a convent school in Drogheda. Her poetry is first published in 1878. She meets and becomes friendly with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1886. She goes on to play a major part in Dublin literary circles. In 1898 she marries English writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson and they move to England. After her marriage she usually writes under the name Katharine Tynan Hinkson, or variations thereof. Later she lives at Claremorris, County Mayo, when her husband is a magistrate from 1914 until 1919. Of their three children, Pamela Hinkson (1900–1982) was also known as a writer.

For a while, Tynan is a close associate of William Butler Yeats (who may have proposed marriage and been rejected, around 1885), and later a correspondent of Francis Ledwidge. Involved in the Irish Literary Revival, Tynan expresses concern for feminist causes, the poor, and the effects of World War I in her work. She also meditates on her Catholic faith. A prolific writer, she wrote more than one hundred novels, twelve collections of short stories, reminiscences, plays, and more than a dozen books of poetry.

Katharine Tynan Hinkson dies on April 2, 1931 in Wimbledon, London, at the age of 72.