seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of George Fitzmaurice, Playwright & Writer

George Fitzmaurice, Irish dramatist and short story writer, some of whose plays were broadcast on Radio Éireann, is born at Bedford House, Listowel, County Kerry on the January 28, 1877.

Fitzmaurice attends Duagh National School and later St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He is brought up in the Protestant faith as his father is a Protestant clergyman and is the vicar of St. John’s Church, Listowel. His father dies when he is fourteen years old and the family fortune declines. He takes a job in Dublin as a clerk in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland. In 1916 he enlists in the British Army and returns to Dublin after the war and is diagnosed with neurasthenia, rendering him fearful of crowds. On his return to Dublin, he takes up a position working for the Irish Land Commission.

Fitzmaurice and his eleven siblings are the children of a mixed marriage. He and his brothers are brought up as Protestants and his sisters are brought up as Roman Catholics. His family home at Bedford, together with its extensive lands has to be given up as collateral in respect of a £60 debt owed to the local butcher. Neither Fitzmaurice nor any of his eleven siblings are to marry or have any offspring. He is the last Fitzmaurice of Duagh. There are no photographs of him other than a sketch of him in later life.

Fitzmaurice’s first success was in 1907, with an Abbey Theatre production of his comedy The Country Dressmaker which features one of his most famous characters, Luke Quilter, “The man from the mountain.” This character proves to be a favourite with the audience, to the surprise of William Butler Yeats. The play’s commercial success brings necessary income to the Abbey Theatre in 1907. The play is ultimately broadcast by the Radio Éireann Players.

Fitzmaurice’s second play is a dramatic fantasy called The Pie Dish. It is heavily rejected and slated by critics and considered blasphemous. This leads to the rejection of another of his plays called The Dandy Dolls which is now understood as another of his best plays. It is produced in the Abbey Theatre in 1969, six years after his death.

During Fitzmaurice’s lifetime, some of his dramatic works are produced by poet Austin Clarke in Lyric Theatre, Dublin. In 1923 his play Twixt by Giltinans and the Carmodys is also performed on Abbey and eight more of his plays are printed in the literary journey The Dublin Magazine from 1924 to 1925.

The effects of having fought in World War I lead to Fitzmaurice becoming increasingly reclusive over time. With a fear of travelling and people or crowds, he spends his later years following “monotonous routines in Dublin.” On May 12, 1963, he dies in poverty at his home at 3 Harcourt Street, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. In his room there are no pictures of himself, few personal mementos, but he does have a copy of almost every play he had published, as well as some unpublished drafts. Besides his personal clothing, there is little else. He dies without leaving a will.

In 1965, RTÉ reports that “the works of George Fitzmaurice are now undergoing something of a revival.” A fellow Kerry playwright, John B. Keane, states at the time that Fitzmaurice is increasingly being recognised as the great dramatist he truly was. He also describes his work as having “practical clarity of speech coupled with a great conciseness, and a tightness in his writing and in his construction.” Michael Connor, the man who owns the Fitzmaurice property in Daugh, recounts that he often saw Fitzmaurice in the town after his retirement from the civil service but by that time the dramatist had completely lost interest in seeing his own plays on the stage.

In his native Daugh, The George Fitzmaurice Library is founded, and on October 14, 1995 a headstone that is sculpted by a local and commissioned by the Duagh Historical Society, is placed over Fitzmaurice’s grave.


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Assassination of Sir Arthur Edward Vicars

arthur-vicarsSir Arthur Edward Vicars, genealogist and heraldic expert, is assassinated in Kilmorna, County Kerry by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 14, 1921.

Vicars is born on July 27, 1862 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, and is the youngest child of Colonel William Henry Vicars of the 61st Regiment of Foot and his wife Jane (nee Gun-Cunninghame). This is his mother’s second marriage, the first being to Pierce O’Mahony by whom she has two sons. He is very attached to his Irish half-brothers and spends much time at their residences. On completing his education at Magdalen College School, Oxford and Bromsgrove School he moves permanently to Ireland.

Vicars quickly develops an expertise in genealogical and heraldic matters and makes several attempts to be employed by the Irish heraldic administration of Ulster King of Arms, even offering to work for no pay. In 1891 he is one of the founder members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society and remains its honorary secretary until his death.

Vicars first attempts to find a post in the Office of Arms when in 1892 he applies unsuccessfully for the post of Athlone Pursuivant on the death of the incumbent, Bernard Louis Burke. In a letter dated October 2, 1892 his half-brother Pierce Mahony writes that Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms, is dying and urges him to move at once. Burke dies in December 1892, and Vicars is appointed to the office by letters patent dated February 2, 1893. In 1896 he is knighted, in 1900 he is appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) and in 1903 he is elevated to Knight Commander of the Order (KCVO). He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and a trustee of the National Library of Ireland.

In 1897 Vicars publishes An Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536 -1810, a listing of all persons in wills proved in that period. This work becomes very valuable to genealogists after the destruction of the source material for the book in 1922 when the Public Record Office at the Four Courts is destroyed at the start of the Irish Civil War.

Vicars’ career is very distinguished until 1907 when it is hit by the scandal of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of St. Patrick, he has custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the “crown jewels.” They are found to be missing on July 6, and a Crown Jewel Commission is established in January 1908 to investigate the disappearance. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy refuse to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings are published on January 25, 1908 and he is dismissed as Ulster five days later.

On November 23, 1912, the Daily Mail publishes serious false allegations against Vicars. The substance of the article is that Vicars had allowed a woman reported to be his mistress to obtain a copy of the key to the safe and that she had fled to Paris with the jewels. In July 1913 he successfully sues the paper for libel. The paper admits that the story is completely baseless and that the woman in question does not exist. He is awarded damages of £5,000.

Vicars leaves Dublin and moves to Kilmorna, near Listowel, County Kerry, the former seat of one of his half-brothers. He marries Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, County Westmeath on July 4, 1917. He continues to protest his innocence until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.

In May 1920 up to a hundred armed men break into Kilmorna House and hold Vicars at gunpoint while they attempt to break into the house’s strongroom. On April 14, 1921, he is taken from Kilmorna House, which is set afire, and shot dead in front of his wife. According to the communiqué issued from Dublin Castle, thirty armed men took him from his bed and shot him, leaving a placard around his neck denouncing him as an informer. On April 27, as an official reprisal, four shops are destroyed by British Armed Forces in the town of Listowel. The proclamation given under Martial law and ordering their demolition states:

“For any outrage carried out in future against the lives or property of loyalist officials, reprisals will be taken against selected persons known to have rebel sympathies, although their implication has not been proved.”

Vicars is buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire on April 20, 1921. His wife dies in Somerset in 1946.


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Birth of John B. Keane, Irish Playwright & Novelist

john-b-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, Irish playwright, novelist and essayist, is born in Listowel, County Kerry on July 21, 1928.

Keane is the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah Purtill. He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the United Kingdom between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender and lives in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that he is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the UK, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955 where he writes plays for the local theatre company and sponsors, from 1971, the annual Listowel Writers’ Week. He marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna.

His first play, Sive (1959), is initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin but goes on to win the amateur All-Ireland Drama Festival. Later plays include The Field (1965), which is released in a bowdlerized film version in 1990, and Big Maggie (1969), which is produced on Broadway in 1982. In 1998 Keane is honoured with a medal from the Abbey for his contribution to Irish theatre.

Keane is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish club of PEN International and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

John Keane dies of prostate cancer on May 30, 2002 in Listowel at the age of 73.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.


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Burning of the Sligo Railway Station

sligo-railway-stationForty Republicans burn the railway station in Sligo, County Sligo on January 11, 1923 during the Irish Civil War, destroying it and badly damaging seven engines and forty carriages. Seven engines are sent down the line to the quay and one crashes through a concrete wall into the harbour.

The Great Southern and Western Railway Company releases a report detailing the damage Anti-Treaty forces have caused to their property over the previous six months – 375 lines damaged, 42 engines derailed, 51 over-bridges and 207 under-bridges destroyed, 83 signal cabins, and 13 other buildings destroyed. In the same month, Republicans destroy the railway stations at Ballybunion and Listowel.

The Sligo station opens on December 3, 1862 when Sligo acquires rail links to Dublin. The Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway link to Enniskillen to the north in 1881. A link to Limerick and the south follows in 1895. The line to Enniskillen closes in 1957 and passenger services to Limerick close in 1963. For many years CIÉ keeps the latter line open for freight traffic, and although it is now disused, it forms part of the Western Rail Corridor redevelopment project.

In 1966 Sligo railway station is renamed Sligo Mac Diarmada Station after Irish rebel Seán Mac Diarmada from County Leitrim.

Today, Sligo Mac Diarmada station is a mainline railway station which serves the town of Sligo. It is a terminal station, with two platforms. There is a passing loop at the approach to the station. Iarnród Éireann, Ireland’s national railway operator, runs inter-city rail services between Sligo and Dublin on the Dublin-Sligo railway line.


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Birth of Maurice Walsh, Author of “The Quiet Man”

maurice-walshMaurice Walsh, Irish novelist best known for the short story The Quiet Man which is later made into an Oscar-winning movie, is born on April 21, 1879 in Ballydonoghue near Listowel, County Kerry.

Walsh is the third child of ten and the first son born to John Walsh, a local farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Buckley who live in a three-room thatched farmhouse. John Walsh’s main interests are books and horses and he himself does little work about the farm, preferring to have a hired man. The most famous of these hired men is Paddy Bawn Enright, whose name is immortalised by Walsh in his story The Quiet Man, although the name is not used in the later motion picture. John Walsh passes on to his son not only a love of books but also legends and folk tales that are later featured of many of Walsh’s books.

Walsh goes to school in Lisselton, a mile or so up the road from Ballydonoghue, and later goes to St. Michael’s College in Listowel to prepare for the Civil Service examination. He enters the service on July 2, 1901 as an Assistant Revenue Officer in the Customs and Excise Service. He is posted to Scotland before the year is out and, although he subsequently has a number of postings outside Scotland, he spends most of his time there while in the British service.

Walsh has a life-long interest in writing and, during his early years in Scotland, this interest starts to bear fruit. He submits some of his stories and has two published in the Irish Emerald in 1908. Later that year, on August 8, 1908, Walsh marries Caroline Begg in Dufftown, Banffshire, Scotland.

When the Irish Free State is formed in 1922, Walsh transfers to its excise service and moves to Dublin. Fighting is still going on there at the time and he leaves his family in Scotland until it is safe for them to join him in 1923. The story The Key Above the Door is written during the months of separation although it is not published until some years later, appearing first in Chambers Journal as a serial between December 1925 and May 1926 and then in book form, published by W & R Chambers Ltd., in July 1926.

Sales of Walsh’s books grow steadily, especially in the wake of an unsolicited and generous letter from J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, praising The Key Above the Door, which Chambers is subsequently able to use on dust covers of Walsh’s books.

Walsh retires from government service in 1933 but his success as a writer continues. In that same year he sells a story to The Saturday Evening Post, then a well-known weekly magazine published in the United States. That story, later to be incorporated in the collection of stories published under the title Green Rushes, is The Quiet Man.

Director John Ford reads the story in 1933 and soon purchases the rights to it for $10. Walsh is paid another $2,500 when Republic Pictures buys the idea and receives a final payment of $3,750 when the film is actually made. Filming commences on June 7, 1951 with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the leading roles. All of the outdoor scenes are shot on location in County Mayo and County Galway. The inside scenes are filmed in late July at the Republic Studios in Hollywood. The Quiet Man wins the Academy Award for Best Director for John Ford, his fourth, and for Best Cinematography.

Walsh becomes President of the Irish branch of PEN International in 1938 and visits the United States for an international meeting that year as the Irish delegate. His wife Caroline is able to accompany him although she has been in failing health for some years and ultimately dies in January 1941. Walsh himself dies on February 18, 1964 in Blackrock, a suburb of Dublin, and is buried in the Esker cemetery at Lucan, County Dublin. President Éamon de Valera attended Walsh’s funeral Mass.

In 2013, The Quiet Man is selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”