seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary

arthur-joyce-lunel-caryIrish novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary is born in a hospital in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on December 7, 1888. Shortly after his birth the family moved to London.

Cary is born into an old Anglo-Irish family, and at age 16 he studies painting in Edinburgh and then in Paris. From 1909 to 1912 he is at Trinity College, Oxford, where he reads law. Having joined the colonial service in 1914, he serves in the Nigeria Regiment during World War I. He is wounded while fighting in Cameroon and returns to civil duty in Nigeria in 1917 as a district officer. West Africa becomes the locale of his early novels.

Resolved to become a writer, Cary settles in Oxford in 1920. Although that year he publishes ten short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, he decides he knows too little about philosophy, ethics, and history to continue writing in good conscience. Study occupies the next several years, and it is only in 1932 that his first novel, Aissa Saved, appears. The story of an African girl converted to Christianity but still retaining pagan elements in her faith, it is followed by three more African novels — An American Visitor (1933), The African Witch (1936), and Mister Johnson (1939) — and a novel about the decline of the British Empire, Castle Corner (1938). Childhood is the theme of his next two novels, his own in A House of Children (1941) and that of a cockney wartime evacuee in the country in Charley Is My Darling (1940).

Cary’s trilogy on art begins with the first-person narration of a woman, Sara Monday, in Herself Surprised (1941) and follows with that of two men in her life, the lawyer Tom Wilcher in To Be a Pilgrim (1942) and the artist Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (1944), his best-known novel. Monday is portrayed as a warm-hearted, generous woman who is victimized both by the conservative upper-class Wilcher and by the talented but disreputable painter Jimson. The latter character is a social rebel and visionary artist whose humorous philosophy and picaresque adventures in The Horse’s Mouth helped make him one of the best-known characters in 20th-century fiction.

Similarly, Cary’s other trilogy is seen from the vantage of a politician’s wife in A Prisoner of Grace (1952), the politician himself in Except the Lord (1953), and the wife’s second husband in Not Honour More (1955).

In 1952, Cary has some muscle problems which are originally diagnosed as bursitis, but as more symptoms are noted over the next two years, the diagnosis is changed to that of motor neuron disease (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in North America), a wasting and gradual paralysis that is terminal. As his physical powers fail, Cary has to have a pen tied to his hand and his arm supported by a rope to write. Finally, he resorts to dictation until unable to speak, and then ceases writing for the first time since 1912. His last work, The Captive and the Free (1959), first volume of a projected trilogy on religion, is unfinished at his death on March 29, 1957. His short stories are collected in Spring Song (1960).

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Birth of Composer Sir Herbert Hamilton Harty

herbert-hamilton-hartySir Herbert Hamilton Harty, composer, conductor, pianist and organist, is born on December 4, 1879, in Hillsborough, County Down.

Harty’s father teaches him the viola, the piano and counterpoint, and, at the age of twelve, he follows his father’s profession and is appointed organist of Magheracoll Church, County Antrim.

Harty takes further posts in his teenage years as a church organist in Belfast and Bray. While in the latter, he comes under the influence of Michele Esposito, professor of piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, who encourages him to pursue a career as a piano accompanist. As Bray is only twelve miles from Dublin, Harty is able go into the city to hear an orchestra for the first time in his life.

After his early career as a church organist in his native Ireland, Harty moves to London
at about age 20, soon becoming a well-known piano accompanist. The Musical Times calls him “the prince of accompanists.” As a composer he writes throughout his career, many of his works being well received, though few are regularly performed in the 21st century.

In his career as a conductor, which begins in 1904, Harty is particularly noted as an interpreter of the music of Hector Berlioz. From 1920 to 1933 he is the chief conductor of The Hallé symphony orchestra in Manchester, which he returns to the high standards and critical acclaim that it had enjoyed under its founder, Charles Hallé. His last permanent post is with the London Symphony Orchestra, but it lasts only two years, from 1932 to 1934, as Harty does not prove to be a box-office draw. According to a historian of the orchestra, Richard Morrison, Harty is “brutally and hurtfully” dropped in 1934.

During his conducting career, Harty makes some recordings with his orchestras. Shortly after his dismissal by the London Symphony Orchestra, Harty begins to suffer the symptoms of a brain tumour. After surgery which includes the removal of his right eye, he resumes his career until 1940, but the tumour returns to cause his death at the age of 61 in Hove on February 19, 1941. He is cremated, and his ashes are interred in the grounds of Hillsborough parish church, near the front door. There is a separate memorial in the church.


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Death of Poet & Novelist Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh, Irish poet and novelist whose best-known works include the novel Tarry Flynn, and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger,” dies in Dublin on November 30, 1967. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.

Kavanagh was born in rural Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on October 21, 1904, the fourth of ten children of James Kavanagh, a cobbler and farmer, and Bridget Quinn. He is a pupil at Kednaminsha National School from 1909 to 1916, leaving in the sixth year at the age of 13. He becomes apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker and works on his farm. He is also goalkeeper for the Inniskeen Gaelic football team.

Kavanagh’s first published work appears in 1928 in the Dundalk Democrat and the Irish Independent. In 1931, he walks 80 kilometres to meet George William Russell in Dublin, where Kavanagh’s brother is a teacher. Russell gives him books, among them works by Feodor Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Browning, and becomes Kavanagh’s literary adviser.

Kavanagh’s first collection, Ploughman and Other Poems, is published in 1936. It is notable for its realistic portrayal of Irish country life, free of the romantic sentiment often seen at the time in rural poems, a trait he abhorred. Two years after his first collection is published he has yet to make a significant impression. The Times Literary Supplement describes him as “a young Irish poet of promise rather than of achievement.”

In 1938 Kavanagh goes to London and remains there for about five months. The Green Fool, a loosely autobiographical novel, is published in 1938 and Kavanagh is accused of libel by Oliver St. John Gogarty who sues Kavanagh for his description of mistaking Gogarty’s “white-robed maid for his wife or his mistress.” Gogarty is awarded £100 in damages. The book, which recounts Kavanagh’s rural childhood and his attempts to become a writer, receives international recognition and good reviews.

Patrick Kavanagh dies on November 30, 1967 from an attack of bronchitis, bringing to a close the life of one of Ireland’s most controversial and colorful literary figures. Kavanagh’s reputation as a poet is based on the lyrical quality of his work, his mastery of language and form and his ability to transform the ordinary into something of significance.


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Death of Aeneas Coffey, Inventor & Distiller

Aeneas Coffey, Irish inventor and distiller, dies in England on November 26, 1852. He is born in Calais, France, to Irish parents in 1780. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and enters the excise service around 1799–1800 as a gauger. He marries Susanna Logie in 1808, and they have a son, also named Aeneas, who may have been their only child.

According to British customs and excise records, Coffey is a remarkable man with widespread interests and multiple talents who rises quickly through the excise service ranks. He is appointed sub-commissioner of Inland Excise and Taxes for the district of Drogheda in 1813. He is appointed Surveyor of Excise for Clonmel and Wicklow in 1815. In 1816 he is promoted to the same post at Cork. By 1818 he is Acting Inspector General of Excise for the whole of Ireland and within two years is promoted to Inspector General of Excise in Dublin.

Coffey is a strong, determined upholder of the law, but aware of its shortcomings. He survives many nasty skirmishes with illegal distillers and smugglers, particularly in County Donegal in Ulster and in the west of Ireland, where moonshining is most rife. On several occasions he proposes to the government simple, pragmatic solutions to rules and regulations which have hampered legal distillers. Not all of his ideas are accepted. Between 1820 and 1824 he submits reports and gives evidence to Parliamentary Commissions of Inquiry on many aspects of distilling, including formalising the different spellings of Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky. His 1822 report is solidly backed by the Irish distillers. He believes in making it viable to distill legally, and illegal distilling might largely disappear.

He assists the government in the drafting of the 1823 Excise Act which makes it easier to distill legally. It sanctions the distilling of whiskey in return for a licence fee of £10, and a set payment per gallon of proof spirit. It also provides for the appointment of a single Board of Excise, under Treasury control, for the whole of the United Kingdom, replacing the separate excise boards for England, Scotland and Ireland. The 1823 Excise Act also provides for not more than four assistant commissioners of excise to transact current business in Scotland and Ireland, under the control of the board in London. Coffey resigns from government excise service at his own request in 1824.

Between his Dublin education and his work as an excise officer, Coffey has ample opportunity to observe the design and workings of whiskey stills, as Ireland is the world’s leading producer of whiskey in the 19th century, and Dublin is at the center of that global industry. This is how Coffey becomes familiar with a design differing from the traditional copper pot alembic still commonly used in Ireland, the continuous, or column, still. First patented by a Cork County distillery in 1822, the column still remains a relatively inefficient piece of equipment, although it points the way towards a cheaper and more productive way to distill alcohol. It is that last point that captures Coffey’s imagination. He makes his own modifications to existing column still designs, so as to allow a greater portion of the vapors to re-circulate into the still instead of moving into the receiver with the spirit. The result is more efficient, producing a lighter spirit at higher alcohol content. Coffey patents his design in 1830, and it becomes the basis for every column still used ever since.

On his retirement from service, Coffey goes into the Irish distilling business. For a short time he runs the Dodder Bank Distillery, Dublin and Dock Distillery in Grand Canal Street, Dublin, before setting up on his own as Aeneas Coffey Whiskey Company in 1830. The development of the Coffey still makes distillation of his own whiskey much more economical.

Nothing is known of the final years and last resting place of Aeneas Coffey. His only son, also called Aeneas Coffey, emigrates to South Africa and manages a distillery. He marries but his wife dies childless. He returns to England and spends his final years near London.


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Execution of Robert Erskine Childers

During the Irish Civil War, British writer and Irish republican Robert Erskine Childers is executed by the Irish Free State government at the Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin on November 24, 1922.

The London-born son of a British scholar and an Irish mother, Childers is a lifelong Protestant, itself an anomaly since Irish nationalism maps strongly to Catholicism. In his early years his loyalty was with the British Empire. In his twenties, Childers volunteers for the Second Boer War, and he later says the rank savagery and underlying injustice of England’s war “changed the whole current of my life and made me a Liberal and a Nationalist.”

Laying down the sword, Childers takes up the pen and writes several books of military history. He also writes a novel, The Riddle of the Sands, that has a claim of being the first spy novel. The Riddle of the Sands has never gone out of print since it was published in 1903.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, Childers’ warnings against the German challenge to British hegemony are prophetic, but he is himself becoming a man divided. In 1914 he runs German guns to Irish nationalists aboard his yacht Asgard and then signs up for the royal navy when World War I erupts. The British crackdown on the Easter Rising during the war completes his radicalization. He moves to Dublin and turns his eloquence against the British.

Childers is swept into the tragedy of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War that follows. Although both he and Michael Collins are in the delegation that produces the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty, Childers breaks with Collins over it and backs the Irish Republican Army (IRA) nationalists who fight the Irish Free State.

After Collins’s assassination, emergency laws promulgate the death sentence for anyone caught armed without authorization. Childers is a writer, not a partisan, but he is arrested in early November with a small sidearm, a gift Collins had given him back when they were on the same side. It is a time of bloody justice and they throw the book at him.

Childers knows as well as Collins had that the internecine conflict would have to end. He faces his execution with awe-inspiring forgiveness. Summoning his 16-year-old son to prison the night before his execution, Childers extracts a promise from the boy that he will find everyone who signed his death warrant and shake their hands. This son, young Erskine Hamilton Childers, eventually becomes President of Ireland.

Childers himself likewise shakes the hands of his own firing squad, one by one. His last words, reported in a number of slightly different variations, are lightheartedly addressed to them: “Take a step or two forwards, lads. It will be easier that way.”


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Birth of Painter Richard Rothwell

Richard Rothwell, nineteenth-century Irish portrait and genre painter, is born on November 20, 1800 in Athlone, County Westmeath.

Rothwell is born to James and Elizabeth and is the oldest of their seven children. He trains to become a painter at the Dublin Society‘s school from 1814 until 1820 and wins a silver medal for his work. At the age of 24, he is made a member of the newly established Royal Hibernian Academy and exhibits portraits there from 1826 to 1829. He subsequently moves to London and works as a studio assistant to Thomas Lawrence. When Lawrence dies in 1830, Rothwell completes many of his unfinished works and is poised to become the next foremost portrait painter in Britain and Ireland.

According to Leoneé Ormond’s biographical article in the Grove Dictionary of Art, Rothwell “was at the height of his powers from 1829 to 1831” and he “was much influenced by Lawrence, but he lacked the incisiveness and flair of his master.” According to Fintan Cullen‘s biographical entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rothwell’s “portraits are highly accomplished” and “fine examples” including those of novelist Gerald Griffin and Mary Shelley.

From 1831 to 1834, Rothwell tours Italy to study Italian art so that he can paint history paintings. In the 1830s, he starts painting genre pictures, such as The Poor Mendicants (1837). He usually paints Italian-inspired pieces, such as his semi-nude study Calisto, a work he considers to be his masterpiece. He is furious when the painting is poorly hung at the 1862 International Exhibition in London and publishes a pamphlet on the topic.

When Rothwell returns to London, his popularity has evaporated. He lives and exhibits works in Ireland, the United States, London, and Italy, but he never again achieves the same level of popularity he had reached in the late 1820s.

In 1842 Rothwell marries Rosa Marshall. The couple has several children.  Rothwell contracts a fever while working in Rome and dies on September 13, 1868. Joseph Severn, who painted a portrait of the Romantic poet John Keats, arranges for Rothwell’s funeral and tomb in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.


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Premiere of “The Quare Fellow”

Brendan Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, premieres at the Pike Theatre in Dublin on November 19, 1954, to critical success. The title is taken from a Hiberno-English pronunciation of queer.

The Quare Fellow is initially offered to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but is turned down. The play has its London première in May 1956 at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. On July 24, 1956 it transfers to the Comedy Theatre, London. In September 1956 the Abbey Theatre finally performs The Quare Fellow. It has such success that the Abbey’s artistic director, Ria Mooney, pushes the next play back to allow The Quare Fellow to run for six weeks. Its first New York performance is on November 27, 1958 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

The play is set in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. The antihero of the play, the Quare Fellow, is never seen or heard but rather functions as the play’s central conceit. He is a man condemned to die on the following day, for an unmentioned crime. Whatever it is, it revolts his fellow inmates far less than that of the Other Fellow, a very camp, almost Wildean, gay man.

There are three generations of prisoners in Mountjoy including boisterous youngsters who can irritate both other inmates and the audience and the weary old lags Neighbour and “methylated martyr” Dunlavin.

The first act is played out in the cramped area outside five cells and is comedic, sometimes rather like an Irish episode of Porridge. After the interval, the pace slows considerably and the play becomes much darker, as the time for the execution approaches. The focus moves to the exercise yard and to the workers who are digging the grave for the soon-to-be-executed Quare Fellow.

The play is a grimly realistic portrait of prison life in Ireland in the 1950s, and a reminder of the days in which homosexuality was illegal and the death penalty relatively common. The play is based on Behan’s own prison experiences, and highlights the perceived barbarity of capital punishment, then in use in Ireland. The play also attacks the false piety in attitudes to sex, politics and religion.

The Auld Triangle“, a song from the opening of the play, has become an Irish music standard and is known by many who are unaware of its link to The Quare Fellow.

In 1962 the play is adapted for the screen by Arthur Dreifuss and stars Patrick McGoohan, Sylvia Syms and Walter Macken. Although the film receives some favourable reviews, it is not regarded as a faithful adaptation of the play.