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


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Birth of Agnes O’Farrelly, Academic & Professor of Irish at UCD

Agnes Winifred O’Farrelly (Irish: Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh), academic and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin (UCD), is born Agnes Farrelly on June 24, 1874, in Raffony House, Virginia, County Cavan.

O’Farrelly is one of five daughters and three sons of Peter Dominic Farrelly and Ann Farrelly (née Sheridan), a family with a traditional interest in the Irish language. After her articles Glimpses of Breffni and Meath are published in The Anglo-Celt in 1895, the editor, E. T. O’Hanlon, encourages her to study literature. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland (BA 1899, MA 1900), she is appointed a lecturer in Irish at Alexandra College and Loreto College. A founder member in 1902, along with Mary Hayden, of the Irish Association of Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates, to promote equal opportunity in university education, she gives evidence to the Robertson (1902) and Fry (1906) commissions on Irish university education, arguing successfully for full co-education at UCD. Appointed lecturer in modern Irish at UCD in 1909, she is also a member of the first UCD governing body and the National University of Ireland (NUI) senate (1914–49). In 1932, on the retirement of Douglas Hyde, she is appointed professor of modern Irish at UCD, holding the position until her retirement in 1947. She is also president of the Irish Federation of University Women (1937–39) and of the National University Women Graduates’ Association (NUWGA) (1943–47).

One of the most prominent women in the Gaelic League, a member of its coiste gnótha (executive committee) and a director of the Gaelic press An Cló-Chumann Ltd, O’Farrelly is a close friend of most of its leading figures, especially Douglas Hyde, Kuno Meyer, and Eoin MacNeill. One of Hyde’s allies in his battle to avoid politicising the league, she is so close to him that students at UCD enjoy speculating about the nature of their friendship. She advocates pan-Celticism, but does not get involved in disputes on the matter within the league. A founder member, and subsequently principal for many years, of the Ulster College of Irish, Cloghaneely, County Donegal, she is also associated with the Leinster and Connacht colleges and serves as chairperson of the Federation of Irish Language Summer Schools.

Having presided at the inaugural meeting of Cumann na mBan in 1914, espousing its subordinate role in relation to the Irish Volunteers, O’Farrelly leaves the organisation soon afterwards because of her support for recruitment to the British Army during World War I. A close friend of Roger Casement, in 1916, along with Col. Maurice Moore she gathers a petition that seeks a reprieve of his death sentence. She is a member of a committee of women which negotiate unsuccessfully with Irish Republican Army (IRA) leaders to avoid civil war in 1922, and is heavily defeated as an independent candidate for the NUI constituency in the general elections of 1923 and June 1927. In 1937 she is actively involved in the National University Women Graduates’ Association’s campaign against the constitution, seeking deletion of articles perceived as discriminating against women.

Popular among students at UCD, O’Farrelly has a reputation as a social figure and entertains frequently at her homes in Dublin and the Donegal Gaeltacht. A founder member (1914) and president (1914–51) of the UCD camogie club, she persuades William Gibson, 2nd Baron Ashbourne, to donate the Ashbourne Cup for the camogie intervarsities. She is also president of the Camogie Association of Ireland in 1941–42. A supporter of native Irish industry, she is president of the Irish Industrial Development Association and the Homespun Society, and administrator of the John Connor Magee Trust for the development of Gaeltacht industry. A poet and writer in both Irish and English, often using the pseudonym ‘Uan Uladh’, her principal publications in prose are The reign of humbug (1900), Leabhar an Athar Eoghan (1903), Filidheacht Segháin Uí Neachtáin (1911), and her novel Grádh agus crádh (1901); and in poetry Out of the depths (1921) and Áille an domhain (1927).

O’Farrelly retires from UCD in 1947, and lives at 38 Brighton Road, Rathgar. An oil portrait by Seán Keating, RHA, is presented to her by the NUWGA on her retirement. She dies on November 5, 1951 in Dublin. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and President Seán T. O’Kelly attend her funeral to Deans Grange Cemetery. She never marries, and leaves an estate valued at £3,109.


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.