seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


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Birth of Gerald O’Donovan, Priest & Writer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityGerald O’Donovan, Irish priest and writer born Jeremiah Donovan, is born in Kilkeel, County Down  on July 15, 1871.

O’Donovan is the son of a pier builder. He attends Ardnaree College in Killala and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He leaves Maynooth after ordination for the Diocese of Clonfert in 1895 and is appointed as a Roman Catholic priest to Loughrea, County Galway between 1896 and 1904. He is an enthusiastic advocate of the Gaelic League and the Irish Cooperative Association, and promotes his views in articles and lectures. His literary friends include Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George Moore. He is in charge of decorating St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea in 1901, the financing provided by O’Donovan’s close friend Edward Martyn. He quit Loughrea in 1904 after the arrival of a new bishop, Thomas O’Dea.

O’Donovan moves to London but, failing to find work as a priest, he leaves the Catholic priesthood in May 1908. He becomes a subwarden at Toynbee Hall in the East End in March 1910. In October that year, he marries Florence Emily Beryl Verschoyle (1886–1968), the daughter of an Irish Protestant colonel fifteen years his junior. They have three children, two daughters and a son.

In 1913, O’Donovan publishes his first and best known novel, Father Ralph, which draws in large part on his own life. Around this time he changes his first name from Jeremiah to Gerald. Another novel titled Waiting is published in 1914. He joins the war effort in 1915, and rises to become head of the Italian section at the Ministry of Information in 1918. There he meets his secretary and future lover, English novelist Rose Macaulay.

O’Donovan publishes a few more novels after the war: How They Did It (1920), Conquest (1920), Vocations (1921), and The Holy Tree (1922). The clandestine affair with Macaulay continues for nearly two decades. In 1939, the pair are on holiday in the Lake District when they meet with a motoring accident, which damages O’Donovan’s health. He dies of cancer in Albury, Surrey three years later, on July 26, 1942. His letters to Macaulay had been destroyed the previous year when her flat in Central London was bombed during the Blitz.

In her novel The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay features a woman character (Laurie) torn between her attraction to Christianity and her adulterous love for a married man. This is considered to reflect the author’s relationship with O’Donovan.


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Birth of Sculptor John Hughes

john-hughesJohn Hughes, Irish sculptor, is born in Dublin on January 30, 1865.

Hughes is educated at North Richmond Street CBS. He enters the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1878 and trains as a part-time student for ten years. In 1890 he wins a scholarship to the South Kensington School of Art in London, after which another scholarship takes him to Paris, France. He then studies further in Italy.

Hughes is appointed as teacher to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1894 and in 1902 becomes Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Hibernian Academy School. His last residence in Dublin is at 28 Lennox Street, Portobello.

From 1903 Hughes lives in Italy and in France, dying in Nice in 1941.

Hughes’s influences are mainly from the Italian Renaissance and include:


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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 Ciaran Fitzgerald, Former Rugby Union Player

ciaran-fitzgeraldCiaran Fitzgerald, Irish former rugby union player, is born on June 4, 1952 in Loughrea, County Galway. He captains Ireland to the Triple Crown in 1982 and 1985, and the Five Nations Championship in 1983. He also captains the British and Irish Lions on their 1983 tour. After the conclusion of his playing career, he serves as coach of the national team.

Though most widely remembered for playing rugby union, Fitzgerald is an accomplished sportsman, winning two All-Ireland boxing championships. He also plays minor hurling for Galway GAA with his team reaching the minor final against Cork GAA in 1970.

Fitzgerald first plays rugby while at Garbally College, and is chosen to play the position of hooker by teacher and priest John Kirby. He studies at University College Galway, where he plays for University College Galway RFC and gains a Bachelor’s degree in 1973. He then goes on to play senior rugby for St. Mary’s College in Dublin.

Playing in the amateur era, Fitzgerald also maintains a career in the Irish Army. He also serves as the aide-de-camp to President Patrick Hillery during his career.

Fitzgerald rises to prominence in the game of rugby, making his test debut for Ireland against Australia on June 3, 1979, during an Irish tour of Australia. His last test comes against Scotland on March 15, 1986 in the 1986 Five Nations Championship. In total, Fitzgerald receives 22 competitive and three friendly caps for Ireland. He scores once, a try against Wales, in the 1980 Five Nations Championship. He also captains the British and Irish Lions team on their 1983 tour, when the team travels to New Zealand and is beaten in each test against the All Blacks.

Following his retirement from playing, Fitzgerald continues to be involved in the game. He serves as head coach of Ireland from 1990 to 1992, leading the team to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where they reach the quarterfinals. He also had a career in media, appearing on Setanta Sports and RTÉ, the Irish national TV and radio service, as a rugby pundit.


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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.