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

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Death of Leonard McNally, Barrister, Playwright, United Irishman

Leonard McNally, an Irish barrister, playwright, lyricist, founding member of the United Irishmen and spy for the British Government within Irish republican circles, dies in Dublin on June 8, 1820.

McNally is born in Dublin in 1752, the son of a merchant and wine importer. He is raised by his mother with the support of his uncle. He is born into a Roman Catholic family, but at some point in the 1760s he converts to the Church of Ireland. He is passionate about theatre, entirely self-educated and initially becomes a merchant in Bordeaux like his father.

However, in 1774 McNally goes to London to study law at the Middle Temple but returns to Dublin to be called to the Irish bar in 1776. After returning to London in the late 1770s, he qualifies as a barrister in England as well, in 1783. He practises for a short time in London and, while there, supplements his income by writing plays and editing The Public Ledger.

Returning to Ireland, McNally developes a successful career as a barrister in Dublin. He develops an expertise in the law of evidence and, in 1802, publishes what becomes a much-used textbook, The Rules of Evidence on Pleas of the Crown. The text plays a crucial role in defining and publicising the beyond reasonable doubt standard for criminal trials.

Not long after returning to Ireland, McNally becomes involved in radical politics, having already in 1782 published a pamphlet in support of the Irish cause. He becomes Dublin’s leading radical lawyer of the day. In 1792, he represents James Napper Tandy, a radical member of the Irish Parliament, in a legal dispute over parliamentary privilege. In the early 1790s, he becomes a founder member of the United Irishmen, a clandestine society which soon develops into a revolutionary Irish republican organisation. He ranks high in its leadership and acts as the organisation’s chief lawyer, representing many United Irishmen in court. This includes defending Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, the leaders of the 1798 and 1803 rebellions respectively, at their trials for treason. In 1793, he is wounded in a duel with Sir Jonah Barrington, who had insulted the United Irishmen. Barrington subsequently describes McNally as “a good-natured, hospitable, talented and dirty fellow.”

After McNally’s death in 1820, it emerges that he had for many years been an informant for the government, and one of the most successful British spies in Irish republican circles that there has ever been. In 1794, when a United Irishmen plot to seek aid from Revolutionary France is uncovered by the British government, McNally turns informer to save himself, although, subsequently, he also receives payment for his services. He is paid an annual pension in respect of his work as an informer of £300 a year, from 1794 until his death in 1820.

From 1794, McNally systematically informs on his United Irishmen colleagues, who often gather at his house for meetings. It is he that betrays Lord Edward FitzGerald, one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion, as well as Robert Emmet in 1803. A significant factor in the failure of the 1798 rebellion is the excellent intelligence provided to the government by its agents. McNally is considered to be one of the most damaging informers.

The United Irishmen represented by McNally at their trials are invariably convicted and he is paid by the crown for passing the secrets of their defence to the prosecution. During the trial of Emmet, he provides details of the defence’s strategy to the crown and conducts his client’s case in a way that assists the prosecution. For example, three days before the trial he assures the authorities that Emmet “does not intend to call a single witness, nor to trouble any witness for the Crown with a cross-examination, unless they misrepresent facts… He will not controvert the charge by calling a single witness.” For his assistance to the prosecution in Emmet’s case, he is paid a bonus of £200, on top of his pension, half of which is paid five days before the trial.

After McNally’s death, his activities as a government agent become generally known when his heir attempts to continue to collect his pension of £300 per year. He is still remembered with opprobrium by Irish nationalists. In 1997, the Sinn Féin newspaper, An Phoblacht, in an article on McNally, describes him as “undoubtedly one of the most treacherous informers of Irish history.”

McNally is a successful dramatist and writes a number of well-constructed but derivative comedies, as well as comic operas. His first dramatic work is The Ruling Passion, a comic opera written in 1771, and he is known to have authored at least twelve plays between 1779 and 1796 as well as other comic operas. His works include The Apotheosis of Punch (1779), a satire on the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Tristram Shandy (1783), which is an adaptation of Laurence Sterne‘s novel, Robin Hood (1784), Fashionable Levities (1785), Richard Cœur de Lion (1786), and Critic Upon Critic (1788).

McNally also writes a number of songs and operettas for Covent Garden. One of his songs, The Lass of Richmond Hill, becomes very well-known and popular following its first public performance at Vauxhall Gardens in London in 1789. It is said to be a favourite of George III and popularises the romantic metaphor “a rose without a thorn,” a phrase which he used in the song.

Nothing is known of McNally’s first wife Mary O’Brien, other than that she dies in 1786. In London in 1787, he elopes with Frances I’Anson, as her father William I’Anson a solicitor, disapproves of McNally. Frances, and her family’s estate, Hill House in Richmond, North Yorkshire, is the subject of a song with lyrics by McNally and composed by James Hook, The Lass of Richmond Hill. In 1795, Frances dies during childbirth at age 29 and is survived by only one daughter. In early 1799, McNally marries his third wife, Louisa Edgeworth, the daughter of a clergyman from County Longford.

When McNally’s son, who has the same and professions, dies on February 13, 1820, it is widely reported to have been McNally. The son is buried in Donnybrook, Dublin, on February 17, 1820, and McNally sends a letter on March 6, 1820 to the Proprietor of Saunders’s Newsletter seeking damages for the severe injury caused by the circulation of his death. In June 1820, McNally is on his deathbed, and although he had been a Protestant for most of his adult life, he seeks absolution from a Roman Catholic priest. He dies and is also buried in Donnybrook on June 8, 1820.

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U2’s Los Angeles Rooftop Video Shoot

Irish rock band U2 records the video for “Where the Streets Have No Name” on the rooftop of the Republic Liquor store in downtown Los Angeles on March 27, 1987, at a time when MTV still shows videos and U2 is unquestionably the biggest band in the world. The video shows police advising the U2 crew that they will shut down the performance due to crowd safety.

It takes place on the rooftop of the Republic Liquor store at 7th and Main. The location is now Margarita’s Place, a Mexican restaurant that still draws tourists. The impromptu performance is an homage to the Beatles final concert, as depicted in the film Let It Be. As lead vocalist and primary lyricist Bono says at the time, “It’s not the first time we’ve ripped off the Beatles.

The video shows the police about to shut down the show at any moment with one cop heard saying, “You’re drawing people in here from Orange County and all over the goddamned place. We’re shutting this location down.” According to band manager Paul McGuinness, the confrontation is overly dramatized. The band is hoping to get shut down by the authorities to garner publicity, but the police let them play.

The video is directed by Meiert Avis and produced by Michael Hamlyn and Ben Dossett and goes on to win a Grammy Award for Best Performance Music Video. Hamlyn is almost arrested following a confrontation with the police, according to an interview with Uncut magazine. Avis later says that “getting busted was an integral part of the plan.”

Bass guitarist Adam Clayton later says, “The object was to close down the streets. If there’s one thing people in L.A. hate, it’s streets closing down, and we’ve always felt bands should shake things up. We achieved it because the police stopped us filming. Were we worried about being arrested? Not at the time.”

The performance actually is not quite as impromptu as it appears. Prior to filming, a week is spent reinforcing the roof of the liquor store to ensure it will not collapse if fans swarmed onto it, according to Wikipedia. A backup generator is also put on the roof so shooting can continue if the authorities shut off the power on the primary generator. They also rebuild the sign for The Million Dollar Hotel, which can be seen in the background, as an added draw in case no one shows up.

The performance attracts about 1,000 people, not the 30,000 predicted in the radio clips at the beginning of the video. The audio is actually a studio recording, although the band plays four versions of the opening track hit from their 1987 album The Joshua Tree.

(From: “Flashback Monday: U2 Performs On A Roof In Downtown L.A.” by Sharon Knolle, LAist of Southern California Public Radio,, September 22, 2013)

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Birth of Joseph Campbell, Poet & Lyricist

Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist, is born in Belfast on July 15, 1879. He writes under the Gaelic form of his name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil (also Seosamh MacCathmhaoil), as Campbell is a common anglicisation of the old Irish name MacCathmhaoil. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs, such as “My Lagan Love” and “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.” His verse is also set to music by Arnold Bax and Ivor Gurney.

Campbell is born into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After working for his father he teaches for a while. He travels to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. His literary activities begin with songs, as a collector in Antrim, County Antrim and working with the composer Herbert Hughes. He is then a founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. He contributes a play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and several articles to its journal Uladh edited by Bulmer Hobson. The Little Cowherd of Slainge is performed by the Ulster Literary Theatre at the Clarence Place Hall in Belfast on May 4, 1905, along with Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast.

Campbell moves to Dublin in 1905 and, failing to find work, moves to London the following year where he is involved in Irish literary activities while working as a teacher. He marries Nancy Maude in 1910, and they move shortly thereafter to Dublin, and then later to County Wicklow. His play Judgement is performed at the Abbey Theatre in April 1912.

Campbell takes part as a supporter in the Easter Rising of 1916, doing rescue work. The following year he publishes a translation from Irish of the short stories of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising.

Campbell becomes a Sinn Féin Councillor in Wicklow in 1921. Later in the Irish Civil War he is on the Republican side, and is interned in 1922-23. His marriage breaks up, and he emigrates to the United States in 1925 where he settles in New York City. He lectures at Fordham University, and works in academic Irish studies, founding the University’s School of Irish Studies in 1928, which lasts four years. He is the editor of The Irish Review (1934), a short lived “magazine of Irish expression.” The business manager is George Lennon, former Officer Commanding of the County Waterford Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence. The managing editor is Lennon’s brother-in-law, George H. Sherwood.

Campbell returns to Ireland in 1939, settling at Glencree, County Wicklow. He dies at Lacken Daragh, Enniskerry, County Wicklow on June 6, 1944.

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Birth of Jimmy Kennedy, Songwriter & Lyricist

jimmy-kennedy-1James Kennedy, songwriter and lyricist, is born on July 20, 1902 near Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. He puts words to existing music such as “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and “My Prayer” and co-writes with composers Michael Carr, Wilhelm Grosz and Nat Simon, among others. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics.

Kennedy’s father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). While growing up in the village of Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings — the view of the Ballinderry River, the local Springhill House and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. He later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort in County Londonderry.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with “The Barmaid’s Song”, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley“, for whom he starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including “Oh, Donna Clara” (1930), “My Song Goes Round the World” (1931), and “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song “Isle of Capri“, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including “Red Sails in the Sunset” (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, “Harbour Lights” (1937) and “South of the Border” (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico and written with composer Michael Carr. He and Carr also collaborate on several West End shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). “My Prayer,” with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title “Avant de Mourir” in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, “We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line.” His hits also include “Cokey Cokey” (1945), and the English lyrics to “Lili Marlene.” After the end of the war, his songs include “Apple Blossom Wedding” (1947), “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (1953), and “Love Is Like a Violin” (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song “The Banks of the Erne'”, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest.

Kennedy wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the OBE in 1983 and, in 1997, is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81. He is interred in Taunton, Somerset.

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Death of Poet Laureate Nahum Tate

nahum-tateNahum Tate, Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who becomes Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1692,  dies on July 30, 1715. Tate is best known for The History of King Lear, his 1681 adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s King Lear.

Tate is born in Dublin in 1652 and comes from a family of Puritan clergymen. He is the son of Faithful Teate, an Irish clergyman who was rector of Castleterra, Ballyhaise, until his house is burned and his family attacked after he passes on information to the government about plans for the Irish Rebellion of 1641. After living at the provost’s lodgings in Trinity College, Dublin, Faithful Teate moves to England. He becomes the incumbent at East Greenwich around 1650, and “preacher of the gospel” at Sudbury from 1654 to 1658 before returning to Dublin by 1660. He publishes a poem on the Trinity entitled Ter Tria, as well as some sermons, two of which he dedicates to Oliver and Henry Cromwell.

Nahum Teate follows his father to Trinity College, Dublin in 1668, and graduates BA in 1672. By 1676 he moves to London and is writing for a living. He publishes a volume of poems in London in 1677 and becomes a regular writer for the stage. He also adopts the spelling Tate, which remains until his death.

Tate then turns to make a series of adaptations from Elizabethan dramas. His version of William Shakespeare’s Richard II alters the names of the characters and changes the text so that every scene, to use his own words, is “full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts.” In spite of these precautions The Sicilian Usurper (1681), as his rewrite is called, is suppressed on the third performance on account of a possible political interpretation.

In 1682, Tate collaborates with John Dryden to complete the second half of his epic poem Absalom and Achitophel. Tate also writes the libretto for Henry Purcell‘s opera Dido and Aeneas, which is given its first known performance in 1689. Tate’s name is also connected with the famous New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), for which he collaborates with Nicholas Brady.

Nahum Tate dies in Southwark, London, England, on July 30, 1715 and is buried at St. George Southwark on August 1, 1715.