seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Hugh Leonard, Dramatist, Writer & Essayist

hugh-leonardHugh Leonard, Irish dramatist, television writer and essayist, is born in Dublin on November 9, 1926. In a career that spans 50 years, he writes nearly 30 full-length plays, 10 one-act plays, three volumes of essays, two autobiographies, three novels and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.

After birth, Leonard is put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changes his name to John Keyes Byrne. For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of “Hugh Leonard” which he later adopts and becomes well known by, he invites close friends to call him “Jack.”

Leonard is educated at the Harold Boys’ National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter. He works as a civil servant for fourteen years. During that time he both acts in and writes plays for community theatre groups. His first play to be professionally produced is The Big Birthday, which is mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956. His career with the Abbey Theatre continues until 1994. After that his plays are produced regularly by Dublin’s theatres.

Leonard moves to Manchester for a while, working for Granada Television before returning to Ireland in 1970. There he settles in Dalkey.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard is the first major Irish writer to establish a reputation in television, writing extensively for television including original plays, comedies, thrillers and adaptations of classic novels for British television. He is commissioned by RTÉ to write Insurrection, a 50th anniversary dramatic reconstruction of the Easter Rising of 1916. His Silent Song, adapted for the BBC from a short story by Frank O’Connor, wins the Prix Italia in 1967. He writes the script for the RTÉ adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.

Three of Leonard’s plays have been presented on Broadway: The Au Pair Man (1973), which stars Charles Durning and Julie Harris, Da (1978) and A Life (1980). Of these, Da, which originates off-off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild theatre before transferring to the Morosco Theatre, is the most successful, running for 20 months and 697 performances, then touring the United States for ten months. It earns Leonard both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Play. It is made into a film in 1988, starring Martin Sheen and Barnard Hughes, who reprises his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance.

Leonard writes two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989). Some of his essays and journalism are collected in Leonard’s Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard is published. Until 2006 he writes a humorous weekly column, “The Curmudgeon,” for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He has a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.

Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displays an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O’Connor, he is asked if it galls him that Gay Byrne is now writing his old column. His reply is, “It would gall me more if he was any good at it.” He is a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In 1994, Leonard appears in a televised interview with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, an Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He has long been an opponent of political violence and a critic of the IRA. However, on the show and afterwards he is criticised for being “sanctimonious and theatrical” towards Adams. At one point he refers to Sinn Féin as “dogs.”

Hugh Leonard – Odd Man In, a film on his life and work is shown on RTÉ in March 2009. Leonard’s final play, Magicality, is not performed during his lifetime. A rehearsed reading of the second act is staged at the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in June 2012.

Hugh Leonard dies after a long illness on February 12, 2009 in his hometown of Dalkey at the age of 82, leaving €1.5 million in his will.

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First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight

alcock-and-brownBritish aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight, landing at Clifden, County Galway on June 15, 1919. They fly a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presents them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in “less than 72 consecutive hours.” A small amount of mail is carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.

Alcock and Brown take off from Lester’s Field at around 1:45 PM on June 14. They fly the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines which are supported by an on-site Rolls Royce team led by engineer Eric Platford.

It is not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft has difficulty taking off from the rough field and only barely misses the tops of the trees. A short time later the wind-driven electrical generator fails, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating. An exhaust pipe bursts shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which makes conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

At 5:00 PM they have to fly through thick fog. This is serious because it prevents Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they do not have, and Alcock twice loses control of the aircraft and nearly hits the sea after a spiral dive. Alcock also has to deal with a broken trim control that makes the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel is consumed.

At 12:15 AM on June 15 Brown gets a glimpse of the stars and is able to use his sextant, and finds that they are still on course. By this point, their electric heating suits have failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit.

Then at 3:00 AM they fly into a large snowstorm. They are drenched by rain, their instruments ice up, and the plane is in danger of icing and becoming unflyable. The carburetors also ice up.

Alcock and Brown make landfall in County Galway at 8:40 AM on June 15, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying time. The aircraft is damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appears from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turns out to be a bog, near Clifden, but neither of the airmen is hurt. Brown says that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.

Alcock and Brown are treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew receives 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. The two aviators are awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Alcock and Brown fly to Manchester on July 17, where they are given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Manchester, and awards to mark their achievement.

John Alcock is killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashes near Rouen while flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris Air Show. Arthur Brown dies on October 4, 1948. Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden, around 500 metres from the spot where they land, on the site of Guglielmo Marconi‘s first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmit their success to London. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft’s tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on June 15, 1959, the fortieth anniversary of their landing.


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The Munich Air Disaster

munich-air-disasterThe Munich air disaster occurs on February 6, 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashes on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane is the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes“, along with supporters and journalists. Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft die at the scene. The injured, some unconscious, are taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more die, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors. Among the Manchester United fatalities is inside forward Liam “Billy” Whelan who was born in Cabra on the northside of Dublin in 1935.

The team is returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having eliminated Red Star Belgrade to advance to the semi-finals of the competition. The flight stops to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester is beyond the Airspeed Ambassador‘s range. After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment twice abandon take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they will get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejects an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then snow is falling, causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. After the aircraft hits the slush, it ploughs through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing is torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain begins evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helps pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blames Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It is later established that the crash is caused by the slush on the runway, which slows the plane too much to take off. Thain is cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

At the time of the disaster, Manchester United is trying to become the third club to win three successive English Football League titles. They are six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also hold the Charity Shield and have just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team has not been beaten in eleven consecutive matches. The crash not only derails their title ambitions that year but also virtually destroys the nucleus of what promised to be one of the greatest generations of players in English football history. It takes ten years for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1968 with a new generation of “Babes.”


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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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Final Arrival of the Concorde in Ireland

The supersonic aircraft Concorde arrives at Belfast International Airport, Aldergrove on October 21, 2003, on a farewell tour during its final week before being taken out of service.

In a final week of farewell flights around the United Kingdom, a British Airways Concorde visits Birmingham on October 20, Belfast on October 21, Manchester on October 22, Cardiff on October 23, and Edinburgh on October 24. Each day the aircraft makes a return flight out and back into Heathrow Airport to the cities concerned, often overflying those cities at low altitude. Over 650 competition winners and 350 special guests are carried.

On the evening of October 23, 2003, Queen Elizabeth II consents to the illumination of Windsor Castle as Concorde’s final west-bound commercial flight departs London and flies overhead. This is an honour normally reserved for major state events and visiting dignitaries.

British Airways retires its aircraft the next day, October 24. G-BOAG leaves New York City to a fanfare similar to her Air France predecessor’s, while two more made round-trips, G-BOAF over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including many former Concorde pilots, and G-BOAE to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then circle over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude, before landing in sequence at Heathrow.

The two round-trip Concordes land at 4:01 and 4:03 PM BST, followed at 4:05 by the one from New York. All three aircraft then spend 45 minutes taxiing around the airport before finally disembarking the last supersonic fare-paying passengers. The pilot of the New York to London flight is Mike Bannister.

All of British Airway’s Concordes have been grounded, have lost their airworthiness certificates and have been drained of hydraulic fluid. Ex-chief Concorde pilot and manager of the fleet, Jock Lowe, estimates it would cost £10-15 million to make G-BOAF airworthy again. British Airways maintains ownership of the Concordes, and has stated that their Concordes will not be flown again.


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.


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Birth of John Field, Pianist & Composer

John Field, pianist, composer, and teacher, is born in Dublin into a musical family on July 26, 1782. He is the eldest son of Irish parents who are members of the Church of Ireland. His father, Robert Field, earns his living by playing the violin in Dublin theatres.

Field first studies the piano under his grandfather, who is a professional organist, and later under Tommaso Giordani. He makes his debut at the age of nine, a performance that is well-received, on March 24, 1792 in Dublin. By late 1793, the Fields have settled in London, where the young pianist starts studying with Muzio Clementi.

Field continues giving public performances and soon becomes famous in London, attracting favourable comments from the press and the local musicians. Around 1795 his performance of a Jan Ladislav Dussek piano concerto is praised by Joseph Haydn. Field continues his studies with Clementi, also helping the Italian with the making and selling of instruments. He also takes up the violin, which he studies under Johann Peter Solomon. His first published compositions are issued by Clementi in 1795. The first historically important work, the Piano Concerto No. 1, H 27, is premiered by the composer in London on February 7, 1799, when he is 16 years old. Field’s first official opus is a set of three piano sonatas published by Clementi in 1801.

In summer 1802 Field and Clementi leave London and go to Paris on business. They soon travel to Vienna, where Field takes a brief course in counterpoint under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and in early winter arrive in Saint Petersburg. Field is inclined to stay, impressed by the artistic life of the city. Clementi leaves in June 1803, but not before securing Field a teaching post in Narva. After Clementi’s departure, Field has a busy concert season, eventually performing at the newly founded Saint Petersburg Philharmonia. In 1805 Field embarks on a concert tour of the Baltic states, staying in Saint Petersburg during the summer. The following year he gives his first concert in Moscow. He returns to Moscow in April 1807 and apparently does not revisit Saint Petersburg until 1811. In 1810 he marries Adelaide Percheron, a French pianist and former pupil.

In 1811 Field returns to Saint Petersburg where he spends the next decade of his life, more productive than ever before, publishing numerous new pieces and producing corrected editions of old ones. He is successful in establishing a fruitful collaboration with both H.J. Dalmas, the most prominent Russian publisher of the time, and Breitkopf & Härtel, one of the most important music publishing houses of Europe. By 1819 Field is sufficiently wealthy to be able to refuse the position of court pianist that is offered to him. His lifestyle and social behaviour are becoming more and more extravagant.

In 1818 Field revisits Moscow on business, prompted by his collaboration with the publisher Wenzel. He and his wife give a series of concerts in the city in 1821, the last of which marks their last appearance in public together. Adelaide leaves Field soon afterward and attempts a solo career, which is not particularly successful. Field stays in Moscow and continues performing and publishing his music. In 1822 he meets Johann Nepomuk Hummel and the two collaborate on a performance of Hummel’s Sonata for Piano 4-Hands, Op. 92.

Partly as a result of his extravagant lifestyle, Field’s health begins to deteriorate by the mid-1820s. From about 1823 his concert appearances started decreasing. By the late 1820s he is suffering from colorectal cancer. Field leaves for London to seek medical attention. He arrives in September 1831 and, after an operation, gives concerts there and in Manchester. He stays in England for some time, meeting distinguished figures such as Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles. After a series of concerts in various European cities, Field spends nine months in a Naples hospital. His Russian patrons rescue him. He briefly stays with Carl Czerny in Vienna, where he gives three recitals, and then returns to Moscow. He gives his last concert in March 1836 and dies in Moscow almost a year later, on January 23, 1837, from pneumonia. He is buried in the Vvedenskoye Cemetery.