seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

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Birth of Dolores Keane, Folk Singer & Actress

dolores-keaneDolores Keane, folk singer and occasional actress, is born on September 26, 1953 in the small village of Sylane, near Tuam, in rural County Galway. She is a founding member of the successful group De Dannan, and has since embarked on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.

Keane is raised from the age of four by her aunts Rita and Sarah Keane, who are also well-known sean-nós singers. She starts her singing at a very young age, due to the influence of her musical aunts. She makes her first recording for Radio Éireann in 1958 at the age of five. This early start sets her on the path to a career in music. Her brother, Seán, also goes on to enjoy a successful music career.

In 1975, Keane co-founds the traditional Irish band De Dannan, and they release their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gains international recognition and enjoys major success in the late 1970s in the United States. She tours with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” is a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she leaves De Dannan and is replaced by Andy Irvine, who records live with the band on April 30, 1976, during the 3rd Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Soon thereafter, she marries multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently records three albums of folk music.

Keane lives and works in London for several years with Faulkner before they move to Ireland in the early 1980s. They work on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and form two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period she records her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This is followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gives credit to Faulkner. In the mid-1980s she rejoins De Dannan and records the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Keane turns her attention, once again, to her solo career in 1988. It sees the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album, A Lion in a Cage (1989), features a song written by Faulkner called “Lion in a Cage” protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It serves as Keane’s second Irish number one and she performs the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expands her reputation and popularity worldwide. A new facet is added to her career when she plays the female lead in the Dublin production of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage. The opening night is attended by Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland at the time.

In 1992, Keane is among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album goes on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 is released in late 1994 and emulates its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, Solid Ground, is released on the Shanachie Records label and receives critical acclaim in Europe and America.

In August 1995, Keane is awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, County Down, for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture.” In that same year, she takes to the stage in the Dublin production of John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World. She contributes to the RTÉ/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home,” a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America.

In August 1997, Keane goes to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album, Night Owl, is released in 1998. It sees her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it does well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she goes on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s, where she plays to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham, Alabama and New York City.

Keane puts an end to recording and touring in the late 1990s, due to depression and alcoholism, for which she receives extensive treatment. As of June 2014, she is given the all clear after suffering from cancer.


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The Funeral of Michael Collins

Michael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for, and achievement of Irish independence in the early 20th century, is laid to rest in Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery on August 28, 1922.

Collins is shot and killed by anti-Treaty ambushers as his Free State Army convoy approaches Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads in County Cork, on August 22, 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass on August 28, 1922 takes place at Dublin’s St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. According to a report in The New York Times, the seven mile journey from the cathedral to his final resting place in Glasnevin Cemetery is lined with half a million mourners, almost one fifth of the country’s population at the time, and many of whom likely differed with him on his Treaty vote.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theorists have put forward a number of suspects as having executed or ordered his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British Secret Intelligence Service, or Éamon de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966, “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.”

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gives the oration. In 2010, the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr. becomes the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012, on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny gives the oration, the first serving head of government to do so. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery every year at Collins’s gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

RIP Big Fellow!


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.


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Mary Robinson Elected First Woman President of the Republic

mary-robinson-1Mary Robinson becomes the first woman to be elected President of the Republic of Ireland on November 7, 1990. She becomes the first Labour Party candidate, the first woman, and the first non-Fianna Fáil candidate in the history of contested presidential elections to win the presidency.

Brian Lenihan, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence is chosen by Fianna Fáil as their candidate, though he faces a late challenge for the party nomination from another senior minister, John P. Wilson, TD. Lenihan is popular and widely seen as humorous and intelligent. He has delivered liberal policy reform (relaxed censorship in the 1960s), and is seen as a near certainty to win the presidency.

Fine Gael, after trying and failing to get former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former Tánaiste Peter Barry to run, ultimately nominate the former civil rights campaigner and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) member Austin Currie. Currie is elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1989 general election and has been a minister in Brian Faulkner‘s power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland from 1973–1974. However Currie has little experience in the politics of the Republic and is widely seen as the party’s last choice, nominated only when no one else is available.

The Labour Party lets it be known that it would for the first time run a candidate. Along with the Workers’ Party, Labour nominates the independent candidate Mary Robinson, SC, a former Labour Party member and senator, and liberal campaigner. Robinson is a former Reid Professor of Law in the Trinity College, Dublin. She is previously involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and the campaign to save Wood Quay.

Lenihan enters the race as odds-on favourite. No Fianna Fáil candidate has ever lost a presidential election. However, Lenihan is derailed when he confirms in an on-the-record interview with freelance journalist and academic researcher Jim Duffy that he has been involved in controversial attempts to pressurise the President, Patrick Hillery, over a controversial parliamentary dissolution in 1982. As a result of the contrast between his public denials during the campaign and his confirmation during an earlier interview recorded in May, he is dismissed from the Irish government.

At this point a cabinet colleague, Pádraig Flynn, launches a controversial personal attack on Mary Robinson “as a wife and mother,” an attack that is itself attacked in response as “disgraceful” on live radio by Michael McDowell, a senior member of the Progressive Democrats, then in coalition with Fianna Fáil and up to that point supporting Lenihan’s campaign. Flynn’s attack is a fatal blow to Lenihan’s campaign, causing many female supporters of Lenihan to vote for Robinson in a gesture of support.

Lenihan nonetheless receives a plurality of first-choice votes. Mary Robinson beats Austin Currie, forcing Fine Gael’s candidate into third place. Under Ireland’s system of single transferable vote, Robinson receives over 75% of the transfers when Austin Currie is eliminated, beating Lenihan into second place and becoming the seventh President of Ireland.

While the role of the presidency in day-to-day politics is a very limited one, the Robinson presidency is regarded by many observers as a watershed in Irish society, symbolising the shift away from the conservative ultra-Catholic male-dominated Ireland which existed up until the end of the 1980s to the more liberal society symbolised by Robinson.

Robinson is generally credited with raising the profile of the office of president, which has been considered little more than an honorary figurehead position under her predecessors. Prior to Mary Robinson’s presidency it was not unusual to hear commentators advocating the abolition of the office of president, a viewpoint that is almost never advanced nowadays.


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Seamus Heaney Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

seamus-heaneySeamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator, and lecturer, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 15, 1995.

Heaney is born in April 1939 near Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland, where his family engages in farming and selling cattle. His education includes studies at Queen’s University Belfast, where he also serves as a lecturer in the late 1960s. He makes his debut as a poet then, but continues to divide his time between his own writing and academia. He works at Carysforth College in Dublin, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Oxford University.

Heaney’s poetry is often down-to-earth. For him, poetry is like the earth – something that must be plowed and turned. Often he paints the gray and damp landscape from the British Isles. Peat moss has a special place in his poetry. The poems often are connected with daily experiences, but they also derive motifs from history, all the way back to prehistoric times. Heany’s profound interest in the Celtic and the pre-Christian as well as in Catholic literary tradition has found expression in a number of essays and translations.

Heaney is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee describes as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” He is on holiday in Greece with his wife, Marie, when the news breaks. No one, not even journalists or his own children, can locate him until he appears at Dublin Airport two days later, though an Irish television camera traces him to Kalamata. Asked how it feels having his name added to the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responds, “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.” He and Marie are immediately whisked straight from the airport to Áras an Uachtaráin for champagne with President Mary Robinson.


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Mary Robinson Resigns as President of Ireland

mary-robinsonPresident Mary Robinson resigns on September 12, 1997, two months ahead of the end of her term, in order to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On July 24, 1997 Robinson announces her intention to resign as President of Ireland. The Irish Government states that her announcement “was not unexpected” and wishes her “every success.” She resigns by addressing a message to the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann and it takes effect at 1:00 PM on September 12.

Upon her resignation as President, the role of President is transferred to the Presidential Commission, which is comprised of the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Éireann, from September 12 until November 11, 1997, when Mary McAleese is sworn in as the new President.

Media reports suggest that Robinson has been head-hunted for the post by Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to assume an advocacy as opposed to administrative role, in other words to become a public campaigner outlining principles rather than the previous implementational and consensus-building model. The belief is that the post has ceased to be seen as the voice of general principles and has become largely bureaucratic. Robinson’s role is to set the human rights agenda within the organisation and internationally, refocusing its appeal.

Robinson is the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticises the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to “bonded labour” and criticises the United States’ use of capital punishment.

In 2001, Robinson chairs the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances, which is held in Tehran, Iran. Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group, and the Baha’i International Community are not permitted to attend. Robinson wears a headscarf at the meeting in conformance to the Iranians edict that all women attending the conference must wear a headscarf. Women who do not wear the headscarf are criticized, which Robinson says plays into the hands of religious conservatives.

She extends her intended single four-year term by a year following an appeal by Secretary General Annan to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.