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


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Birth of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

brian-o-nolanBrian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911.

O’Nolan attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966.

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Opening of The Museum of Science and Art, Dublin

national-museum-of-irelandThe Museum of Science and Art, Dublin on Kildare Street opens on August 29, 1890. The museum is founded on August 14, 1877 by act of Parliament. The decision to establish a state-run museum arises from requests by the Royal Dublin Society for continued government funding for its expanding museum activities.

A number of developments lead to the Science and Art Museums Act of 1877, which has the effect of transferring the buildings and collections of the Royal Dublin Society to state ownership. The collections are further enhanced by the transfer of other notable collections from institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin.

The Museum is the responsibility of the Department of Science and Art, which is also responsible for the South Kensington museums in London. State support for the institution is manifested in the construction of the new building on Kildare Street. It is built in the Victorian Palladian style and has been compared with the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s. Neoclassical influences can be seen in the colonnaded entrance and the domed rotunda, which rises to a height of 20 metres, and is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.

The new museum houses coins, medals and significant Irish antiquities from the Royal Irish Academy including the Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice, ethnographical collections with material from Captain James Cooke‘s voyages from Trinity College Dublin, and the collections of the Geological Survey of Ireland.

These are joined by material from the decorative arts and ethnographical collections of the Royal Dublin Society along with their Irish collections of antiquities, minerals and plants. The old Royal Dublin Society museum on the Merrion Street side of Leinster House, erected with government assistance and opened in 1856, is devoted to natural history. It is dominated by zoology throughout much of its subsequent history and has an annex devoted to geology.

The building on Kildare Street is designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and is used to show contemporary Irish, British and Continental craftsmanship in its construction. State involvement in the running of the Museum allows for steady funding and a connection with other state museums in London and Edinburgh which is of considerable benefit. The collections grow with material acquired through purchase, public donation and shares of significant collections acquired by the state and dispersed by the London museums.

Catalogues are prepared by leading experts in various disciplines and printed in the Museum’s own press. In 1900 control passes to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction and in 1908 its name is changed from “The Dublin Museum of Science and Art” to the “National Museum of Science and Art.” The name of the institution is changed again in 1921 to the “National Museum of Ireland.”