seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Luzzara

battle-of-luzzaraThe Irish Brigade of France fights at the Battle of Luzzara in Lombardy on August 15, 1702 during the War of the Spanish Succession, a battle between a largely French and Savoyard army led by Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme and an Imperial force under Prince Eugene of Savoy.

Control of the Duchies of Milan and Mantua is the main strategic prize in Northern Italy as they are key to the security of Austria‘s southern border. In May, an Austrian army under Prince Eugene of Savoy enters Northern Italy and wins a series of victories which by February 1702 forces the French behind the Adda river.

In early August, Vendôme’s army stops at the Austrian-held town of Luzzara on the right bank of the Po River. The total French force is around 30,000-35,000, including 10,000 Savoyards and five regiments of the Irish Brigade.

Eugene lifts his blockade of Mantua since these moves threaten to cut him off from his supply bases at Modena and Mirandola. Taking all available forces, around 26,000 men, he marches to intercept the French at Luzzara but arrives too late to prevent its surrender and establishes his headquarters at the village of Riva, north of the French positions.

Just above Luzzara, the sides of the Seraglo to Rovero canal have been built up to prevent the Po River flooding the countryside. Eugene plans to use these to conceal his movements and attack the French as they enter their camp. He splits his forces into two lines, the left wing under General Visconti, the right under Charles Thomas, Prince of Vaudémont and himself in charge of the centre.

During the morning and early afternoon of August 15, the Imperialists cross the Po River and manage to achieve a large measure of surprise in surrounding the French camp but are discovered shortly before completing this operation. Around 5:00 PM, Prince Eugene orders a general assault. The French are taken by surprise, some units marching into the camp and immediately out again to the front line but quickly recover. Eugene’s right wing is repulsed no less than four times, while the struggle on the left is equally bloody, his Danish mercenaries nearly break through on several occasions. The French line manages to hold until sheer exhaustion and darkness end the fighting around midnight.

Casualties on both sides are heavy, particularly among the Irish units and Albemarle’s Regiment on the right. During the night, Eugene entrenches his position and the French do not resume the attack the following morning.

The overall result is a draw, although in the practice of the times Eugene claims it as a victory, since he remains in possession of the ground. However, his forces are too weak to intervene as the French continue to take strongpoints. The two armies lay facing each other until early November, when both move into winter quarters.

Eugene is recalled to Vienna in January 1703 to take over as head of the Imperial War Council, while Vendôme continues preparations for the summer campaign. In October 1703, Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia, Duke of Savoy defects to the Alliance and Vendôme spends the next three years in Savoy.

In 1708 Prince Eugene commissions a series of paintings recording his victories from Dutch artist Jan van Huchtenburg, one being Luzzara which gives an indication of how he viewed it.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Luzzara, 1702,” oil on canvas by Jan van Huchtenburgh)


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Death of Saint Columbanus

saint-columbanusColumbanus, Irish missionary notable for founding a number of monasteries on the European continent from around 590 in the Frankish and Lombard kingdoms, dies on November 21, 615. He is one of the earliest identifiable Hiberno-Latin writers.

Columbanus is born in 543 in the Kingdom of Meath, now part of Leinster. Well-born, handsome and educated, he is torn between a desire for God and easy access to the pleasures of the world. Acting on advice of a holy anchoress, he decides to withdraw from the world. His family opposes the choice, his mother going so far as to block the door. He leaves home and studies Scripture extensively under Sinell, Abbot of Cluaninis in Lough Erne. He then moves to Bangor Abbey on the coast of Down, where Saint Comgall is serving as the abbot. He stays at Bangor until his fortieth year, when he receives Comgall’s permission to travel to the continent.

In middle age, Columbanus feels a call to missionary life. With twelve companions (Saint Attala, Columbanus the Younger, Cummain, Deicolus, Eogain, Eunan, Saint Gall, Gurgano, Libran, Lua, Sigisbert and Waldoleno) he travels to Scotland, England, and then to France in 585. The area, though nominally Christian, has fallen far from the faith, but are ready for missionaries, and they have some success. They are warmly greeted at the court of King Gontram of Burgundy, and the king invites the band to stay. They choose the half-ruined Roman fortress of Annegray in the Vosges Mountains for their new home with Columbanus as their abbot.

The simple lives and obvious holiness of the group draws disciples to join them and the sick to be healed by their prayers. Columbanus, to find solitude for prayer, often lives for long periods in a cave seven miles from the monastery, using a messenger to stay in touch with his brothers. When the number of new monks over-crowds the old fortress, King Gontram gives them the Gallo-Roman castle called Luxovium in present-day Luxeuil-les-Bains, some eight miles from Annegray, in 590. Soon after, a third house called Ad-fontanas is founded at present-day Fontaine-lès-Luxeuil. Columbanus serves as master of them all, and writes a Rule for them. It incorporates many Celtic practices, is approved by the Council of Mâcon in 627, but is superseded by the Benedictine.

Problems arise early in the 7th century. Many Frankish bishops object to a foreign missionary with so much influence, to the Celtic practices he brought, especially those related to Easter, and his independence from them. In 602 he is summoned to appear before them for judgment. Instead of appearing, he sends a letter advising them to hold more synods and to concern themselves with more important things than which rite he uses to celebrate Easter. The dispute over Easter continues for years, with Columbanus appealing to multiple popes for help. It is only settled when Columbanus abandons the Celtic calender when he moves to Italy.

In addition to his problems with the bishops, Columbanus speaks out against vice and corruption in the royal household and court, which is in the midst of a series of complex power grabs. Brunhilda of Austrasia stirs up the bishops and nobilty against the abbot. Theuderic II orders him to conform to the local ways and shut up. Columbanus refuses and is briefly imprisoned at Besançon, but he escapes and returns to Luxeuil. Theuderic II and Brunhilda send an armed force to force him and his foreign monks back to Ireland. As soon as his ship sets sail, a storm drives them back to shore. The captain takes it as a sign and sets the monks free.

They make their way to King Chlothar II at Soissons, Neustria and then the court of King Theudebert II of Austrasia in 611. Columbanus travels to Metz, France, then Mainz, Germany, where he sails up the Rhine to the lands of the Suebi and Alamanni, and finally Lake Zurich. Their evangelization work there is unsuccessful and the group passes on to Arbon, then Bregenz on Lake Constance. Saint Gall, who knows the local language best, takes the lead in this region. Many are converted to the faith and the group founds a new monastery as their home and base. However, a year later political upheaval causes Columbanus to cross the Alps into Italy, arriving in Milan in 612. The Christian royal family treats him well, and he preaches and writes against Arianism and Nestorianism. In gratitude, King Agilulf, the king of the Lombards, gives him a tract of land called Bobbio between Milan and Genoa in Italy. There he rebuilds a half-ruined church of Saint Peter, and around it he founds an abbey that is to be the source for evangelization throughout northern Italy for centuries to come.

Columbanus always enjoys being in the forests and caves, and as he walks through the woods, birds and squirrels ride on his shoulders. Toward the end of his life comes word that his old enemies are dead and his brothers want him to come back north, but he declines. Knowing that his time is almost done, he retires to his cave on the mountainside overlooking the Trebbia River. Columbanus dies of natural causes at Bobbio, Italy on November 21, 615.

Columbanus’ influence continues for centuries as those he converted hand on the faith, the brothers he taught evangelize untold numbers more, and his brother monks found over one hundred monasteries to protect learning and spread the faith.

(Pictured: Saint Columbanus stained glass window, Bobbio Abbey crypt)


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Birth of Soprano Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes, world-famous Irish soprano of the Victorian era, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 25, 1818. According to London‘s Daily Express, “Hayes was the ‘Madonna‘ of her day; she was the 19th-century operatic equivalent of the world’s most famous pop star.”

Hayes is born into abject poverty. After five years of vocal study in Paris and Milan she makes her debut at the Italian Opera in Marseilles, in Vincenzo Bellini‘s I Puritani in May 1845, followed by performances of Gaetano Donizetti‘s Lucia di Lammermoor and Gioachino Rossini‘s Mosé in Egitto.

Her debut at La Scala in Milan quickly followed in 1845 with phenomenal success. Shortly thereafter the young Giuseppe Verdi becomes interested in her for one of his new operas. Her great success continues in Vienna, as well as in Venice, Florence, Genoa, Rome and other cities in Italy, where she becomes the most sought after Lucia di Lammermoor.

Early in 1849, Hayes accepts a contract to sing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London where she makes her debut in Linda di Chamounix in April. In June 1849, she receives an invitation to sing at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria and 500 guests. After an evening of Italian music, when the Queen requests an encore, Hayes with a smile sings the beautiful Irish rebel songKathleen Mavourneen.”

During Ireland’s Great Famine in November 1849, her emotional return to her native country results in rave notices for her performance in Lucia di Lammermoor and other operas and concerts in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Her success is now almost complete.

In 1851 Hayes goes to the United States, where Jenny Lind is creating such a wave of success. Hayes gives concerts in New York City, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans and forty-five other places including the river towns along the Mississippi River, with equal success. She meets presidents, statesmen and business leaders along the way. She is also destined to meet her future lover and husband in America, Jenny Lind’s former manager. Her travels take her to the “gold rush” in the San Francisco area in the 1850s, where her presence creates a furor, singing for the miners and the elite of San Francisco. The great showman P.T. Barnum sponsors her tour.

She sings in opera and concerts in Peru and Chile, then travels to Hawaii where she gives a concert before continuing on to Australia. Hayes is the first great European opera star to visit Australia. She is mentioned in most Australian history books about early culture in the young colony.  She also travels to Calcutta, India where she performs for the British Military and then on to Singapore and Batavia (Java) before returning to Australia for more opera and concerts.

Hayes returns to England in August 1856, after an absence of five years.  On October 8, 1857, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, she marries William Avery Bushnell. He soon falls into ill-health and dies at Biarritz, France, on July 2, 1858. After her husband’s death she takes part in concerts in London and the country towns.

Catherine Hayes dies in the house of a friend, Henry Lee, at Roccles, Upper Sydenham, Kent, on August 11, 1861, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


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Birth of Opera Singer Margaret Burke Sheridan

Irish opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan is born in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 15, 1889. She is known as Maggie from Mayo and is regarded as Ireland’s second prima donna, after Catherine Hayes (1818–1861).

Sheridan has her early vocal training while at school at the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street, Dublin, with additional lessons from Vincent O’Brien. In 1908, she wins a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil. From 1909 to 1911 she studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, during which time she is introduced to the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who is instrumental in arranging further studies for her in opera in Rome.

With Marconi’s help Sheridan auditions in 1916 for Alfredo Martino, a prominent singing teacher attached to the Teatro Costanzi, and she makes her début there in January 1918 in Giacomo Puccini‘s La bohème. In July 1919 she appears at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the title role in Iris by Pietro Mascagni.

Sheridan returns to Italy, where her career continues to grow, with performances at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, primarily in Puccini roles. In 1922 she first sings at La Scala, Milan, in La Wally by Alfredo Catalani under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. For the next few years she sings at La Scala with great success. Perhaps her greatest role is Madama Butterfly, which she sings extensively in Italy and at Covent Garden. When she plays the part of Madama Butterfly, Puccini is said to be spellbound.

Despite her successes, Sheridan’s career is short. Suffering vocal difficulties she goes into retirement around 1930 except for a few concerts. Bríd Mahon, in her 1998 book While Green Grass Grows, states that “It was rumoured that an Italian whose overtures she had rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala, Milan, while she was on stage and that after the tragedy she never sang in public again.”

Margaret Sheridan dies in relative obscurity on April 16, 1958, having lived in Dublin for many years, and her remains are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Tenor John McCormack

john-mccormackJohn McCormack, an Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires and renowned for his diction and breath control, is born in Athlone, County Westmeath, on June 14, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone, and later attends Summerhill College in Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peters church in Athlone under choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by composer Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini in Milan. In 1906, he makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor.

In less than three years he is singing opera in the United States, as well as beginning a career on the recital stage that makes him one of the most successful singers of all time. In 1917 he becomes a citizen of the United States, his adopted country, where his concert appeal has proven to be nearly universal and unrelenting.

McCormack originally ends his career in 1938 at the Royal Albert Hall in London. However, one year after that farewell concert he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He concertizes, tours, broadcasts, and records in this capacity until 1943 when failing health forced him to permanently retire.

Ill with emphysema, he purchases a house near the sea at Booterstown, County Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, just south of Dublin. After a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, McCormack dies on September 16, 1945. He is mourned by his countrymen, his English public who had taken him to their hearts as well, a vast number of his fellow citizens in the United States, and music lovers all over the world. He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.