seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

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Death of Irish Language Writer Máirtín Ó Cadhain

Máirtín Ó Cadhain, one of the most prominent Irish language writers of the twentieth century, dies on October 18, 1970. Perhaps best known for his 1949 work Cré na Cille, Ó Cadhain plays a key role in bringing literary modernism to contemporary Irish language literature.

Born in Connemara, County Galway, Ó Cadhain becomes a schoolteacher but is dismissed due to his membership in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In the 1930s he serves as an IRA recruiting officer, enlisting fellow writer Brendan Behan, and participates in the land campaign of the native speakers, which leads to the establishment of the Ráth Cairn neo-Gaeltacht in County Meath. Subsequently, he is arrested and interned in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare during the Emergency years due to his continued involvement in the violent activities of the IRA.

Ó Cadhain’s politics are a nationalist mix of Marxism and social radicalism tempered with a rhetorical anti-clericalism. In his writings concerning the future of the Irish language he is, however, practical about the position of the Catholic Church as a social and societal institution, craving rather for a wholehearted commitment to the language cause even among Catholic churchmen. It is his view that, as the Church is there anyway, it would be better if it were more willing to address the Faithful in the national idiom.

As a writer, Ó Cadhain is acknowledged to be a pioneer of Irish language modernism. His Irish is the dialect of Connemara but he is happy to cannibalise other dialects, classical literature and even Scots Gaelic for the sake of linguistic and stylistic enrichment of his own writings. Consequently, much of what he writes is reputedly hard to read for a non-native speaker.

Ó Cadhain is a prolific writer of short stories. His collections of short stories include Cois Caoláire, An Braon Broghach, Idir Shúgradh agus Dháiríre, An tSraith Dhá Tógáil, An tSraith Tógtha and An tSraith ar Lár. He also writes three novels, of which only Cré na Cille is published during his lifetime. The other two, Athnuachan and Barbed Wire, appear in print only recently. He translates Charles Kickham‘s novel Sally Kavanagh into Irish as Saile Chaomhánach, nó na hUaigheanna Folmha. He also writes several political or linguo-political pamphlets. His political views can most easily be discerned in a small book about the development of Irish nationalism and extremism since Theobald Wolfe Tone, Tone Inné agus Inniu. In the early 1960s he writes, partly in Irish, partly in English, a comprehensive survey of the social status and actual use of the language in the west of Ireland, published as An Ghaeilge Bheo – Destined to Pass. In August 1969 he delivers a speech, published as Gluaiseacht na Gaeilge: Gluaiseacht ar Strae, in which he speaks of the role Irish speakers should take in ‘Athghabháil na hÉireann’, or the Re-Conquest of Ireland as James Connolly first coins the term.

He and Diarmaid Ó Súilleabháin are considered the two most innovative Gaelic authors to emerge in the 1960s. He has frequent difficulties to get his work edited, but unpublished writings have appeared at least every two years since the publication of Athnuachan in the mid-nineties.

Máirtín Ó Cadhain dies on October 18, 1970 in Dublin and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

A lecture hall at Trinity College, Dublin is named after Ó Cadhain who was professor of Irish. A bronze bust is also located in the Irish department.


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Samuel Beckett Awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature

samuel-beckettSamuel Barclay Beckett, Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 23, 1969. Beckett lives in Paris for most of his adult life and writes in both English and French. He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984.

Beckett’s work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human existence, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour, and becomes increasingly minimalist in his later career. He is considered one of the last modernist writers, and one of the key figures in what Martin Esslin calls the “Theatre of the Absurd.” Waiting for Godot is generally regarded as his best-known play.

In October 1969 while on holiday in Tunis with his wife Suzanne, Beckett hears that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne calls the award a “catastrophe.” In true ascetic fashion, he gives away all of the prize money. While Beckett does not devote much time to interviews, he sometimes meets the artists, scholars, and admirers who seek him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Although Beckett is an intensely private man, a review of the second volume of his letters by Roy Foster in the December 15, 2011 issue of The New Republic reveals Beckett to be not only unexpectedly amiable but frequently prepared to talk about his work and the process behind it.

Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, Beckett dies on 22 December 22, 1989, just five months after the passing of Suzanne. The two are interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris and share a simple granite gravestone that follows Beckett’s directive that it should be “any colour, so long as it’s grey.”

Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett’s work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opens up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.

On December 10, 2009, a new bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin is opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. Reminiscent of a harp on its side, it is designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream. The newest ship of the Irish Naval Service, the LÉ Samuel Beckett (P61), is named for Beckett. An Ulster History Circle blue plaque in his memory is located at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.