seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Harpist & Composer Turlough O’Carolan

turlough-ocarolanTurlough O’Carolan, a blind early Irish harper, composer and singer whose great fame is due to his gift for melodic composition, dies in Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon on March 25, 1738.

Although not a composer in the classical sense, O’Carolan is considered by many to be Ireland’s first great composer. Harpers in the old Irish tradition are still living as late as 1792, and ten, including Arthur O’Neill, Patrick Quin and Donnchadh Ó hAmhsaigh, attend the Belfast Harp Festival. Ó hAmhsaigh plays some of O’Carolan’s music but dislikes it for being too modern. Some of O’Carolan’s own compositions show influences of the style of continental classical music, whereas others such as O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music reflect a much older style of “Gaelic Harping.”

O’Carolan is born in 1670 in Nobber, County Meath, where his father is a blacksmith. The family moves from Meath to Ballyfarnon in 1684. In Roscommon, his father takes a job with the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford House. Mrs. MacDermott Roe gives Turlough an education, and he shows talent in poetry. After being blinded by smallpox at the age of eighteen O’Carolan is apprenticed by Mrs. MacDermott Roe to a good harper. At the age of twenty-one, being given a horse and a guide, he sets out to travel Ireland and compose songs for patrons.

For almost fifty years, O’Carolan journeys from one end of Ireland to the other, composing and performing his tunes. One of his earliest compositions is about Brigid Cruise, with whom he is infatuated. Brigid is the teenage daughter of the schoolmaster at the school for the blind attended by O’Carolan in Cruisetown. In 1720, at age 50, O’Carolan marries Mary Maguire. Their first family home is a cottage on a parcel of land near the town of Manachain, now Mohill, in County Leitrim, where they settle. They have seven children, six daughters and one son. Mary dies in 1733.

Turlough O’Carolan dies at Alderford House on March 25, 1738. He is buried in the MacDermott Roe family crypt in Kilronan Burial Ground near Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. The annual O’Carolan Harp Festival and Summer School commemorates his life and work in Keadue, County Roscommon.

A bronze monument by sculptor Oisín Kelly depicting Turlough O’Carolan playing his harp is erected on a plinth at the Market Square, Mohill, on August 10, 1986, and is unveiled by Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.

A statue is erected to him at his place of birth in 2002, during the Annual O’Carolan Harp Festival, the first of which is held in Nobber in 1988.

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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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Birth of Writer John McGahern

John McGahern, regarded as one of the most important Irish writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, is born in Knockanroe about half a mile from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, on November 12, 1934. Known for the detailed dissection of Irish life found in works such as The Barracks, The Dark, and Amongst Women, The Observer hails him as “the greatest living Irish novelist” before his death in 2006.

McGahern is the eldest child of seven. Raised alongside his six young siblings on a small farm in Knockanroe, McGahern’s mother runs the farm with some local help whilst maintaining a job as a primary school teacher in the local school. His father, a Garda sergeant, lives in the Garda barracks at Cootehall in County Roscommon, a somewhat sizeable distant away from his family at the time. In 1944, when McGahern is ten years old, his mother dies of cancer, resulting in the unrooting of the McGahern children to their new home with their father in the Garda barracks at Cootehall.

In the years following his mother’s death, McGahern completes his primary schooling in the local primary school, and ultimately wins a scholarship to the Presentation Brothers secondary school in Carrick-on-Shannon. Having travelled daily to complete his second level education, McGahern continues to accumulate academic accolades by winning the county scholarship in his Leaving Certificate enabling him to continue his education to third level.

Following his second level success, McGahern is offered a place at St. Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra where he trains to be a teacher. Upon graduation from third level education, McGahern begins his career as a primary schoolteacher at Scoil Eoin Báiste primary school in Clontarf where, for a period, he teaches the eminent academic Declan Kiberd, before returning to third level education in University College Dublin where he graduates in 1957. He is first published by the London literary and arts review magazine, X, which publishes in 1961 an extract from his unpublished first novel, The End or Beginning of Love.

McGahern’s first published novel, The Barracks (1963), chronicles the life of the barrack’s Garda sergeant’s second wife, Elizabeth Reegan, who is in the decline of health due to cancer. The Barracks is adapted for the stage in 1969 by Hugh Leonard.

McGahern marries his first wife, Finnish-born Annikki Laaski, in 1965 and in the same year publishes his second novel, The Dark, which is banned by the Irish Censorship Board for its alleged pornographic content along with its implied sexual abuse by the protagonist’s father. Due to the controversy which is stirred by the book’s publication, McGahern is dismissed from his teaching post and forced to move to England where he works in a variety of jobs, including on building sites, before returning to Ireland to live and work on a small farm near Fenagh in County Leitrim.

After the publications of The Leavetaking (1974) and The Pornographer (1975), his fifth and perhaps best known novel, Amongst Women, is published in 1990. The novel details the story of Michael Moran, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, who now dominates his family in the unforgiving farmlands of County Leitrim, near Mohill.

John McGahern dies from cancer at the age of 71 in the Mater Hospital in Dublin on March 30, 2006. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Church Aughawillan alongside his mother.