seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Muriel Frances Murphy MacSwiney

Muriel Frances Murphy MacSwiney, Irish nationalist and left-wing activist, and the first woman to be given the Freedom of New York City, is born Muriel Frances Murphy into a wealthy family on June 8, 1892, in Cork, County Cork. She is the wife of Terence MacSwiney, mother of Máire MacSwiney Brugha and sister-in-law of Mary MacSwiney.

Murphy’s father is Nicholas Murphy and her mother Mary Gertrude Purcell of Carrigmore, in Montenotte, Cork. She is sent away to school, to a convent in Sussex, England.

At Christmas 1915 Murphy attends an evening at the Fleischmann home where she meets Terence MacSwiney. Her family does not want the couple involved and does not approve of her growing interest in nationalism and socialism. In 1917 she marries MacSwiney in St. Joseph’s Church, Bromyard, Herefordshire, while he is interned due to his involvement in the Easter Rising of 1916. Her bridesmaid is Geraldine O’Sullivan and his best man is Richard Mulcahy. The couple had waited until she had come of age at 25 so that she is financially independent of her parents. They have a daughter, Máire MacSwiney Brugha.

MacSwiney sees very little of her husband during their married life as he is often arrested. He dies due to his hunger strike on October 25, 1920 as Lord Mayor of Cork. Her husband’s death has a huge impact on her life, being a public event as well as a personal loss. She completes a lecture and interview tour of the United States, over nine months, with his sister Mary. She is the first woman to be given the Freedom of New York City, in 1922.

MacSwiney is part of a group posing as a Red Cross delegation who breaks Annie M. P. Smithson out of Mullingar prison with the help of Linda Kearns MacWhinney.

MacSwiney begins to suffer from depression and takes her daughter to Germany, leaving her there while she travels Europe. She eventually loses custody of her child and by 1934 she no longer has any involvement in her daughter’s life.

MacSwiney spends a lot of time in Paris, where she continues to be engaged with politics, typically those of left-wing, including communist, groups. She becomes involved with Pierre Kaan and they have a daughter, Alix, who is born on May 5, 1926 in Germany. Kaan is sent to a concentration camp by the Gestapo and dies on May 18, 1945, as a result of his treatment there.

MacSwiney is critical of American foreign policy on Vietnam, calling the United States a “world imperialist power.”

MacSwiney never resolves her relationships with either her own daughter or her family. She is paid a pension as the widow of Terence MacSwiney from 1950. She is living in Tonbridge in Kent with her daughter near the end of her life. She dies on October 26, 1982 at Oakwood Hospital in Barming Heath near Maidstone.


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Death of Brinsley MacNamara, Writer & Playwright

John Weldon (alternatively “A. E. Weldon”), Irish writer, playwright, and the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland, dies in Dublin on February 4, 1963. He adopts the pseudonymBrinsley MacNamara,’ the first name deriving from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the second from a relative on his mother’s side, and uses it throughout his subsequent career as novelist and playwright.

Weldon is born on September 6, 1890, in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath, the eldest son of James Weldon, a schoolteacher, originally of Ballinea, Mullingar, and Fanny Weldon (née Duncan). He attends his father’s school at Delvin until he is eighteen, and the relationship between father and son is to remain rather formal and strict.

Stimulated by the visiting fit-up theatrical companies and of news from Dublin of the Abbey Theatre, in September 1908 he takes the lead in a local staging of a political melodrama, Robert Emmet by Henry C. Mangan. The following summer he leaves for Dublin, ostensibly to become a civil servant but in fact to audition as an actor at the Abbey Theatre. His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan.

MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918), its title a byword for small-town hypocrisy and begrudgery. The work itself is an uneasy fusion of a satiric portrait of gossipy, prying women and dipsomaniacally drinking men with a naturalist tragedy in which the sins of the past repeat themselves in the lives of the younger characters. The novel’s frank treatment of sexual matters is eclipsed as a cause of offence by the unflattering portrayal of almost all the inhabitants of the fictional village called Garradrimna, a place that local people feel would be automatically identified as Delvin. In the ensuing controversy the novelist’s father, James Weldon (widely suspected of being the author), and his school are subject to boycott. His attempts to seek legal redress in 1923 are unsuccessful.

MacNamara continues to write for many years after this controversial first work, and locates most of his later fiction in Garradrimna, in the Irish Midlands. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.

In 1925 McNamara is appointed registrar to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, a position he holds until his retirement in 1960. In 1932 he becomes one of the first members of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in 1935 joins the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre.

MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. His later years are dogged by increasing ill health and he dies at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, on February 4, 1963.


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IRA Commander Seán Mac Eoin Captured at Mullingar

Seán Mac Eoin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) North Longford commander, is captured at Mullingar on March 1, 1921 and charged with the murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective, dealing a severe blow to the IRA in that area.

Mac Eoin is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. After a national school education, he trains as a blacksmith at his father’s forge and, on his father’s death in February 1913, he takes over the running of the forge and the maintenance of the McKeon family. He moves to Kilinshley in the Ballinalee district of County Longford to set up a new forge.

Having joined the United Irish League in 1908, Mac Eoin’s Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. In November 1920, he leads the Longford brigade in attacking Crown forces in Granard during one of the periodic government reprisals, forcing them to retreat to their barracks. On October 31, Inspector Philip St. John Howlett Kelleher of the RIC is shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard. Members of the British Auxiliary Division set fire to parts of the town. The following day, Mac Eoin holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. One constable is killed and two others are wounded.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen appears on Anne Martin’s street. According to Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial he is in the house in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in his pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, he has to get out as to not endanger them. He steps out on the street and opens fire with his revolver. The leading file falls and the second file brings their rifles to the ready. He then throws a bomb, after which he sees that the entire force has cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.

On February 2, 1921, the Longford IRA ambushes a force of the Auxiliaries on the road at Clonfin, using a mine it had planted. Two lorries are involved, the first blown up, and the second strafed by rapid rifle fire. Four auxiliaries and a driver are killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers capture 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun. At the Clonfin Ambush, Mac Eoin orders his men to care for the wounded British, at the expense of captured weaponry, earning him both praise and criticism. He is admired by many within the IRA for leading practically the only effective column in the midlands.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station on March 1, 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of an RIC district inspector in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921.

In June 1921, Henry Wilson, the British Chief of the General Staff (CIGS), is petitioned for clemency by Mac Eoin’s mother, his brother Jemmy, and the local Church of Ireland vicar, but passes on the appeals out of respect for the latter two individuals. Three auxiliaries had already given character references on his behalf after he had treated them chivalrously at the Clonfin Ambush in February 1921. However, Nevil Macready, British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, confirms the death sentence describing Mac Eoin as “nothing more than a murderer.”

While imprisoned Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Michael Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless they are freed.

Mac Eoin joins the National Army and is appointed GOC Western Command in June 1922. His military career soars after the Irish Civil War. He is appointed GOC Curragh Training Camp in August 1925, Quartermaster General in March 1927, and Chief of Staff in February 1929.

Mac Eoin resigns from the Army in 1929, and is elected at a by-election to Dáil Éireann for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency, representing Cumann na nGaedheal. At the 1932 Irish general election, he returns to the constituency of Longford–Westmeath, and continues to serve the Longford area as TD until he is defeated at the 1965 Irish general election.

During a long political career Mac Eoin serves as Minister for Justice (February 1948 – March 1951) and Minister for Defence (March–June 1951) in the First Inter-Party Government, and again as Minister for Defence (June 1954 – March 1957) in the Second Inter-Party Government. He unsuccessfully stands twice as candidate for the office of President of Ireland, against Seán T. O’Kelly in 1945 and Éamon de Valera in 1959.

Mac Eoin retires from public life after the 1965 general election and dies in Dublin on July 7, 1973.


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Death of John Alexander, Victoria Cross Recipient

John Alexander VC, British Army soldier and an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to a member of the British and Commonwealth forces, is killed during the Siege of Lucknow in India on September 24, 1857.

Born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Alexander is a private in the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry, later known as the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), during the Crimean War. He is awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery during the war. His citation reads:

“On 18 June 1855 after the attack on the Redan at Sevastopol, Crimea, Alexander went out from the trenches under very heavy fire and brought in several wounded men. On 6 September, when he was with a working party in the most advanced trench, he went out under heavy fire and helped to bring in a captain who was severely wounded.”

Alexander is later killed in action during the Siege of Lucknow during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in British India on September 24, 1857.

Private Alexander’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

(Pictured: “The Battle of Sebastopol,” after 1856, Jean-Charles Langlois)


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.


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The Rochfort-Hampson Duel

pollard-rochfort-duelIn a duel at Mullingar on October 17, 1738, Arthur Rochfort, Member of Parliament (MP) for County Westmeath, shoots Dillon Pollard Hampson in the stomach. Hampson, a former Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Irish Freemasons, recovers.

In 18th century Ireland if one considers himself to be a gentleman and is insulted by someone of similar status, one doesn’t take it lying down or file a lawsuit in court. The preferred method to avenge the insult is to challenge the insulter to a duel and attempt to shoot or stab him to death.

One of the more quarrelsome gentlemen of the first half of the 18th century is Arthur Rochfort, a Westmeath grandee whose family had occupied land around Mullingar since the 13th century. The town of Rochfortbridge is named after them.

Rochfort is a justice of the peace, a man who exercises considerable power over the lesser orders from the bench. In 1737 he is challenged to a duel by one Thomas Nugent. Nugent’s beef is that Rochfort had (properly) jailed one of his servants for poaching and carrying arms. Nothing comes of the challenge because the authorities get wind of it and prosecute Nugent before he can do any damage. They were not going to accept having one of their magistrates shot up by an argumentative aristocrat.

Rochfort has another quarrel the following year on October 17, this one with an influential member of the Freemasons, Dillon Hampson Pollard. In the shootout that follows Rochfort hits his opponent in the stomach. Fortunately, Pollard recovers although he dies of natural causes two years later.

Rochfort’s own end was quite ignominious. As it happens he is the proud owner of two irascible, litigious and obnoxious brothers, Robert and George. Robert goes on to become the 1st Earl of Belvedere and builds Belvedere House outside Mullingar.

(From: On This Day – Drivetime – 17 October 1738 – Arthur Rochfort, duellist and the Jealous Wall, Myles Dungan, October 17, 2014, https://mylesdungan.com/2014/10/17/on-this-day-drivetime-17-october-1738-arthur-rochfort-duellist-and-the-jealous-wall/)


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Death of J.P. Donleavy, Novelist & Playwright

jp-donleavyJames Patrick Donleavy, Irish American novelist and playwright, dies in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which is initially banned for obscenity.

Born in New York City on April 23, 1926 to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, Donleavy receives his education at various schools in the United States. He declares himself to be an atheist at the age of 14. He serves in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ends, he moves to Ireland. In 1946 he begins studying at Trinity College, Dublin, but leaves in 1949 before taking a degree. Also in 1946, he marries Valerie Heron and the couple has two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorce in 1969 and he remarries in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price. That union also ends in divorce in 1989.

Donleavy’s first published work is a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appears in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art in 1950. He gains critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels. The novel, of which his friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan is the first person to read the completed manuscript, is banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield is in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once describes in an interview as a “saint,” though of a Rabelaisian kind.

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the Kitchen Sink artists as well as the “angry young men.” Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provides the title of The Pogues hit song “Fairytale of New York.”

In March 2007, Donleavy is the castaway on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs. In 2015, he is the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

In 2011, it is reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Mary Wilson Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s confirms that Rebecca is the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory is the son of Kieran’s older brother Finn, whom Price marries after her divorce from Donleavy. “My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child,” Donleavy tells The Times, “and after a certain stage, you can’t worry about their parentage.”

J.P. Donleavy dies of an apparent stroke in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017 at the aged of 91.


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Death of Ann Lovett & Her Newborn Son

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnn Lovett, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Granard, County Longford, dies on January 31, 1984 while giving birth beside a grotto. Her baby son dies at the same time and the story of her death plays a huge part in a seminal national debate in Ireland at the time on women giving birth outside marriage.

Tuesday, January 31, 1984 is a cold, wet, winter’s day in Granard. That afternoon, the fifteen-year-old school girl leaves her Cnoc Mhuire Secondary School and makes her way to a Grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the top of her small hometown in the Irish midlands. It is here beneath the statue of Our Lady, that she gives birth, alone, to her infant son.

At around 4:00 PM some children on their way home from school see Ann’s schoolbag on the ground and discover her lying in the Grotto. They alert a passing farmer who rushes to the nearby priest’s house to inform him of the chilling discovery of Ann and her already deceased baby in the adjacent grotto. The priest’s response to his request for help is “It’s a doctor you need.”

Ann, still alive but hemorrhaging heavily, is carried to the house of the Parish Priest from where a doctor is phoned. She is then driven in the doctor’s car to her parents house in the centre of the town. By the time an ambulance arrives it is already too late.

Ann Lovett and her child are quietly buried three days later in Granardkill cemetery.

An inquest is held in Mullingar a few weeks later and finds that Ann’s death is due to irreversible shock caused by hemorrhage and exposure during childbirth. The inquest also confirms that, contrary to claims emanating from the local community, some people did indeed know about Ann’s condition before her death. Subsequent inquiries by the Gardaí, the Department of Education and the Midlands Health Board have yet to be published leaving the tragic events of that day and the circumstances that forced a young girl to leave her classroom on a cold, wet winters day to give birth alone in a grotto, still shrouded in uncertainty.

Ann Lovett’s death comes just four months after the outcome of a divisive abortion referendum in which a two-thirds majority vote to enshrine the right to life of the unborn in the constitution, creating confusion over where that leaves the rights of the mother. In the ensuing public debate, the tragic events at Granard become symbolic of the emerging clash between church and state.


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Birth of Christopher Nolan, Irish Poet & Author

Christopher Nolan, Irish poet and author, is born to parents Joseph and Bernadette Nolan in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 6, 1965.

Due to asphyxiation at birth, Nolan is born with permanent impairment of his nerve-signaling system, a condition now labelled dystonia. Because of these complications, Nolan is born with cerebral palsy and can only move his head and eyes. Due to the severity of the cerebral palsy, he uses a wheelchair. In an interview, his father, Joseph, explains how, at the age of 10, he is placed on medication that “relaxed him so he could use a pointer attached to his head to type.” To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while Christopher painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

He communicates with others by moving his eyes, using a signal system. When he is young, his father tells him stories and reads passages from James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and D.H. Lawrence to keep his mind stimulated. His mother strings up letters of the alphabet in the kitchen, where she keeps up a stream of conversation. His sister, Yvonne, sings songs and acts out skits. His mother stated that “he wrote extensively since the age of 11 and went on to write many poems, short stories and two plays, many of which were published.” Many of the writings are compiled for his first publication, the chapbook Dam-Burst of Dreams.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic School, Mount Temple Comprehensive School and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published at the age of fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the U.K., the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the U.K.’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

At the age of 43, while working on a new novel, Christopher Nolan dies in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009. His death is the result of a piece of salmon becoming trapped in his airway. However, nothing from the novel he was working on has been released since his death.

Upon hearing the news of Nolan’s death, President of Ireland Mary McAleese says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”


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Christopher Nolan Wins Whitbread Book Award

christopher-nolanChristopher Nolan, Irish poet and author who cannot move or speak because of an accident at birth, wins the Whitbread Book Award on January 19, 1987, for his autobiography Under the Eye of the Clock.

Nolan is born in Mullingar, County Westmeath, on September 6, 1965, the son of Joseph and Bernadette Nolan. Due to asphyxiation at birth, he is born with permanent impairment of his “nerve-signaling system, a condition he said is now labelled dystonia.” Because of these complications, he is born with cerebral palsy, and can only move his head and eyes. To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while he painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic school, Mount Temple Comprehensive School, and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published when he is fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the UK, the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. At the age of fifteen, he publishes his collection of poems titled Dam-Burst of Dreams. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the UK’s Whitbread Book Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce‘s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

Christopher Nolan dies at age 43 in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009, after a piece of salmon becomes trapped in his airway. Irish president Mary McAleese, upon hearing the news, says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”