seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Landscape Artist Dairine Vanston

Dairine (Doreen) Vanston, Irish landscape artist who works in a Cubist style, dies in Enniskerry, County Wicklow on July 12, 1988.

Vanston is born in Dublin on October 19, 1903. She is the daughter of solicitor John S. B. Vanston, and sculptor Lilla Vanston (née Coffey). She attends Alexandra College, going on to study at Goldsmith’s College, London under Roger Bissière. She then goes to Paris to the Académie Ranson, being sent there following the advice of Paul Henry. While in Paris she meets Guillermo Padilla, a Costa Rican law student at the University of Paris. They marry in 1926 and she takes the name Vanston de Padilla. The couple lives for a time in Italy, before moving to San José, Costa Rica. The marriage breaks down in the early 1930s, at which point she returns to Paris with her son and studies with André Lhote. She is living in France at the outbreak of World War II with Jankel Adler, but is able to escape to London in 1940, and later to Dublin.

Vanston’s time in Paris leaves a lasting impression on her work, including use of primary colours and a strong Cubist influence. She belongs to what critic Brian Fallon calls the “Franco-Irish generation of painters who looked to Paris,” along with Mainie Jellett, Evie Hone, and Norah McGuinness. Her time spent living in Costa Rica in the late 1920s and early 1930s imbues her work with tropical and highly toned colours. In Dublin in 1935, she exhibits 17 paintings, largely Costa Rican landscapes, at Daniel Egan’s gallery on St. Stephen’s Green. This is the closest thing to a solo show she would mount, with this show also featuring Grace Henry, Cecil Ffrench Salkeld, and Edward Gribbon.

Meeting the English artist Basil Rakoczi, who is also living in Dublin during World War II, leads Vanston to become associated with The White Stag group. In November 1941, she exhibits for the first time at a group show with 24 other artists, including Patrick Scott. One work that is shown at this exhibition is the painting Keel dance hall, which demonstrates that she spends time in the west of Ireland. The most important event staged by the group is the Exhibition of subjective art, which takes place at 6 Lower Baggot St. in January 1944. The Dublin Magazine notes her work at this show as the most effective of the experimental vanguard. This work, Dying animal, is a Cubist work with semi-representation forms rendered in bold colours. In 1945, her work is featured in a White Stag exhibition in London of young Irish painters at the Arcade gallery, Old Bond St.

In 1947, Vanston spends almost a year in Costa Rica where she paints primarily in watercolours. Apart from this period, she lives and works in Dublin, living at 3 Mount Street Crescent near St. Stephen’s Church. At the inaugural Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943, she exhibits five works. At the first Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1960, of which she is a founder, she exhibits three landscapes and a work entitled War. She largely exhibits with the Independent Artists, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and the Oireachtas na Gaeilge, and does not exhibit with the Royal Hibernian Academy. Later in life, she exhibits with the Figurative Image exhibitions in Dublin, and is amongst the first painters chosen for Aosdána. A number of her works are featured in the 1987 exhibition, Irish women artists, from the eighteenth century to the present arranged by the National Gallery of Ireland and The Douglas Hyde Gallery.

Vanston dies on July 12, 1988 in a nursing home in Enniskerry, County Wicklow. Her work is greatly admired, but has received little by way of critical attention, which may have been to do with her slow rate of output. A number of her works have proved difficult to trace. She was a private person, even refusing to cooperate with the Taylor Galleries in the 1980s when they wanted to mount a retrospective of her work. The National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick holds a work by Vanston.

(Pictured: “Landscape with Lake and Hills” (1964), oil on paper (monotype) by Dairine Vanston)


Leave a comment

Death of Anne Butler Yeats, Painter, Costume & Stage Designer

Anne Butler Yeats, Irish painter, costume and stage designer, dies in Dublin on July 4, 2001.

Born in Dublin on February 26, 1919, Yeats is the daughter of the poet William Butler Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees, a niece of the painter Jack B. Yeats, and of Lily Yeats and of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Her aunts are associated with the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland and are associated with the Dun Emer Press, Cuala Press, and Dun Emer industries. Her brother Michael Yeats is a politician. She is known as “feathers” by her family. Her birth is commemorated by her father with the poem “A Prayer for My Daughter.” She spends her first three years between Ballylee, County Galway and Oxford before her family moves to 82 Merrion Square, Dublin in 1922.

Yeats is very sick as a child, spending three years in two different hospitals. She then goes to the Pension Henriette, a boarding school in Villars-sur-Bex, Switzerland from 1928–1930. In 1923 her Aunt Elizabeth “Lolly” gives her brush drawing lessons which aids her in winning first prize in the RDS National Art competition for children under eight years old in 1925 and 1926.

Yeats trains in the Royal Hibernian Academy school from 1933 to 1936, and works as a stage designer with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1936, at the age of 16, she is hired by the Abbey Theatre as assistant to Tanya Moiseiwitsch. She studies for four months at the School of Theatrical Design in Paris with Paul Colin in 1937. At 18, she begins her costume career on sets with Ria Mooney‘s company. At the Abbey, she designs the sets and costumes for revivals of W.B. Yeats’ plays The Resurrection and On Baile’s Strand (1938).

In 1938 Yeats designs the first production of W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory, which is her most successful achievement. Purgatory is the last play that W.B Yeats sees on stage, and when it is performed it is a full house. When working on Purgatory, Hugh Hunt wants to have a moon on the back cloth of the production but Yeats refuses. “If she does not win, she is going to say that she doesn’t wish to have her name on the programme as a designer of the setting.” This could be the main reason why her name is not on many productions that she works on. She also designs the first play of her uncle Jack Yeats to receive professional production, Harlequin’s Positions.

In 1939 Yeats is promoted to head of design at the Abbey until her departure in May 1941. In 1939 it is commented that her designs are “getting arty” and not in keeping with the style of the Abbey. One of her last designs is her father’s last play, The Death of Cuchulain, for the Lyric Theatre on the Abbey stage, in 1949. She designs and stage-manages for the Peacock Theatre, the Cork Opera House, the Olympia Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, the Austin Clarke Lyric Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and Players’ Theatre.

Among the work Yeats is credited with in the Abbey Theatre, she is also recorded as having worked on five productions in the Peacock Theatre with the Theatre Company: Alarm Among the Clerks (1937), The Phoenix (1937), Harlequin’s Positions (1939), The Wild Cat (1940), and Cavaliero (The Life of a Hawk) (1948).

Yeats chooses to move towards painting full-time beginning a brief study at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1941. She experiments with watercolour and wax. She has a touching naive expressionist style and is interested in representing domestic humanity. She designs many of the covers for the books of Irish-language publisher Sáirséal agus Dill over a twenty-year period from 1958. She does illustrations for books by Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice, and works with many young designers, such as Louis le Brocquy.

Yeats dies at the age of 82 in Dublin on July 4, 2001. She is buried near her brother, Michael Butler Yeats, at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, County Dublin.

The Royal Hibernian Academy holds a retrospective of her work in 1995, as does the National Gallery of Ireland in 2002. She donates her collection of Jack B. Yeats’ sketch books to the National Gallery of Ireland, leading to the creation of the Yeats Museum within the Gallery. Her brother, Michael, in turn, donates her sketchbooks to the Museum.

(Pictured: “Gossip & Scandal,” 1943 oil on canvas, by Anne Butler Yeats)


1 Comment

Birth of Garry Hynes, Theatre Director & Tony Award Winner

Garry Hynes, Irish theatre director, is born in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, on June 10, 1953. She is the first woman to win the prestigious Tony Award for direction of a play.

Hynes is educated at St. Louis Convent at Monaghan, the Dominican Convent at Galway, and University College Galway (UCG).

Hynes is a co-founder of the Druid Theatre Company with Mick Lally and Marie Mullen in 1975 after meeting through the drama society of UCG. She is Druid’s artistic director from 1975 to 1991, and again from 1995 to date. She directs for the Abbey Theatre from 1984 and is its artistic director from 1991 to 1994, and also the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange, Manchester, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Hynes directs DruidSynge, the company’s critically acclaimed production of all six of John Millington Synge‘s plays that première at the Galway Arts Festival in 2005 and has since toured to Dublin, Edinburgh, Inis Meáin, Minneapolis and New York City. DruidSynge has been described by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as “the highlight not just of my theatre going year but of my theatre going life” and by The Irish Times as “one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre.”

In 2017, award-winning artist Vera Klute is commissioned by the National Gallery of Ireland to create a portrait of Hynes as part of the 2015 Hennessey Portrait Prize. The bust, made of porcelain, concrete and timber (with a dimension of 164cm x 54cm x 45cm), is unveiled to the public in April 2017 and is currently on display as part of the Gallery’s National Portrait Collection.

In 1998 Hynes wins the Tony Award for Direction for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the first woman to receive the award. She is a recipient of many other Theatre Awards, including The Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Award for Best Director (2002) and a The Irish Times Special Tribute Award for her contribution to Irish Theatre in February 2005.

Hynes has received honorary Doctorates from the University of Dublin (2004), The National University of Ireland, Galway (1998) and the National Council for Educational Awards (1988). On June 15, 2006 she is awarded the Freedom of the City of Galway, its highest bestowed honour.

Hynes is the civil partner of film producer Martha O’Neill.


Leave a comment

Death of Irish Painter Louis le Brocquy

Louis le Brocquy, Irish painter, dies in Dublin at the age of 95 on April 25, 2012.

Le Brocquy is born in Dublin on November 10, 1916 to Albert and Sybil le Brocquy. He is educated at St. Gerard’s School, studies chemistry at Kevin Street Technical School in 1934, and then Trinity College Dublin before working at his family’s oil refinery. Turning to art at the age of 21, he learns through studying the works of Diego Velázquez, Édouard Manet, and Paul Cézanne, in various museums across Europe. Returning to Ireland at the outbreak of World War II, he focuses his attention on depicting themes from Celtic mythology as well as individuals of Ireland’s Travellers ethnic minority.

Le Brocquy’s work receives many accolades in a career that spans some seventy years of creative practice. In 1956, he represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale, winning the Premio Acquisito Internationale (a once-off award when the event was acquired by the Nestle Corporation) with A Family (National Gallery of Ireland), subsequently included in the historic exhibition Fifty Years of Modern Art at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. That same year he marries the Irish painter Anne Madden and leaves London to work in the French Midi.

Le Brocquy is widely acclaimed for his evocative “Portrait Heads” of literary figures and fellow artists, which include William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, and his friends Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and Seamus Heaney. In his later years le Brocquy’s early “Tinker” subjects and Grey period “Family” paintings, attract attention on the international marketplace placing le Brocquy within a very select group of British and Irish artists whose works have commanded prices in excess of £1 million during their lifetimes. Others in this group include Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, and Francis Bacon.

Today, Le Brocquy’s work is represented in numerous public collections from the San Diego Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City to the Tate Modern in London. In Ireland, he is honoured as the first and only painter to be included during his lifetime in the Permanent Irish Collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Le Brocquy designs the covers for the albums The Lark in the Morning and The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion. A member of Aosdána, he is elected Saoi in 1994, which is the highest honour that members of Aosdána can bestow upon a fellow member. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time.

Le Brocquy dies in Dublin on April 25, 2012 and is survived by his daughter Seyre from his first marriage (1938–1948) to Jean Stoney, and his two grandsons John-Paul and David; his second wife Anne Madden, and their two sons, Pierre and Alexis.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sculptor Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard RHA, Irish sculptor most famous for his 1911 bronze statue of the mythical Cúchulainn dying in battle, is born at Old Town, Cookstown, County Tyrone on April 10, 1865. His work is also part of the art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics and the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Sheppard is born to Simpson Sheppard, a sculptor, and Ellen White, of Ormond Quay, Dublin.

Sheppard is based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having travelled widely across Europe. He and his wife Rosie have several children. They live at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin. She dies in 1931.

Sheppard’s main influence is the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who teaches him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin (now the National College of Art and Design), where he later becomes a lecturer.

From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard teaches sculpture at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, which is renamed the National College of Art in 1936. His annual stipend is £250 but for this he only has to lecture on three mornings per week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects. One of his most famous students is the sculptor Kathleen Cox.

As a prominent sculptor Sheppard is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and is made a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1925–41. He also exhibits works at European exhibitions during his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.

Sheppard is generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland, saying, “For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions…was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect.”

In 1890–1910 Sheppard is a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, is admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he meets his brother, Patrick Pearse, who later helps launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival’s artists are writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard can claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.

Sheppard is in the minority of Irish Protestants who support independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he is an art student. After the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) he says, “They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country.” His opinions are not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.

In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage is planned, and is finally launched in 1928. Sheppard is one of the designers short-listed but his designs are not accepted.

Sheppard dies in Dublin on September 14, 1941.

(Pictured: “The Dying Cúchulainn,” sculpture by Oliver Sheppard, now at the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin)


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA

Irish painter Sir Frederic William Burton RHA is born in County Wicklow on April 8, 1816. The third son of Samuel Frederick Burton and his wife Hanna Mallett, he is taken by his parents to live in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland at the age of six. The old Burton seat is Clifden House, Corofin, County Clare, which is built around the middle of the eighteenth century. The artist’s grandparents were Major Edward William Burton, Clifden, who was High Sheriff of Clare in 1799, and his wife, Jane Blood of nearby Roxton, County Clare. In his youth he has strong sympathy with the Young Ireland movement.

Educated in Dublin, Burton is elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy at the age of twenty-one and an academician two years later. In 1842 he begins to exhibit at the Royal Academy. A visit to Germany and Bavaria in 1842 is the first of a long series of trips to various parts of Europe, which give him a profound knowledge of the works of the Old Masters. From 1851 he spends seven years working as a painter in the service of Maximilian II of Bavaria.

Burton works with George Petrie on archaeological sketches and is on the council of the Royal Irish Academy and the Archaeological Society of Ireland. He is elected an associate of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours in 1855, and a full member in the following year. He resigns in 1870, and is reelected as an honorary member in 1886.

In 1874 Burton is appointed the third director of the National Gallery, London, in succession to Sir William Boxall RA. In June 1874, he obtains a special grant to acquire the art collection of Alexander Barker, which includes Piero della Francesca‘s Nativity and Sandro Botticelli‘s Venus and Mars. In 1876 a bequest of 94 paintings, mainly by Dutch artists but also including works by Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Dieric Bouts and Canaletto, is made by the British haberdasher Wynne Ellis. Also in this year an extension to the Gallery by Edward Middleton Barry is completed.

During the twenty years that Burton holds this post he is responsible for many important purchases, among them Leonardo da Vinci‘s Virgin of the Rocks, Raphael‘s Ansidei Madonna, Anthony van Dyck‘s Equestrian portrait of Charles I, Hans Holbein the Younger‘s Ambassadors, and the Admiral Pulido Pareja, by Diego Velázquez (this subsequently attributed to Velázquez’s assistant Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo). He also adds to the noted series of Early Italian pictures in the gallery. The number of acquisitions made to the collection during his period of office exceeds 500.

Burton’s best-known watercolours, The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child (1841) and The Meeting on Turret Stairs (1864) are in the National Gallery of Ireland. The Meeting on Turret Stairs is voted by the Irish public as Ireland’s favourite painting in 2012 from among ten works shortlisted by critics. A knighthood is conferred on him in 1884, and the degree of LL.D. of Dublin in 1889.

Burton dies in Kensington, West End of London on March 16, 1900 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

(Pictured: “Sir Frederic William Burton,” painting by Henry Tanworth Wells (died 1903), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1913)


Leave a comment

Birth of Mary Swanzy, Landscape & Genre Artist

Mary Swanzy, Irish landscape and genre artist, is born in Dublin on February 15, 1882. Noted for her eclectic style, she paints in many styles including cubism, futurism, fauvism, and orphism, she is one of Ireland’s first abstract painters.

Swanzy is the second of three daughters of Sir Henry Rosborough Swanzy, an eye surgeon, and his wife Mary (née Denham). She attends Alexandra College, Earlsfort Terrace, a finishing school at the Lycée in Versailles, France, and a day school in Freiburg, Germany. This education means that she is fluent in French and German. She goes on to take art classes at Mary Manning‘s studio, under the direction of John Butler Yeats. Manning encourages her to study modelling with John Hughes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art.

Living within walking distance of the National Gallery of Ireland, she spends a lot of time studying and copying the great masters. Her first exhibition is with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) in 1905 with Portrait of a child, continuing to exhibit portraits every year until 1910. In 1905 she goes to Paris and works at the Académie Delécluse, an atelier-style art school. She goes on to attend the studio of Antonio de La Gándara in 1906, and takes classes at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and Académie Colarossi. While in Paris she is exposed to the works of Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso, which make a lasting impression on her.

On her return to Dublin, Swanzy paints portraits and genre scenes and holds her first show at Mill’s Hall, Merrion Row in 1913. She holds another show there in 1919, where she exhibits nearly 50 pieces. This exhibition is reviewed by Sarah Purser who notes the lack of melancholy and light optimism in Swanzy’s Irish landscapes. Swanzy paints in a number of styles, often reflecting the major art developments in Paris.

After the deaths of her parents, she is financially independent and can travel, spending her time between Dublin and Saint-Tropez during World War I while continuing to paint. She also exhibits with the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1914 and 1916, being elected to the committee in 1920. While visiting her sister who is involved with the Protestant relief mission in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, she paints landscapes, village life, and peasant scenes. These works are shown in the autumn of 1921 in the Dublin Painters’ Gallery with six other artists including Jack Butler Yeats, Paul Henry, and Clare Marsh with whom she shares a studio.

Swanzy begins to travel to more exotic countries from the 1920s, Honolulu around 1923, and later Samoa. As a result, she paints local tropical flowers, trees, and native women, with a palette and style similar to that of Fauvism. She stays for a time in Santa Barbara, California, working in a local studio and exhibiting some of her Samoan work at the Santa Barbara Arts Club Gallery. She returns to Ireland in February 1925 and exhibits three of her Samoan paints at the RHA, and 14 at her one-woman show in the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris in October 1925. Gertrude Stein writes her to congratulate her on her Paris exhibition.

In the mid 1920s Swanzy settles in Blackheath, London, making regular trips to Dublin and abroad. In 1932 Purser holds an exhibition of Swanzy’s work for invited guests in her house. At this time her painting is influenced by orphism and is reviewed positively. Her work becomes more allegorical in later years, with The message in the Hugh Lane Gallery demonstrating this. During World War II she stays with her sister in Coolock for three years. In 1943, she holds a one-woman show at the Dublin Painters’ Gallery, and is also featured at the first Irish Exhibition of Living Art. She is exhibited at St. George’s Gallery, London in 1946 along with Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, and William Scott.

Swanzy is made an honorary member of the RHA in 1949, showing with them in 1950 and 1951. She does not exhibit in Ireland for a number of years, but the Hugh Lane Gallery holds a major retrospective of her work in 1968. Following this she holds two one-woman shows at the Dawson Gallery in 1974 and 1976. In 1975 she is featured at the Cork ROSC art exhibition and resumes showing with the RHA. She continues to paint until her death at her home in London on July 7, 1978.

In 1982 the Taylor Galleries holds an exhibition to mark the centenary of Swanzy’s birth. More recently she is featured in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) 2013 exhibition Analysing Cubism. From October 2018-February 2019, also in IMMA, she is the subject of the solo exhibition Mary Swanzy Voyages.

(Pictured: Sunlit Landscape, oil-on-canvas, by Mary Swanzy)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, First Honorary Citizen of Ireland

Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, mining engineer, philanthropist, art collector, and the first honorary citizen of Ireland (1957), is born in New York, New York, United States on February 7, 1875 on the site of what is now Rockefeller Center. He plays an important role in the development of copper deposits in Central Africa.

Beatty is the youngest of three sons born to Hetty and John Beatty, a banker and stockbroker. After studying engineering at the Columbia School of Mines and Princeton University, he helps to develop porphyry copper ores in the United States, first as a consulting engineer and later as a director on the boards of several copper-mining firms. In 1913 he relinquishes his mining interests in the United States and settles in Great Britain, becoming a naturalized British subject in 1933. In 1921 he forms a prospecting company that initiates the development of the Copperbelt region of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). For this, he becomes known as the “King of Copper.”

An early family anecdote recalls that, as a young boy, Beatty catches the collection bug, bidding at auction for mining samples. In 1931 an announcement in London‘s The Times casts him as a great collector. Between 1939 and 1949 he acquires over 140 nineteenth-century paintings to display in the Picture Gallery of his London home. These are now part of the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland.

Beatty supports the war effort, contributing a large amount of raw materials to the Allies. He receives a belated knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1954 Birthday Honours list for his contribution to the wartime effort. By the late 1940s, however, he has become disillusioned with Britain. Political deviations from his free-market values, coupled with increased foreign exchange restrictions impacted both his personal and collecting interests in Britain.

In 1950, at the age of 75, Beattys over the reins of Selection Trust to his son Chester Jr. and relocates to Dublin. He purchases a large townhouse for himself on Ailesbury Road, in the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a site on Shrewsbury Road for the construction of the Chester Beatty Library, which houses the collection, opening on August 8, 1953. The library is moved to its current location at Dublin Castle in 2000.

Beatty spends the remainder of his life between Dublin and the south of France. He is made a Freeman of the City of Dublin in 1954 and is the first person granted honorary citizenship of Ireland in 1957. He continues to collect in the 1950s and 1960s, acquiring important Ethiopian manuscripts and Japanese printed material during that period.

Beatty dies in Monte Carlo in Monaco on January 19, 1968. His Irish estate is valued at £7 million. He is accorded a state funeral by the Irish government, the first private citizen in Irish history to receive such an honour. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


Leave a comment

Funeral of Economist Dr. T. K. Whitaker

The funeral of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, former civil servant and economist, takes place in Dublin on January 13, 2017. Regarded as the architect of the modern Irish economy, he dies at age 100 on January 9. President Michael D. Higgins, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin are among those attending the requiem mass for Dr. Whitaker at Donnybrook Church.

Whitaker is born in Rostrevor, County Down, to Roman Catholic parents on December 8, 1916, and reared in Drogheda, County Louth, in modest circumstances. His mother, Jane O’Connor, comes from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. His father, Edward Whitaker, hails from County Westmeath and is assistant manager of a linen mill. He receives his primary and secondary education at the local CBS in Drogheda. He studies mathematics at University College Dublin.

In 1956, Whitaker is appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance. His appointment takes place at a time when Ireland’s economy is in deep depression. Economic growth is non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. He believes that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, will become inevitable and that jobs will have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He forms a team of officials within the department which produces a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan is accepted by the government and is transformed into a white paper which becomes known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion. Quite unusually this is published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme which becomes known as the “Grey Book” brings the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella is Whitaker’s private secretary.

In 1977, Taoiseach Jack Lynch nominates Whitaker as a member of the 14th Seanad Éireann. He serves as a Senator from 1977–81, where he sits as an independent Senator.

In 1981, Whitaker is nominated to the 15th Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he serves until 1982. FitzGerald also appoints him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he chairs a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.

Whitaker also serves as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He is also President of the Royal Irish Academy and as such, a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland, from 1985 to 1987. He has a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600–1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, is dedicated to Whitaker. From 1995–96 he chairs the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which publishes its report in July 1996.

Whitaker receives many national and international honours and tributes for his achievements during his lifetime, most notably the conferral of “Irishman of the 20th Century” in 2001 and Greatest Living Irish Person in 2002. In November 2014, the Institute of Banking confers an Honorary Fellowship on Whitaker and creates an annual T.K. Whitaker Scholarship in his name. In April 2015, he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by University College Dublin’s Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s economic policy.

In November 2016, to mark his centenary year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledges Whitaker’s “outstanding and progressive contribution to Irish public service and to society.” The Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Cormac Devlin, presents a special award to Whitaker which is accepted by Ken Whitaker on behalf of his father.


Leave a comment

Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.