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


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Birth of Geraldine Cummins, Spiritualist Medium, Novelist & Playwright

Geraldine Dorothy Cummins, spiritualist medium, novelist and playwright, is born in Cork, County Cork, on January 24, 1890. She began her career as a creative writer, but increasingly concentrates on mediumship and “channelled” writings, mostly about the lives of Jesus and Saint Paul, though she also publishes on a range of other topics. Her novels and plays typically document Irish life in a naturalist manner, often exploring the pathos of everyday life.

Cummins is the daughter of the physician Ashley Cummins, professor of medicine at the National University of Ireland and sister to Mary Hearn and Iris Cummins. In her youth she is an athlete, becoming a member of the Irish Women’s International Hockey Team. She is also active as a suffragette. Her desire to follow her father in a medical career is vetoed by her mother, so she begins a literary career as a journalist and creative writer. From 1913 to 1917 she writes three plays for the Abbey Theatre in collaboration with Suzanne R. Day, the most successful of which is the comedy Fox and Geese (1917). She publishes the novel The Land they Loved in 1919, a naturalistic study of working class Irish life.

As she concentrates on mediumship, Cummins’s literary work tails off. However, she continues to publish creative literature in her later years. Her solo-written play, Till Yesterday Comes Again, is produced by the Chanticleer Theatre, London, in 1938. She also publishes another novel, Fires of Beltane (1936) and a short-story collection Variety Show (1959).

Literary critic Alexander G. Gonzalez says that Cummins work tries to encompass the full range of Irish social life, from the aristocracy to the lower classes. In this respect she is influenced by Somerville and Ross. Gonzalez considers her short story The Tragedy of Eight Pence to be the “finest” of her writings, the tale of a “happily married woman trying to shield her ill husband from the knowledge that his death will leave her penniless.”

Cummins begins to work as a medium following prompting from Hester Dowden and E. B. Gibbes. She receives alleged messages from her spirit-guide “Astor” and is an exponent of automatic writing. Her books are based on these communications. In 1928 she publishes The Scripts of Cleophas, which provides channelled material on early Christian history complementing Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s writings, supposed to have been communicated by the spirit of Cleophas, one of Paul’s followers. This is later supplemented by Paul in Athens (1930) and The Great Days of Ephesus (1933).

Cummins’s next work describes human progress through spiritual enlightenment. The Road to Immortality (1932) provides a glowing vision of the afterlife. Its contents are purportedly communicated from the “other side” by the psychologist and psychic researcher Frederic W. H. Myers. Unseen Adventures (1951) is a spiritual autobiography. She also publishes several books of spiritually-derived knowledge about details of the life of Jesus.

During World War II Cummins allegedly works as a British agent, using her personal contacts to identify pro-Nazi factions within the Irish Republican movement. She also employs her psychic activities to support the Allied cause, sending channelled messages from sympathetic spirits to Allied leaders to support the war effort. This includes information from Theodore Roosevelt, Arthur Balfour and Sara Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s mother.

In the 1940s and 50s Cummins works with psychiatrists to develop a model for using spiritualism to treat mental illness, ideas she explores in Perceptive Healing (1945) and Healing the Mind (1957). She collaborates with a psychiatrist who uses the pseudonym R. Connell on both books. Their method is for her to “read” an object associated with the patient and thus identify either childhood traumas or experiences of ancestors which have created the problem. This includes treating a patient who is concerned about his homosexual desires by discovering that this derives from the fact that his Huguenot ancestors were humiliated by Catholics in the 18th century.

Cummins’s biography of writer and spiritualist Edith Somerville is published in 1952. She also writes The Fate of Colonel Fawcett (1955) which offers her psychic insights into the disappearance of the explorer Percy Fawcett in Brazil in 1925. She claims she had received psychic messages from Fawcett in 1936. He was still alive at that time, informing her that he had found relics of Atlantis in the jungle, but was ill. In 1948 she has a message from Fawcett’s spirit reporting his death. Her last book is an account of her conversations with the spirit of Winifred Coombe Tennant, Swan on a Black Sea; a Study in Automatic Writing; the Cummins-Willett Scripts (1965).

The automatic writing and alleged channeled material from Cummins have been examined and have been described by some psychical researchers to be the product of her own subconscious. For example, Harry Price, who studies various mental mediums including Cummins, writes that “there is no question that most of the automatic writing which has been published is the product of the subconscious.” Paranormal researcher Hilary Evans notes that unlike most spiritualists, Cummins does not accept the phenomena at face value and questions the source of the material.

According to the psychical researcher Eric Dingwall information published in Cummins’ scripts allegedly from Winifred Coombe Tennant are discovered to be erroneous. Biographer Rodger Anderson writes that although spiritualists consider Cummins completely honest “some suspected that she occasionally augmented her store of knowledge about deceased persons by normal means if by doing so she could bring comfort to the bereaved.”

Cummins’ book The Fate of Colonel Fawcett (1955), contains her automatist scripts allegedly from the spirit of Colonel Fawcett. Spiritualists claim the scripts are evidence for survival. However, the psychical researcher Simeon Edmunds notes that before his disappearance Fawcett had written articles for The Occult Review. Cummins also contributes articles to the same review and Edmunds suggests it is likely she had read the work of Fawcett. Edmunds concludes the scripts are a case of subliminal memory and unconscious dramatization.

Other researchers such as Mary Rose Barrington have suspected fraud as Cummins had long standing connections with friends and families of the deceased that she claimed to have contacted and could have easily obtained information by natural means. The classical scholar E. R. Dodds writes that Cummins worked as a cataloguer at the National Library of Ireland and could have taken information from various books that would appear in her automatic writings about ancient history. Her writings were heavily influenced by literature and religious texts. Dodds also studies her book Swan on a Black Sea which was supposed to be an account of spirit conversation but writes there is evidence suggestive of fraud as Cummins had received some of the information by natural means.

Cummins dies in Cork on August 25, 1969, and is buried in St. Lappan’s churchyard, Little Island.


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Birth of Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry, on January 23, 1918. He is one of six IRA men who are executed by the Irish State between September 1940 and December 1944.

Kerins attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944, for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944, in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Death of Dennis O’Driscoll, Poet, Essayist, Critic and Editor

Dennis O’Driscoll, Irish poet, essayist, critic and editor, dies suddenly on December 24, 2012, in Naas, County Kildare. Regarded as one of the best European poets of his time, Eileen Battersby considers him “the lyric equivalent of William Trevor” and a better poet “by far” than Raymond Carver. Gerard Smyth regards him as “one of poetry’s true champions and certainly its most prodigious archivist.” His book on Seamus Heaney is regarded as the definitive biography of the Nobel laureate.

Born on January 1, 1954 in Thurles, County Tipperary, O’Driscoll is the child of James O’Driscoll and Catherine Lahart, a salesman/horticulturist and a homemaker. He is educated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. After completing his secondary education in 1970 at the age of sixteen, he is offered a job at Ireland’s Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the internal revenue and customs service. Specializing in “death duties, stamp duties, and customs,” he is employed for over thirty years full-time. He lives in Naas, County Kildare, until his sudden death.

In the 1970s and 80s, O’Driscoll holds many part-time jobs and positions in association with his writing. He takes a position as part-time editor of Tax Briefing, a technical journal produced in Ireland, as well as reviewing poetry for Hibernia, and The Crane Bag. He also serves on the council of the Irish United Nations Association from 1975–80. After this, he marries Julie O’Callaghan, a poet and writer, in September 1985. He stays in the revenue business for as long as he does due to the advice of a colleague, who teels him, “If you ever leave your job, you will stop writing.” Thus, revenue becomes a sort of fall back option for him; a career that pays regularly and provides a pension. Whereas poetry is his art. Even so, in his memoir entitled, Sing for the Taxman, he states, “I have always regarded myself as a civil servant rather than a ‘poet’ or ‘artist’ – words I would find embarrassing and presumptuous to ascribe to myself.”

After thirty-eight years in Revenue, in early 2008, O’Driscoll is asked to write a poem marking the opening of the Revenue Museum in Dublin Castle, marking the first time his job and his art intermingle. This poem, At The Revenue Museum, which is originally brought to life to be printed in a program for the opening ceremony, now hangs as an exhibit in the museum itself.

Prior to the publication of his own poems, O’Driscoll publishes widely in journals and other print publications as both an essayist and poetry reviewer, for which he is very widely known. He writes nine books of poetry, three chapbooks, and two collections of essays and reviews. The majority of his works are characterised by the use of economic language and the recurring motifs of mortality and the fragility of everyday life. In 1987, he temporarily becomes a writer-in-residence at the National University of Ireland. He also serves for a short time as editor of Poetry Ireland Review.

O’Driscoll dies suddenly at the age of 58 on December 24, 2012. He is rushed to hospital after becoming ill but quickly succumbs to his fate. The arts world is shocked by his sudden demise. His wife and siblings – brothers Proinsias, Seamus, Declan, and sisters, Marie and Eithne – survive him.

President Michael D. Higgins notes that O’Driscoll is “held in the highest regard not only by all those associated with Irish and European poetry.” Joe Duffy, with whom O’Driscoll had appeared on air on the very week of his death, calls him a “generous, caring and witty man.” Fellow writer Belinda McKeon says he was “a scholar, a gentleman, a character, a friend.” English poet and critic David Morley describes him as a “fine poet and great critic.” Irish PEN mourns his death.


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Death of Composer Brian Patrick Boydell

Brian Patrick Boydell, Irish composer whose works include orchestral pieces, chamber music, and songs, dies on November 8, 2000. He is Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin for 20 years, founder of the Dowland Consort, conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, and a prolific broadcaster and writer on musical matters. He was also a prolific musicologist specialising in 18th-century Irish musical history.

Boydell is born on March 17, 1917, in Howth, County Dublin, into a prosperous Anglo-Irish family. His father James runs the family maltings business while his mother, Eileen Collins, is one of the first women graduates of Trinity College. Following their son’s birth, the Boydells move from Howth and live in a succession of rented houses before settling in Shankill, County Dublin. The young Boydell begins his formal education at Monkstown Park in Dublin and is subsequently sent to the Dragon School at Oxford, England. From there he goes to Rugby School, where he comes under the influence of Kenneth Stubbs, the music master. Although he later speaks of his resentment at the anti-Irish attitude he experiences at Rugby, he appreciates the very good education in science and music he receives there.

Having completed his secondary education, Boydell spends the summer of 1935 developing his musical knowledge at Heidelberg, Germany, where he writes his first songs and also studies organ. He wins a choral scholarship to Clare College, Cambridge, where, perhaps through parental pressure, he studies natural science, graduating in 1938 with a first-class degree.

However, his love of music leads him next to the Royal College of Music where he studies composition under Patrick Hadley, Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams. Already a good pianist, he also becomes a proficient oboe player during this time.

Upon the outbreak of World War II, Boydell returns to Dublin and achieves further academic success in 1942 with a Bachelor of Music degree from Trinity College. He also takes further lessons in composition from John F. Larchet.

Boydell’s busy working life combines teaching, performing and composing. Following a brief stint in his father’s business, he plunges himself into Dublin’s classical music scene. In 1943, he succeeds Havelock Nelson as conductor of the Dublin Orchestral Players, beginning an association with the amateur orchestra that endures for a quarter of a century (until 1966). In 1944, he is appointed Professor of Singing at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, a position he holds for eight years. Along with fellow composers Edgar M. Deale, Aloys Fleischmann, and Frederick May he founds the Music Association of Ireland in 1948 as a vehicle to promote classical music throughout the country.

Boydell’s interest in Renaissance music, in particular the madrigal, leads in 1959 to founding the Dowland Consort, a vocal ensemble with which he performs for many years and records an LP. In 1962, having obtained a Doctorate in Music, he is appointed Professor of Music at Trinity College, a position he holds until 1982. He immediately revamps the course making it more relevant to the second half of the twentieth century. He also finds time to sit on the Arts Council throughout the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.

Boydell’s communication skills combined with his infectious enthusiasm makes him a natural broadcaster. The appeal of his programmes on the history and performance of music, first on RTÉ Radio 1 and later on Telefís Éireann, go beyond a specialist audience and are, for many people, their introduction to a new world of aural pleasure.

Boydell has many interests beyond music. As a surrealist painter in the 1940s, having taken lessons from Mainie Jellett, he is a member of The White Stag Group. He is also passionate about cars and photography.

Following retirement from Trinity as Fellow Emeritus, Boydell devotes himself to musical scholarship, writing two books on the music of 18th century Dublin. He also contributes to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

Boydell dies at his home in Howth on November 8, 2000, at the age of 83 and in the company of his wife of 56 years, Mary (née Jones) and their sons, Cormac and Barra. A third son, Marnac, predeceases him.

Boydell is awarded several honorary titles in recognition of his services to music, including the Honorary Doctorate of Music from the National University of Ireland (1974), the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1983), the election to Aosdána, Ireland’s academy of creative artists (1984), and Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (1990).


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Birth of Agnes O’Farrelly, Academic & Professor of Irish at UCD

Agnes Winifred O’Farrelly (Irish: Úna Ní Fhaircheallaigh), academic and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin (UCD), is born Agnes Farrelly on June 24, 1874, in Raffony House, Virginia, County Cavan.

O’Farrelly is one of five daughters and three sons of Peter Dominic Farrelly and Ann Farrelly (née Sheridan), a family with a traditional interest in the Irish language. After her articles Glimpses of Breffni and Meath are published in The Anglo-Celt in 1895, the editor, E. T. O’Hanlon, encourages her to study literature. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland (BA 1899, MA 1900), she is appointed a lecturer in Irish at Alexandra College and Loreto College. A founder member in 1902, along with Mary Hayden, of the Irish Association of Women Graduates and Candidate Graduates, to promote equal opportunity in university education, she gives evidence to the Robertson (1902) and Fry (1906) commissions on Irish university education, arguing successfully for full co-education at UCD. Appointed lecturer in modern Irish at UCD in 1909, she is also a member of the first UCD governing body and the National University of Ireland (NUI) senate (1914–49). In 1932, on the retirement of Douglas Hyde, she is appointed professor of modern Irish at UCD, holding the position until her retirement in 1947. She is also president of the Irish Federation of University Women (1937–39) and of the National University Women Graduates’ Association (NUWGA) (1943–47).

One of the most prominent women in the Gaelic League, a member of its coiste gnótha (executive committee) and a director of the Gaelic press An Cló-Chumann Ltd, O’Farrelly is a close friend of most of its leading figures, especially Douglas Hyde, Kuno Meyer, and Eoin MacNeill. One of Hyde’s allies in his battle to avoid politicising the league, she is so close to him that students at UCD enjoy speculating about the nature of their friendship. She advocates pan-Celticism, but does not get involved in disputes on the matter within the league. A founder member, and subsequently principal for many years, of the Ulster College of Irish, Cloghaneely, County Donegal, she is also associated with the Leinster and Connacht colleges and serves as chairperson of the Federation of Irish Language Summer Schools.

Having presided at the inaugural meeting of Cumann na mBan in 1914, espousing its subordinate role in relation to the Irish Volunteers, O’Farrelly leaves the organisation soon afterwards because of her support for recruitment to the British Army during World War I. A close friend of Roger Casement, in 1916, along with Col. Maurice Moore she gathers a petition that seeks a reprieve of his death sentence. She is a member of a committee of women which negotiate unsuccessfully with Irish Republican Army (IRA) leaders to avoid civil war in 1922, and is heavily defeated as an independent candidate for the NUI constituency in the general elections of 1923 and June 1927. In 1937 she is actively involved in the National University Women Graduates’ Association’s campaign against the constitution, seeking deletion of articles perceived as discriminating against women.

Popular among students at UCD, O’Farrelly has a reputation as a social figure and entertains frequently at her homes in Dublin and the Donegal Gaeltacht. A founder member (1914) and president (1914–51) of the UCD camogie club, she persuades William Gibson, 2nd Baron Ashbourne, to donate the Ashbourne Cup for the camogie intervarsities. She is also president of the Camogie Association of Ireland in 1941–42. A supporter of native Irish industry, she is president of the Irish Industrial Development Association and the Homespun Society, and administrator of the John Connor Magee Trust for the development of Gaeltacht industry. A poet and writer in both Irish and English, often using the pseudonym ‘Uan Uladh’, her principal publications in prose are The reign of humbug (1900), Leabhar an Athar Eoghan (1903), Filidheacht Segháin Uí Neachtáin (1911), and her novel Grádh agus crádh (1901); and in poetry Out of the depths (1921) and Áille an domhain (1927).

O’Farrelly retires from UCD in 1947, and lives at 38 Brighton Road, Rathgar. An oil portrait by Seán Keating, RHA, is presented to her by the NUWGA on her retirement. She dies on November 5, 1951 in Dublin. Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and President Seán T. O’Kelly attend her funeral to Deans Grange Cemetery. She never marries, and leaves an estate valued at £3,109.


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Birth of Charles McCarthy, Trade Unionist & Academic

Charles McCarthy, trade unionist and academic, is born on January 25, 1924, at 12 Annmount, Friars Walk, Cork, County Cork.

McCarthy is the second child of John George McCarthy of Cork, plumber, and Agnes Abina McCarthy (née O’Donoghue). He is educated at Presentation Brothers College, Cork, University College Dublin (UCD), and King’s Inns, where he enrolls in 1948. He is called to the bar in 1956.

On June 7, 1951, McCarthy marries Muriel, daughter of Liam Breslin. She becomes (1989) keeper of Marsh’s Library, Dublin, receives an honorary LL.D from National University of Ireland (NUI), and is also made an honorary lay canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. They live at 367 Howth Road, Raheny, Dublin, and have one son and two daughters.

After graduating from UCD McCarthy briefly works as a clerk on a building site and as an insurance agent before becoming an actor with the Radio Éireann Repertory in 1947. During his time with Radio Éireann he also writes four plays, one of which, entitled Jericho’s trumpets, is based on his experiences in the insurance industry. He is later employed as a speech and drama teacher by Cork vocational educational committee. At the same time, he develops an interest in industrial relations as treasurer of the actors’ trade union Equity and then as secretary of the Civil Service Alliance. In 1956 he becomes full-time general secretary of the Vocational Teacher’s Association, which later becomes the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI). Through this post he eventually becomes president (1963–64) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and sits on the executive committee for ten years. As secretary to the International Committee of Technical Teachers he organises conferences around the world and develops countless international contacts.

In 1968 McCarthy publishes his first book, The distasteful challenge. A damning indictment of the static nature of Irish society at the time, it stresses the need to face up to change, particularly in the areas of education, the civil service, and local government. This is followed in 1971 by Industrial democracy. The following year he takes a leave of absence from the TUI to become a research fellow at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). In 1973 his dedication to the arts is rewarded with a seat (1973–76) on the RTÉ Authority and in the same year he publishes Decade of upheaval, which documents the experiences of the trade union movement during the turbulent era of the 1960s. In 1977 he becomes a lecturer in industrial relations at TCD and his 670-page magnum opus, Trade unions in Ireland, 1894–1960, is published to critical acclaim. In 1979 he is appointed to the chair in industrial relations at TCD and becomes head of the school of business and administrative studies. He is later appointed dean of the faculty of economic and social studies and made a fellow of TCD.

McCarthy is a firm believer in resolving industrial relations problems through negotiation. Both unions and management alike respect his views and abilities and he is frequently called on by the private and public sectors, as well as governments, to use his expertise to bring an end to protracted disputes. He sits on numerous public bodies including the National Industrial & Economic Council and the Irish National Productivity Committee. In 1985 his ability to bridge the divide between management and unions is recognised with his election to the council of the Irish Management Institute. Despite his career in industrial relations he maintains his interest in drama and is an original shareholder in the new Abbey Theatre. In 1973 he is appointed to the board of the theatre, serving as chairman from 1982–85. He is also a member of the board of governors and guardians of Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin.

McCarthy dies on September 8, 1986 in Dublin of atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries.

(From: “McCarthy, Charles” contributed by Shaun Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of William John Conway, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

William John Cardinal Conway, Irish cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 until his death, is born on January 22, 1913 in Belfast.

Conway is the eldest of four sons and five daughters of Patrick Joseph Conway and Annie Conway (née Donnelly). His father, a self-employed house-painter, also has a paint shop in Kent Street off Royal Avenue. His mother, who survives her son, is born in Carlingford, County Louth. He attends Boundary Street Primary School, St. Mary’s CBS (now St. Mary’s CBGS Belfast). His academic successes are crowned by a scholarship to Queen’s University Belfast. He decides to study for the diocesan priesthood. In 1933 he is conferred with an honours BA in English literature, and goes on to read a distinguished course in theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway is ordained on June 20, 1937 and awarded a DD (1938). On November 12, 1938 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and in 1941 he receives the DCL degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When Italy enters World War II in June 1940 he returns to Belfast to take up duty in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is appointed to teach English and Latin in St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, but after one year he is named professor of moral theology and canon law in Maynooth. He contributes regular ‘Canon law replies’ to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which are later collected as Problems in canon law (1950), the only book published by him.

In 1957 Conway becomes vice-president of Maynooth, and in 1958, he is named Ireland’s youngest bishop, Titular Bishop of Neve, and auxiliary bishop to Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is consecrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on July 27, 1958. He serves as administrator of St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, for the next five years, gaining valuable pastoral experience, and also uses these years to familiarise himself with his new diocese, especially its geography. On the death of D’Alton, he is chosen to succeed him in September 1963, and is enthroned on September 25 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sensi. At the end of 1964, Pope Paul VI chooses him as Ireland’s seventh residential cardinal, and he receives the red hat in the public consistory of February 22, 1965.

The thirteen-odd years of Conway’s ministry as primate are dominated firstly by the Second Vatican Council and secondly by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His primary concern is the church, to steer it through testing times. He is a very active bishop in a diocese of 160,000 Catholics, with fifty-seven parishes and some 167 priests. He carries the burden alone until 1974 when he is given an auxiliary in the person of his secretary, Fr. Francis Lenny (1928–78). Two new parishes are created, five new churches are built, and many others are renovated to meet the requirements of liturgical reform. Twenty new schools are also provided. He attends all four sessions of the Vatican council (1962–65), as auxiliary bishop and as primate. On October 9, 1963 he addresses the assembly, making a plea that the council might not be so concerned with weightier matters as to neglect to speak about priests. He also makes contributions on the topics of mixed marriages, Catholic schools, and the laity. On the topic of education, he is convinced that integrated schools will not solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

Conway represents the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at each assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, at first with Bishop Michael Browne of the Diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh, his former professor in Maynooth, and later with the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan. With Cardinals Jean-Marie Villot and Pericle Felici, he is chairman of the first synod in 1969, a signal honour conferred on him by Pope Paul VI. He addresses the assembly, opposing the ordination of married men as a move that would release a flood of applications from around the world for dispensations from priestly celibacy. His experience of violence in Northern Ireland is reflected in contributions he makes to later synod assemblies, especially in 1971 and 1974.

Apart from the synod, Conway travels a few times each year to Rome for meetings of the three Roman congregations on which he is called to serve (those of bishops, catholic education, and the evangelisation of peoples) and the commission for the revision of the code of canon law. He also travels further afield in a representative capacity to the International Eucharistic Congress at Bogotá, also attended by Pope Paul VI, and to Madras (1972), where he acts as papal legate for the centenary celebrations in honour of St. Thomas. In 1966 he is invited by the bishops of Poland to join in celebrations for the millennium of Catholicism in that country, but is refused an entry visa by the Polish government. In January 1973 he feels obliged to forgo participation in the Melbourne eucharistic congress because of the troubled situation at home. Within Ireland he accepts invitations to become a freeman of Cork and Galway (1965) and of Wexford (1966). In 1976 the National University of Ireland (NUI) confers on him an honorary LL.D.

Conway is acknowledged as an able and diligent chairman of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The core problem in the early years is how to lead the Irish church into the difficult new era that follows the council. He shows exceptional leadership qualities in the manner in which he promotes firm but gentle progress, avoiding sudden trauma and divisions. A major event in his term as Archbishop of Armagh, and one that gives him much satisfaction, is the canonization of Oliver Plunkett, his martyred predecessor, in the holy year 1975. He follows with great interest the final stages of the cause from 1968, and is greatly disappointed when grounded by his doctors six weeks before the event. He does however take part, concelebrating with Pope Paul VI at the ceremony on October 12, 1975. He also presides the following evening at the first mass of thanksgiving in the Lateran Basilica, receiving a tumultuous applause from the thousands of Irish present.

More than anything else, the Troubles in Northern Ireland occupy Conway during the second half of his term as archbishop and primate. He is the leading spokesman of the Catholic cause, but never fails to condemn atrocities wherever the responsibility lay. He brands as ‘monsters’ the terrorist bombers on both sides. In 1971 he denounces internment without trial, and the following year he is mainly responsible for highlighting the ill-treatment and even torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He repudiates the idea that the conflict is religious in nature, emphasising its social and political dimensions, and is openly critical of the British government over conditions in Long Kesh Detention Centre, and of ‘the cloak of almost total silence’ surrounding violence against the Catholic community.

In January 1977 Conway undergoes surgery in a Dublin hospital, and almost immediately comes to know that he is terminally ill. It is the best-kept secret in Ireland until close to the end. On March 29, he writes to his fellow bishops informing them that the prognosis regarding his health is ‘not good, in fact . . . very bad,’ and that he is perfectly reconciled to God’s will. He is still able to work at his desk until Good Friday, April 8, 1977.

Conway dies in Armagh on Low Sunday night, April 17, 1977. Seven countries are represented at his funeral by six cardinals and many bishops. The apostolic nuncio, the bishops of Ireland, the president and Taoiseach, six Irish government ministers, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are also among the mourners. The cardinal is laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh. The red hat received from Pope Paul VI is suspended from the ceiling of the Lady chapel, joining those of his four immediate predecessors.

(From: “Conway, John William,” Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, contributed by J. J. Hanley)


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Birth of Brian Cowen, Former Taoiseach & Leader of Fianna Fáil

Brian Cowen, Irish former politician who is Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil from 2008 to 2011, is born in Tullamore, County Offaly, on January 10, 1960.

Cowen is exposed to politics at a young age. His grandfather was a councillor in the Fianna Fáil party, and his father, Bernard Cowen, held a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). He is an exemplary debater in school and often speaks at his father’s election rallies. He studies at University College Dublin and at the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, where he is trained as a solicitor. His father’s death in 1984 prompts a by-election for the seat he had held in the Dáil. At the age of 24, he captures the seat, becoming one of the youngest members ever to sit in the Dáil.

Cowen’s political mentor is Albert Reynolds, who becomes Taoiseach in 1992 when Fianna Fáil is in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. He is an outspoken critic of the coalition, famously stating about the Progressive Democrats, “When in doubt, leave them out!” He serves as Minister for Labour (1992–93), and in 1993, after the breakup of the Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats government, he helps to negotiate the short-lived coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. He then serves as Minister for Transport, Energy, and Communications (1993–94), leaving office after Fianna Fáil is forced into opposition by the formation of a Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition.

During Fianna Fáil’s years out of government, Cowen serves successively as opposition Spokesperson for Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (1994–97) and Spokesperson for Health (1997). Following elections in 1997, Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern forms a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats, and the party once again returns to power. Cowen serves as Minister for Health and Children (1997–2000), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000–04), and Minister for Finance (2004–08). In June 2007 he was appointed Tánaiste.

Cowen is known for his sharp tongue and sometimes rough-hewn manner, but he is also recognized for his fierce intelligence, wit, and jovial demeanour. A combative politician and loyal party member, he is for many years seen as an obvious successor to Ahern. In April 2008, amid an investigation into possible past financial misconduct, Ahern announces that he will resign as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil the following month. Cowen, who had remained supportive of Ahern throughout, is elected Leader of Fianna Fáil in April 2008. He becomes Taoiseach the following month and is faced with leading the country amid the global financial crisis that creates Ireland’s worst economy since the 1930s.

Cowen’s government oversees the bailout of Ireland’s banking system, which had been thrown into crisis by the collapse of the housing market, but the rescue comes at the cost of a skyrocketing deficit. As the country’s economic difficulties deepen, he seeks a cure that he hopes would obviate the need of foreign intervention, proposing an increase in income taxes and cuts in services. In November 2010, however, as concern for Ireland’s financial stability grows among its eurozone partners, he agrees to accept a bailout of more than $100 million from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. There is concern in Ireland that one condition for foreign aid might be an increase in Ireland’s comparatively low corporate taxes. The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s junior partner in the governing coalition, responds to the situation by calling for early elections.

In mid-January 2011 Cowen’s leadership of Fianna Fáil is challenged by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, partly in response to rumours that had swirled of a golf course meeting that had taken place between the Taoiseach and the former head of the Anglo Irish Bank before the government’s bailout of the Irish banking industry. He survives a leadership vote, but about one-third of the party’s parliamentary bloc votes against him. In a rapid succession of events that occur over the course of a few days, an unsuccessful reshuffle of the cabinet follows the resignation of six cabinet ministers, after which Cowen calls for an election to be held on March 11 and then announces that he will step down as party leader but continue as caretaker Taoiseach until the election. The Green Party then withdraws from the ruling coalition, forcing an even earlier election. Waiting until the parliament passes a finance bill that is necessary to meet the conditions of an International Monetary Fund–European Union loan but which imposes austerity measures that had proved very unpopular with much of the Irish public, he officially calls the election for February 25. Martin takes over as the Leader of Fianna Fáil, which suffers a crushing defeat in the election at the hands of Fine Gael.

In May 2014, Cowen becomes part of the board of Topaz Energy. He is appointed to the board of Beacon Hospital in February 2015. In July 2017, he is conferred with an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland. During his 50-minute acceptance speech he criticises the EU for its behaviour towards Ireland during the financial crisis and expresses regret that so many jobs were lost during the recession. Following the conferring ceremony, the NUI faces considerable public criticism for deciding to make the award to Cowen. Former (and founding) President of the University of Limerick, Edward M. Walsh, announces that he will hand back his own honorary doctorate in protest, and does so on November 14, 2018.

On July 5, 2019, Cowen is admitted to Beacon Hospital after suffering a major brain hemorrhage. He is then transferred to St. Vincent’s University Hospital where he spends five months before transferring to a physical rehabilitation facility. As of late 2020, while he is still in hospital following a stroke the previous year, he has been making steady progress.


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Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Cyril Cusack, Irish Film & Television Actor

Cyril James Cusack, Irish actor who appears in numerous films and television productions in a career lasting more than 70 years, dies in Chiswick, London, England on October 7, 1993. In 2020, he is listed at number 14 on The Irish Times‘s list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.

Cusack is born in Durban, Natal, South Africa, on November 26, 1910. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), is an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, is an Irish mounted policeman in the Colony of Natal, South Africa. His parents separate when he is young and his mother takes him to England, and then to Ireland. His mother and her partner, Brefni O’Rorke, join the O’Brien and Ireland Players.

Cusack makes his first stage performance at the age of seven. He is educated at Newbridge College in Newbridge, County Kildare, then reads law at University College Dublin. He leaves without a degree and joins the Abbey Theatre in 1932. Between then and 1945, he performs in over 60 productions, particularly excelling in the plays of Seán O’Casey. He also performs Irish playwright Teresa Deevy‘s plays Katie Roche and The King of Spain’s Daughter. In 1932 he also joins the Gate Theatre company, appearing with them in many notable productions over the years. In 1947, he forms his own company and stages productions in Dublin, Paris and New York.

In 1963, Cusack joins the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and appears there for several seasons. By this stage he has established a successful career in films, which had started at the age of eight. Also in 1963, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance in the Telefís Éireann production of Triptych. He receives honorary degrees in 1977 and 1980 from the National University of Ireland (NUI) and the University of Dublin respectively.

Cusack, who is bilingual in English and Irish, has a leading role in the controversial Irish language film Poitín (1977). He is also offered the role of the First Doctor in Doctor Who.

Cusack’s last stage performance is in Anton Chekhov‘s Three Sisters (1990), in which three of his daughters play the sisters.

Cusack is twice married, firstly to Mary Margaret “Maureen” Kiely (1920–1977), on April 5, 1945. Together they have five children: Paul (1946), Sinéad (1948), Sorcha (1949), Niamh (1959), and Pádraig (1962). He and his second wife, Mary Rose Cunningham (1979–1993), have one daughter, Catherine (1968).

In later life, Cusack becomes a campaigner for conservative causes in Ireland, notably in his opposition to abortion, where he becomes a frequent letter-writer to the main liberal Irish newspaper, The Irish Times. Regarding his Catholic faith, he comments “Religion promotes the divine discontent within oneself, so that one tries to make oneself a better person and draw oneself closer to God.” His religious credentials come under scrutiny following his death and the revelation that he had been unfaithful in his first marriage, with a long-term mistress, Mary Rose Cunningham. He marries Cunningham following his first wife’s death.

Cusack is a longtime friend of Attorney General of Ireland, Chief Justice of Ireland and fifth President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, whom he got to know when they were students at University College Dublin in the early 1930s.

On October 7, 1993, Cusack dies at the age of 82 at home in Chiswick, Greater London, from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His acting career had lasted 75 years.

Cusack is the maternal grandfather of Irish Socialist Workers Party Teachta Dála (TD) Richard Boyd Barrett and English actor Max Irons.