seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Ewart Milne, Irish Poet

ewart-milneEwart Milne, Irish poet, is born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, He describes himself on various book jackets as “a sailor before the mast, ambulance driver and courier during the Spanish Civil War, a land worker and estate manager in England during and after World War II” and also “an enthusiast for lost causes – national, political, social and merely human.”

Milne is born of English and Welsh-Irish parents and is educated at Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School. In 1920 he signs on as a seaman and works on boats, off and on, until 1935. During the 1930s he begins writing and has his first poems published in 1935.

The background to the Spanish Civil War contributes to Milne’s political awakening and he comes to England to work as a voluntary administrator for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in London, for whom he often acts as a medical courier. He also was once unwillingly involved in an arms deal while visiting Spain on their behalf.

After Spanish Medical Aid Committee is wound up, Milne returns to Ireland but remains politically active in support of the campaign for the release of Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column of Irish volunteers on the Republican side, who had been captured and imprisoned in Spain. At one point he takes part in a delegation to Westminster seeking Labour Party support for this. In August 1938 he is reported in The Worker’s Republic as being one of the twelve member committee of the James Connolly Irish club in London.

During his time in England and Spain, Milne gets to know the left-leaning poets who support the Republican cause, including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1938 his first collection of poems, Forty North Fifty West, is published in Dublin, followed by two others in 1940 and 1941. Having taken a pro-British line in neutral Ireland, he is informed by Karl Petersen, the German press attaché in Dublin, that he is on the Nazi death list. This convinces him to help in the British war effort and he returns to England with the help of John Betjeman, then working at the British embassy in Ireland.

Between 1942–1962 Milne is resident in England and an active presence on the English literary scene. In particular he becomes associated with the poets grouped around the magazine Nine, edited by Peter Russell and Ian Fletcher. He and his wife Thelma also back the young Irish poet Patrick Galvin when he launches his own magazine, Chanticleer. This generous encouragement of younger writers is later extended to several others, including John F. Deane, Gerald Dawe and Maurice Scully.

Milne regards his return to Dublin in 1962 as a disaster, as his four-year stay is overshadowed by quarrels with the establishment, the discovery of betrayal by a friend and the death of his wife from lung cancer. The misery of those events is recorded in Time Stopped (1967). The artistic frustration of the time also results in the poems included in Cantata Under Orion (1976). Returning to England in 1966, he settles in Bedford. Politically he remains involved and speaks alongside Auberon Waugh at the rally on behalf of Biafra in 1968, but his views move further to the right in later years. He writes to The Irish Times on April 13, 1976, saying that he has been “taken in by Stalin and that Leninism is Satanism.” He also sides with the Loyalist position in the Ulster conflict. He dies in Bedford of a heart attack on January 14, 1987.

Milne is twice married, first to Kathleen Ida Bradner in 1927, by whom he has two sons; then in 1948 to Thelma Dobson, by whom he has two more sons.

(Pictured: A portrait of Ewart Milne by Cecil F. Salkkeld, as it appears in Milne’s book Forty North Fifty West)


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Birth of Maureen Potter, Actor & Comedienne

maureen-potter

Maria Philomena Potter, singer, actor, comedian and performer known as Maureen Potter, is born on January 3, 1925 in Fairview, Dublin.

Potter is educated at St. Mary’s school in Fairview. She has a long career in Irish theatre, mainly as Ireland’s première comedienne, but also as a straight actress. She first appears professionally with Jimmy O’Dea in pantomime and appears frequently on television and in cabaret. She is a regular performer at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and for many years stars in Christmas pantomime. She becomes the first star to have a bronze cast of her handprints outside the theatre. She marries Jack O’Leary in 1959, an Irish army officer whom she had first met in 1943, and he writes most of her comedic material.

Among Potter’s many dramatic roles in the theatre is that of Maisie Madigan in Juno and the Paycock. While still a teenager, she tours abroad before World War II as a singer and dancer with Jack Hylton and his orchestra. On a tour of Germany, they once perform in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazis. She plays the role of Dante Riordan in Joseph Strick‘s film, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). In September 1938, she appears on the BBC Television Service with Jack Hylton and his band. Film of her performance is held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society. In 2001, the Archivist of the Alexandra Palace Television Society gives Potter a copy of her 1938 television appearance.

Potter is conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1984, and is later awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin. She dies in her sleep at her home in Clontarf on April 7, 2004, at the age of 79. She is survived by her husband Jack O’Leary, and her sons John and Hugh.


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Magee College Opens in Derry, County Londonderry

magee-college-1870Magee College opens on October 10, 1865 as a Presbyterian Christian arts and theological college in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Since 1953, it has had no religious affiliation and provides a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate academic degree programmes in disciplines ranging from business, law, social work, creative arts & technologies, cinematic arts, design, computer science and computer games to psychology and nursing.

The Magee Campus gains its name from Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, who, in 1845, bequeathed £20,000 to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to found a college for theology and the arts. It opens in 1865 primarily as a theological college, but accepts students from all denominations to study a variety of subjects. It is a college of the Royal University of Ireland from 1880 and later becomes associated with Trinity College, Dublin when the Royal University is dissolved in 1909 and replaced by the National University of Ireland.

During World War II, the college is taken over by the Admiralty for Royal NavyRoyal Navy operational use, becoming with Ebrington Barracks (HMS Ferret), a major facility in the Battle of the Atlantic. A 2013 BBC report describes a secret major control bunker, later buried beneath the lawns of the college. From 1941 this bunker, part of Base One Europe, together with similar bunkers in Derby House, Liverpool and Whitehall is used to control one million Allied personnel and fight the Nazi U-boat threat.

In 1953, Magee Theological College separates from the remainder of the college, eventually moving to Belfast in a 1978 merger that forms Union Theological College. Also in 1953, Magee College breaks its ties with Dublin and becomes Magee University College. It is hoped by groups led by the University for Derry Committee that this university college would become Northern Ireland’s second university after Queen’s University Belfast. However, in the 1960s, following the recommendations in The Lockwood Report by Sir John Lockwood, Master of Birkbeck College, London and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, the Parliament of Northern Ireland makes a controversial decision to pass it over in favour of a new university in Coleraine. Instead it is incorporated into the two-campus New University of Ulster in 1969. The next fourteen years see the college halve in size, while development focuses on the main Coleraine campus.

In 1984, the New University merges with the Ulster Polytechnic, and Magee becomes the early focus of development of a new four-campus university, the University of Ulster. Student and faculty numbers recover and grow rapidly over the next ten to fifteen years, accompanied by numerous construction projects. Magee grows from just 273 students in 1984 to over 4,000 undergraduates in 2012. In 2012, the University continues to lobby the Northern Ireland Executive for an additional 1,000 full-time undergraduate places, leading to 6,000 students at Magee in 2017.

On September 14, 2013 Magee hosts, for the first time on the island of Ireland, the 23rd International Loebner Prize Contest in Artificial Intelligence based on the Turing test proposed by the renowned British computer scientist Alan Turing in 1950. Turing also works on cracking the Enigma machine code at Bletchley Park which is instrumental in the Battle of the Atlantic.

In October 2014 the University of Ulster is rebranded as Ulster University.

(Pictured: Magee College, c. 1870)


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Birth of Con Cremin, Irish Diplomat

con-creminCornelius Christopher Cremin, Irish diplomat, is born in Kenmare, County Kerry on December 6, 1908.

One of four children, Cremin is born to a family that operates a drapery business. His brother, Francis Cremin, becomes a leading academic canon lawyer who frames a number of key church documents. He is educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and from 1926 at University College Cork, where he graduates with a first-class degree in Classics and Commerce.

Around 1929 Cremin is awarded the post-graduate University College Cork Honan scholarship. By 1930 he has attained a degree in economics and accountancy. For the following three years he studies in Athens, Munich and Oxford, having attained a traveling scholarship in Classics. He subsequently enters the Department of External Affairs, having succeeded in the competition for third secretary in 1935.

In April 1935 Cremin marries Patricia O’Mahony. His first position in Dublin involves working with Frederick Henry Boland on the League of Nations portfolio. In 1937 he is sent abroad on his first posting to Paris. There he works under the “Revolutionary Diplomat” Art O’Brien, until the latter retires in 1938. Sean Murphy later becomes his Minister. Ireland declares neutrality on the outbreak of World War II and Murphy and Cremin report on the developments in France throughout the Phoney War.

After the fall of France, the Irish legation is the last to leave Paris except for the American Ambassador, on June 11, 1940. After traveling to Ascain the legation eventually makes its way to the new French Capital, Vichy, where it sets about looking after the needs of Irish citizens, many of whom have been interned, as they have British passports and have been sending political reports. The political reports are of the highest value and insure that Irish continue to observe pro-Allied neutrality throughout the war.

In 1943 Cremin is sent to Berlin to replace William Warnock. Prior to his arrival the Legation is bombed. As Chargé d’affaires in Berlin, he is responsible for sending back political reports and looking after the interests of Irish citizens. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to assist some European Jews. He does however send full reports on the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Europe. Warned to leave Berlin before the Soviets arrive, he spends the last weeks of the war near the Swiss border.

In 1945 Cremin is sent to Lisbon, where he meets authoritarian president António de Oliveira Salazar and attempts to revive Irish trade as well as reporting on the various unsuccessful coups against Salazar.

After returning to Ireland in 1946 he is involved in preparing Ireland’s Marshall Plan application and tracing the development of Ireland’s post war foreign policy. He has a distinguished career representing Ireland in many foreign missions and at the United Nations.

After retiring Cremin remains chairman of the Irish delegation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After his first wife dies he marries again in 1979. He dies in Kenmare on April 19, 1987, survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.