seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Nelly O’Brien, Miniaturist, Artist & Activist

Ellen Lucy or Nelly O’Brien, Irish miniaturist, landscape artist, and Gaelic League activist, dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting her brother Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London.

O’Brien is born Ellen Lucy O’Brien on June 4, 1864, at Cahirmoyle, County Limerick. She is the eldest child of Edward William O’Brien and Mary O’Brien (née Spring Rice). Her siblings are Lucy and Dermod, with Dermod also becoming an artist. Her father is a landowner, and her mother is a sculptor and painter and sister of Thomas Spring Rice. Her grandfather is William Smith O’Brien.

While a young child, O’Brien spends two years living on the French Riviera from 1866 to 1868. Her mother later dies of tuberculosis, and the three children are raised by their aunt, the writer and nationalist, Charlotte Grace O’Brien. Their father remarries in 1880, to Julia Marshall, with whom he has two sons and two daughters.

O’Brien attends school in England from 1879, and later enrolls to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. She meets Walter Osborne through her brother Dermod, and considers herself engaged to him, but Osborne dies on April 24, 1903. A portrait of O’Brien by Osborne is held in the Hugh Lane Gallery.

O’Brien returns to Ireland, and begins to paint miniatures on ivory using a magnifying glass. She also paints watercolour landscapes. Her first exhibition with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) is in 1896, where she shows three works including Sketch near Malahide. She exhibits with the RHA on and off until 1922. During some of her time in Dublin, she lives with her half-brother, Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien, on Mount Street.

As part of an exhibition of Irish painters, O’Brien exhibits a number of portrait miniatures at the London Guildhall in 1904. The 1906 Oireachtas na Gaeilge features a number of her paintings, and in the same year she becomes honorary secretary of a newly established art committee. At the MunsterConnacht exhibition in Limerick of 1906, she exhibits a miniature of William Smith O’Brien amongst her 12 works on show. She produces many portraits, including one of Douglas Hyde, which is exhibited by the RHA in 1916.

O’Brien is an early member of the Gaelic League, being present at its first Oireachtas na Gaeilge in 1897, and founding the Craobh na gCúig gCúigí (Branch of the Five Provinces). In 1905, she writes a long letter in defence of Douglas Hyde and the Gaelic League in The Church of Ireland Gazette. She holds meetings of Craobh na gCúig gCúigí in her flat at 7 St. Stephen’s Green every Saturday night in 1907. In 1911, she founds Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí (O’Curry Irish College) in Carrigaholt, County Clare, which is named in honour of Eugene O’Curry, with the help of her cousin and friend Mary Spring Rice.

One of her ultimate goals is to create a national Irish church, which would unite Protestants and Catholics through the Irish language. To this end, she establishes the Irish Guild of the Church with Seoirse de Rút in 1914. The aim of the organisation is to provide a communal union for members of the Church of Ireland who are dedicated to “Irish Ireland” ideals.

Acting as a representative for the Gaelic League, she travels to the United States with Fionan MacColuim in 1914 to 1915, to fund raise and promote Irish art and industries. At Coláiste Eoghain Uí Chomhraí, she stresses the importance of the Irish language in the home, as well as the skills of housewives and those in domestic service in strengthening the language and Irish culture.

O’Brien notes that she initially thought that the 1916 Easter Rising was “in the nature a demonstration against conscription as it had been announced that the volunteers would resist disarmament.” She is staying with the Hydes at 1 Earlsfort Place during the Rising, as her flat at College Park Chambers had been destroyed. She protests the conscription bill in Ireland as a mass meeting of women at the Mansion House in 1918. She launches the Gaelic Churchman in 1919 as the official publication of the Irish Guild of the Church. In one article entitled A plea for the Irish services, she promotes her campaign for Irish language services in Protestant churches. In her capacity of vice-president of the guild, she invites Éamon de Valera to attend one of their meetings in 1921.

O’Brien dies suddenly on April 1, 1925 while visiting Dermod at 66 Elm Park Gardens, London. She is buried at the family plot in Cahirmoyle.

(Pictured: Nelly O’Brien by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792)


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Death of Painter William Dermod O’Brien

William Dermod O’Brien, Irish painter commonly known as Dermod O’Brien, dies in Dublin on October 3, 1945. Most of his paintings are landscapes and portraits. His work is part of the painting event in the art competition at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

O’Brien is born on June 10, 1865 at Mount Trenchard House near Foynes in County Limerick, the son of Edward William O’Brien and Hon. Mary Spring Rice, granddaughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. For a time after his mother’s death, he is raised by his aunt Charlotte Grace O’Brien, along with his sisters, Nelly and Lucy. His father subsequently remarries in 1880. He is educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

O’Brien marries Mabel Emmeline Smyly, daughter of Sir Philip Crampton Smyly, on March 8, 1902. Together they have five children. His son Brendan, a surgeon in Dublin, marries artist Kitty Wilmer O’Brien. His daughter Rosaleen Brigid becomes an artist, also known as Brigid Ganly after her marriage to Andrew Ganly. Another artistic relative is Geraldine O’Brien.

Unlike many of his Irish contemporaries, after graduating from Cambridge O’Brien does not study art in Dublin, opting instead to travel to Paris, where he studies the paintings at the Louvre. In 1887, he visits galleries in Italy and then enrolls at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium. At the Academy he is a fellow student of Walter Osborne. He leaves Antwerp in 1891 and returns to Paris, where he studies at Académie Julian. He relocates to London in 1893 and then Dublin in 1901.

O’Brien is designated an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1906, a member in 1907, and is later president between 1910 and 1945. He is made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1912.

O’Brien holds the office of High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1916 and serves as Deputy Lieutenant of County Limerick. He serves in the Artists Rifles during World War I.

(Pictured: Dermod O’Brien by Howard Coster, print, late 1930s, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London by the estate of Howard Coster, 1978)


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)