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


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Birth of Novelist & Playwright Molly Keane

Molly Keane, née Mary Nesta Skrine, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, is born in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare, on July 20, 1904.

Keane’s mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin in County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bedbound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Molly meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a County Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which, including Good Behaviour and Time After Time, have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She was a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, after which she moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. Following the failure of a play shortly after her husband’s death, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages her to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Keane dies at the age of 91 on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


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Death of Séamus O’Donovan, IRA Volunteer & Nazi Collaborator

James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.

Born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon, O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.

In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.

In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.

As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.

On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from “Pfalzgraf Section” asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.

O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.

In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.

O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Luka Bloom

Kevin Barry Moore, Irish folk singer-songwriter best known as Luka Bloom, is born on May 23, 1955 in Newbridge, County Kildare. He is the younger brother of folk singer Christy Moore.

Moore’s parents are Andy Moore and Nancy Power, who had already raised three daughters and two other sons. He attends a Patrician Brothers primary school and later studies at Newbridge College, run by the Dominican Order. In college he forms the group Aes Triplex with his brother Andy and a school friend. He later attends a college in Limerick, but he drops out after a couple of years to pursue a music career.

In 1969, 14-year-old Moore embarks on a tour supporting his eldest brother, Christy Moore, at various English folk clubs. After the tour he spends all of his time practising and writing music. In 1976, Christy records one of his songs “Wave up to the Shore.” In 1977, he tours Germany and England as part of the group Inchiquin.

In 1978, Moore releases his debut album, Treaty Stone. In 1979, having normally played guitar using a finger-picking technique, he is afflicted with tendonitis and is forced to learn to play with a plectrum, which alters his guitar style. That same year, he moves to Groningen in the Netherlands. In 1980, he records and releases his second album, In Groningen. In 1982, he releases his third album, No Heroes, which contains songs all written by Moore himself. For three years, from 1983 to 1986, he is the front-man for the Dublin-based band Red Square. During this time, in 1984, his son Robbie is born.

In 1987, Moore moves to the United States and begins performing using the stage name of “Luka Bloom.” He chooses the name “Luka” from the title of Suzanne Vega‘s song about child abuse and “Bloom” from the main character in James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses. Initially he lives and performs primarily in Washington D.C., but in late 1987 he moves to New York City. The following year, he releases his first album – later withdrawn – under the name Luka Bloom.

In 1990, Bloom releases his album Riverside, which includes the song “The Man Is Alive.” The album is recorded in New York, with its lyrics reflecting his experiences living and performing in that city. In 1991, he returns to Dublin to record The Acoustic Motorbike, which includes a cover version of LL Cool J‘s “I Need Love.” The cover song is reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine, noting that “the prospect of a folksy Irish rocker covering a rap ballad may seem strange, but experimenting with different forms is precisely what keeps established traditions vital.”

In 1993, Bloom again returns to Ireland to record the album Turf, this time with producer Brian Masterson and sound engineer Paul Ashe-Browne. The album attempts to capture the sound of a live performance, and is recorded in front of an audience that is asked to remain as quiet as possible. In 1998, he releases Salty Heaven, an album inspired by his return to Ireland.

Bloom’s early albums showcase his frenetic strumming style, including “Delirious,” the debut track on Riverside, and his penchant for thoughtful cover songs, an affinity that he maintains even in more recent work. In addition to his LL Cool J cover, he also covers Elvis Presley‘s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on the album The Acoustic Motorbike.

Released in 2000, Keeper of the Flame is an album of cover versions featuring renditions of ABBA‘s “Dancing Queen,” Bob Marley‘s “Natural Mystic,” and the Hunters & Collectors‘ “Throw Your Arms Around Me,” among others. His 2004 acoustic mini-album, Before Sleep Comes, is recorded while he is recovering from tendinitis. He states that the purpose of the album is “to help bring you closer to sleep, our sometimes elusive night-friend.”

In 2005, Bloom releases the album Innocence. Some of the songs feature a new-found interest in Eastern European Romani music and other world music. The album features him playing classical guitar, and the resonant plucking associated with that style of instrument. In his previous work, he relies almost exclusively on steel-stringed acoustic guitars that created his distinctive style. In 2007, he releases the album Tribe, a collaboration with County Clare musician Simon O’Reilly. O’Reilly composes the music and sends the recordings to Bloom for him to complete with lyrics and singing.

In February 2008, Bloom releases a DVD titled The Man is Alive, featuring footage filmed in Dublin and at his home in Kildare, a question and answer session with fans, the documentary My Name is Luka, and a CD of music taken from the two performances. In September of that year, he releases the album Eleven Songs, which features an expanded ensemble of instrumentation, giving the album a distinct sound within his catalogue.


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Republican Prisoner Denny Barry Dies on Hunger Strike

Irish Republican prisoner Denis “Denny” Barry dies on hunger strike in Newbridge internment camp on November 20, 1923, shortly after the Irish Civil War.

Barry is born into a farming family in Riverstick, ten miles south of Cork city, on July 15, 1883. He enjoys Gaelic culture and sport and is a prominent member of the Ballymartle hurling club. He later joins the famous Blackrock National Hurling Club where he wins four senior county championships in a row during the years of 1910 to 1913.

In 1913, Barry joins the newly formed Irish Volunteers. He is a member of the first Cork brigade and has been politically active in Sinn Féin. In 1915, he moves to Kilkenny to take up employment there, where he continues his volunteer activities. Shortly after the Easter Rising in 1916, he is arrested in Kilkenny in a British Government crackdown, and sent to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales. In 1917 he becomes election agent for W. T. Cosgrave in the Kilkenny by-election, one in which Cosgrave is successfully elected. However, just six years later he finds himself imprisoned by Cosgrave’s own government.

In 1922 Barry is imprisoned in Newbridge camp in Kildare and takes part in the hunger strike of 1923. On November 20, 1923, after 34 days protesting against the harsh regime and undignified conditions, he dies but even in death he is still refused dignity.

Barry’s body is not released to his family and is instead, on the orders of Minister of Defence, Richard Mulcahy, buried in the grounds of Newbridge internment camp. The Barry family takes legal action against this and eventually receives the body, but this is not the last of their troubles.

Upon their arrival in Cork with Barry’s body, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, instructs his priests not to allow Barry’s funeral in any church. Ironically just a few short years before, Bishop Cohalan had been a strong vocal supporter of Terence MacSwiney, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in Brixton Prison.

Shortly after MacSwiney’s death, Bishop Cohalan’s attitude towards the Irish Republican Army (IRA) changes and he issues a decree condemning the IRA in which he states, “Anyone who shall within the diocese of Cork organise or take part in an ambush or in kidnapping or otherwise, shall be guilty of murder or attempted murder and shall incur by the very fact the censure of excommunication.”

On December 10, 1922, Bishop Cohalan preaches publicly his support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which establishes the Irish Free State and he urges his flock to do the same. This leads to an even greater wedge between the Catholic Church and many IRA members, yet it is the incident with Barry that seriously taints the Bishop of Cork and the Catholic Church in republican eyes.

Because of Bishop Cohalan’s stern objection to Barry’s body being permitted into a Catholic church, his body has to lay in state in the Cork Sinn Féin headquarters on the Grand Parade in Cork city. He is then taken in a funeral procession to St. Finbarr’s Cemetery where he is buried in the Republican plot next to Terence MacSwiney, whose funeral Bishop Cohalan had presided over three years previously. In place of a priest is David Kent, Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork and brother of Thomas Kent, who was executed for his part in the 1916 Rising. Kent gives an oration, recites the Rosary and sprinkles holy water on the grave.

On November 28, 1923, the day Barry is buried, Bishop Cohalan sends an open letter to The Cork Examiner publicly denying a Christian burial for Barry and urging all men of the cloth to stay away from any such attempts for such a funeral. He goes so far as to write to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Dr. Patrick Foley, to enquire about Barry getting the last sacraments. Barry did indeed receive the last rites from a Fr. Doyle who was serving as prison chaplain and this does not impress the Bishop of Cork.

Barry’s funeral precession through Cork City draws massive crowds with people from all walks of Cork’s political, social and sporting life attending to pay their respects to this man who had been at the heart of the revolution in Cork during the last decade of his life. The IRA, Cumann na mBan and Na Fíanna Éireann march in military formations with the funeral party.

Two days after Barry’s death another IRA prisoner, Andrew O’Sullivan, from Cork dies and the strike is called off the following day. Women prisoners are then released while men remain in prison until the following year.

A memorial to Barry is unveiled in Riverstick in 1966.


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Birth of Dónal Lunny, Irish Folk Musician & Producer

donal-lunnyDónal Lunny, Irish folk musician and producer, is born on March 10, 1947 in Tullamore, County Offaly. He plays left-handed guitar and bouzouki, as well as keyboards and bodhrán. As a founding member of popular bands Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, Coolfin, Mozaik, LAPD, and Usher’s Island, he has been at the forefront of the renaissance of Irish traditional music for over five decades.

Lunny attends secondary school at Newbridge College and, in 1963, joins the Patrician Brothers’ school for the Intermediate Certificate year. As a teenager, he joins an occasional trio called Rakes of Kildare, with his elder brother Frank and Christy Moore. They play mostly in pubs and are also booked for a couple of gigs, one at Hugh Neeson’s pub in Newbridge for Easter Monday in 1966.

In 1965, Lunny enrolls at Dublin‘s National College of Art & Design where he studies Basic Design and Graphic Design. He also develops an interest in metalwork leading him to become a skilled gold-and-silversmith, although he only practises the craft for a short time before devoting his energies fully to music. During his time in Dublin, he plays in a band called The Parnell Folk, with Mick Moloney, Sean Corcoran, Johnny Morrissey and Dan Maher.

When Moving Hearts breaks up in 1985, Lunny diversifies and becomes a producer. He is closely involved in the establishment of a new Irish record label, Mulligan Records (acquired in 2008 by Compass Records), and produces and plays on many of its early releases.

Lunny is the producer and music director of the soundtrack of Bringing It All Back Home, a BBC Television documentary series charting the influence of Irish music throughout the world. He produces albums for Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Sinéad O’Connor, Clannad, Maurice Lennon, Baaba Maal, and Five Guys Named Moe. He appears on the compilation albums The Gathering (1981) and Common Ground (1996). In 1994, he produces Irish Australian singer/songwriter Mairéid Sullivan’s first recording, Dancer.

Lunny pushes new boundaries with his band Coolfin (1998) which includes uilleann piper John McSherry. He appears at the 2000 Cambridge Folk Festival, and the album that commemorates it. In 2001 he collaborates with Frank Harte on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. He produces the album Human Child (2007) by Faeroese Eivør Pálsdóttir, which is published in two versions, one English and one Faeroese.

As an arranger, Lunny works for The Waterboys, Fairground Attraction and Eddi Reader. Journey (2000) is a retrospective album. During 2003–2005, he is part of the reunited Planxty concert tour. He also produces Jimmy MacCarthy‘s album entitled Hey-Ho Believe, which is released on November 12, 2010.

Lunny is the brother of musician and producer Manus Lunny. He has a son, Shane, whose mother is singer Sinéad O’Connor.

(Pictured: Dónal Lunny at the Craiceann Bodhrán Festival 2016, Inis Oirr)


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Birth of Irish Folk Singer Christy Moore

Christopher Andrew “Christy” Moore, Irish folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist, is born in Newbridge, County Kildare, on May 7, 1945.

After attending Newbridge College, Moore works as a bank employee and has a desire to express himself using traditional music. During a twelve-week bank strike in 1966, he goes to England, as do many striking officials, but he does not return when the strike is settled. Doing general labouring work, he frequents the folk clubs and the Irish music pubs where he meets Séamus Ennis, Margaret Barry, Luke Kelly, Martin Byrnes, and many other traditional musicians.

Moore’s first album, Paddy On The Road, a minor release of 500 copies, is recorded with Dominic Behan in 1969. In 1972, his first major release, Prosperous, brings him together with three musicians, Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, and Dónal Lunny, who shortly thereafter form the Irish folk music band Planxty. For a short time they called themselves “CLAD,” an acronym of their names, but soon decide on Planxty.

After leaving Planxty in 1975, Moore continues his solo career, reforming his old band on occasion. He also forms the band Moving Hearts with Lunny and five other musicians in 1980. In 1987, he appears on Gay Byrne‘s The Late Late Show performing with The Dubliners for their 25th anniversary. In 2000, he publishes his autobiography, One Voice.

Moore’s earlier years of heavy drinking, sleeping dysfunctional hours, continual traveling, and often eating takeout foods results in a decline in health and several operations. Moore’s battle with alcohol and subsequent heart operations take their toll. At the end of the 1990s, Moore reduces his workload for medical reasons.

Moore releases his first new studio album in four years on April 17, 2009, entitled Listen, and promotes it through a series of live gigs. In December 2011, he releases the album Folk Tale. His most recent album, Where I Come From, is released in November 2013 and features a new protest song called Arthur’s Day. The album peaks at No. 3 on the Irish album charts.

Moore is best known for his political and social commentary which reflects a left-wing, Irish republican perspective, despite the fact that his mother was a Fine Gael county councillor and parliamentary candidate in Kildare. He supports the republican H-Block protestors with the albums H-Block in 1978, the launch of which is raided by the police, and The Spirit of Freedom. He also records songs by hunger striker Bobby Sands, including Back Home in Derry. Moore ceases support of the military activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1987 as a result of the Enniskillen bombing.

Political songs Moore has performed throughout his career include Mick Hanly’s On the Blanket about the protests of republican prisoners, Viva la Quinta Brigada about Irish volunteers who fought against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and Minds Locked Shut about Bloody Sunday in Derry.

In 2007, Moore is named Ireland’s greatest living musician in RTÉ‘s People of the Year Awards.