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


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Birth of Cornelius Ryan, Journalist & Author

cornelius-ryanCornelius Ryan, Irish journalist and author mainly known for his writings on popular military history, is born in Dublin in June 5, 1920. He is especially known for his World War II books The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day (1959), The Last Battle (1966), and A Bridge Too Far (1974).

Ryan is educated at Synge Street CBS, Portobello, Dublin. He is an altar boy at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and studies the violin at the Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. He is a boy scout in the 52nd Troop of the Catholic Boy Scouts of Ireland and travels on their pilgrimage to Rome on the liner RMS Lancastria in 1934. He moves to London in 1940 and becomes a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph in 1941.

Ryan initially covers the air war in Europe, flying along on fourteen bombing missions with the Eighth and Ninth United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). He then joins General George S. Patton‘s Third Army and covers its actions until the end of the European war. He transfers to the Pacific theater in 1945 and then to Jerusalem in 1946.

Ryan emigrates to the United States in 1947 to work for Time, where he reports on the postwar tests of atomic weapons carried out by the United States in the Pacific. He then reports for Time on the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. This is followed by work for other magazines, including Collier’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest.

Ryan marries Kathryn Morgan, a novelist, and becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1951.

On a trip to Normandy in 1949 Ryan becomes interested in telling a more complete story of Operation Overlord than has been produced to date. He begins compiling information and conducting over 1,000 interviews as he gathers stories from both the Allies and the Germans, as well as the French civilians.

In 1956 Ryan begins to write down his World War II notes for The Longest Day: 6 June 1944 D-Day, which tells the story of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, published three years later in 1959. It is an instant success and he assists in the writing of the screenplay for the 1962 film of the same name. Darryl F. Zanuck pays the author U.S.$175,000 for the screen rights to the book.

Ryan’s 1957 book One Minute to Ditch! is about the successful ocean ditching of a Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He had written an article about the ditching for Collier’s in their December 21, 1956, issue and then expanded it into the book.

Ryan’s next work is The Last Battle (1966), about the Battle of Berlin. The book contains detailed accounts from all perspectives: civilian, American, British, Russian and German. It deals with the fraught military and political situation in the spring of 1945, when the forces of the western allies and the Soviet Union contend for the chance to liberate Berlin and to carve up the remains of Germany.

This work was followed by A Bridge Too Far (1974), which tells the story of Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated assault by allied airborne forces on the Netherlands culminating in the Battle of Arnhem. It is made into a major 1977 film of the same name.

Ryan is awarded the French Legion of Honour and an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Ohio University, where the Cornelius Ryan Collection is housed in the Alden Library. He is diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1970 and struggles to finish A Bridge Too Far during his illness. He dies in Manhattan on November 23, 1974, while on tour promoting the book, only two months after publication. He is buried in the Ridgebury Cemetery in northern Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Four years after his death, Ryan’s struggle with prostate cancer is detailed in A Private Battle, written by his widow, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.


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Death of Pat Gillen, Irish D-Day Survivor

pat-gillenFormer Commando Pat Gillen, one of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans, dies at the age of 89 at his home in Cork, County Cork on December 27, 2014. He is among the first wave of troops to land on Sword Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944.

A rifleman in the 6 Commando unit charged with securing the strategically important Pegasus Bridge near Caen, Gillen is never injured despite making a six-mile trek through marshland from the beach to Caen and spending weeks in the trenches at Saulnier. More than half his brigade falls in the face of vicious fire from German forces.

On his return to Ireland, Gillen applies for a job as a male stenographer with Ford Motor Company in Cork, where the company’s first plant outside the United States employs thousands of workers in the 1930s. Having studied Pitman shorthand, typing and bookkeeping at school, he is called for an interview that includes a shorthand test in which the only word “I could just not get right was carburetor.”

Not alone does Gillen land the job with the U.S. car and tractor firm, he also meets Rita, the daughter of his B&B landlady, whom he marries two years later. Blessed with a lively sense of humour, he has a natural flair for getting on with people and is assigned to Ford’s public relations division.

Gillen’s ease when dealing with journalists is an attribute that serves him well during an 11-year spell as Ford’s press officer, especially in the turbulent times leading up to its decision to close the Cork manufacturing plant in 1984, when he also retires after 38 years with the company.

A witty, unassuming man, Gillen’s abiding interests are gardening, his twelve grandchildren, the FCA, and letter-writing to wartime comrades, a practice he keeps up until weeks before his death.

On December 8, 2014, just over two weeks before his death and surrounded by his family in an emotional ceremony at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Gillen is presented with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, in recognition of his courage and gallantry in the liberation of France. It is the highest French honour.

With characteristic generosity, Gillen dedicates the medal to fellow countrymen, including two cousins who fought in but did not survive World War II. “This award is as much theirs as mine,” he said. “By the grace of God, I survived to be here today while many of my friends sleep in the fields of France.”

At the time of his passing Gillen is surrounded by his family. Predeceased by Rita, he is survived by their four children, Robin, Mary, Patricia, and Gerard, his sister, Mary, and brothers Michael (“Chick”), Liam and Bobby. His sister Angela Scully also predeceases him.

(From: D-Day veteran who became Ford’s PR man in Cork, The Irish Times, January 17, 2015)


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Death of Saint Laurence O’Toole

st-laurence-o-tooleLorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Eu, Normandy, France on November 14, 1180.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 25 years old, he is elected Abbot of the monastery. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of the Danish city of Dublin. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between the King of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. The English King, Henry II, does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence O’Toole is canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)


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Birth of Richard Todd, Stage & Film Actor

richard-toddRichard Andrew Palethorpe Todd OBE, an English soldier, stage and film actor and film director, is born in Dublin on June 11, 1919.

Todd spends a few of his childhood years in India, where his father, an officer in the British Army, serves as a physician. Later his family moves to Devon and he attends Shrewsbury School. Upon leaving school, he trains for a potential military career at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before beginning his acting training at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London. This change in career leads to estrangement from his mother. When he learns at age 19 that she has committed suicide, he does not grieve long for her, he admits in later life.

Todd first appears professionally as an actor at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in 1936 in a production of Twelfth Night. He plays in regional theatres and then co-founds the Dundee Repertory Theatre in Scotland in 1939. He also appears as an extra in British films like Good Morning, Boys (1937), A Yank at Oxford (1938) and Old Bones of the River (1939).

At the beginning of World War II, Todd enlists in the British Army, receiving a commission in 1941. On June 6, 1944, as a captain, he participates in Operation Tonga during the Normandy landings. He is among the first British officers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.

After the war, Todd is unsure what direction to take in his career. His former agent, Robert Lennard, has become a casting agent for Associated British Picture Corporation and advises him to try out for the Dundee Repertory Company. He does so, performing in plays such as Claudia, where he appears with Claudia Grant-Bogle. Lennard arranges for a screen test and Associated British offers him a long-term contract in 1948. He is cast in the lead in For Them That Trespass (1949), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti. The film is a minor hit and his career is launched.

Having portrayed the role of Yank in the Dundee Repertory stage version of John Patrick‘s play The Hasty Heart, Todd is subsequently chosen to appear in the 1948 London stage version of the play, this time in the leading role of Cpl. Lachlan McLachlan. This leads to his being cast in that role in the Warner Bros. film adaptation of the play, which is filmed in the United Kingdom, alongside Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal. He is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for the role in 1949.

Todd is now in much demand. He appears in the thriller The Interrupted Journey (1949), Alfred Hitchcock‘s Stage Fright (1950), opposite Marlene Dietrich and Jane Wyman, Portrait of Clare (1950), Flesh and Blood (1951), The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), 24 Hours of a Woman’s Life (1952), with Merle Oberon, Venetian Bird (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue (1953). In 1953, he appears in a BBC Television adaptation of the novel Wuthering Heights.

Todd’s career receives a boost when 20th Century Fox signs him to a non-exclusive contract. He appears the film version of Catherine Marshall‘s best selling biography, A Man Called Peter (1955), which is a popular success. Other films in which he appears include The Dam Busters (1955), The Virgin Queen (1955), Marie Antoinette Queen of France (1956), D-Day the Sixth of June (1956), Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (1957), Saint Joan (1957), Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), Intent to Kill (1958), Danger Within (1958), Never Let Go (1960) and The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961).

Todd’s career in films rapidly declines in the 1960s as the counter-culture movement in the Arts becomes fashionable in England, with social-realist dramas commercially replacing the more middle-class orientated dramatic productions that Todd’s performance character-type had previously excelled in.

In retirement, Todd lives in the village of Little Ponton and later in Little Humby, eight miles from Grantham, Lincolnshire. Suffering from cancer, he dies at his home on December 3, 2009. He is buried between his two sons, Seamus and Peter, at St. Guthlac’s Church in Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England.


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Death of John Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin

st-audoens-churchJohn Comyn, Archbishop of Dublin, dies on October 25, 1212, and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral.

Born in England in 1150, Comyn is chaplain to King Henry II of England and on his “urgent” recommendation is elected Archbishop of Dublin following the death of St. Laurence O’Toole in 1180. He has been a Benedictine monk at the Evesham Abbey.

In 1181, he is elected to the archbishopric of Dublin by some of the clergy of Dublin, who have assembled at Evesham for the purpose. He is not then a priest, but is subsequently, in the same year, ordained such, at Velletri, and on Palm Sunday is there consecrated archbishop by Pope Lucius III. The following year the pope grants him manors and lands in and around Dublin, which subsequently form the Manor of St. Sepulchre, which remains under the authority of the Archbishop of Dublin until the 19th century. The pope also, in an effort to protect the Dublin archbishopric from claims from Canterbury, extends certain privileges to Comyn, which intensifies the rivalry between the sees of Dublin and Armagh for the Primacy of Ireland.

Comyn waits three years before visiting Ireland, until he is sent there by King Henry to prepare the reception of his son, Prince John. The king grants him lands and privileges which make him a Lord of Parliament. After his arrival in Ireland, John grants Comyn the Bishopric of Glendalough, with all its appurtenances in lands, manors, churches, tithes, fisheries, and liberties, although Comyn never has an opportunity to take this up in his lifetime. Under Pope Urban III, Comyn carries out a number of reforms of the Irish church to bring it into line with the church in England and in continental Europe.

In 1189, Archbishop Comyn assists at the coronation of King Richard I. The following year he demolishes the old parish church of St. Patrick, south of Dublin, and erects a new building, next to his Palace of St. Sepulchre, which he elevates to the status of a collegiate church, and which later becomes St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This enables him to rule in his own Liberty, without the interference of mayor and citizens. About the same time he enlarges the choir of Christ Church Cathedral.

Prince John grants Comyn further legal rights throughout the country of Ireland, while Comyn also receives the church and lands of All Hallows, to the northeast of Dublin. Between Lusk and Swords he founds the convent of Grace Dieu, which later becomes wealthy through grants from the Anglo-Norman prelates and magnates. However, when Hamo de Valoniis is appointed Justiciar of Ireland he seizes some of these lands for the treasury, with a good portion for himself, and a dispute arises which causes Comyn to flee for his own safety to Normandy. Comyn appeals to Pope Innocent III, who settles the dispute, but John is angered by the actions of Comyn and does not reconcile himself with him until 1206.

Comyn dies six years later and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral, where a marble monument is erected to his memory. Two years later William Piro, Bishop of Glendalough, dies, whereupon the union of the sees granted by King John takes place.

(Pictured: St. Audoen’s Church, the only remaining authentic medieval church in Dublin, built by Archbishop John Comyn around 1190)