seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Elizabeth Dillon, Diarist and Nationalist

Elizabeth Dillon, an Irish diarist and nationalist, is born Elizabeth Mathew in England on March 2, 1865.

Dillon is the eldest of five children of Sir James Charles Mathew and Elizabeth Blackmore Mathew. Her family is related to the Butler family, but she does not visit Ireland until 1886. Living in Queen’s Gate Gardens, Kensington, London, she is educated at home. From a young age she attends the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, while mixing a busy social life with charitable works.

Dillon begins keeping a diary in 1879, which she continues to write until her death. Her ancestor, Mary Mathew, is also a diarist and keeps the diary for the discipline of the daily activity. She soon begins to write for the love of it, and some have surmised she wrote with the intention her diaries would be read by others. She attends lectures in Old English and literature at King’s College, London from late 1882 to 1884, and begins to learn Irish in 1893.

Dillon’s father supports land reform in Ireland, chairs the evicted tenants commission in 1892, and is a huge influence on her politics. She makes her first political reference on February 25, 1883 when she notes the arrest of the Invincibles, and she then regularly comments on land reform. She travels to Ireland for the first time in August 1886, staying in Killiney, County Dublin. In October 1886, she meets John Dillon, and begins to follow the Plan of Campaign so that she can discuss it with him during his visits to the Mathew house in London.

During this time, John Dillon is deeply immersed in politics, and is imprisoned on a number of occasions. Being a careful follower of Irish politics, she becomes an anti-Parnellite. She confronts John Dillon in autumn 1895 about their relationship, saying that they can no longer meet as they had become the subject of gossip. He proposes within two weeks, and they are married on November 21, 1895 in Brompton Oratory. They are busy and often apart, with Dillon spending time in a warm climate due to his ill health. She tries to accompany him when she can, but the couple’s large family makes that difficult. They have one daughter and five sons, John Dillon (1896-1970), Anne Elizabeth Dillon (born October 29, 1897), Theobald Wolfe Tone (1898-1946), Myles, James, and Brian.

Finances are strained until John’s uncle Charles bequeaths him his house, 2 North Great George’s Street, Dublin in 1898, and a business in Ballaghaderreen, County Mayo is bequeathed him by a cousin, Anne Deane, in 1905. Dillon runs the business successfully, while also carrying out duties as a politician’s wife such as opening the Belfast ladies’ branch of the United Irish League in June 1905. Her busy life results in her neglecting her diary.

Dillon dies on May 14, 1907 in Dublin, having given birth to a stillborn daughter that morning. Pneumonia is given as the cause of death, but it could have been medical incompetence. She is buried in the family vault in Glasnevin Cemetery. Her husband writes of her death in June 1907, A short narrative of the illness and death of my dearest love. Trinity College Dublin holds her diary and correspondence. Her diaries, edited by Brendan Ó Cathaoir, are published in 2019.


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Bloomsday, Commemoration & Celebration of Writer James Joyce

Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed annually in Dublin and elsewhere on June 16, the day his novel Ulysses (1922) takes place in 1904, the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist Leopold Bloom.

The first mention of such a celebration is found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver of June 27, 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The day involves a range of cultural activities, including Ulysses readings and dramatisations, pub crawls and other events, some of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate Bloomsday, and retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours.

The James Joyce Tower and Museum at Sandycove, site of the opening chapter of Ulysses, hosts many free activities around Bloomsday including theatrical performances, musical events, tours of the iconic tower and readings from Joyce’s masterpiece.

In 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine, John Ryan, and the novelist Brian O’Nolan organise what is to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route. They are joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (Joyce’s cousin, representing the family interest) and A. J. Leventhal, a lecturer in French at Trinity College, Dublin. Ryan engages two horse-drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned sort, in which in Ulysses Mr. Bloom and his friends drive to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. The party are assigned roles from the novel. They plan to travel around the city through the day, starting at the Martello tower at Sandycove where the novel begins, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce called Nighttown. The pilgrimage is abandoned halfway through when the weary pilgrims succumb to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan owns at the time, and at which in 1967 he installs the door to No. 7 Eccles Street (Leopold Bloom’s front door), having rescued it from demolition. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.

On Bloomsday 1982, the centenary year of Joyce’s birth, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ transmits a continuous 30-hour dramatic performance of the entire text of Ulysses on radio.

A five-month-long festival, ReJoyce Dublin 2004, takes place in Dublin between April 1 and August 31, 2004. On the Sunday before the 100th “anniversary” of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin are treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting of sausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.

The 2006 Bloomsday festivities are cancelled, the day coinciding with the funeral of former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

(Pictured: Firstbloom (L to R) John Ryan, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh and Tom Joyce (James Joyce’s cousin); Sandymount, 1954)