seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Joyce, Novelist, Short Story Writer & Poet

james-joyceJames Augustine Aloysius Joyce, Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, is born in 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, Dublin on February 2, 1882. He contributes to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century.

Joyce is one of the ten children of Mary Jane “May” Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, a professional singer and later rate-collector from a bourgeois Catholic family. He attends Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, until 1891, when his father’s financial worries mean they can no longer afford to send him there. He is temporarily home-schooled and spends a short time at a Christian Brothers school, before starting at Belvedere College, a Jesuit day school run by his old Clongowes headmaster, Father John Conmee.

Much of Joyce’s childhood is influenced by his charismatic, but increasingly alcohol-dependent and difficult father, whose ongoing financial troubles led to regular domestic upheaval. However, John Joyce’s passions, eccentricities, as well as his gift as a singer are celebrated in his son’s work. The death of the Irish Home Rule movement leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891 is a watershed moment in Joyce’s life, and was the subject of an inflammatory argument during a Christmas dinner, in which John Joyce and his friend John Kelly passionately defend Parnell from the accusations of the pious Elizabeth Conway. Joyce recreates the scene in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, portraying Kelly’s character, Mr. Casey, crying loudly with a “sob of pain,” “Poor Parnell! … My dead king!”

Joyce attends University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studies modern languages, with Latin and logic. In 1902 he goes to Paris with an intent of studying medicine but discovers, on arrival, that he does not have the necessary qualifications. He constantly struggles for money, relying on irregular work as a teacher, bank employee, cinema-owner and tweed-importer, and on patrons and supporters such as Harriet Shaw Weaver and Ezra Pound.

Joyce returns to Ireland in 1903 after his mother falls ill. She dies in August 1903. He refuses to take the sacraments or kneel at her deathbed, and the guilt he later feels is depicted in Ulysses when the ghost of Stephen’s mother returns to haunt him. On June 16, 1904, he meets Nora Barnacle, the woman with whom he spends the rest of his life. By autumn, he is convinced of the impossibility of remaining in Ireland and persuades Nora to travel with him. They arrive in Paris on October 9, 1904. He would not return to Ireland to live. He cultivates a sense of himself as an exile, living in Trieste, Zürich, Rome and Paris.

Joyce’s first publication in 1907 is the poetry collection Chamber Music. When he sends Pound a revised first chapter of Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, along with the manuscript of his short story collection Dubliners, Pound arranges for Portrait to be published serially in the modernist magazine The Egoist between 1914 and 1915. His short story collection, Dubliners, had been delayed by years of arguments with printers over its contents, but is also published in 1914.

Joyce then begins work on Ulysses, an experimental account of a single day in Dublin. The novel is serialised between 1918 and 1920, but full publication is delayed due to problems with American obscenity laws. The work is finally published in book form by his friend Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. His play Exiles is first performed in German in 1919, and English in 1926. His last novel, Finnegans Wake (1939), is an innovative language experiment that contains over 40 languages and a huge variety of popular and arcane references.

On January 11, 1941, Joyce undergoes surgery in Zürich for a perforated duodenal ulcer. He falls into a coma the following day. He awakes at 2:00 AM on January 13, 1941, and asks a nurse to call his wife and son, before losing consciousness again. They are en-route when he dies 15 minutes later, less than a month short of his 59th birthday. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zürich.

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Birth of Anne Brontë, Poet & Novelist

anne-bronteAnne Brontë, English poet and novelist, is born on January 17, 1820 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is the sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë and author of Agnes Grey, A Novel (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Brontë is the youngest of six children of Patrick Brontë, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, and Marie Brontë. She lives most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors and is taught in the family’s Haworth home and at Roe Head School. With her sister Emily, she invents the imaginary kingdom of Gondal, about which they write verse and prose, the latter now lost, from the early 1830s until 1845.

Brontë takes a position as governess briefly in 1839 and then again for four years, 1841–45, with the Robinsons, the family of a clergyman, at Thorpe Green, near York. There her irresponsible brother, Branwell, joins her in 1843, intending to serve as a tutor. Anne returns home in 1845 and is followed shortly by her brother, who has been dismissed, charged with making love to his employer’s wife.

In 1846 Brontë contributes 21 poems to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, a joint work with her sisters Charlotte and Emily. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, is published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in three volumes, of which Agnes Grey is the third, in December 1847. The reception to these volumes, associated in the public mind with the immense popularity of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (October 1847), lead to quick publication of Anne’s second novel, again as Acton Bell, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in three volumes in June 1848. It sells well.

Emily’s death in December 1848 deeply affects Brontë and her grief undermines her physical health. Over Christmas, she comes down with influenza. Her symptoms intensify and her father sends for a Leeds physician in early January. The doctor diagnoses her condition as consumption (tuberculosis) and intimates that it is quite advanced, leaving little hope of recovery. Anne meets the news with characteristic determination and self-control.

In February 1849, Brontë seems somewhat better and decides to make a return visit to Scarborough in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might initiate a recovery. On May 24, 1849, she sets off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. However, it is clear that Anne has little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27, Brontë asks Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicates that death is close. Conscious and calm, she dies in the afternoon of Monday, May 28, 1849 at the age of 29. She is buried in Scarborough in St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath the castle walls, overlooking the bay.

Her novel Agnes Grey, probably begun at Thorpe Green, records with limpidity and some humour the life of a governess. George Moore calls it “simple and beautiful as a muslin dress.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an unsoftened picture of the debauchery and degradation of the heroine’s first husband and sets against it the Arminian belief, opposed to Calvinist predestination, that no soul shall be ultimately lost. Her outspokenness raised some scandal, and Charlotte deplored the subject as morbid and out of keeping with her sister’s nature, but the vigorous writing indicates that Brontë found in it not only a moral obligation but also an opportunity of artistic development.

(Pictured: A sketch of Anne Brontë by sister Charlotte, circa 1834)


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Birth of Novelist Jennifer Johnston

jennifer-johnstonJennifer Prudence Johnston, Irish novelist whose works deal with political and cultural tensions in Ireland with an emphasis on the problems of the Anglo-Irish people, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1930. Rich in dialogue, Johnston’s novels often concern interpersonal relationships and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Johnston is born to Irish actress and director Shelah Richards, and Irish playwright Denis Johnston. A cousin of actress and film star Geraldine Fitzgerald, via Fitzgerald’s mother, Edith (née Richards), she is educated at Trinity College Dublin. Other cousins include the actresses Tara Fitzgerald and Susan Fitzgerald.

Born into the Church of Ireland, many of Johnston’s novels deal with the fading of the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20th century.

Johnston’s first published book, The Captains and the Kings (1972), is actually written after The Gates (1973). Both novels feature the Anglo-Irish setting of a decaying manor house. Johnston’s third novel, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), concerns the complex and tragic friendship of two young men who are sentenced to death during World War I. Shadows on Our Skin (1977) and The Railway Station Man (1984) focus on violence in Northern Ireland, and The Old Jest (1979 and filmed as The Dawning, 1988) and Fool’s Sanctuary (1987) are set during the emergence of modern Ireland in the 1920s. The protagonist of The Christmas Tree (1981) attempts to salvage her troubled life before it is cut short by leukemia.

Johnston’s other novels include The Invisible Worm (1991), The Illusionist (1995), Two Moons (1998), This Is Not a Novel (2002), and Foolish Mortals (2007). She also writes short stories and plays, such as Three Monologues: Twinkletoes, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine (1995) and The Desert Lullaby: A Play in Two Acts (1996).

Johnston marries a fellow student at Trinity College, Ian Smyth in 1951. She is a mother of four and currently lives near Dublin. She is also a member of Aosdána.


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Birth of Patrick MacGill, Poet & Novelist

patrick-macgillPatrick MacGill, journalist, poet and novelist, is born on December 24, 1889 in Glenties, County Donegal. He is known as “The Navvy Poet” because he works as a navvy before he begins writing.

During World War I, MacGill serves with the London Irish Rifles (1/18th Battalion, London Regiment) and is wounded at the Battle of Loos on October 28, 1915. He is recruited into Military Intelligence, and writes for MI 7b between 1916 and the Armistice in 1918. He writes a memoir-type novel called Children of the Dead End.

Patrick MacGill dies on November 22, 1963, the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

In early 2008, a docu-drama starring Stephen Rea is made about the life of Patrick MacGill, which is released in Ireland in 2009 as Child of the Dead End. One of the film’s locations is the boathouse of Edinburgh Canal Society at Edinburgh on the Union Canal, and one of its rowing boats.

An annual literary MacGill Summer School is held in Glenties in mid-July each year in his honour. A statue in his honour is on the bridge where the main street crosses the river in Glenties. He has three children, Christine, Patricia and Sheila MacGill.


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.


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Birth of Frank Delaney, Novelist, Journalist & Broadcaster

frank-delaneyFrank Delaney, Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster, is born in County Tipperary on October 24, 1942. He is the author of The New York Times best-seller Ireland, the non-fiction book Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea, and many other works of fiction, non-fiction and collections.

Delaney begins working as a newsreader for the Irish state radio and television network RTÉ in 1970. In the early 1970s he becomes a news reporter for the BBC in Dublin, and covers an intense period of violence known as the Troubles. After five years of reporting on the violence, he moves to London to work in arts broadcasting. In 1978 he creates the weekly Bookshelf programme for BBC Radio 4, which covers books, writers and the business of publishing. Over the next five-and-a-half years he interviews over 1,400 authors, including Anthony Burgess, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen King.

On television, Delaney writes and presents for Omnibus, the BBC’s weekly arts series. He serves as the Literature Director of the Edinburgh Festival in 1980, and hosts his own talk show Frank Delaney in the early 1980s, which features many cultural and literary personalities. Afterward, he creates and presents Word of Mouth, the BBC’s radio programme about language, as well as a variety of radio and television documentaries including specials on James Joyce, Robert Graves, Ernest Hemingway in Paris, and the Shakespeare industry. He presents The Book Show on the Sky News satellite channel for many years.

Delaney’s first book, James Joyce’s Odyssey (1981), is well received and becomes a best-seller in the UK and Ireland. He writes and presents the six-part documentary series The Celts: Rich Traditions and Ancient Myths (1987) for the BBC, and writes the accompanying book. He subsequently writes five books of non-fiction (including Simple Courage), ten novels (including Ireland, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show and Tipperary), one novella, and a number of short stories. He also edits many compilations of essays and poetry.

After moving to the United States and settling in Kent, Connecticut in 2002, Delaney writes the screenplay for an adaptation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (2002), which stars Martin Clunes and is shown on ITV in Britain, and in the Masterpiece Theatre series in the United States. His articles are published by newspapers in United States, the UK and Ireland, including on the Op-ed pages of The New York Times. He is a frequent public speaker, and is a contributor and guest on National Public Radio (NPR) programmes.

On Bloomsday 2010, Delaney launches Re:Joyce, a series of short weekly podcasts that go page-by-page through James Joyce’s Ulysses, discussing its allusions, historical context and references.

Frank Delaney dies in Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut on February 21, 2017 after suffering a stroke the previous day.


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Birth of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

brian-o-nolanBrian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911.

O’Nolan attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966.