seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.

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Death of J.P. Donleavy, Novelist & Playwright

jp-donleavyJames Patrick Donleavy, Irish American novelist and playwright, dies in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which is initially banned for obscenity.

Born in New York City on April 23, 1926 to Irish immigrants Margaret and Patrick Donleavy, Donleavy receives his education at various schools in the United States. He declares himself to be an atheist at the age of 14. He serves in the United States Navy during World War II. After the war ends, he moves to Ireland. In 1946 he begins studying at Trinity College, Dublin, but leaves in 1949 before taking a degree. Also in 1946, he marries Valerie Heron and the couple has two children: Philip (born 1951) and Karen (born 1955). They divorce in 1969 and he remarries in 1970 to Mary Wilson Price. That union also ends in divorce in 1989.

Donleavy’s first published work is a short story entitled A Party on Saturday Afternoon, which appears in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art in 1950. He gains critical acclaim with his first novel, The Ginger Man (1955), which is one of the Modern Library 100 best novels. The novel, of which his friend and fellow writer Brendan Behan is the first person to read the completed manuscript, is banned in Ireland and the United States by reason of obscenity. Lead character Sebastian Dangerfield is in part based on Trinity College companion Gainor Crist, an American Navy veteran also studying at Trinity College on the G.I. Bill, whom Donleavy once describes in an interview as a “saint,” though of a Rabelaisian kind.

Correctly or incorrectly, his initial works are sometimes grouped with the Kitchen Sink artists as well as the “angry young men.” Another novel, A Fairy Tale of New York, provides the title of The Pogues hit song “Fairytale of New York.”

In March 2007, Donleavy is the castaway on BBC Radio 4‘s Desert Island Discs. In 2015, he is the recipient of the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

In 2011, it is reported that Donleavy had not fathered his two children with Mary Wilson Price. A DNA test in the early 1990s confirms that Rebecca is the daughter of brewing scion Kieran Guinness, and Rory is the son of Kieran’s older brother Finn, whom Price marries after her divorce from Donleavy. “My interest is only to look after the welfare of the child,” Donleavy tells The Times, “and after a certain stage, you can’t worry about their parentage.”

J.P. Donleavy dies of an apparent stroke in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 11, 2017 at the aged of 91.


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Birth of James Hanley, Novelist & Playwright

james-hanleyJames (Joseph) Hanley, British novelist, short story writer, and playwright of Irish descent, is born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, Lancashire on September 3, 1897. He publishes his first novel, Drift, in 1930. The novels and short stories about seamen and their families that he writes in the 1930s and 1940s include Boy (1931), the subject of an obscenity trial. He comes from a seafaring family and spends two years at sea himself. After World War II there is less emphasis on the sea in his works. While frequently praised by critics, his novels do not sell well. In the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s he writes plays, mainly for the BBC, for radio and then for television, and also for the theatre. He returns to the novel in the 1970s. His last novel, A Kingdom, is published in 1978, when he is 80 years old.

Hanley is born to a working class family. Both his parents are born in Ireland, his father Edward Hanley around 1865, in Dublin, and his mother, Bridget Roache, in Queenstown, County Cork, around 1867. Both are well established in Liverpool by 1891, when they are married. Hanley’s father works most of his life as a stoker, particularly on Cunard Line liners, and other relatives have also gone to sea. He grows up living close to the docks. He leaves school in the summer of 1910 and works for four years in an accountants’ office. Then early in 1915 at the age of 17, he goes to sea for the first time. Thus life at sea is a formative influence and much of his early writing is about seamen.

In April 1917, Hanley jumps ship in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and shortly thereafter joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He fights in France in the summer of 1918, but is invalided out shortly thereafter. After the war he works as a railway porter in Bootle and devotes himself to a prodiguous range of autodidactic, high cultural activities – learning the piano, regularly attending concerts, reading voraciously and, above all, writing. However, it is not until 1930 that his novel Drift is accepted.

Hanley moves from Liverpool to near Corwen, North Wales in 1931, where he meets Dorothy Enid “Timothy” Thomas, neé Heathcote, a descendant of Lincolnshire nobility. They live together and have a child, Liam Powys Hanley, in 1933, but do not marry until 1947. In July 1939, as World War II is approaching, he moves to London to write documentaries and plays for the BBC. He moves back to Wales during the early years of the war, settling in Llanfechain on the other side of the Berwyn range from Corwen. In 1963, the Hanleys move to North London to be close to their son.

In 1937 Hanley publishes an autobiographical work, Broken Water: An Autobiographical Excursion, and while this generally presents a true overall picture of his life, it is seriously flawed, incomplete and inaccurate. Chris Gostick describes it as “a teasing palimpsest of truth and imagination.”

Hanley’s brother is the novelist Gerald Hanley and his nephew is the American novelist and playwright William Hanley. Hanley’s wife also publishes three novels, as Timothy Hanley. She dies in 1980. James Hanley himself dies in London on November 11, 1985 and is buried in Llanfechain, Wales.


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Birth of Marguerite Gardiner,Novelist & Journalist

marguerite-power-farmer-gardinerMarguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, Irish novelist, journalist, and literary hostess, is born near Clonmel, County Tipperary on September 1, 1789. She becomes acquainted with Lord Byron in Genoa and writes a book about him.

Born Margaret Power, she is a daughter of Edmund Power and Ellen Sheehy, small landowners. She is “haphazardly educated by her own reading and by her mother’s friend Ann Dwyer.” Her childhood is blighted by her father’s character and poverty, and her early womanhood made wretched by a compulsory marriage at the age of fifteen to Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, an English officer whose drunken habits finally bring him as a debtor to the King’s Bench Prison, where he dies by falling out of a window in October 1817. She had left him after three months of marriage.

Marguerite later moves to Hampshire, England to live for five years with the family of Thomas Jenkins, a sympathetic and literary sea captain. Jenkins introduces her to the Irishman Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, a widower with four children and seven years her senior. They marry at St. Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, on February 16, 1818, only four months after the death of her first husband.

Of rare beauty, charm and wit, Lady Blessington is no less distinguished for her generosity and for the extravagant tastes she shares with her second husband, which results in encumbering his estates with debt. On August 25, 1822 they set out for a continental tour with Marguerite’s youngest sister, the 21-year-old Mary Anne, and servants. On the way they meet Count Alfred D’Orsay, who had first become an intimate of Lady Blessington in London in 1821, in Avignon on November 20, 1822, before settling at Genoa for four months from March 31, 1823. There they meet Lord Byron on several occasions, giving Lady Blessington material for her Conversations with Lord Byron.

After that they settle for the most part in Naples, where she meets the Irish writer Richard Robert Madden, who is to become her biographer. They also spend time in Florence with their friend Walter Savage Landor, author of Imaginary Conversations which she greatly admires.

It is in Italy, on December 1, 1827, that Count D’Orsay marries Harriet Gardiner, Lord Blessington’s only daughter by his former wife. The Blessingtons and the newly-wed couple move to Paris towards the end of 1828, taking up residence in the Hôtel Maréchal Ney, where the Earl suddenly dies at the age of 46 of an apoplectic stroke in 1829. D’Orsay and Harriet then accompanied Lady Blessington to England, but the couple separates soon afterwards amidst much acrimony. D’Orsay continues to live with Lady Blessington until her death. Their home, first at Seymour Place, and afterwards Gore House, Kensington, now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, become a centre of attraction for all that is distinguished in literature, learning, art, science and fashion. Benjamin Disraeli writes Venetia whilst staying there, and it is at her home that Hans Christian Andersen first meets Charles Dickens.

After her husband’s death Lady Blessington supplements her diminished income by contributing to various periodicals as well as by writing novels. She is for some years editor of The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake, popular annuals of the day. In 1834 she publishes her Conversations with Lord Byron. Her Idler in Italy (1839–1840), and Idler in France (1841) are popular for their personal gossip and anecdotes, descriptions of nature and sentiment.

Early in 1849, Count D’Orsay leaves Gore House to escape his creditors. Subsequently the furniture and decorations are sold in a public sale successfully discharging Lady Blessington’s debts. She joins the Count in Paris, where she dies on June 4, 1849 of a burst heart. On examination it is discovered that her heart is three times normal size.

(Pictured: Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822)


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.


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Death of James Plunkett, Novelist & Playwright

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, known by the pen name James Plunkett, Irish novelist, playwright, and short-story writer, dies in Dublin on May 28, 2003. His works, which deal with Ireland’s political and labour problems, contain vivid portraits of working-class and middle-class Dubliners.

Plunkett is born in Sandymount, Dublin on May 21, 1920 and grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personæ of his oeuvre. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, a Christian Brothers school located on Synge Street in Dublin. He leaves school at the age of seventeen. He later studies violin and viola at the Dublin College of Music and plays professionally in Dublin. He serves for a time as an official in the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

Plunkett’s best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the Dublin lock-out of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on James Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. Plunkett is a member of Aosdána.

James Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home on May 28, 2003, just a week after his 83rd birthday. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium in Dublin.

A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in honour of James Plunkett.


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Death of Victor Herbert, Composer, Cellist and Conductor

victor-herbertVictor August Herbert, an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor, dies suddenly of a heart attack on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, begins its pre-Broadway run in New Haven, Connecticut.

Herbert is born in Dublin on February 1, 1859 to Protestants Edward Herbert and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, he and his mother move to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather is the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcome a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists into their home. He joins his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she marries a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he receives a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which includes musical training.

Herbert initially plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather is related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation is not good by the time Herbert is a teenager. Medical education in Germany is expensive, and so he focuses instead on music. He initially studies the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settles on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attends the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, he graduates with a diploma in 1879.

Although Herbert enjoys important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiere on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He is also prominent among the Tin Pan Alley composers and is later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produces two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.

In the early 1880s, Herbert begins a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he begins to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, move to the United States in 1886 when both are engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. He continues his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions are his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which enters the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904 and then founds the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducts throughout the rest of his life.

Herbert begins to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Some of the operettas that he writes after the turn of the 20th century are even more successful: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, he begins to compose musicals and contributes music to other composers’ shows. While some of these are well-received, he never again achieves the level of success that he enjoyed with his most popular operettas.

A healthy man throughout his life, Herbert dies suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 65 on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, began its pre-Broadway run in New Haven. He is survived by his wife and two children, Ella Victoria Herbert Bartlett and Clifford Victor Herbert. He is entombed in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Herbert and his music are celebrated in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, where he is portrayed by Walter Connolly and which also features Mary Martin. He is also portrayed by Paul Maxey in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. Many of Herbert’s own works are made into films, and his music has been used in numerous films and television shows. A Chicago elementary school is named for him. During World War II the Liberty ship SS Victor Herbert is built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.