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


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Edna O’Brien Receives the Irish PEN Award for Literature

Josephine Edna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, receives a lifetime achievement award from the society for Irish writers, the Irish PEN Award for Literature, on February 2, 2001 in recognition of her work which spans 25 years. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.”

O’Brien is born on December 15, 1930, the youngest child of farmer Michael O’Brien and Lena Cleary at Tuamgraney, County Clare, a place she would later describe as “fervid” and “enclosed.” Her father inherits a “thousand acres or more” and “a fortune from rich uncles,” but is a “profligate” hard-drinker who gambles away his inheritance, the land sold off or bartered to pay debts. From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the Convent of Mercy boarding school at Loughrea, County Galway – a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. In 1950, having studied at night at pharmaceutical college and worked in a Dublin pharmacy during the day, she is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. She reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In Dublin, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot, and says that when she learned that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was autobiographical, it made her realise where she might turn, should she want to write herself. “Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories”, she says. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, a publishing firm, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. She publishes her first book, The Country Girls, in 1960. This is the first part of a trilogy of novels (later collected as The Country Girls Trilogy), 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. She is accused of “corrupting the minds of young women.” She later says, “I felt no fame. I was married. I had young children. All I could hear out of Ireland from my mother and anonymous letters was bile and odium and outrage.”

In the 1960s, O’Brien is a patient of R. D. Laing. “I thought he might be able to help me. He couldn’t do that – he was too mad himself – but he opened doors,” she later says. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents were vehemently against all things related to literature. Her mother strongly disapproved of her daughter’s career as a writer. Once when her mother found a Seán O’Casey book in her daughter’s possession, she tried to burn it.

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

In 1980, O’Brien 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 and whose research involves visiting Irish republican Dominic McGlinchey who is later killed and whom she calls “a grave and reflective man,” 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.

In addition to the Irish PEN Award, O’Brien’s awards include The Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970 for A Pagan Place, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for Lantern Slides. In 2006, she is appointed adjunct professor of English Literature at University College Dublin.

In 2009, O’Brien is honoured with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award during a special ceremony at the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. Her collection Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, with judge Thomas McCarthy referring to her as “the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life.” RTÉ airs a documentary on her as part of its Arts strand in early 2012. For her contributions to literature, she is appointed an honorary Dame of the Order of the British Empire on April 10, 2018.

In 2019, O’Brien is awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature at a ceremony in London. The £40,000 prize, awarded every two years in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature, has been described as the “UK and Ireland Nobel in literature.” Judge David Park says, “In winning the David Cohen Prize, Edna O’Brien adds her name to a literary roll call of honour.”

(Pictured: Edna O’Brien speaking at the 2016 Hay Festival, photo by Andrew Lih and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)


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Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.


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Death of Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, dies at the age of 94 on November 2, 1950 at Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England. His influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, he becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. The Shaw family is of English descent and belong to the dominant Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Between 1865 and 1871, Shaw attends four schools, all of which he hates. His experiences as a schoolboy leave him disillusioned with formal education. In October 1871 he leaves school to become a junior clerk in a Dublin firm of land agents, where he works hard and quickly rises to become head cashier. During this period, he is known as “George Shaw”; after 1876, he drops the “George” and styles himself “Bernard Shaw.”

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. He has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that include Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist.

The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 Shaw provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award. His appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left — he expresses admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.


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Birth of Novelist & Screenwriter Brian Moore

brian-mooreBrian Moore, novelist and screenwriter who is acclaimed for the descriptions in his novels of life in Northern Ireland after World War II, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 25, 1921. He has been described as “one of the few genuine masters of the contemporary novel.”

Moore is born into a large Roman Catholic family. His father, James Bernard Moore, is a prominent surgeon and the first Catholic to sit on the senate of Queen’s University Belfast. His mother, Eileen McFadden Moore, a farmer’s daughter from County Donegal, is a nurse. His uncle is the prominent Irish nationalist, Eoin MacNeill, founder of Conradh na Gaeilge and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. He leaves the college in 1939, having failed his senior exams.

Moore is a volunteer air raid warden during World War II and serves during the Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941. He goes on to serve as a civilian with the British Army in North Africa, Italy and France. After the war ends he works in Eastern Europe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

In 1948 Moore emigrates to Canada to work as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, and becomes a Canadian citizen. While eventually making his primary residence in California, he continues to live part of each year in Canada up to his death.

Moore lives in Canada from 1948 to 1958, where he meets his first wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Sirois, a French Canadian and fellow-journalist. They marry in 1952. He moves to New York City in 1959 to take up a Guggenheim Fellowship and remains there until his divorce in October 1967. He then moves to the west coast of the United States, settling in Malibu, California, with his new wife Jean Denney, a former commentator on Canadian TV. There he teaches creative writing at UCLA.

Moore writes his first novels in Canada. His earliest novels are thrillers, published under his own name or using the pseudonyms Bernard Mara or Michael Bryan. His first novel outside the genre, Judith Hearne, remains among his most highly regarded. The book is rejected by ten American publishers before being accepted by a British publisher. It is made into a film, with British actress Maggie Smith playing the lonely spinster who is the book/film’s title character.

Other novels by Moore are adapted for the screen, including Intent to Kill, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Catholics, Black Robe, Cold Heaven, and The Statement. He co-writes the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Torn Curtain, and writes the screenplay for The Blood of Others, based on the novel Le Sang des autres by Simone de Beauvoir.

Some of Moore’s novels feature staunchly anti-doctrinaire and anti-clerical themes, and in particular he speaks strongly about the effect of the Church on life in Ireland. A recurring theme in his novels is the concept of the Catholic priesthood. On several occasions he explores the idea of a priest losing his faith. At the same time, several of his novels are deeply sympathetic and affirming portrayals of the struggles of faith and religious commitment, Black Robe most prominently.

Moore dies at his Malibu home, which is celebrated in Seamus Heaney‘s poem Remembering Malibu, on January 11, 1999 from pulmonary fibrosis. His widow, Jean, lives on in the house until it is destroyed in 2018 in the Woolsey Fire.

At the time of his death, Moore is working on a novel about the 19th-century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. His last published work before his death is an essay entitled “Going Home.” It is a reflection inspired by a visit he made to the grave in Connemara of his family friend, the Irish nationalist Bulmer Hobson. The essay is commissioned by Granta and published in The New York Times on February 7, 1999.

In 1996, the Brian Moore Short Story Awards is launched by the Creative Writers Network in Northern Ireland and is open to all authors of Irish descent. Previous judges have included Glenn Patterson, Lionel Shriver, Carlo Gébler and Maeve Binchy.

In 1975 Moore arranges for his literary materials, letters and documents to be deposited in the Special Collections Division of the University of Calgary Library, an inventory of which is published by the University of Calgary Press in 1987. His archives, which include unfilmed screenplays, drafts of various novels, working notes, a 42-volume journal (1957–1998), and his correspondence, are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.


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Birth of Gerald O’Donovan, Priest & Writer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityGerald O’Donovan, Irish priest and writer born Jeremiah Donovan, is born in Kilkeel, County Down  on July 15, 1871.

O’Donovan is the son of a pier builder. He attends Ardnaree College in Killala and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He leaves Maynooth after ordination for the Diocese of Clonfert in 1895 and is appointed as a Roman Catholic priest to Loughrea, County Galway between 1896 and 1904. He is an enthusiastic advocate of the Gaelic League and the Irish Cooperative Association, and promotes his views in articles and lectures. His literary friends include Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George Moore. He is in charge of decorating St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea in 1901, the financing provided by O’Donovan’s close friend Edward Martyn. He quit Loughrea in 1904 after the arrival of a new bishop, Thomas O’Dea.

O’Donovan moves to London but, failing to find work as a priest, he leaves the Catholic priesthood in May 1908. He becomes a subwarden at Toynbee Hall in the East End in March 1910. In October that year, he marries Florence Emily Beryl Verschoyle (1886–1968), the daughter of an Irish Protestant colonel fifteen years his junior. They have three children, two daughters and a son.

In 1913, O’Donovan publishes his first and best known novel, Father Ralph, which draws in large part on his own life. Around this time he changes his first name from Jeremiah to Gerald. Another novel titled Waiting is published in 1914. He joins the war effort in 1915, and rises to become head of the Italian section at the Ministry of Information in 1918. There he meets his secretary and future lover, English novelist Rose Macaulay.

O’Donovan publishes a few more novels after the war: How They Did It (1920), Conquest (1920), Vocations (1921), and The Holy Tree (1922). The clandestine affair with Macaulay continues for nearly two decades. In 1939, the pair are on holiday in the Lake District when they meet with a motoring accident, which damages O’Donovan’s health. He dies of cancer in Albury, Surrey three years later, on July 26, 1942. His letters to Macaulay had been destroyed the previous year when her flat in Central London was bombed during the Blitz.

In her novel The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay features a woman character (Laurie) torn between her attraction to Christianity and her adulterous love for a married man. This is considered to reflect the author’s relationship with O’Donovan.


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Birth of Peadar Ó Dubhda, Translator & Teacher of Irish Language

peadar-o-dubhdaPeadar Ó Dubhda, novelist, playwright, musician, teacher and translator of the Irish language, is born in Dundalk, County Louth on June 29, 1881. He is the author of many plays, stories and manuscripts over the years and in his youth is a noted high jumper competing at local events.

Ó Dubhda leaves the local primary school at the age of twelve with only the most basic of an education, but when he goes to work as a delivery boy driving around the roads of North Louth on his horse and cart he always has his O’Growney grammar book at his side, perfecting his knowledge of the Irish language. As a youth he joins the local brass band, where he is taught the cornet, but such is the depth of his intellect and his love for music he is an accomplished violinist, flautist and pianist in a very short time.

From his youth stretching into early manhood Ó Dubhda’s love of the Irish language is evident. He helps found a Gaelic League branch in Dundalk and perfects his use of the language by visiting Gaeltacht areas in the west of Ireland and Omeath. He is awarded a certificate to teach Irish by the Patrick Pearse and is a teacher in St. Mary’s College in Dundalk for over 20 years from 1915.

Ó Dubhda leaves teaching when he is offered his own children’s hour on Radio Éireann, a programme that lasts for over 30 years and through which a generation of Irish youth come to know and love his stories.

Ó Dubhda’s major work is the translation of the entire Douay version of the bible into Irish. The work takes twelve years and involves the deciphering of over three million words. The work is presented to the Irish nation in 1955 and is held in the National Museum of Ireland.

In 1950 Ó Dubhda is presented with the Papal medal, Pro Ecclessia el Pontifice by Pope Pius XII, to mark his 50th year as a member of his St. Malachy’s choir and one of his most prized possessions is a personal letter from Pope John XXIII praising him for his work for the church.

Peadar Ó Dubhda is just a month shy of his 90th birthday when he passes away in the loving care of his nieces in their Park Drive home on May 26, 1971. He is buried in Dundalk and his funeral is attended by President Éamon De Valera.


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Keith Ridgway Awarded Rooney Prize for Irish Literature

keith-ridgwayIrish novelist Keith Ridgway is awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature on June 11, 2001. Created in 1976, there is no shortlist, no entry form, and no categorisation for the award. The only requirement is for the writer to be Irish, under the age of 40, and published in Irish or English.

Ridgway is born in Dublin on October 2, 1965. An award-winning author, he has been described as “a worthy inheritor” of “the modernist tradition in Irish fiction.”

Horses, Ridgway’s first published work of fiction, appears in Faber First Fictions Volume 13 in 1997. In 1998 The Long Falling is published by Faber and Faber Limited, London. It is adapted into a film, Où va la nuit, by French director Martin Provost in 2011. A collection of short fiction, Standard Time, appears in 2000, followed by his third novel, The Parts, in 2003. Both are published by Faber and Faber. In 2006 Animals is published by 4th Estate, London. A short story, “Goo Book,” is published in the April 11, 2011, issue of The New Yorker magazine. The author’s most recent work, Hawthorn & Child, is published by New Directions Publishing on September 27, 2013. His novels have been translated into several languages and have been published in France, Italy and Germany.

In 2001, the same year that Ridgway is awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, The Long Falling receives the Prix Femina Étranger (translated as “Mauvaise Pente”). His short story “Rothko Eggs” wins the O. Henry Award in 2012 and is anthologized in the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories that year.


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Birth of Novelist Katherine Cecil Thurston

katherine-cecil-thurstonKatherine Cecil Thurston, Irish novelist best known for two political thrillers, is born at 14 Bridge Street, Cork, County Cork on April 18, 1875.

Born Kathleen Annie Josephine Madden, she is the only daughter of banker Paul J. Madden, who is Mayor of Cork in 1885–1886 and a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell, and Eliza Madden (née Dwyer). She is educated privately at her family home, Wood’s Gift, Blackrock Road.

By the end of the 19th century Madden is contributing short stories to various British and American publications, such as The Pall Mall Magazine, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Windsor Magazine and others.

On February 16, 1901, five weeks after her father’s death, she marries the writer Ernest Temple Thurston. They separate in 1907 and are divorced in 1910 on grounds of his adultery and desertion. The suit goes undefended. Thurston “complained that she was making more money by her books than he was, that her personality dominated his, and had said that he wanted to leave her.”

Thurston’s novels achieve success in Britain and the United States. Her best-known work is a political thriller entitled John Chilcote, M.P. (as The Masquerader in the United States), published in 1904 and on The New York Times bestseller list for two years, ranking as third best-selling book for 1904 and seventh best in 1905. Her next book, The Gambler, comes out in 1905 and it too makes the U.S. best-selling lists for that year. This is the first time The New York Times had recorded any author, female or male, as having two top-ten books in a single year. In 1910, she is back on the same list at No. 4 with her novel Max, the story of a young Russian princess, who flees disguised as a boy to the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, on the night before her arranged marriage.

John Chilcote, M.P. is adapted for the stage by John Hunter Booth and opens on Broadway in 1917. It is filmed four times, the first silent film by American Pathé in 1912 under the title The Compact and starring Crane Wilbur. The second film is a 1920 Russian/French co-production entitled Chlen parlamenta. Two more films are made using the American book title The Masquerader, in 1922 and then by The Samuel Goldwyn Company in 1933 as a “talkie” starring Ronald Colman.

An epileptic, Thurston’s blossoming career is cut short at the age of 36 when she is found dead in her hotel room in Cork on September 5, 1911. The official enquiry the following day gives the cause of death as asphyxia as result of a seizure. She had been due to remarry later in the month to Dr. A. T. Bulkeley Gavin. She is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The story of her final years and her relations with Bulkeley Gavin are the subject of a published thesis by C. M. Copeland, written while studying at the Napier University, Edinburgh.


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Birth of Novelist & Broadcaster Francis MacManus

francis-macmanus-gravesiteFrancis MacManus, Irish novelist and broadcaster is born in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny on March 8, 1909.

MacManus is educated in the local Christian Brothers school and later at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin and University College Dublin. After teaching for eighteen years at the Synge Street CBS in Dublin, he joins the staff of Radio Éireann, precursor to the Irish national broadcasting entity RTÉ, in 1948 as Director of Features.

MacManus begins writing while still teaching, first publishing a trilogy set in Penal times and concerning the life of the Gaelic poet Donncha Rua Mac Conmara comprising the novels Stand and Give Challenge (1934), Candle for the Proud (1936) and Men Withering (1939). A second trilogy follows which turns its attention to contemporary Ireland: This House Was Mine (1937), Flow On, Lovely River (1941), and Watergate (1942). The location is the fictional “Dombridge,” based on Kilkenny, and deals with established themes of Irish rural life including obsessions with land, sexual frustration, and the trials of emigration and return. Other major works include the novel The Greatest of These (1943), concerning religious conflict in nineteenth-century Kilkenny, and the biographies Boccaccio (1947) and Saint Columban (1963). In his last two novels, he descends into the depths of theological debate: The Fire in the Dust (1950) is followed by American Son (1959), a remarkable dialogue between conflicting modes of belief which reveals the strong influence of Roman Catholicism on the author.

Francis MacManus dies of a heart attack at the age of 56 in Dublin on November 27, 1965.

The RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story Award is established in his memory in 1985. The competition is run by RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and is open to entries written in Irish or English from authors born or resident in Ireland. The total prize fund is €6000, out of which the winning author receives €3,000. Sums of €2,000 and €1,000 are awarded to the second and third prize winners.


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Birth of Samuel Lover, Songwriter, Novelist & Painter

samuel-lover-1Samuel Lover, Irish songwriter, composer, novelist, and a painter of portraits, chiefly miniatures, is born at 60 Grafton Street in Dublin on February 24, 1797. He is also known as “Ben Trovato” (“well invented”) and is the grandfather of Victor Herbert. He is noted as saying, “When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen.”

Lover goes to school at Samuel Whyte’s at 79 Grafton Street, now home to Bewley’s café. By 1830 he is secretary of the Royal Hibernian Academy and lives at 9 D’Olier Street. In 1835 he moves to London and begins composing music for a series of comic stage works. To some of them, like the operetta Il Paddy Whack in Italia (1841), he contributes both words and music, for others he merely contributes a few songs.

Lover produces a number of Irish songs, of which several – including The Angel’s Whisper, Molly Bawn, and The Four-leaved Shamrock – attain great popularity. He also writes novels, of which Rory O’Moore and Handy Andy are the best known, and short Irish sketches which, with his songs, he combines into a popular entertainment called Irish Nights or Irish Evenings. With the latter, he tours North America between 1846 and 1848. He joins with Charles Dickens in founding Bentley’s Magazine.

Lover’s grandson is composer Victor Herbert whose mother is Lover’s daughter Fanny. Herbert is best remembered for his many successful musicals and operettas that premier on Broadway. As a small child he lives with the Lovers in a musical environment following the divorce of his mother.

Samuel Lover dies on July 6, 1868 in Saint Helier on the island of Jersey. A memorial in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin summarises his achievements:

“Poet, painter, novelist and composer, who, in the exercise of a genius as distinguished in its versatility as in its power, by his pen and pencil illustrated so happily the characteristics of the peasantry of his country that his name will ever be honourably identified with Ireland.”