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


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The Beginning of the Battle of the Somme

On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, twenty thousand soldiers of the British Army are killed and forty thousand are wounded. The 36th (Ulster) Division suffers heavy casualties.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, is a battle of the World War I fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It takes place between July 1 and November 18, 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle is intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and is the largest battle of World War I on the Western Front. More than 3 million men fight in this battle and one million men are wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

The French and British commit themselves to an offensive on the Somme during Allied discussions at Chantilly, Oise, in December 1915. The Allies agree upon a strategy of combined offensives against the Central Powers in 1916, by the French, Russian, British and Italian armies, with the Somme offensive as the Franco-British contribution. Initial plans call for the French army to undertake the main part of the Somme offensive, supported on the northern flank by the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). When the Imperial German Army begins the Battle of Verdun on the Meuse on February 21, 1916, French commanders divert many of the divisions intended for the Somme and the “supporting” attack by the British becomes the principal effort.

The first day on the Somme, July 1, sees a serious defeat for the German Second Army, which is forced out of its first position by the French Sixth Army, from Foucaucourt-en-Santerre south of the Somme to Maricourt on the north bank and by the Fourth Army from Maricourt to the vicinity of the AlbertBapaume road. The first day on the Somme is, in terms of casualties, also the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffers 57,470 casualties. These occur mainly on the front between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt, where the attack is defeated and few British troops reach the German front line. The British troops on the Somme comprise a mixture of the remains of the pre-war standing army, the Territorial Force, and Kitchener’s Army, a force of volunteer recruits including many Pals Battalions, recruited from the same places and occupations.

The battle is notable for the importance of air power and the first use of the tank. At the end of the battle, British and French forces have penetrated 6 miles into German-occupied territory, taking more ground than in any of their offensives since the First Battle of the Marne in 1914. The Anglo-French armies fail to capture Péronne and halt three miles from Bapaume, where the German armies maintain their positions over the winter. British attacks in the Ancre valley resume in January 1917 and force the Germans into local withdrawals to reserve lines in February, before the scheduled retirement to the Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) begins in March.

Debate continues over the necessity, significance and effect of the battle. David Frum opines that a century later, “‘the Somme’ remains the most harrowing place-name” in the history of the British Commonwealth.


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Birth of Brian Coffey, Poet & Publisher

Brian Coffey, Irish poet and publisher, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on June 8, 1905. His work is informed by his Catholicism and by his background in science and philosophy, and his connection to surrealism. For these reasons, he is seen as being closer to an intellectual European Catholic tradition than to mainstream Irish Catholic culture.

Coffey attends the Mount St. Benedict boarding school in Gorey, County Wexford from 1917 to 1919 and then Clongowes Wood College, in Clane, County Kildare from 1919 until 1922. In 1923, he goes to France to study for the Bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies at the Institution St. Vincent, Senlis, Oise. While still at college, Coffey begins writing poetry. He publishes his first poems in University College Dublin‘s The National Student under the pseudonym Coeuvre.

In the early 1930s, Coffey moves to Paris where he studies Physical Chemistry under Jean Baptiste Perrin, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He completes these studies in 1933, and his Three Poems is printed in Paris by Jeanette Monnier that same year. In 1934 he enters the Institut Catholique de Paris to work with the noted French philosopher Jacques Maritain, taking his licentiate examination in 1936. He then moves to London for a time and contributes reviews and a poem to T.S. Eliot‘s The Criterion magazine. He returns to Paris in 1937 as an exchange student to work on his doctoral thesis on the idea of order in the work of Thomas Aquinas. In 1938, Coffey’s second volume of poetry, Third Person, is published by George Reavey‘s Europa Press.

During the war, Coffey teaches in schools in London and Yorkshire, leaving his young family in Dublin. After the war, he returns to Paris and completes his doctoral thesis. The family then moves so that Coffey can take up a teaching post at the Jesuit Saint Louis University.

By the early 1950s, Coffey becomes uncomfortable for a number of reasons, including the nature of his work, his distance from Ireland and the pressures that inevitably come to bear on an academic who has previously associated with well-known left-wing writers in Paris. For these reasons, he resigns in 1952.

In 1952, Coffey returns to live in London and, from 1973, Southampton. He begins again to publish his poetry and translations, mainly of French poetry. The first work in English to appear after this period of silence is Missouri Sequence, apparently begun in St. Louis but first appearing in the University Review, later known as the Irish University Review, in 1962.

Over the next decade or so, he publishes regularly in the University Review. He also sets up his own publishing enterprise, Advent Press, which publishes work by himself and by younger writers he wants to support.

Brian Coffey dies at the age of 89 on April 14, 1995, and is buried in Southampton, England.