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


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Birth of Poet James Clarence Mangan

Mangan bustJames Clarence Mangan, Irish poet, is born on May 1, 1803 in Dublin. His poetry fits into a variety of literary traditions. Most obviously, and frequently, his work is read alongside such nationalist political authors as John Mitchel, as they appear in The Nation, The Vindicator and the United Irishman newspapers or as a manifestation of the 19th-century Irish Cultural Revival. He is also frequently read as a Romantic poet.

Mangan is the son of James Mangan, a former hedge school teacher and native of Shanagolden, County Limerick, and Catherine Smith from Kiltale, County Meath. Following his marriage to Smith, James Mangan takes over a grocery business in Dublin owned by the Smith family, eventually becoming bankrupt as a result. Mangan describes his father as having “a princely soul but no prudence,” and attributes his family’s bankruptcy to his father’s suspect business speculations and tendency to throw expensive parties. Thanks to poor record keeping, inconsistent biographies, and his own semi-fictional and sensationalized autobiographical accounts, his early years are the subject of much speculation. However, despite the popular image of him as a long-suffering, poor poet, there is reason to believe that his early years are spent in middle class comfort.

Mangan is educated at a Jesuit school where he learns Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian. He attends three schools before the age of fifteen. Obliged to find a job in order to support his family, he then becomes a lawyer’s clerk, and is later an employee of the Ordnance Survey and an assistant in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

Mangan’s first verses are published in 1818. From 1820 he adopts the middle name Clarence. In 1830 he begins producing translations – generally free interpretations rather than strict transliterations – from German, a language he had taught himself. Of interest are his translations of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. From 1834 his contributions begin appearing in the Dublin University Magazine. In 1840 he begins producing translations from Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Irish. He is also known for literary hoaxes as some of his “translations” are in fact works of his own, like Twenty Golden Years Ago, attributed to a certain Selber.

Mangan is friends with the patriotic journalists Thomas Davis and John Mitchel, who ultimately writes his biography. His poems are published in their newspaper The Nation.

Although Mangan’s early poetry is often apolitical, after the Great Famine he begins writing patriotic poems, including influential works such as Dark Rosaleen, a translation of “Róisín Dubh,” and A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century.

Mangan’s best known poems include Dark Rosaleen, Siberia, Nameless One, A Vision of Connaught in the Thirteenth Century, The Funerals, To the Ruins of Donegal Castle, Pleasant Prospects for the Land-eaters and Woman of Three Cows. He writes a brief autobiography, on the advice of his friend Charles Patrick Meehan, which ends mid-sentence. This is apparently written in the last months of his life, since he mentions his narrative poem of the Italian Gasparo Bandollo, which is published in the Dublin University Magazine in May 1849.

Mangan is a lonely and often difficult man who suffers from mood swings, depression and irrational fears, and becomes a heavy drinker and opium user. His appearance grows eccentric, and he is described by the artist WF Wakeman as frequently wearing “a huge pair of green spectacles,” padded shirts to hide his malnourished figure and a hat which “resembled those which broomstick-riding witches are usually represented with.” On June 20, 1849, weakened by poverty, alcoholism and malnutrition, he succumbs to cholera at the age of 46. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

(Pictured: Memorial bust of James Mangan in St. Stephen’s Green, sculpted by Oliver Sheppard)


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Birth of Richard John Griffith, Author of Griffith’s Valuation

richard-john-griffithRichard John Griffith, Irish geologist, mining engineer, and chairman of the Board of Works of Ireland, is born in Hume Street, Dublin, on September 20, 1784. He completed the first complete geological map of Ireland and is author of the valuation of Ireland, known ever since as Griffith’s Valuation.

Griffith goes to school in Portarlington and later, while attending school in Rathangan, his school is attacked by the rebels during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. He also studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 1799 he obtains a commission in the Royal Irish Artillery, but a year later, when the corps is incorporated with that of England, he retires, and devotes his attention to civil engineering and mining. He studies chemistry, mineralogy, and mining for two years in London under William Nicholson and afterwards examines the mining districts in various parts of England, Wales, and Scotland.

While in Cornwall he discovers ores of nickel and cobalt in material that has been rejected as worthless. He completes his studies under Robert Jameson and others at Edinburgh, is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1807, a member of the newly established Geological Society of London in 1808, and in the same year he returns to Ireland.

In 1809, he is appointed by the commissioners to inquire into the nature and extent of the bogs in Ireland and the means of improving them. In 1812 he is elected Professor of Geology and Mining Engineer to the Royal Dublin Society. Shortly afterwards he expresses his intention of preparing a geological map of Ireland. During subsequent years he makes many surveys and issues many reports on mineral districts in Ireland. These form the foundation of his first geological map of the country in 1815. He also succeeds Dr. Richard Kirwan as government inspector of mines in Ireland. In 1822 Griffith becomes engineer of public works in Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, and is occupied until 1830 in repairing old roads and in laying out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the country.

Meanwhile, in 1825, he is appointed by the government to carry out a boundary survey of Ireland. He is to mark the boundaries of every county, barony, civil parish, and townland in preparation for the first Ordnance Survey. He is also called upon to assist in the preparation of a parliamentary Bill to provide for the general valuation of Ireland, which passes in 1826. Griffith is appointed Commissioner of Valuation in 1827, but does not start work until 1830 when the new 6″ maps become available from the Ordnance survey and which he is required to use as provided for by statute. He continues to work on this until 1868. On Griffith’s valuation the various local and public assessments are made.

His extensive investigations furnish him with ample material for improving his geological map and the second edition is published in 1835. A third edition on a larger scale (1 in. to 4 m.) is issued under the Board of Ordnance in 1839 and it is further revised in 1855. For this great work and his other services to science Griffith is awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society in 1854. In 1850 he is made chairman of the Irish Board of Works and in 1858 he is created a baronet.

Griffith dies at the age of 95 at his residence in Dublin on September 22, 1878. At the time of his death, he is the oldest surviving fellow of the Geological Society of London and is the last survivor of the long-since disbanded Royal Irish Regiment of Artillery. He is buried alongside his wife, Maria Jane, in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.