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


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Birth of Irish Novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary

arthur-joyce-lunel-caryIrish novelist Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary is born in a hospital in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on December 7, 1888. Shortly after his birth the family moved to London.

Cary is born into an old Anglo-Irish family, and at age 16 he studies painting in Edinburgh and then in Paris. From 1909 to 1912 he is at Trinity College, Oxford, where he reads law. Having joined the colonial service in 1914, he serves in the Nigeria Regiment during World War I. He is wounded while fighting in Cameroon and returns to civil duty in Nigeria in 1917 as a district officer. West Africa becomes the locale of his early novels.

Resolved to become a writer, Cary settles in Oxford in 1920. Although that year he publishes ten short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, he decides he knows too little about philosophy, ethics, and history to continue writing in good conscience. Study occupies the next several years, and it is only in 1932 that his first novel, Aissa Saved, appears. The story of an African girl converted to Christianity but still retaining pagan elements in her faith, it is followed by three more African novels — An American Visitor (1933), The African Witch (1936), and Mister Johnson (1939) — and a novel about the decline of the British Empire, Castle Corner (1938). Childhood is the theme of his next two novels, his own in A House of Children (1941) and that of a cockney wartime evacuee in the country in Charley Is My Darling (1940).

Cary’s trilogy on art begins with the first-person narration of a woman, Sara Monday, in Herself Surprised (1941) and follows with that of two men in her life, the lawyer Tom Wilcher in To Be a Pilgrim (1942) and the artist Gulley Jimson in The Horse’s Mouth (1944), his best-known novel. Monday is portrayed as a warm-hearted, generous woman who is victimized both by the conservative upper-class Wilcher and by the talented but disreputable painter Jimson. The latter character is a social rebel and visionary artist whose humorous philosophy and picaresque adventures in The Horse’s Mouth helped make him one of the best-known characters in 20th-century fiction.

Similarly, Cary’s other trilogy is seen from the vantage of a politician’s wife in A Prisoner of Grace (1952), the politician himself in Except the Lord (1953), and the wife’s second husband in Not Honour More (1955).

In 1952, Cary has some muscle problems which are originally diagnosed as bursitis, but as more symptoms are noted over the next two years, the diagnosis is changed to that of motor neuron disease (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in North America), a wasting and gradual paralysis that is terminal. As his physical powers fail, Cary has to have a pen tied to his hand and his arm supported by a rope to write. Finally, he resorts to dictation until unable to speak, and then ceases writing for the first time since 1912. His last work, The Captive and the Free (1959), first volume of a projected trilogy on religion, is unfinished at his death on March 29, 1957. His short stories are collected in Spring Song (1960).

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Death of C.S. Lewis, Novelist & Poet

Clive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, dies in Oxford, England, on November 22, 1963.

Lewis is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. When he is seven, his family moves into “Little Lea,” the family home of his childhood, in the Strandtown area of East Belfast. He was schooled by private tutors until age 9, when his mother dies from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. The school closes soon afterwards due to a lack of pupils. He then attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that Lewis abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College, where he remains until the following June. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J.R.R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University, and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy, he is baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologetics from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. His illness causes him to miss the autumn term at Cambridge, though his health gradually begins improving in 1962 and he returns that April. His health continues to improve and he is fully himself by early 1963. On July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to hospital. At 5:00 PM the following day he suffers a heart attack and lapses into a coma, unexpectedly awaking the following afternoon. After he is discharged from the hospital he is too ill to return to work. As a result, he resigns from his post at Cambridge in August. His condition continues to decline, and in mid-November he is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On November 22, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, he collapses in his bedroom at 5:30 PM and dies a few minutes later. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which occurs on the same day approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’s collapse, as does the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His works enter the public domain in 2014 in countries where copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator, such as Canada.


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Birth of Philanthropist Vere Foster

Vere Henry Louis Foster, English educationist and philanthropist is born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819.

Foster is the third son of Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet and his wife, Albinia Jane, daughter of George Vere Hobart, and granddaughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire. He is educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on May 30, 1838.

Leaving Oxford without a degree, Foster joins the diplomatic service. From 1842 to 1843 he is attached to the diplomatic mission of Sir Henry Ellis in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1845 to 1847 to that of Sir William Gore Ouseley in Montevideo.

In 1847 Foster visits a family estate in County Louth, Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, with his eldest brother, Sir Frederick George Foster. They become involved in famine relief. In 1848 their father dies and Foster undergoes a crisis in his life, and he comes to concentrate on philanthropy in Ireland.

Foster makes three voyages to the United States as a steerage passenger in a ship of emigrants, finding the accommodations bad, and the treatment of emigrants exploitative. Through his cousin Vere Hobart, Lord Hobart, he is able to influence parliament and the Passengers Act 1851. He also takes practical steps to promote Irish emigration to the United States.

Later, Foster takes up the improvement of education in Ireland. This is a time of Catholic suspicion of the national education system introduced by Richard Whately. Foster contributes to the provision of better school accommodation and apparatus, and gives grants in aid of building several hundred new school-houses. He agitates for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and develops the “Vere Foster copy-books” to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts draw him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward & Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settles permanently in Belfast where he continues to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraises for the Royal Belfast Hospital, and helps to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

In 1879, with the Land War in Ireland, Foster concentrates on promoting female emigration to the United States and the British colonies. He is supported in his projects by both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Vere Foster dies, unmarried, in Belfast on December 21, 1900. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


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Birth of Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield in Belfast

Sir Kenneth Percy Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service who is later a member of the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains and for a time Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner, is born in Belfast on April 15, 1931. He has also held a variety of public sector posts in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Bloomfield is born to English parents and grows up close to Neill’s Hill railway station. Between the years of 1943 and 1949, he attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and later goes on to read Modern History at St. Peter’s College, Oxford. On September 12, 1988, he and his wife are the targets of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack on their home in Crawfordsburn, County Down. Neither Bloomfield nor his wife are injured in the blast.

Having joined the Civil Service in 1952, Bloomfield is appointed Permanent Secretary to the power sharing executive in 1974. After the collapse of the executive, he goes on to become Permanent Secretary for the Department of the Environment and the Department of Economic Development, and finally Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service on December 1, 1984. In that capacity he is the most senior advisor to successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers on a wide range of issues. He retires from the post in April 1991.

Since retiring from the Civil Service, Bloomfield has embarked on a life of involvement in a diverse range of organisations. He has taken up roles such as Chairman for the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and his alma mater, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He has also been involved in the political reform of the States of Jersey and spearheaded the Association for Quality Education, which is fighting to retain academic selection in the Northern Ireland education system. In December 1997 he is asked by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, to become the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner for a fixed term. His role is to produce a report on the way forward for Victims issues in Northern Ireland. His report entitled We Will Remember Them is published in April 1998. From 1991 to 1999 he serves as the BBC‘s National Governor for Northern Ireland.

Bloomfield receives a Knighthood in the 1987 Queen’s Birthday Honours and honorary doctorates from Queen’s University, Belfast, the Open University and the Ulster University. He is also a Member of the Royal Irish Academy.


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Birth of Sir Richard Steele, Writer & Politician

sir-richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, Irish writer and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672.

Steele is born to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William’s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. Steele leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he serves in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction. The Christian Hero is ultimately ridiculed for what some thought was hypocrisy because Steele did not necessarily follow his own preaching.

Steele writes a comedy that same year entitled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, Steele writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, is first published on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. Steele writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. Steele describes his motive in writing Tatler as “to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behavior.”

The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that has come under Tory attack. Addison and Steele then found The Spectator in 1711 and also The Guardian in 1713.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favour of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his wife’s homeland of Wales, where he spends the remainder of his life.

Steele remains in Carmarthen after his wife Mary’s death, and is buried there, at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.


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Death of Philosopher George Berkeley

george-berkeleyGeorge Berkeley, Irish philosopher whose primary achievement is the advancement of a theory he calls “immaterialism” (later referred to as “subjective idealism” by others), dies in Oxford, England, on January 14, 1753. His theory of immaterialism denies the existence of material substance and instead contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers and, as a result, cannot exist without being perceived. Berkeley is also known for his critique of abstraction, an important premise in his argument for immaterialism.

Berkeley is born at his family home, Dysart Castle, near Thomastown, County Kilkenny, the eldest son of William Berkeley, a cadet of the noble family of Berkeley. He is educated at Kilkenny College and attends Trinity College, Dublin, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1704 and completing a master’s degree in 1707. He remains at Trinity College after completion of his degree as a tutor and Greek lecturer.

In 1709, Berkeley publishes his first major work, An Essay towards a New Theory of Vision, in which he discusses the limitations of human vision and advances the theory that the proper objects of sight are not material objects, but light and colour. This foreshadows his chief philosophical work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, in 1710, which, after its poor reception, he rewrites in dialogue form and publishes under the title Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous in 1713.

In this book, Berkeley’s views are represented by Philonous, while Hylas embodies the Irish thinker’s opponents, in particular John Locke. Berkeley argues against Sir Isaac Newton‘s doctrine of absolute space, time, and motion in De Motu (On Motion), published in 1721. His arguments are a precursor to the views of Ernst Mach and Albert Einstein. In 1732, he publishes Alciphron, a Christian apologetic against the free-thinkers, and in 1734, he publishes The Analyst, a critique of the foundations of calculus, which is influential in the development of mathematics.

His last major philosophical work, Siris (1744), begins by advocating the medicinal use of tar water and then continues to discuss a wide range of topics, including science, philosophy, and theology. Interest in Berkeley’s work increases after World War II because he tackles many of the issues of paramount interest to philosophy in the 20th century, such as the problems of perception, the difference between primary and secondary qualities, and the importance of language. It sold more copies than any of his other books during his lifetime.

In 1734, Berkeley is appointed Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland, a position he holds until his death. He remains at Cloyne until 1752, when he retires and goes to Oxford to live with his son and supervise his education. He dies soon afterward and is buried in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

The Berkeley portion of the Yale University campus is named after George Berkeley.


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Birth of John Stearne, Founder of Irish College of Physicians

john-stearneJohn Stearne, Irish academic and founder of the Irish College of Physicians, is born at Ardbraccan, County Meath, on November 26, 1624.

At the time of Stearne’s birth, his grand-uncle, James Ussher, is Bishop of Meath. His father, John Stearne of Cambridge, who settled in County Down and married Mabel Bermingham, a niece of Ussher, is remote relation of Archbishop Richard Sterne.

Stearne enters Trinity College, Dublin at the age of fifteen in 1639, and obtains a scholarship in 1641. On the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Stearne leaves for England, and in 1643 goes to Cambridge, where he studies medicine at Sidney Sussex College, and collects material for his first work, Animi Medela. He remains at Cambridge about seven years, and then spends some time at Oxford, where he is welcomed by Seth Ward, then fellow of Wadham College. He is elected a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin in 1643, a position from which he is ejected by order of the Rump Parliament. Upon his return to Ireland in 1651 he is restored to his fellowship by Henry Cromwell, with whom he is on good terms, and to whom he dedicates one of his books.

In 1656 Stearne is appointed the first Hebrew lecturer in Trinity College, Dublin, receiving the degree of M.D. in 1658, and that of LL.D. in 1660. In 1659 he resigns his fellowship but is appointed to a senior fellowship in 1660, after the Restoration, receiving a dispensation from the statutes of the university respecting celibacy. He becomes in the same year professor of law. During his tenure of these various offices, Stearne practises as a physician in Dublin, obtaining special permission to reside outside the walls of the college.

Stearne is best known as the founder of the Irish College of Physicians. In 1660 he proposes to the university that Trinity Hall, situated in Back Lane, Dublin, then affiliated to the university, of which he has been constituted president in 1654, should be a college of physicians. The arrangement is sanctioned, and Stearne, on the nomination of the provost and senior fellows of Trinity College, in whom the appointment is vested, becomes its first president. No students are to be admitted who do not belong to Trinity College.

In 1662 Stearne is appointed for life professor of medicine in the university. In 1667 a charter is granted to the College of Physicians, under which a governing body of fourteen fellows is constituted, of whom Sir William Petty is one, with Stearne at their head as president for life.

Stearne dies in Dublin on November 18, 1669, and is buried, by his own request, in the chapel of Trinity College, where his epitaph, by his friend Henry Dodwell the elder, describes him as Philosophus, Medicus, summusque Theologus idem.