seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Battle of Waterloo

battle-of-waterlooThe Battle of Waterloo is fought on Sunday, June 18, 1815 near Waterloo, Belgium, which is part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands at the time. The battle marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte is defeated by British forces under the command of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington of Dublin and a Prussian army under the command of Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher. The Iron Duke is not the only Irish presence on the battlefield that day. Napoleon’s horse, Marengo, is reared in County Wexford, and the Duke of Wellington’s mount is from County Cork.

Upon Napoleon’s return to power in March 1815, many states that have opposed him form the Seventh Coalition and begin to mobilise armies. Wellington and Blücher’s armies are cantoned close to the northeastern border of France. Napoleon chooses to attack them separately in the hope of destroying them before they can join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the coalition. On June 16, he successfully attacks the bulk of the Prussian army at the Battle of Ligny with his main force, while a portion of the French army simultaneously attacks the Anglo-allied army at the Battle of Quatre Bras. Despite holding his ground at Quatre Bras, the defeat of the Prussians forces Wellington to withdraw north to Waterloo on June 17. Napoleon sends a third of his forces to pursue the Prussians, who have withdrawn parallel to Wellington in good order. This results in the separate and simultaneous Battle of Wavre with the Prussian rear-guard.

Upon learning that the Prussian army is able to support him, Wellington decides to offer battle on the Mont-Saint-Jean escarpment across the Brussels road. Here he withstands repeated attacks by the French throughout the afternoon of June 18, aided by the progressively arriving Prussians. In the evening, Napoleon commits his last reserves, the senior battalions of the French Imperial Guard infantry. The desperate final attack of the Guard is narrowly beaten back. With the Prussians breaking through on the French right flank, Wellington’s Anglo-allied army counter-attacks in the centre, and the French army is routed.

Waterloo is the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon’s last. Napoleon abdicates four days later, and coalition forces enter Paris on July 7. The defeat at Waterloo ends Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French and marks the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. This ends the First French Empire and sets a chronological milestone between serial European wars and decades of relative peace.

The battlefield is located in the municipalities of Braine-l’Alleud and Lasne, about 15 kilometres south of Brussels, and about 2 kilometres from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield today is dominated by the monument of the Lion’s Mound, constructed from earth taken from the battlefield itself. The topography of the battlefield near the mound has not been preserved.

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Birth of Helen Waddell, Poet & Playwright

helen-waddellHelen Jane Waddell, Irish poet, translator and playwright, is born in Tokyo, Japan on May 31, 1889.

Waddell is the tenth and youngest child of Hugh Waddell, a Presbyterian minister and missionary who is lecturing in the Imperial University. She spends the first eleven years of her life in Japan before her family returns to Belfast. Her mother dies shortly afterwards, and her father remarries. Hugh Waddell himself dies and leaves his younger children in the care of their stepmother. Following the marriage of her elder sister Meg, she is left at home to care for her stepmother, whose health is deteriorating by this time.

Waddell is educated at Victoria College for Girls and Queen’s University Belfast, where she studies under Professor Gregory Smith, graduating in 1911. She follows her BA with first class honours in English with a master’s degree, and in 1919 enrolls in Somerville College, Oxford, to study for her doctorate. A traveling scholarship from Lady Margaret Hall in 1923 allows her to conduct research in Paris. It is at this time that she meets her life-long friend, Maude Clarke.

Waddell is best known for bringing to light the history of the medieval goliards in her 1927 book The Wandering Scholars, and translating their Latin poetry in the companion volume Medieval Latin Lyrics. A second anthology, More Latin Lyrics, is compiled in the 1940s but not published until after her death. Her other works range widely in subject matter. For example, she also writes plays. Her first play is The Spoiled Buddha, which is performed at the Opera House, Belfast, by the Ulster Literary Society. Her The Abbe Prevost is staged in 1935. Her historical novel Peter Abelard is published in 1933. It is critically well received and becomes a bestseller.

Waddell also writes many articles for the Evening Standard, The Manchester Guardian and The Nation, and does lecturing and broadcasting.

Waddell is the assistant editor of The Nineteenth Century magazine. Among her circle of friends in London, where she is vice-president of the Irish Literary Society, are William Butler Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Rose Macaulay, Max Beerbohm and George William Russell. Her personal and professional friendship with Siegfried Sassoon apparently makes the latter’s wife suspicious. Although she never marries, she has a close relationship with her publisher, Otto Kyllmann of Constable & Company.

Waddell receives honorary degrees from Columbia, Belfast, Durham and St. Andrews and wins the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature.

A serious debilitating neurological disease puts an end to her writing career in 1950. She dies in London on March 5, 1965 and is buried in Magherally churchyard, County Down, Northern Ireland. A prize-winning biography of her by the Benedictine nun Dame Felicitas Corrigan is published in 1986.


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Birth of John MacBride

john-macbrideMajor John MacBride, Irish republican executed by the British for his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Westport, County Mayo on May 7, 1865.

MacBride is born to Patrick MacBride, a shopkeeper and trader, and the former Honoria Gill. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School in Westport and at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast. He studies medicine but gives it up and begins working with a chemist’s firm in Dublin.

MacBride joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association. He also joins the Celtic Literary Society through which he comes to know Arthur Griffith, who is to remain a friend and influence throughout his life. Beginning in 1893, he is termed a “dangerous nationalist” by the British government. In 1896, he travels to the United States on behalf of the IRB. Upon his return he emigrates to South Africa.

In the Second Boer War MacBride is instrumental in the raising of the Irish Transvaal Brigade and leads it into action against the British. When organised resistance collapses, he and the surviving members cross the border into Mozambique. After the war he marries Maud Gonne and they have a son, Seán MacBride, who is also to make a name for himself in Irish Politics. The marriage, however, is not a success and they go their separate ways. MacBride keeps up his associations with Republican activists but does not become personally involved other than making the odd speech in support of Ireland’s Cause.

After returning permanently from Paris to Dublin in 1905, MacBride joins other Irish nationalists in preparing for an Insurrection. Because he is so well known to the British, the leaders think it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising. As a result, he happens to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice.

MacBride is in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning, April 24, to meet his brother, Dr. Anthony MacBride, who is arriving from Westport to be married two days later. As MacBride walks up Grafton Street he sees Thomas MacDonagh in uniform and leading his troops. He offers his services and is appointed second-in-command at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, which is occupied and held through Easter Week until the order to surrender is received. As he is dressed in civilian clothes rather than a military uniform, he could likely have escaped without too much difficulty but rather he decides to go with his comrades into captivity.

Tried by court martial under the Defence of the Realm Act, MacBride is found guilty and sentenced to death. He is executed on May 5, 1916, two days before his forty-eighth birthday. Facing the British firing squad, MacBride refuses to be blindfolded saying, “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence.”

John MacBride is buried in the cemetery at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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The Suicide of Reverend William Jackson

william-jacksonThe Reverend William Jackson, noted Irish preacher, journalist, playwright, radical, and spy, commits suicide on April 30, 1795 after being found guilty of high treason.

Jackson was born in Newtownards, County Down, in 1737. Much is unclear about his early life. He studies at Oxford and became an Anglican curate. In the 1760s, he moves to London, where he preaches at the Tavistock Chapel and St. Mary-le-Strand. Although he gains some popularity as a preacher, he remains unbeneficed and eventually turns to journalism to support himself.

In 1766, Jackson becomes the editor of The Public Ledger. Under his editorship, the London paper becomes increasingly strident and oppositional in its politics. He is forced to flee to France in April 1777 to avoid a trial for libel that the popular actor and playwright Samuel Foote had initiated. He does not have to stay long in exile because Foote dies on October 21 of that same year.

After Foote’s death, Jackson returns to England. He resumes his political activities by publishing The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America in 1783, with a dedication to the opposition leader, William Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland. But the following year, he is secretly hired by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to support the government in The Morning Post. Publishing anonymously, he attacks his former allies with his usual vehemence until he is discovered and is soundly damned for his apostasy and finds himself generally excluded from English politics.

Jackson’s next appearance in the public results in yet another scandal. In 1787 he joins forces with “Gentleman” John Palmer. Their goal is to build a new theatre in London. Jackson and Palmer persuade investors to sink more than eighteen thousand pounds into the construction of the Royalty Theatre. However, while there is no law against building a theatre in London, there is a law against operating one without the Lord Chamberlain‘s authorisation. Jackson and Palmer have no such authorisation so the theatre is shut down after just one night. The duped investors initiated legal action. Jackson again flees to France, where he arrives on the eve of revolution.

During his stay in Paris, Jackson is swept up in the revolutionary fervour and becomes involved with the radical British expatriate set there. Swept up in the general arrest of British subjects in 1793, he is released from prison on the strength of his radical commitments. Upon his release, he becomes inspector of horses for Meaux and later in 1793 is commissioned as a spy for the French. Nicholas Madgett, an Irishman who works in the Marine Ministry, recruits Jackson to go to England and Ireland to assess the public’s inclination towards armed revolution.

Jackson arrives in London in early 1794 and becomes reacquainted with John Cockayne, a lawyer he had met two decades earlier. He reveals his mission to Cockayne, who promptly reveals it to the Prime Minister out of fear of being tried for treason himself. When Jackson leaves London for Dublin, he is accompanied by Cockayne. In Ireland they meet with several radical leaders of the Society of United Irishmen, including Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Reynolds and Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Hamilton Rowan, in particular, is tempted by Jackson’s talk of French assistance, and persuades Tone to write up a report for the French, indicating Irish willingness to rise up. Jackson makes the fatal mistake of placing Tone’s report and other letters in the public mail, where they are seized by the authorities. This seizure leads to Jackson’s arrest on April 28, 1794.

Jackson remains in prison for a year before his trial takes place. The delays are at his request, allowing him time to assemble a defence and procure witnesses. During his imprisonment, he writes his last work, Observations in Answer to Mr. Paine’s Age of Reason (1795). His trial takes place in Dublin on April 23, 1795, and he is found guilty. One week later, on the morning of his sentencing hearing Jackson steps into the dock looking terribly ill. As his lawyers make drawn out speeches, hoping to avoid judgment on the technicality of an improperly filed indictment, Jackson’s condition steadily worsens. The judges order that a chair be provided for him and ask that a doctor attend him. He then collapses and dies. An autopsy finds that Jackson had ingested a large quantity of a “metallic poison.” This is likely administered by his second wife, but the inquest pointedly refuses to assign blame.

The effect of Jackson’s suicide is that he had not actually been pronounced guilty of treason by the court, and so his family can inherit his goods and a pension.


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Capture of Gustavus Conyngham, the Dunkirk Pirate

gustavus-conynghamIrish-born United States Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, “The Dunkirk Pirate,” is captured by the British Royal Navy in the waters off New York on April 27, 1779.

Conyngham is born in County Donegal in 1747 and emigrated to British America in 1763 in search of a better life. He settles in Philadelphia in order to work for his cousin Redmond Conyngham in the shipping industry. When the American Revolutionary War begins in 1775 he immediately sailed to France to try to procure supplies needed for the war effort.

The British become aware of Conyngham’s plans and manage to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. After the loss of his ship, he heads back to France, hoping to connect with an ally to the United States. It is there he meets Benjamin Franklin, who helps him in his adventures many times in the future. They form a lasting relationship, and Conyngham eventually awards Franklin the nickname “the Philosopher” for his intellectual fortitude and resourcefulness. Franklin is entrusted with several commissions of the Continental Navy, and on March 1, 1777 Conyngham is appointed Captain of the lugger Surprise.

Conyngham scores a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he is commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the USS Revenge. He begins a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet “The Dunkirk Pirate.”

In 1778 Conyngham sets sail for the West Indies and terrorizes British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he sets sail again his luck runs out and his ship is captured by the British vessel HMS Galatea on April 27, 1779. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors.

After two failed escape attempts, Conyngham tunnels his way out of Mill Prison in Plymouth and manages to make his way to the continent. He joins John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He is captured by the British again in March 1780 and spends another year in Mill Prison.

After the war Conyngham fails in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from the United States Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It is said that he assists in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812.

Gustavus Conyngham dies in Philadelphia seven years later on November 27, 1819. Nearly a century later, John Sanford Barnes, a retired navy captain and naval historian, acquires a cache of autographs and documents from a sale by Charavay of Paris. In the collection is Conyngham’s commission from Benjamin Franklin. Barnes publishes his discovery in September 1902, proving that the “Dunkirk Pirate” had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

(Pictured: Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Continental Navy. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976, based on a miniature by Louis Marie Sicardi. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.)


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Birth of Denis Devlin, Poet & Diplomat

denis-devlinDenis Devlin, poet, translator, and career diplomat, is born in Greenock, Scotland of Irish parents on April 15, 1908. Along with Samuel Beckett and Brian Coffey, he is one of the generation of Irish modernist poets to emerge at the end of the 1920s.

Devlin and his family return to live in Dublin in 1918. He studies at Belvedere College and, from 1926, as a seminarian for the Roman Catholic priesthood at Clonliffe College. As part of his studies he attends a degree course in modern languages at University College Dublin (UCD), where he meets and befriends Brian Coffey. Together they publish a joint collection, Poems, in 1930.

In 1927, Devlin abandons the priesthood and leaves Clonliffe. He graduates with his BA from UCD in 1930 and spends that summer on the Blasket Islands to improve his spoken Irish. Between 1930 and 1933, he studies literature at the University of Munich and the Sorbonne in Paris, meeting, amongst others, Beckett and Thomas MacGreevy. He then returns to UCD to complete his MA thesis on Michel de Montaigne.

Devlin joins the Irish Diplomatic Service in 1935 and spends a number of years in Rome, New York and Washington, D.C.. During this time he meets the French poet Saint-John Perse, and the Americans Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren. He goes on to publish a translation of Exile and Other Poems by Saint-John Perse, and Tate and Warren edit his posthumous Selected Poems.

Since his death on August 21, 1959, there have been two Collected Poems published; the first in 1964 is edited by Coffey and the second in 1989 by J.C.C. Mays.

Devlin’s personal papers are held in University College Dublin Archives. His niece goes on to become writer Denyse Woods.


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.