seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Oscar Wilde, Poet & Playwright

oscar-wildeOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, dies in Paris, France on November 30, 1900. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s see him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for “gross indecency,” imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

Wilde is born on October 16, 1854 at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College), the second of three children born to Anglo-Irish Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, two years behind his brother William. His parents are successful Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. He learns to speak fluent French and German. At university, he reads Greats. He demonstrates himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, he moves to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.

As a spokesman for aestheticism, Wilde tries his hand at various literary activities: he publishes a book of poems, lectures in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and interior decoration, and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, he becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, Wilde refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draw him to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, he produces four society comedies in the early 1890s, which make him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is still being performed in London, Wilde has John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for criminal libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearths evidence that causes him to drop his charges and leads to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he is convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labour, the maximum penalty, and is jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he writes De Profundis, published posthumously in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he leaves immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he writes his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

By November 25, 1900 Wilde has developed meningitis, then called “cerebral meningitis”. On November 29, he is conditionally baptised into the Catholic Church by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin. He dies of meningitis on November 30, 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the disease. Richard Ellmann claims it is syphilitic. Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, believes this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde’s meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy. Wilde’s physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A’Court Tucker, report that the condition stems from an old suppuration of the right ear treated for several years and makes no allusion to syphilis.

Wilde is initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909 his remains are disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city. In 2011, the tomb is cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers and a glass barrier is installed to prevent further marks or damage.

In 2017, Wilde is among an estimated 50,000 men who are pardoned for homosexual acts that are no longer considered offences under the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The Act is known informally as the Alan Turing law.

In 2014 Wilde is one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro District noting LGBTQ people who have “made significant contributions in their fields.”


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Death of George Alexander Osborne, Composer & Pianist

george-alexander-osborneGeorge Alexander Osborne, Irish composer, pianist and director of the Royal Academy of Music, dies at his home in Regent’s Park, London on November 17, 1893.

Osborne is born in Limerick, County Limerick. He leaves Ireland for Brussels at the age of eighteen, where he is appointed music instructor for the eldest son of the Dutch king, William of Orange, and becomes friends with Charles de Bériot. With de Bériot he is later to compose more than thirty duos for violin and piano, which enjoy great popularity.

In 1830 Osborne fights for the royalists in the Belgian Revolution, and after his capture and release he moves to Paris. Here he studies under Johann Peter Pixis, François-Joseph Fétis and Friedrich Kalkbrenner and becomes friendly with some of the leading musicians of his time including Hector Berlioz and Frédéric Chopin.

In 1843, Osborne settles permanently in London, although he maintains a home in Paris until 1848, when he encourages a nervous Chopin during the latter’s tour of England in 1848. In London he holds directorships of the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Royal Academy of Music and conducts the Amateur Musical Society from 1852.

Osborne’s compositions are mostly on a small scale and include 83 original piano works, 178 transcriptions and fantasias for piano solo, 24 piano duos, 44 vocal works and 55 chamber music pieces. His unpublished works include two operas and some orchestral overtures, all now lost. Berlioz observes that Osborne’s songs and trios are “lofty in style and spacious in design.” One of his most popular compositions is a piano piece entitled La Pluie de perles (Shower of Pearls), which goes through many editions. Some of his piano music is written to display his own virtuosity, while others are conceived as salon music for domestic entertainment.

George Alexander Osborne dies on November 17, 1893 at his home in Regent’s Park, London, at the age of 87.


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Death of Margaret Brown, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”

margaret-brownMargaret Brown (née Tobin), an American socialite and philanthropist posthumously known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, dies in New York City on October 26, 1932. She is best remembered for unsuccessfully encouraging the crew in Lifeboat No. 6 to return to the debris field of the 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic to look for survivors. During her lifetime, her friends called her “Maggie”, but even by her death, obituaries refer to her as the “Unsinkable Mrs. Brown.” The reference is further reinforced by a 1960 Broadway musical based on her life and its 1964 film adaptation which are both entitled The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Tobin is born in a hospital near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on what is now known as Denkler’s alley. Her parents are Irish Catholic immigrants. At age 18, she relocates to Leadville, Colorado, with her siblings Daniel Tobin, Mary Ann Collins Landrigan and Mary Ann’s husband John Landrigan. Margaret and her brother Daniel share a two-room log cabin and she finds a job in a department store.

In Leadville, she meets and marries James Joseph “J.J.” Brown (1854–1922), an enterprising, self-educated man, in Leadville’s Annunciation Church on September 1, 1886. They have two children.

The Brown family acquires great wealth when in 1893 J.J.’s mining engineering efforts prove instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine of his employers, Ibex Mining Company, and he is awarded 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board. In Leadville, Margaret helps by working in soup kitchens to assist miners’ families.

In 1894, the Browns purchase a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver and in 1897 they build a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creek, which gives the family more social opportunities. Margaret becomes a charter member of the Denver Woman’s Club, whose mission is the improvement of women’s lives by continuing education and philanthropy. After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately sign a separation agreement in 1909. Although they never reconcile, they continue to communicate and care for each other throughout their lives.

Brown spends the first months of 1912 traveling in Egypt as part of the John Jacob Astor IV party, until she receives word from Denver that her eldest grandchild, Lawrence Palmer Brown Jr., is seriously ill. She immediately books passage on the first available liner leaving for New York, the RMS Titanic. Originally her daughter Helen is supposed to accompany her, but she decides to stay on in Paris, where she is studying at the Sorbonne.

The RMS Titanic sinks in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg. Brown helps others board the lifeboats but is finally persuaded to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. Brown is later called “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” by authors because she helps in the ship’s evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and urging that the lifeboat go back and save more people. After several attempts to urge Quartermaster Robert Hichens to turn back, she threatens to throw him overboard. Sources vary as to whether the boat goes back and if they find anyone alive. Brown’s efforts seal her place in history, regardless.

Upon being rescued by the RMS Carpathia, Brown proceeds to organize a survivors’ committee with other first-class survivors. The committee works to secure basic necessities for the second and third class survivors and even provides informal counseling.

Brown runs for the United States Senate in 1914 but ends her campaign to return to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France during World War I.

During the last years of her life, Brown is an actress. She dies in her sleep on October 26, 1932, at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City, New York. Subsequent autopsy reveals a brain tumor. She is buried on October 31 alongside her husband in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, New York, following a small ceremony attended only by family members. There is no eulogy.


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Death of Yann Renard-Goulet, Sculptor & Breton Nationalist

yann-goulet-custom-house-memorialYann Renard-Goulet, French sculptor, Breton nationalist and war-time collaborationist with Nazi Germany who headed the Breton Bagadou Stourm militia, dies in Bray, County Wicklow on August 22, 1999.

Goulet is born in Saint-Nazaire, France on August 20, 1914. Before World War II, he is a member of the Breton National Party and a former member of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO). His artistic career begins at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studies art and architecture, and learns sculpture with Auguste Rodin‘s assistant, Charles Despiau. His works in France include bas-reliefs shown at the Exposition International de Paris (1938), and the monument to the youth of the French empire in Lille (1939). He is part of the Breton artistic movement Seiz Breur.

Goulet’s involvement in Breton nationalism leads to accusations that he had orchestrated the destruction of the Monument to the Breton-Angevin Federation at Pontivy on December 18, 1938 by Gwenn ha du, the nationalist terrorist group. He is detained, but then released.

In 1939, he is sent to Strasbourg to study the art of sabotage. He participates in the beginning of World War II fighting for France, and is captured by the Germans on June 11, 1940 while blowing up a bridge on the Aisne with friends from a French corps.

Later in the war, Goulet joins the assault section of Bagadou Stourm, Breton nationalist stormtroopers allied to the Germans. He also collaborates with the pro-Nazi nationalist newspaper L’Heure Bretonne. In 1941 in Paris, he becomes head of Bagadou Stourm and the “Youth Organizations” of the Breton National Party. The promotion of Bagadou Stourm officers is named “Patrick Pearse” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule in Ireland.

After the liberation of France, Goulet travels with his wife and children to Ireland, and is sentenced to death as a Collaborationist by a French court in his absence. He acquires Irish citizenship in 1952 and becomes an art professor.

Goulet is commissioned to create public works commemorating the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and other republicans, including the Custom House Memorial (Dublin), the East Mayo Brigade IRA Memorial, the Republican Memorial (Crossmaglen), and the Ballyseedy Memorial (Kerry). He exhibits regularly at the Royal Hibernian Academy, eventually becoming the RHA Professor of Sculpture. He is also made a member of Aosdána in 1982.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Goulet claims to have taken the reins of the Breton Liberation Front (Front de Libération de la Bretagne, or FLB) and to have been behind all their attacks.

In 1969 Goulet becomes secretary general and chair of the Comité National de la Bretagne Libre and publishes the communiques of the FLB. In 1968, the head of police in Bray congratulate him on organising the previous day’s attack on the CRS barracks in Saint-Brieuc.

Goulet died at Bray, County Wicklow, on August 22, 1999, two days after his 85th birthday.

(Pictured: Custom House Memorial in Dublin by Yann Renard-Goulet, 1957)


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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The 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup

gordon-bennett-cup-1903The Gordon Bennett Cup takes place on July 2, 1903, becoming the first international motor race to be held in Ireland. The race is sponsored by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., owner of the New York Herald. Under the rules, the races are hosted in the country of the previous year’s winner. Selwyn Edge had won the 1902 event in the ParisVienna race driving a car manufactured by D. Napier & Son.

The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland want the race to be hosted in the British Isles, and their secretary, Claude Johnson, suggests Ireland as the venue because racing is illegal on British public roads. The editor of the Dublin Motor News, Richard J. Mecredy, suggests an area in County Kildare, and letters are sent to 102 Irish MPs, 90 Irish peers, 300 newspapers, 34 chairmen of county and local councils, 34 County secretaries, 26 mayors, 41 railway companies, 460 hoteliers, 13 PPs, plus the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Patrick Foley, who pronounces himself in favour.

Local laws have to be adjusted, ergo the ‘Light Locomotives (Ireland) Bill’ is passed on March 27, 1903. Kildare and other local councils draw attention to their areas, while Queen’s County (now County Laois) declares that every facility will be given and the roads placed at the disposal of motorists during the proposed race. Eventually Kildare is chosen, partly on the grounds that the straightness of the roads will be a safety benefit. As a compliment to Ireland the British team chooses to race in Shamrock green which thus becomes known as British racing green, although the winning Napier of 1902 had been painted Olive green.

There is considerable public concern about safety after the 1901 Paris-Bordeaux Rally, in which at least eight people had been killed, and severe crashes during the May 24, 1903 Paris-Madrid race where more than 200 cars competed over a distance of 800 miles but which had to be halted at Bordeaux because there had been so many fatalities. To allay these fears, the 1903 race is held over a closed course which is carefully prepared for the event, and is marshaled by 7,000 police officers assisted by troops and club stewards, with strict instructions to keep spectators off the roads and away from corners. The route consists of two loops that comprise a figure of eight, the first being a 52-mile loop that includes Kilcullen, the Curragh, Kildare, Monasterevin, Ballydavis (Port Laoise), Stradbally and Athy, followed by a 40-mile loop through Castledermot, Carlow, and Athy again. The race starts at the Ballyshannon cross-roads near Calverstown.

The official timekeeper of the race is T. H. Woolen of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland. Ninety one chronographs for timing the race are supplied by the Anglo-Swiss firm Stauffer Son & Co. of La Chaux-de-Fonds and London. Competitors are started at seven-minute intervals and have to follow bicycles through the “control zones” in each town. The 328-mile race is won by the famous Belgian Camille Jenatzy, driving a Mercedes in German colours.


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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.