seamus dubhghaill

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


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First Production of the Irish Literary Theatre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The first production of the Irish Literary Theatre, The Countess Cathleen, is performed on May 8, 1899. Like many of William Butler Yeats’ plays, it is inspired by Irish folklore. In a time of famine, demons sent by Satan come to Ireland to buy the souls of the starving people. The saintly Cathleen disposes of her vast estates and wealth in order to feed the peasants, yet the demons thwart her at every turn. At last, she sacrifices her own soul to save those of the poor.

Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn publish a “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” in 1897, in which they proclaim their intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. The Irish Literary Theatre is founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore in Dublin in 1899. It proposes to give performances in Dublin of Irish plays by Irish authors.

In 1899 Lady Gregory secures a temporary licence for a play to be given at the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin, and so enables the Irish Literary Theatre to give its first production. The play chosen is The Countess Cathleen by Yeats. It is done by a very efficient London company that includes May Whitty (Dame May Webster) and Ben Webster. The next production given is Martyn’s play The Heather Field.

In the following year the Irish Literary Theatre produces three plays at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin: Maeve by Edward Martyn, The Last Feast of Fianna by Alice Milligan and The Bending of the Bough by George Moore. The Bending of the Bough is staged during the Second Boer War which begins on October 11, 1899.

The Irish Literary Theatre project lasts until 1901, when it collapses due to lack of funding.

The use of non-Irish actors in these productions is perceived to be a failure, and a new group of Irish players is put together by the brothers William and Frank Fay, among others. These go on to form the Irish National Theatre Society, which leads to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1904.


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The Battle of Brunswick Street

*The Battle of Brunswick Street occurs in Dublin on March 14, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

British authorities hang six Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers in Mountjoy Gaol for crimes of high treason and murder on the morning of March 14, 1921. The Volunteers, including Francis Xavier Flood, Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan and Dermot O’Sullivan, had been captured in an ambush at Drumcondra two months earlier.

The gates of Mountjoy Gaol are opened at 8:25 AM and news of the executions is read out to the distraught relatives of the dead. As many as 40,000 people gather outside the prison and many mournfully say the Rosary for the executed men.

By evening, the streets clear rapidly as the British-imposed curfew comes into effect at 9:00 PM each night. During this period, the city is a fearful place, patrolled by regular British troops and the much-feared paramilitary police, the Auxiliary Division, as people scurry home and await IRA retaliation for the hangings, which is not long in coming.

That very evening, IRA captain Peadar O’Meara sends as many as thirty-four IRA men out to attack police or military targets. They are armed with the standard urban guerrilla arms of easily hidden handguns and grenades. One young Volunteer, Sean Dolan, throws a grenade at a police station on nearby Merrion Square, which bounces back before it explodes, blowing off his own leg.

At around 8:00 PM, with the curfew fast approaching, a company of Auxiliaries based in Dublin Castle is sent to the area to investigate the explosion. It consists of one Rolls Royce armoured car and two trucks holding about sixteen men. Apparently the Auxiliaries have some inside information as they head straight for the local IRA headquarters at 144 Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street. One later testifies in court that “I had been notified there were a certain number of gunmen there.”

The IRA is expecting the Auxiliaries. As soon as the Auxiliaries approach the building, fire is opened on them from three sides. What is described in newspapers as a “hail of fire” tears into the Auxiliaries’ vehicles. Five of the eight Auxiliaries in the first truck are hit in the opening fusillade, two of them fatally injured. The IRA fighters, however, are seriously outgunned. The Rolls Royce armoured car is impervious to small arms fire (except its tires, which are shot out) but mounts a Vickers heavy machine gun which sprays the surrounding houses with bullets. The uninjured Auxiliaries also clamber out of their trucks and return fire at the gun flashes from street corners and rooftops.

Civilian passersby fling themselves to the ground to avoid the bullets but four are hit, by which side it is impossible to tell. The British military court of inquiry into the incident finds that the civilians had been killed by persons unknown, if by the IRA then they were “murdered,” if hit by Auxiliaries the shootings were “accidental.”

The gunfire lasts only five minutes but in that time seven people, including the two Auxiliaries, are killed or fatally wounded and at least six more wounded. Three civilians lay dead on the street – Thomas Asquith is a 68-year-old caretaker, David Kelly is a prominent Sinn Féin member and head of the Sinn Féin bank, and Stephen Clarke, aged 22, is an ex-soldier and may have been the individual who tipped off the Auxiliaries about the whereabouts of the IRA meeting house. An internal IRA report notes that he is “under observation, as he was a tout for the enemy.” The wounded are spirited away by sympathetic fire brigade members and members of Cumann na mBan and treated at nearby Mercer’s Hospital.

Two IRA men are captured as they flee the scene. Thomas Traynor, a 40-year-old veteran of the Easter Rising, is carrying an automatic pistol, but claims to have had no part in the ambush itself. He had, he maintains, simply been asked to bring in the weapon to 144 Great Brunswick Street. The other is Joseph Donnelly a youth of just 17 years of age.

As most of the IRA fighters get away through houses, over walls and into backstreets, the Auxiliaries ransack St. Andrew’s Catholic Hall at 144 Great Brunswick Street but find little of value. Regular British Army troops quickly arrive from nearby Beggars Bush Barracks and cordon off the area, but no further arrests are made. Desultory sniping carries on in the city for several hours into the night.


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Death of Margaret Mary Pearse

margaret-mary-pearseMargaret Mary Pearse, Fianna Fáil politician and teacher, dies at Linden Convalescent Home in Dublin on November 7, 1968. She is a sister of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, and Willie Pearse, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising.

Pearse is born on August 24, 1878 at 27 Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin, the eldest child of James Pearse and Margaret Pearse (née Brady), who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) in the 1920s. She is educated at the Holy Faith Convent in Glasnevin. After leaving school, she trains as a teacher. She helps to found St. Enda’s School with her brothers Patrick and Willie. Following the executions of her brothers in the aftermath of the Easter Rising, she continues to run St. Enda’s, along with Fergus De Búrca, until 1933.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Pearse is first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for the Dublin County constituency at the 1933 general election. She is defeated at the 1937 general election on the 7th count of votes but is elected to the Administrative Panel of the 2nd Seanad. She serves in the Seanad until her death in 1968, however, she and her mother are never considered to be more than figureheads for the party. She is a founding member of the teaching staff of Ardscoil Éanna in Crumlin, Dublin, upon its establishment in 1939.

Illness forces Pearse into the Linden Convalescent Home in Blackrock, County Dublin when she is in her 80s. In 1967, when she is 89 years old, her condition is described to be deteriorating. However, in 1968 during the months leading up to her 90th birthday, she leaves the Linden Convalescent Home for a short while in order to spend her birthday at St. Endas in Rathfarnham. The president of Ireland at the time, Éamon de Valera, visits her at St. Endas to congratulate her on her upcoming 90th birthday.

Margaret Pearse dies, unmarried, at the Linden Convalescent Home in Blackrock, County Dublin, on November 7, 1968 and is given a state funeral. President de Valera, the church and the state all pay tribute to her at the funeral. She is buried beside her parents and sister at Glasnevin Cemetery. The Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, says that Margaret Mary Pearse is the last remaining member of the noble Pearse family. He says her life, like her patriotic brothers, was dedicated to Ireland.

As per her mother’s wishes, Pearse bequeaths St. Enda’s to the people of Ireland as a memorial to her brother’s sacrifice. The school is now home to the Pearse Museum.