seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of M. E. Francis, Novelist & Playwright

Mary Elizabeth Blundell (née Sweetman), prolific Irish novelist and playwright who writes under the pen name M. E. Francis, dies on March 9, 1930. She is described as the best known female novelist of the day.

Blundell is born in 1859 in Killiney Park, County Dublin to Margaret and Michael James Sweetman. The family moves to Brussels in 1873 and she spends her summers in Switzerland. Her family is quite artistic. Her sisters are poet Elinor Sweetman and writer Agnes Castle (aka Mrs. Egerton Castle). Her uncle is the novelist William Sweetman. She marries her husband, Francis Blundell, on November 18, 1879 and moves to Little Crosby, Lancashire, North West England, where his family has been notable Catholics since the 16th century. They have three children: Francis Nicholas Blundell, Conservative politician, and writers Margaret Elizabeth Clementina Mary Blundell and Agnes Mary Frances Blundell.

Blundell’s husband dies after only five years of marriage. She had written her first story, True Joy, when she was just eight years old and has a publication in the Irish Monthly the day of her wedding. She takes up writing professionally after her husband’s death. In later life she writes in collaboration with her daughters. She later retires to Dorset.

The Ireland of her youth, the Lancashire of her married life, and the Dorset of her retirement provide backgrounds for many of her volumes of fiction.


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Birth of Lady Jane Francesca Wilde, Poet & Nationalist

jane-wilde

Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde, Irish poet who writes under the pen name “Speranza” and a supporter of the nationalist movement, is born on December 27, 1821, in Wexford, County Wexford.

Jane is the last of the four children of Charles Elgee, the son of Archdeacon John Elgee, a Wexford solicitor, and his wife Sarah (née Kingsbury). Her great-grandfather is an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. She has a special interest in Irish folktales, which she helps to gather. She marries Sir William Wilde on November 12, 1851, and they have three children, William Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852–1899), Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854–1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857–1867).

Wilde, who is the niece of Charles Maturin, writes for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of “Speranza.” Her works include pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing. She is sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation.” Charles Gavan Duffy is the editor when “Speranza” writes commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and bring the editor to court. Duffy refuses to name who has written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stands up in court and claims responsibility for the article. The confession is ignored by the authorities. But in any event the newspaper is permanently shut down by the authorities.

Wilde is an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigns for better education for women. She invites the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praises the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act 1882, preventing women from having to enter marriage “as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her fortune.”

William Wilde is knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations are short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde are at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claims that he had seduced her and who then brings an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers wins the case and costs of £2,000 are awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter Isola dies of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William are burned to death and in 1876 Sir William himself dies. The family discovers that he is virtually bankrupt.

Lady Wilde leaves Dublin for London in 1879, where she joins her two sons, Willie, a journalist, and Oscar, who is making a name for himself in literary circles. She lives with her older son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and producing books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore.

Lady Wilde contracts bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asks for permission to see Oscar, who is in prison. Her request is refused. It is claimed that her “fetch” appears in Oscar’s prison cell as she dies at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on February 3, 1896. Willie Wilde, her older son, is penniless, so Oscar pays for her funeral, which is held on February 5, at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proves too expensive and she is buried anonymously in common ground. A monument to her, in the form of a Celtic cross, is erected at Kensal Green Cemetery by the Oscar Wilde Society in 1999.


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Birth of John Keegan “Leo” Casey, the Poet of the Fenians

John Keegan “Leo” Casey, Irish poet, orator and republican known as the Poet of the Fenians, is born in Mount Dalton, County Westmeath on August 22, 1846. He is famous as the writer of the song “The Rising of the Moon” and as one of the central figures in the Fenian Rising of 1867. He is imprisoned by the English and dies on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1870.

Casey is born to a teacher during the height of the Great Famine of 1846. Eight years later he moves to Gurteen, near Ballymahon in County Longford, when his father is given the post of head master at the local school. His work would come to be closely associated with Ballymahon.

As a teenager Casey works as an assistant to his father and is expected to follow him into teaching. However, he is disillusioned by the insufficiently nationalistic nature of the curriculum and spends a great deal of time writing poetry. It is at this time, reputedly at the age of fifteen, that he writes his best-known song, “The Rising of the Moon,” which commemorates the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

Following the increasing popularity of his songs and ballads at nationalist gatherings, Casey moves to Dublin in the 1860s and becomes active in the Fenian movement. He is a major contributor to The Nation newspaper, for which he assumes his pen name of ‘Leo.’

In 1866, at the age of 20, Casey publishes a collection of poems, entitled A Wreath of Shamrocks. Most of the poems therein had already been published elsewhere, primarily in The Nation. The further fame engendered by the success of the book leads him to be sought after as a speaker. He addresses mass rallies in Dublin, Liverpool and London that year, in the lead up to the Fenian Rising in 1867.

When the uprising fails, Casey is imprisoned without trial for eight months in Mountjoy Prison. He is released on the understanding that he would leave for Australia and not return to Ireland. However, he chooses to stay on in Summerhill, Dublin in disguise, living as a Quaker and continuing to write and publish in secret.

Casey marries Mary Josephine Briscoe in January 1868 and they have a son Michael, who dies shortly after birth in October 1869. Casey’s health had been broken by the treatment he had received in prison. He falls from a cab on or near O’Connell Bridge in the centre of Dublin in 1870. He dies from his injuries on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1870.

Following his death, Casey is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. The newspapers report that between fifty and one hundred thousand mourners walk in his funeral procession.


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Death of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

Brian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on April 1, 1966. He is better known by his pen name Flann O’Brien.

O’Nolan is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911. He attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.


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Birth of Brinsley MacNamara, Writer & Playwright

the-valley-of-the-squinting-windowsJohn Weldon, Irish writer and playwright also known as Oliver Blyth, A. E. Weldon and his pen name and stage name Brinsley MacNamara, is born on September 6, 1890 in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath.

MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918). His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan. He later works as the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland.

MacNamara is still best known for his first novel The Valley of the Squinting Windows, which causes a furor in his native Westmeath on its publication. He continues to write for many years after this controversial first work. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics.

MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. He dies at his home on Gilford Drive in Sandymount, Dublin on February 4, 1963.


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Death of Leslie Montgomery, Playwright & Writer

lynn-doyle-ballygullionLeslie Alexander Montgomery, playwright, humorist, and writer who writes under the pen name “Lynn Doyle,” dies in Dublin on August 18, 1961. He adopts the pseudonym for his writing, using a homophone of “linseed oil.” Supposedly, he chooses the name after seeing a large tin of linseed oil in a paint shop, initially signing “Lynn C. Doyle” but later dropping the “C.”

Born in Downpatrick, County Down on October, 5 1873, Montgomery is educated at Dundalk in County Louth. He commences work as a bank clerk at the age of 16, and remains with the Northern Banking Company, working in locations such as Keady and Cushendall before a transfer to the quaint seaside town of Skerries in County Armagh. There he becomes branch manager until his retirement in 1934.

Aside from this rather straight-laced, white collar career, however, Montgomery fosters a life-time passion for writing in various forms and genres, and his contribution to Ulster literature in the early part of the 20th century should not be underestimated.

Montgomery is part of the Ulster Literary Theatre movement founded by Bulmer Hobson and David Parkhill in 1902, and early works include Love and Land, a play that is produced at the Little Theatre in London and represents Montgomery’s first critical success.

Other works during this decade include The Summons and The Lilac Ribbon. By the beginning of the 1920s, Montgomery is a leading northern playwright. He is best known, however for the Ballygullion series, twenty books which fondly caricature Northern Irish village life. The first in the series is published in 1908 and the last in 1957.

Montgomery writes the first book, which would lend its title to the rest of the series, in Dublin. This is followed by other works every few years such as Mr. Wildridge of the Bank, Lobster Salad, Dear Ducks, Me and Mr. Murphy and Rosabelle and Other Stories.

Written in the dialect of the east Ulster region, the stories celebrate an imaginary townland area in the Slieve Gullion region of County Down. They reflect Montgomery’s early years there and in Dundalk. The books also reveal a lot about contemporary Ulster life.

The versatile writer also produces poetry during the 1930s. Ballygullion Ballads, published in 1936 is illustrated by the famous Belfast artist William Conor, as are several of the later editions of his books.

In 1936, Montgomery has the somewhat dubious honour of being the first Irish writer to be appointed to the Censorship Board. He resigns within two years of accepting the job, however, claiming that it is “so terribly easy to read only the marked passages, so hard to wade through the whole book afterwards.”

Following his retirement from the Northern Banking Company, he gains further notoriety as a lecturer, and also regularly broadcasts his stories for the fledgling BBC in Belfast. Indeed his most productive period as a writer is in his 1960s, during which time he writes his autobiography, An Ulster Childhood, in 1954.

Montgomery dies in Dublin on August 18, 1961, but his legacy is preserved in the Lynn Doyle Collection at Belfast Central Library, which consists of a series of archival boxes which were purchased by the library. The collection is extensive, and includes broadcasts and lecture transcripts, manuscripts, essays, short stories, poetry, personal correspondence, photographs, land leases and legal documents.


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Birth of James Owen Hannay, Clergyman & Novelist

Generated by IIPImageJames Owen Hannay, Irish clergyman and prolific novelist who writes under the pen name of George A. Birmingham, is born on July 16, 1865 in Belfast. Today the house where he is born is a part of the administration building of Queen’s University Belfast.

Hannay receives his education in England. He enters Temple Grove School near the River Thames at the age of nine, and later studies at a public school called Haileybury School. He then returns to Ireland to enter the Divinity School of Trinity College Dublin. He is ordained in 1889 as a Church of Ireland (Anglican) minister and starts working as a curate for Delgany, County Wicklow, a seaside town south of Dublin.

To make up for a deficiency in their living Hannay writes a short story and sends it to a London publisher. It is accepted for publication and he receives a check of £10. On his wife’s advice, he gives up writing fiction and commits himself to the study of Christian theology with her. This bears fruit with the publications of The Spirit and Origin of Christian Monasticism (1903) and The Wisdom of the Desert (1904).

Hannay then serves as rector of Holy Trinity Church in Westport, County Mayo. It is here that he makes his debut as a novelist. His early writings raise the ire of nationalist Catholics, and he withdraws from the Gaelic League in the wake of ongoing protests about the tour of his successful play General John Regan.

Hannay becomes rector of Kildare parish from 1918 to 1920, and after serving as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he joins the British ambassadorial team in Budapest in 1922. He returns to officiate at Mells, Somerset from 1924 to 1934, after which he is appointed vicar of Holy Trinity Church in the London suburb of Kensington where he serves from 1934 until his death in London on February 2, 1950.

Hannay enjoys sailing, and is taught the rudiments by his father and grandfather in Belfast. When he is based in Westport, the financial success of his writing enables him to purchase a boat, a Dublin Bay Water Wag. In recognition of Hannay, the Water Wag Club of Dun Laoghaire returns to Westport and Clew Bay in 2016. In the frontispiece of his book The Inviolable Sanctuary Hannay includes a picture of the Water Wag.