seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Brian Cleeve, Writer of Novels & Short Stories

Brian Brendon Talbot Cleeve, writer whose published works include twenty-one novels and over a hundred short stories, is born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England, on November 22, 1921. He is also an award-winning television broadcaster on RTÉ One.

Cleeve is the second of three sons to Charles Edward Cleeve and his wife Josephine (née Talbot). His father, who was born in Limerick, County Limerick, is a scion of a famous and wealthy family that runs several successful Irish enterprises in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His mother is a native of Essex. The Cleeves came from Canada originally and emigrated to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result of labour troubles and the effects of the Irish Civil War, the Cleeve business fails and the family moves to England.

Cleeve’s mother dies in 1924 and his maternal grandparents, Alfred and Gertrude Talbot, take over responsibility for his upbringing. At age eight, he is sent as a boarder to Selwyn House in Kent, followed at age 12 by three years at St. Edward’s School, Oxford. He is by nature a free-thinker and rejects the assumptions and prejudices that are then part of upper-middle class English life. His unwillingness to conform means that school life is very difficult for him. In the late summer of 1938, he decides not to return to St. Edward’s for his final year. Instead, he runs away to sea.

Cleeve leads an eventful life during the next fifteen years. He serves on the RMS Queen Mary as a commis waiter for several months. At age 17 he joins the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a private soldier, and, because of his age, just misses being sent to Europe as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) when World War II breaks out. In 1940, he is selected for officer training, is commissioned into the Somerset Light Infantry, and sent to Kenya as a second lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles. A year later he is court-martialed as a result of his objections to the treatment by colleagues of an African prisoner. Stripped of his commission and sentenced to three years’ penal servitude, he is transferred to Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire. There, through the intervention of Sir Alexander Paterson, he is offered parole if he agrees to work for British Intelligence. For the remainder of the war he serves as a counter-spy in neutral ports such as Lisbon and Dublin. As cover, he works as an ordinary seaman in the Merchant Navy.

In 1945, Cleeve takes an Irish passport and comes to Ireland where, in the space of three weeks, he meets and marries Veronica McAdie. A year later, they leave Ireland with baby daughter Berenice on a protracted odyssey that takes them to London, Sweden, the West Indies, and finally South Africa. In 1948, the family settles in Johannesburg where they set up their own perfume business. A second daughter, Tanga, is born to the couple there in 1953. As a result of his friendship with Fr. Trevor Huddleston, he witnesses the conditions in which the black population has to live in townships such as Sophiatown. He becomes an outspoken critic of Apartheid, and, in 1954, he is branded by the authorities as a ‘political intractable’ and ordered to leave South Africa. He returns to Ireland where he lives for the remainder of his life.

Cleeve starts writing poems in his teens, a few of which are published in his school paper, the St. Edward’s Chronicle. During the war he continues to produce poems of a spiritual or metaphysical nature, most of which are never published. In 1945, he turns to novel-writing. After his first two attempts are rejected, his third novel, The Far Hills, is published in 1952. Two further novels about South Africa follow and their unvarnished descriptions of the reality of life for the native population probably contributes to his eventual expulsion from the country.

In the mid-1950s, Cleeve begins to concentrate on the short story form. During the next 15 years over 100 of his short stories are published in magazines and periodicals across five continents. He sells nearly thirty to The Saturday Evening Post alone. In 1966, his story Foxer is honoured with a scroll at the annual Edgar Awards.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Cleeve returns to writing novels with considerable success. He produced a series of well-received mystery and spy thrillers that do not sacrifice character to plot. In 1971, he publishes Cry of Morning, his most controversial and successful novel to date. It is a panoramic depiction of the economic and social changes that affected Ireland during the 1960s as seen through the eyes of a disparate collection of well-drawn characters. He subsequently achieves even greater commercial success, especially in the United States, with a number of historical novels featuring a strong female character as protagonist.

Cleeve also writes several works of non-fiction, principally the Dictionary of Irish Writers. This is a 20-year project to provide to scholars and the general public alike a comprehensive resource on Irish writers at an affordable price. It is a labour of love that consumes a great deal of his time and is effectively subsidised by his more commercial pursuits. The last edition is published in 1985.

On December 31, 1961, Telefís Éireann is launched as the Republic of Ireland‘s first indigenous television station. Cleeve joins the station as a part-time interviewer on the current affairs programme, Broadsheet. Following appearances on two additional programmes, Telefís Éireann does not renew his contract when it expires in 1973.

Following his wife’s death in 1999, Cleeve moves to the village of Shankill, Dublin. His health deteriorates rapidly following a series of small strokes. In November 2001, he marries his second wife, Patricia Ledwidge, and she cares for him during his final months. He suddenly dies of a heart attack on March 11, 2003. His body now lies under a headstone bearing the inscription “Servant of God.”


Leave a comment

“Public Safety Bill” Passed by Dáil Éireann

The Free State’s Provisional Government puts the “Public Safety Bill” before Dáil Éireann on September 27, 1922, which passes by 41 votes to 18. This is emergency legislation which allows for the execution of those captured bearing arms against the State. The legislation passes to the National Army powers of punishment for anyone “taking part in or aiding and abetting attacks on the National Forces,” having possession of arms or explosives “without the proper authority” or disobeying an Army General Order.

The legislation gives the Military Courts the right to impose the sentence of death, imprisonment or penal servitude on those found to be guilty of such offences, the sentence only requiring the signatures of two officers. By time the bill is a year old, 81 men are executed under its terms and over 12,000 men and women imprisoned.

The reason for such punitive legislation is the dragging on of the Irish Civil War caused by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. A pro-Treaty offensive against the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the summer of 1922 appears to have won the war for the government but the anti-Treatyites or republicans subsequently fall back on guerrilla tactics which the newly formed Free State or National Army have great difficulty in suppressing. Ernest Blythe, the Minister for Finance in the Provisional Government, later recalls, “there was for some time a feeling that the Civil War would speedily end as major resistance was broken, but actually it began to assume a chronic character.”

In the week preceding the Dáil’s motion, on September 21, six National Army soldiers are killed in a prolonged engagement with Republican fighters near Ballina, County Mayo. On the same day, the Free State barracks in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, is attacked and taken and one soldier is killed. On September 22, a National Army soldier is killed and several soldiers and three civilians injured in a gun and grenade attack by Republicans on Free State troops on Eden Quay in central Dublin. And on the day of the Bill itself coming before the Dáil, in County Kerry several hundred anti-Treaty IRA guerrillas attack the town of Killorglin and are only repulsed after 24 hours of fighting, when Free State troops arrive from Tralee.

At the time and since, the legislation passed in 1922 is known as the Public Safety Bill. However, no such Bill or Act can be found in the records of the Irish state. The Provisional Government have no legal right under the Treaty to enact new legislation without royal assent, the King being represented in the person of the Governor-General. And in theory the Provisional Government’s powers do not apply after the Treaty formally passes into law on December 6, 1922.

So technically speaking the Public Safety Bill is not a law but simply a resolution passed in the Dáil. However, since there was, as yet no Governor-General who could give his assent and as the government felt the situation was too grave for legal niceties, the legislation setting up military courts was passed anyway. It is not until August 1923, when the Free State passes an Act of Indemnity for all actions committed during the Irish Civil War and also pass new, formal special powers legislation – The Emergency Powers Act – that retrospectively legalises what it had enacted in the autumn of 1922.

After an amnesty of two weeks, in which anti-Treaty fighters could surrender without consequences, the legislation comes into force in mid October. Republicans at first do not believe that the government is serious about enforcing what its foes term “the Murder Bill.” It is in practice nearly two months before it is used in earnest.

On November 17, 1922, four IRA men who had been captured in Dublin are shot by firing squad. By the end of the week, Erskine Childers, who had served as secretary to the delegation which signed the Treaty but later organized Republican propaganda against it, is also dead. He had been captured at his home in County Wicklow on November 11 in possession of a small pistol Michael Collins had given him before he departed for Treaty negotiations in London. He is sentenced and shot on November 24. On November 30 another three Republican prisoners are executed in Dublin.

Liam Lynch, IRA Chief of Staff, issues a general order that Teachtaí Dála (TDs) who had voted for the Bill be shot on sight. On December 6, in retaliation for the executions, IRA members assassinate the TD Sean Hales in Dublin. In reprisal for that four senior republicans, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, who had been captured long before the Public Safety legislation is passed are summarily shot.

The legislation passed on September 27, 1922 may well have helped, as its supporters claimed, to break anti-Treaty resistance and to bring the Irish Civil War to an end. However it also helped to convert the conflict into a feud as bitter and as personal as a vendetta.

(From: “The passing of legislation allowing for executions during the Irish Civil War” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), September 27, 2013 | Photo: Richard Mulcahy, shown inspecting soldiers in Dublin, argued that permitting official executions would prevent National Army troops from carrying out unofficial killings)


Leave a comment

Birth of Oscar Wilde

oscar-wildeOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet, is born on October 16, 1854, at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he becomes one of London‘s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

Wilde’s parents are successful Anglo-Irish Dublin intellectuals. Their son becomes fluent in French and German early in life. At university, Wilde read Greats and proves himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde 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 then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Wilde becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, he refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draws Wilde to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to the absolute prohibition of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde 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 his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), is still on stage in London, Wilde has the John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearths evidence that causes Wilde 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 imprisoned for two years’ penal labour.

In 1897, in prison, he writes De Profundis, which is published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon 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.

Wilde dies destitute of cerebral meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900. at the age of 46. He 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.