seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Novelist & Playwright Kate O’Brien

Kathleen Mary Louise “Kate” O’Brien, novelist and playwright, dies in Canterbury, England, on August 13, 1974.

O’Brien is born in Limerick, County Limerick on December 3, 1897. Following the death of her mother when she is five years old, she becomes a boarder at Laurel Hill Convent. She graduates in English and French from the newly established University College Dublin, and she then moves to London, where she works as a teacher for a year.

In 1922–1923, O’Brien works as a governess in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, where she begins to write fiction. Upon her return to England, she works at the Manchester Guardian. After the success of her play Distinguished Villa in 1926, she takes to full-time writing and is awarded both the 1931 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Hawthornden Prize for her debut novel Without My Cloak. O’Brien is best known for her 1934 novel The Ante-Room, her 1941 novel The Land of Spices, and the 1946 novel That Lady.

Many of O’Brien’s books deal with issues of female agency and sexuality in ways that are new and radical at the time. Her 1936 novel, Mary Lavelle, is banned in Ireland and Spain, while The Land of Spices is banned in Ireland upon publication. In addition to novels, she writes plays, film scripts, short stories, essays, copious journalism, two biographical studies, and two very personal travelogues. Throughout her life, she feels a particular affinity with Spain. While her experiences in the Basque Country inspire Mary Lavelle, she also writes a life of the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila, and she uses the relationship between the Spanish king Philip II and Maria de Mendoza to write the anti-fascist novel That Lady.

O’Brien writes a political travelogue, Farewell Spain, to gather support for the leftist cause in the Spanish Civil War, and it has been argued that she is close to anarchism in the 1930s. A feminist, her novels promote gender equality and are mostly protagonised by young women yearning for independence. Several of her books include positive gay/lesbian characters. Her determination to encourage a greater understanding of sexual diversity makes her a pioneer in queer literary representation. She is very critical of conservatism in Ireland, and by spearheading a challenge to the Irish Censorship Act, she helps bring to an end the cultural restrictions of the 1930s and 40s in the country.

Kate O’Brien lives much of her life in England and died in Faversham, near Canterbury, on August 13, 1974.


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Death of James O’Neill, Irish American Theatre Actor

James O’Neill, Irish American theatre actor and the father of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, dies in New London, Connecticut, on August 11, 1920.

O’Neill is born on November 15, 1847 in County Kilkenny. The family emigrates to the United States and settles in Buffalo, New York. In 1857 they move to Cincinnati, Ohio where James is apprenticed to a machinist.

At the age of 21, he makes his stage debut in a Cincinnati production of Dion Boucicault‘s The Colleen Bawn (1867). Also in 1867, he has a minor part in Edwin Forrest‘s production of Virginius, and then joins a travelling repertory company. By the age of 24 he has already established a reputation among theater managers as a box-office draw, particularly with the ladies. But he is also working doggedly at his craft, ridding himself of all vestiges of brogue and learning to pitch his voice resonantly. He is considered a promising actor, quickly working his way up the ranks to become a matinée idol.

In 1874 O’Neill joins Richard M. Hooley‘s company, and the following year tours San Francisco, Virginia City and Sacramento. He then heads back east to join the Union Square Company.

On June 14, 1877, while in New York City, O’Neill marries Mary Ellen Quinlan, daughter of Thomas and Bridget Quinlan. In the fall of 1877, three months after his marriage, a woman by the name of Nettie Walsh sues O’Neill, claiming that he had married her five years earlier, when she was only 15, and that he is the father of her three-year-old son. Nettie Walsh loses her case and the publicity, although it wounds his bride, enhances his reputation as a romantic leading man.

As early as 1875, while a stock star at Hooley’s Theatre in Chicago, O’Neill plays the title role in a stage adaptation of Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo. In early 1883 he takes over the lead role in Monte Cristo at Booth’s Theater in New York, after Charles R. Towne dies suddenly in the wings after his first performance. O’Neill’s interpretation of the part caused a sensation with the theater-going public.

O’Neill soon tires of the Count and his lines come out by rote and his performances become lackadaisical. Monte Cristo remains a popular favorite so he continues the role on tour as regular as clockwork. He goes on to play this role over 6,000 times.

In the middle of 1920 O’Neill is struck by an automobile in New York City and taken to Lawrence+Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He dies, at the age of 72, on August 11, 1920 of colorectal cancer at the family summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, in Connecticut. His funeral at St. Joseph’s Church is attended by, among others, O’Neill’s sister, Mrs. M. Platt of St. Louis and Edward Douglass White, Sr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. O’Neill is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery.


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Birth of Frank McGuinness, Playwright & Poet

Frank McGuinness, award-winning Irish playwright and poet, is born in Buncrana, a town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal on July 29, 1953. As well as his own works, which include The Factory Girls, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and Dolly West’s Kitchen, he is recognised for a “strong record of adapting literary classics, having translated the plays of Jean Racine, Sophocles, Henrik Ibsen, Federico García Lorca, and August Strindberg to critical acclaim.”

McGuinness is educated locally and at University College Dublin, where he studies Pure English and medieval studies to postgraduate level.

He first comes to prominence with his play The Factory Girls, but establishes his reputation with his play about World War I, Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which is staged in Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and internationally. The play makes a name for him when it is performed at Hampstead Theatre, drawing comments about McGuinness’s Irish Catholic background. It wins numerous awards including the London Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright for McGuinness and the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. He has also written new versions of classic dramas, including works by Henrik Ibsen, Anton Chekhov, and Euripides, adapting the literal translations of others. In addition, he writes the screenplay for the film Dancing at Lughnasa, adapting the stage play by fellow Ulsterman Brian Friel.

McGuinness’s first poetry anthology, Booterstown, is published in 1994. Several of his poems have been recorded by Marianne Faithfull, including Electra, After the Ceasefire and The Wedding.

McGuinness previously lectured in Linguistics and Drama at the University of Ulster, Medieval Studies at University College, Dublin and English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Then he is a writer-in-residence lecturing at University College Dublin before being appointed Professor of Creative Writing in the School of English, Drama and Film there in 2007.


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Birth of Irish Playwright Brian Patrick Friel

brian-patrick-frielBrian Patrick Friel, Irish playwright, short story writer, and founder of the Field Day Theatre Company, is born on January 9, 1929, at Knockmoyle, near Omagh, County Tyrone. Prior to his death, he had been considered one of the greatest living English-language dramatists, and referred to as an “Irish Chekhov” and “the universally accented voice of Ireland.” His plays have been compared favourably to those of contemporaries such as Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, and Tennessee Williams.

Friel is the son of Patrick “Paddy” Friel, a primary school teacher and councillor on Londonderry Corporation, the local city council in Derry. Friel’s mother, Mary McLoone, is postmistress of Glenties, County Donegal. The family moves to Derry when Friel is ten years old. There, he attends St. Columb’s College, the same school attended by Seamus Heaney, John Hume, Seamus Deane, Phil Coulter, Eamonn McCann, and Paul Brady.

Friel receives his B.A. from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1945–48), and qualifies as a teacher at St. Joseph’s Training College in Belfast. He marries Anne Morrison in 1954, with whom he has four daughters and one son. Between 1950 and 1960, he works as a math teacher in the Derry primary and intermediate school system, taking leave in 1960 to pursue a career as a writer, living off his savings. In the late 1960s, the Friels move from 13 Malborough Street, Derry to Muff, County Donegal, eventually settling outside Greencastle, County Donegal.

Recognised for early works such as Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Faith Healer, Friel has 24 plays published in a more than half-century spanning career that culminates in his election to the position of Saoi of Aosdána. His plays are commonly featured on Broadway throughout this time. In 1980, Friel co-founds Field Day Theatre Company and his play Translations is the company’s first production. With Field Day, Friel collaborates with Seamus Heaney, 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney and Friel first become friends after Friel sends the young poet a letter following the publication of Death of a Naturalist.

Friel is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the British Royal Society of Literature, and the Irish Academy of Letters. He is appointed to Seanad Éireann in 1987 and serves until 1989. In later years, Dancing at Lughnasa reinvigorates Friel’s oeuvre, bringing him Tony Awards, including Best Play, the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play. It is also adapted into a film, starring Meryl Streep, directed by Pat O’Connor, script by Frank McGuinness.

After a long illness Friel dies at the age of 86 in the early morning of Friday, October 2, 2015 in Greencastle, County Donegal.


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Birth of Padraic Fallon, Poet & Playwright

padraic-fallonPadraic Fallon, Irish poet and playwright, is born in Athenry, County Galway, on January 3, 1905.

Fallon’s upbringing and his early impressions of Athenry and the surrounding landscape are intimately described in his poetry. After passing the civil service exams in 1923 he moves to Dublin to work in the Customs House. In Dublin he becomes part of the circle of George William Russell (Æ) who encourages his literary ambitions and arranges for the publication of his early poetry. His early poetry, short stories, and literary criticism are published in The Dublin Magazine and The Bell.

He forms close friendships with Seumas O’Sullivan, editor of The Dublin Magazine, the poets Austin Clarke, Robert Farren, F.R. Higgins, and Patrick McDonagh and later the novelist James Plunkett. In 1939, Fallon leaves Dublin to serve as a Customs official in County Wexford, living in Prospect House, near Wexford Town with his wife, Dorothea (née Maher) and his six sons. During this time he becomes a close friend of the painter Tony O’Malley.

Fallon is a regular contributor to Radio Éireann in the 1940s and 1950s, serving variously as a journalist, scriptwriter, and literary critic. A number of his short stories and early dramatic pieces are broadcast by the station during the 1940s. The first of Fallon’s verse plays for radio, Diarmuid and Gráinne, is broadcast by Radio Éireann in November 1950. This is followed by The Vision of Mac Conglinne (1953), Two Men with a Face (1953), The Poplar (1953), Steeple Jerkin (1954), A Man in the Window (1955), Outpost (1955), The Wooing of Étain (1955), Deirdre’s King (1956), The Five Stations (1957), The Hags of Clough (1957), The Third Bachelor (1958), At the Bridge Inn (1960), and Lighting up Time (1961).

Three plays adapted from Irish mythology, Diarmuid and Gráinne, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, and Deirdre’s King receive particular contemporary critical acclaim. The landscape, mythology, and history of Ireland, interwoven with classical themes and religious symbolism, are frequent themes in his poetry and dramatic works.

A number of his radio plays are later broadcast on the BBC Third Programme, and, in translation, in Germany, Holland, and Hungary. A stage play, The Seventh Step, is staged at The Globe Theatre in Dublin in 1954. A second stage play, Sweet Love ’till Morn, is staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1971. Fallon also writes dramatic pieces for television such as A Sword of Steel (1966) and The Fenians (1967), the latter produced by James Plunkett.

Fallon retires from the Civil Service in 1963, returning to Dublin before moving to Cornwall in 1967 to live with his son, the sculptor Conor Fallon and his daughter-in-law, the artist Nancy Wynne-Jones. He and his wife return to Ireland in 1971. He spends his last years in Kinsale. He is visiting his son Ivan Fallon in Kent at the time of his death on October 9, 1974.

While his poetry has previously appeared in The Dublin Magazine, The Bell, The Irish Times, and a number of anthologies, his first volume of collected poetry, Poems, incorporating a number of previously unpublished poems, is not produced until 1974, months before his death. Three volumes of his poetry, edited by his son, the journalist and critic Brian Fallon, are published after his death – Poems and Versions (1983), Collected Poems (1990), with an introduction by Seamus Heaney, and A Look in the Mirror and Other Poems (2003), with an introduction by Eavan Boland. In 2005, three of Fallon’s verse plays, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, The Poplar, and The Hags of Clough are published in a single volume. A selection of his prose writings and criticism edited by Brian Fallon, A Poet’s Journal, is published in the same year.


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Birth of Margaret Dobbs, Irish Scholar & Playwright

feis-na-ngleannMargaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish Language, is born in Dublin on November 19, 1871.

Dobbs’ father, Conway Edward Dobbs, is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875, and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. The family spends time living in Dublin which is where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish. However, when her father dies in 1898 her mother, Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland Eglantine, moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs’ interest in learning Irish continues and she finds it easier to learn in Donegal where the language is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. Dobbs is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The “Great Feis” takes place in Antrim in 1904. Dobbs is a founding member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are ever performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. However, her plays are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique, and in the Irish magazine Eriu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and, although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known, she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. She also is a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

She dies in Portnagalon, County Antrim, on January 2, 1962.


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Birth of Irish-Australian Novelist Thomas Michael Keneally

thomas-michael-keneallyThomas Michael Keneally, Irish-Australian novelist, playwright, and author of non-fiction, is born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on October 7, 1935.

The son of Edmund Thomas and Elsie Margaret (Coyle) Keneally, he grows up in Kempsey and is educated at St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield where, subsequently, a writing prize has been named after him. Keneally enters St. Patrick’s Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest. Although he is ordained as a deacon while at the seminary, he leaves without being ordained into the priesthood. He works as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist and is a lecturer at the University of New England from 1968–1970.

Keneally is known as “Mick” until 1964 but, upon the advice of his publisher to use his real first name, begins using the name Thomas when he starts publishing. He is most famous for writing Man Booker Prize winner Schindler’s Ark (1982) which is later republished as Schindler’s List, and is later adapted to Steven Spielberg‘s Schindler’s List, which wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. Many of Keneally’s novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style.

Keneally also acts in a handful of films. He has a small role in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, based on his novel, and plays Father Marshall in the award-winning Fred Schepisi film The Devil’s Playground (1976).

Keneally is a strong advocate of an Australian republic, meaning the abolition of the Australian monarchy, and publishes a book, Our Republic, on the subject in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement.

Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football, in particular the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles club of the National Rugby League. In 2004 he gives the sixth annual Tom Brock Lecture and makes an appearance in the 2007 rugby league drama film The Final Winter.

In March 2009, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, gives an autographed copy of Keneally’s biography Lincoln to President Barack Obama as a state gift. Recently Keneally has been a featured writer in the critically acclaimed Australian drama Our Sunburnt Country.