seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Mervyn Wall, Novelist & Playwright

Mervyn Wall, novelist and playwright who writes under the pseudonym of Eugene Welply, is born in Dublin on August 23, 1908. He attends Belvedere College and works as a civil servant from 1934-48. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Wall is probably the last survivor of the remarkably gifted generation which emerged from University College Dublin (UCD) in the 1930s. It includes Brian O’Nolan, Donagh MacDonagh, Cyril Cusack, Liam Redmond, Denis Devlin, Niall Sheridan, and the shortlived poet Charles Donnelly who dies in the Spanish Civil War. Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds contains portraits of many of these people, under fictitious names, and evokes the whole ambience of intellectual student life in Dublin at the time.

Like other literary civil servants of the period, Wall often takes a satirical view of bureaucracy. Unlike Brian O’Nolan, however, he can play the bureaucrats at their own game and by most accounts he is a highly efficient public servant in his own right. His late novel Hermitage (1982) has some sharp sidelights on the world of Green Tape.

Wall makes his mark mainly as a novelist, but he begins as a playwright and has at least two works performed in the Abbey Theatre. His first real success comes in 1946 with The Unfortunate Fursey, in which he creates a mythical monk who is tormented by the Devil. The picaresque humour and fantasy of the story are enjoyed by the public as essentially good-natured farce, but it is possible that he also intends it as oblique satire on the Irish clergy in general, at a time when any open criticism of them might invite trouble. Fergus Linehan later turns it into a successful musical.

The first Fursey book has successors, and all of them are published in a single volume in 1985, entitled The Complete Fursey. During the 1950s Wall writes two “serious” novels of social criticism, Leaves for the Burning and No Trophies Raise, in which his satirical sense takes a more direct route. They are praised at the time by respected critics and are still well worth rereading.

Apart from his writing, Wall has a distinguished career in Radio Éireann, where he and his colleagues, the novelist Francis MacManus and the poet Roibeard O Farachain, make up a literary and administrative trio nicknamed “Frank, Incense and Mer” by a staff wit. He later becomes secretary of the Arts Council, a sometimes difficult job which he handles with tact and fairness.

Wall is himself a witty, observant, sometimes catty man in a generation famous for its wit. He and his wife Fanny, who is known as a leading music critic, are for decades an almost indispensable duo in Dublin cultural and social life, although Wall, in spite of his various public roles, is at heart a home loving and industrious man who never seeks publicity.

Wall dies on May 19, 1997, just eight months after his wife, in St. Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, after a short illness.

If and when a fullscale cultural history of Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s comes to be written, Wall’s place in it should be assured. As a successful, long term civil servant, he learned how to work the system in favour of literature and the arts in an age when patronage of them was thin on the ground.


Leave a comment

Birth of Richard Lalor Shiel, Politician, Writer & Orator

Richard Lalor Sheil, Irish politician, writer and orator, is born at Drumdowney, Slieverue, County Kilkenny on August 17, 1791. The family is temporarily domiciled at Drumdowney while their new mansion at Bellevue, near Waterford, is under construction.

Shiel’s father is Edward Sheil, who acquires considerable wealth in Cadiz in southern Spain and owns an estate in County Tipperary. His mother is Catherine McCarthy of Springhouse, near Bansha, County Tipperary, a member of the old aristocratic family of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach of Springhouse, who in their time were Princes of Carbery and Counts of Toulouse in France. He is taught French and Latin by the Abbé de Grimeau, a French refugee. He is then sent to a Catholic school in Kensington, London, presided over by a French nobleman, M. de Broglie. For a time he attends the lay college in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In October 1804, he is removed to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and in November 1807 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he specially distinguishes himself in the debates of the Historical Society.

After taking his degree in 1811 Sheil is admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn, and is called to the Irish bar in 1814. He is one of the founders of the Catholic Association in 1823 and draws up the petition for inquiry into the mode of administering the laws in Ireland, which is presented in that year to both Houses of Parliament.

In 1825, Sheil accompanies Daniel O’Connell to London to protest against the suppression of the Catholic Association. The protest is unsuccessful, but, although nominally dissolved, the association continues its propaganda after the defeat of the Catholic Relief Bill in 1825. He is one of O’Connell’s leading supporters in the agitation persistently carried on until Catholic emancipation was granted in 1829.

In the same year Shiel is returned to Parliament for Milborne Port, and in 1831 for County Louth, holding that seat until 1832. He takes a prominent part in all the debates relating to Ireland, and although he is greater as a platform orator than as a debater, he gradually wins the somewhat reluctant admiration of the House. In August 1839, he becomes Vice-President of the Board of Trade in Lord Melbourne‘s ministry.

After the accession of Lord John Russell to power in 1846, Shiel is appointed Master of the Mint, and in 1850 he is appointed minister at the court of Tuscany. He dies in Florence on May 23, 1851. His remains are conveyed back to Ireland by a British ship-of-war, and interred at Long Orchard, near Templetuohy, County Tipperary.

George W. E. Russell says of Shiel, “Sheil was very small, and of mean presence; with a singularly fidgety manner, a shrill voice, and a delivery unintelligibly rapid. But in sheer beauty of elaborated diction not O’Connell nor any one else could surpass him.”

Shiel’s play, Adelaide, or the Emigrants, is performed at the Crow Street Theatre in Dublin, on February 19, 1814, with success, and, on May 23, 1816, it is performed at Covent Garden in London. The Apostate, produced at the latter theatre on May 3, 1817, establishes his reputation as a dramatist. His other principal plays are Bellamira (written in 1818), Evadne (1819), Huguenot (produced in 1822) and Montini (1820).

In 1822, Sheil begins, with William Henry Curran, to contribute to The New Monthly Magazine a series of papers entitled “Sketches of the Irish Bar.” Curran, in fact, does most of the writing. These pieces are edited by Marmion Wilme Savage in 1855 in two volumes, under the title of Sketches Legal and Political. Sheil’s Speeches are edited in 1845 by Thomas MacNevin.

In 1816, Shiel marries a Miss O’Halloran, niece of Sir William MacMahon, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. They have one son, who predeceases Sheil. His wife dies in January 1822. In July 1830, he marries Anastasia Lalor Power, a widow. He then adds the middle name Lalor.


Leave a comment

Birth of Novelist & Playwright Molly Keane

Molly Keane, née Mary Nesta Skrine, Irish novelist and playwright who writes as M. J. Farrell, is born in Ryston Cottage, Newbridge, County Kildare, on July 20, 1904.

Keane’s mother is a poet who writes under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill. Her father is a fanatic for horses and hunting. She grows up at Ballyrankin in County Wexford and refuses to go to boarding school in England as her siblings had done. She is educated by her mother, governesses, and at a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow. Relationships between her and her parents are cold and she states that she had no fun in her life as a child. Her own passion for hunting and horses is born out of her need for fun and enjoyment. Reading does not feature much in her family and, although her mother writes poetry, it is of a sentimental nature, “suitable to a woman of her class.”

Keane claims she had never set out to be a writer, but at seventeen she is bedbound due to suspected tuberculosis, and turns to writing out of sheer boredom. It is then she writes her first book, The Knight of Cheerful Countenance, which is published by Mills & Boon. She writes under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell,” a name over a pub that she had seen on her return from hunting. She explains writing anonymously because “for a woman to read a book, let alone write one was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”

In her teenage years Keane spends much of her time in the Perry household in Woodruff, County Tipperary. Here she befriends the two children of the house, Sylvia and John Perry. She later collaborates with John in writing a number of plays. Among them is Spring Meeting, directed by John Gielgud in 1938, and one of the hits of the West End that year. She and Gielgud become life long friends.

It is through the Perry family that Molly meets Bobby Keane, whom she marries in 1938. He belongs to a County Waterford squirearchical family, the Keane baronets. The couple goes on to have two daughters, Sally and Virginia.

Keane loves Jane Austen, and like Austen’s, her ability lay in her talent for creating characters. This, with her wit and astute sense of what lay beneath the surface of people’s actions, enables her to depict the world of the big houses of Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. She “captured her class in all its vicious snobbery and genteel racism.” She uses her married name for her later novels, several of which, including Good Behaviour and Time After Time, have been adapted for television. Between 1928 and 1956, she writes eleven novels, and some of her earlier plays, under the pseudonym “M. J. Farrell.” She was a member of Aosdána.

Keane’s husband dies suddenly in 1946, after which she moves to Ardmore, County Waterford, a place she knows well, and lives there with her two daughters. Following the failure of a play shortly after her husband’s death, she publishes nothing for twenty years. In 1981 Good Behaviour comes out under her own name. The manuscript, which had languished in a drawer for many years, is lent to a visitor, the actress Peggy Ashcroft, who encourages her to publish it. The novel is warmly received and is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Keane dies at the age of 91 on April 22, 1996 in her Cliffside home in Ardmore. She is buried beside the Church of Ireland church, near the centre of the village.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sebastian Barry, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

Sebastian Barry, novelist, playwright and poet, is born in Dublin on July 5, 1955. He is noted for his lyrical literary writing style and is considered one of Ireland’s finest writers. He is named Laureate for Irish Fiction, 2019–2021.

Barry’s mother is acclaimed actress Joan O’Hara. He is educated at Catholic University School and Trinity College, Dublin, where he reads English and Latin. His literary career begins in poetry before he begins writing plays and novels.

Barry starts his literary career with the novel Macker’s Garden in 1982. This is followed by several books of poetry and a further novel, The Engine of Owl-Light (1987), before his career as a playwright begins with his first play produced in the Abbey Theatre, Boss Grady’s Boys (1988).

Barry’s maternal great-grandfather, James Dunne, provides the inspiration for the main character in his most internationally known play, The Steward of Christendom, which wins the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, the Lloyd’s Private Banking Playwright of the Year Award and other awards. The main character in the play, Thomas Dunne, is the chief superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police from 1913 to 1922. He oversees the area surrounding Dublin Castle until the Irish Free State takeover on January 16, 1922. One of his grandfathers belonged to the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers while the other is a painter, a Nationalist, and a devotee of Éamon de Valera.

Both The Steward of Christendom and the novel The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, are about the dislocations, physical and otherwise, of loyalist Irish people during the political upheavals of the early 20th century. The title character of the latter work is a young man forced to leave Ireland by his former friends in the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence.

Barry has been twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his novels A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), the latter of which wins the 2008 Costa Book of the Year and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. His fifth novel, On Canaan’s Side (2011), is longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize and wins the 2012 Walter Scott Prize. In January 2017, he is awarded the Costa Book of the Year prize for Days Without End (2016), becoming the first novelist to win the prestigious prize twice. The novel also wins The Walter Scott Prize and The Independent Booksellers’ Prize, and is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Barry’s play Andersen’s English is inspired by children’s writer Hans Christian Andersen coming to stay with Charles Dickens and his family in the Kent marshes. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark and produced by the Out of Joint Theatre Company and Hampstead Theatre, the play tours in the United Kingdom from February 11 to May 8, 2010. Our Lady of Sligo is directed in 1998 by Stafford-Clark at the Royal National Theatre co−produced by Out of Joint.

In 2001, Barry establishes his personal and professional archive at the Harry Ransom Center. More than sixty boxes of papers document his diverse writing career and range of creative output which includes drawings, poetry, short stories, novels, essays, and scripts.

Barry has been awarded honorary degrees from NUI Galway, the Open University and the University of East Anglia. His academic posts include Honorary Fellow in Writing at the University of Iowa (1984), Heimbold Visiting Professor at Villanova University (2006) and Writer Fellow at Trinity College, Dublin (1995–1996).

Barry lives in County Wicklow with his wife, actor and screenwriter Alison Deegan.


Leave a comment

Death of Leland Bardwell, Poet, Novelist & Playwright

Constan Olive Leland Bardwell, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, dies at the age of 94 on June 28, 2016 in Sligo, County Sligo.

Bardwell is born Leland Hone in India on February 25, 1922 to Irish parents William Hone and Mary Collise, and moves to Ireland at the age of two. Her father’s family are of the Anglo-Irish Hone family. She grows up in Leixlip, County Kildare. She is educated at Alexandra School and later at the University of London.

Bardwell realises from childhood that a writing life is inevitable. In her memoirs she records: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.” However, there are years of editorial rejections before she blossoms into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin.

Bardwell’s five volumes of acclaimed poetry are The Mad Cyclist (1970), The Fly and the Bed Bug (1984), Dostoevsky’s Grace (1991), her “new and selected” The White Beach (1998) and The Noise of Masonry Settling (2005).

Bardwell is considered an important poet by her contemporaries. On the publication of her fourth collection of poetry, The White Beach, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin states, “it is good to see her work of the decades collected – it has inspired many Irish poets, male and female, and should be much more widely known,” adding that her work is “witty, full of sharp intimate honesty, full of truth and surprises.”

In 1975, along with Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and Macdara Woods, she co-founds the long running literary magazine Cyphers.

Bardwell’s novel Girl on a Bicycle, originally published in 1977, is republished by Irish publisher Liberties Press in 2009.

Bardwell lives in Sligo and is a member of Aosdána. She dies in Sligo on June 28, 2016. One of her children is the composer John McLachlan.

(Photo by Pat Boran)


Leave a comment

Birth of William Trevor, Novelist, Playwright & Short Story Writer

William Trevor KBE, Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer, is born William Trevor Cox in Mitchelstown, County Cork, on May 24, 1928. One of the elder statesmen of the Irish literary world, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest contemporary writers of short stories in the English language.

Trevor is born to a middle-class, Anglo-Irish Protestant family. They move several times to other provincial towns, including Skibbereen, Tipperary, Youghal and Enniscorthy, as a result of his father’s work as a bank official. He is educated at St. Columba’s College, Dublin, and at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he receives a degree in history. He works as a sculptor under the name Trevor Cox after his graduation from Trinity College, supplementing his income by teaching. He marries Jane Ryan in 1952 and emigrates to Great Britain two years later, working as a copywriter for an advertising agency. It is during this time that he and his wife have their first son.

Trevor’s first novel, A Standard of Behaviour, is published in 1958 by Hutchinson of London, but has little critical success. He later disowns this work and, according to his obituary in The Irish Times, “refused to have it republished.” It was, in fact, republished in 1982 and in 1989.

In 1964, at the age of 36, Trevor wins the Hawthornden Prize for Literature for The Old Boys. The win encourages him to become a full-time writer. He and his family then move to Devon in South West England, where he resides until his death. In 2002, he makes honorary KBE for services to literature. Despite having spent most of his life in England, he considers himself to be “Irish in every vein.”

Trevor writes several collections of short stories that are well received. His short stories often follow a Chekhovian pattern. The characters in his work are typically marginalised members of society. The works of James Joyce influence his short-story writing, and “the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal” can be detected in his work, but the overall impression is not of gloominess since, particularly in his early work, his wry humour offers the reader a tragicomic version of the world. He adapts much of his work for stage, television and radio. In 1990, Fools of Fortune is made into a film directed by Pat O’Connor, along with a 1999 film adaptation of Felicia’s Journey, which is directed by Atom Egoyan.

Trevor’s stories are set in both England and Ireland. They range from black comedies to tales based on Irish history and politics. His early books are peopled by eccentrics who speak in a pedantically formal manner and engage in hilariously comic activities that are recounted by a detached narrative voice. Instead of one central figure, the novels feature several protagonists of equal importance, drawn together by an institutional setting, which acts as a convergence point for their individual stories. The later novels are thematically and technically more complex. The operation of grace in the world is explored, and several narrative voices are used to view the same events from different angles.

Trevor wins the Whitbread Prize three times and is nominated five times for the Booker Prize, the last for his novel Love and Summer (2009), which is also shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award in 2011. His name is also mentioned in relation to the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2014, he is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

William Trevor dies peacefully in his sleep at the age of 88 on November 20, 2016 in Somerset, England.


Leave a comment

Birth of Caitlín Maude, Poet, Actress & Singer

Caitlín Maude, Irish poet, activist, teacher, actress and traditional singer, is born in Casla, County Galway on May 22, 1941.

Maude is reared in the Irish language. Her mother, Máire Nic an Iomaire, is a school teacher from Ballyfinglas. She receives her primary education from her mother on a small island off the coast of Rosmuc, Connemara. Her father, John Maude, is from Cill Bhriocáin in Rosmuc. She attends University College Galway, where she excels in French. She becomes a teacher, working in schools in Counties Kildare, Mayo, and Wicklow. She also works in other capacities in London and Dublin.

Maude is widely praised as an actor. She acts at the University, at An Taibhdhearc in Galway and the Damer in Dublin, and is particularly successful in a production of An Triail by Máiréad Ní Ghráda in 1964, in which she plays the protagonist of the story, Máire Ní Chathasaigh. She herself is a playwright and co-authors An Lasair Choille with poet Michael Hartnett.

Maude begins writing poetry in Irish in secondary school and develops a lyrical style closely attuned to the rhythms of the voice. Though not conventionally religious, she says in an interview that she has a deep interest in the spiritual and that this leaves its mark on her poetry. She is noted as a highly effective reciter of her own verse. Géibheann is the best-known of her poems, and is studied at Leaving Certificate Higher Level Irish in the Republic of Ireland. A posthumous collected edition, Caitlín Maude, Dánta, is published in 1984, Caitlín Maude: file in 1985 in Ireland and Italy, and Coiscéim in 1985.

As a member of the Dublin Irish-speaking community Maude is active in many campaigns, including the establishment of the Gaelscoil (Irish-medium primary school) Scoil Santain in Tallaght, County Dublin.

Maude is a sean-nós singer of distinction. She makes one album in this genre, Caitlín, released in 1975 on Gael Linn Records and now available as a CD. It contains both traditional songs and a selection of her poetry.

Maude marries Cathal Ó Luain in 1969. They have one child, their son Caomhán.

Maude dies of complications from cancer at the age of 41 on June 6, 1982. She is buried in Bohernabreena graveyard overlooking the city on the Dublin Mountains.

In 2001, a new writers’ centre in Galway, Ionad Schribhneoiri Chaitlin Maude, Gaillimh, is named in her memory.


Leave a comment

Birth of Sculptor Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard RHA, Irish sculptor most famous for his 1911 bronze statue of the mythical Cúchulainn dying in battle, is born at Old Town, Cookstown, County Tyrone on April 10, 1865. His work is also part of the art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics and the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Sheppard is born to Simpson Sheppard, a sculptor, and Ellen White, of Ormond Quay, Dublin.

Sheppard is based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having travelled widely across Europe. He and his wife Rosie have several children. They live at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin. She dies in 1931.

Sheppard’s main influence is the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who teaches him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin (now the National College of Art and Design), where he later becomes a lecturer.

From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard teaches sculpture at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, which is renamed the National College of Art in 1936. His annual stipend is £250 but for this he only has to lecture on three mornings per week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects. One of his most famous students is the sculptor Kathleen Cox.

As a prominent sculptor Sheppard is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and is made a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1925–41. He also exhibits works at European exhibitions during his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.

Sheppard is generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland, saying, “For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions…was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect.”

In 1890–1910 Sheppard is a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, is admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he meets his brother, Patrick Pearse, who later helps launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival’s artists are writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard can claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.

Sheppard is in the minority of Irish Protestants who support independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he is an art student. After the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) he says, “They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country.” His opinions are not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.

In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage is planned, and is finally launched in 1928. Sheppard is one of the designers short-listed but his designs are not accepted.

Sheppard dies in Dublin on September 14, 1941.

(Pictured: “The Dying Cúchulainn,” sculpture by Oliver Sheppard, now at the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin)


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Novelist John Banim

John Banim, Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and essayist, sometimes called the “Scott of Ireland,” is born in Kilkenny, County Kilkenny on April 3, 1798. He also studied art, working as a painter of miniatures and portraits, and as a drawing teacher, before dedicating himself to literature.

At age four, Banim’s parents send him to a local school where he learns the basics of reading and grammar. At age five, he is sent to the English Academy at Kilkenny where his older brother Michael (1796–1874) is a student. After five years at the English Academy, he is sent to a seminary run by a Reverent Magrath, considered to be the finest Roman Catholic school in Ireland. After a year at the seminary, he transfers to another academy run by a teacher named Terence Doyle. Throughout his school years, he reads avidly and writes his own stories and poems. When he is ten, he visits the poet Thomas Moore, bringing along some of his own poetry in manuscript. Moore encourages him to continue writing and gives him a season ticket to his private theatre in Kilkenny.

At the age of 13, Banim enters Kilkenny College and devotes himself specially to drawing and miniature painting. He pursues his artistic education for two years in the schools of the Royal Dublin Society, and afterwards teaches drawing in Kilkenny, where he falls in love with one of his pupils, a 17-year-old girl named Anne. His affection is returned, but her parents disapprove of their relationship and send her out of town. Anne dies two months later of tuberculosis. Her death makes a deep impression on him and his health suffers severely and permanently.

In 1820 Banim goes to Dublin and settles finally to the work of literature. He publishes a poem, The Celt’s Paradise, and his play Damon and Pythias is performed at Covent Garden in 1821. During a short visit to Kilkenny he marries, and in 1822, in conjunction with Michael, plans a series of tales illustrative of Irish life, which should be for Ireland what the Waverley Novels are for Scotland. The influence of his model is distinctly traceable in his writings.

Banim then sets out for London, and supports himself by writing for magazines and for the stage. A volume of miscellaneous essays is published anonymously in 1824, called Revelations of the Dead Alive. The first series of Tales of the O’Hara Family appears in April 1825, which achieves immediate and decided success. One of the most powerful of them, Crohoore of the Bill Hook, is by Michael Banim.

In 1826, a second series is published, containing the Irish novel, The Nowlans. Banim’s health has given way, and the next effort of the “O’Hara family” is almost entirely the production of his brother Michael. The Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828), a novel of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, is hardly equal to the earlier tales, though it contains some wonderfully vigorous passages.

The Mayor of Windgap, and The Ghost Hunter (both by Michael Banim), The Denounced (1830) and The Smuggler (1831) follow in quick succession, and are received with considerable favour. Most of these deal with the darker and more painful phases of life, but the feeling shown in his last, Father Connell, is brighter and tenderer. Banim, meanwhile, suffers from illness and consequent poverty. In 1829, he goes to France, and while he is abroad a movement to relieve his wants is set on foot by the English press, headed by John Sterling in The Times. A sufficient sum is obtained to remove him from any danger of actual want.

Banim returns to Ireland in 1835, taking up residence in Dublin. On meeting him again in August, Michael Banim finds his brother’s condition to be that of a complete invalid. He is often in pain and has to use opiates to sleep, but during the short intervals between the attacks of his illness, he is able to enjoy conversation and the company of his brother and friends. In September he returns to Kilkenny and is received with an address from the citizens of Kilkenny showing their appreciation of him, and a subscription from them of £85. After a short stay in his childhood home, he settles in Windgap Cottage, then a short distance from Kilkenny. He passes the remainder of his life there, dying on August 13, 1842.

Michael Banim acquires a considerable fortune which he loses in 1840 through the bankruptcy of a firm with which he had business relations. After this disaster he writes Father Connell (1842), Clough Fionn (1852), and The Town of the Cascades (1862). He dies at Booterstown.

An assessment in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1911) reads:

“The true place of the Banims in literature is to be estimated from the merits of the O’Hara Tales; their later works, though of considerable ability, are sometimes prolix and are marked by too evident an imitation of the Waverley Novels. The Tales, however, are masterpieces of faithful delineation. The strong passions, the lights and shadows of Irish peasant character, have rarely been so ably and truly depicted. The incidents are striking, sometimes even horrible, and the authors have been accused of straining after melodramatic effect. The lighter, more joyous side of Irish character, which appears so strongly in Samuel Lover, receives little attention from the Banims.”


Leave a comment

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.