seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Lady Gregory, Writer & Playwright

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (née Isabella Augusta), Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, is born on March 15, 1852 at Roxborough, County Galway. Her translations of Irish legends, her peasant comedies and fantasies based on folklore, and her work for the Abbey Theatre, play a considerable part in the late 19th-century Irish Literary Revival.

Augusta is the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. Her mother, Frances Barry, is related to Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore, and her family home, Roxborough, is a 6,000-acre estate located between Gort and Loughrea, the main house of which is later burned down during the Irish Civil War. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native speaker of the Irish language, who introduces the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

In 1880 Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory, a neighbouring landowner who had previously served as a Member of Parliament and as governor of Ceylon. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and his estate at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory is eager to explore. He also has a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time.

Lady Gregory’s literary career does not begin until after Sir Gregory’s death in 1892. In 1896 she meets William Butler Yeats and becomes his lifelong friend and patron. She takes part in the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and becomes a director of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, which owes much of its success to her skill at smoothing the disputes among its highly individualistic Irish nationalist founders. As a playwright, she writes pleasant comedies based on Irish folkways and picturesque peasant speech, offsetting the more tragic tones of the dramas of Yeats and John Millington Synge.

Lady Gregory writes or translates nearly forty plays. Seven Short Plays (1909), her first dramatic works, are among her best, vivid in dialogue and characterization. The longer comedies, The Image and Damer’s Gold, are published in 1910 and 1913 and her strange realistic fantasies, The Golden Apple and The Dragon, in 1916 and 1920. She also arranges and makes continuous narratives out of the various versions of Irish sagas, translating them into an Anglo-Irish peasant dialect that she labels “Kiltartan.” These are published as Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).

Lady Gregory returns to live in Galway after ill health forces her retirement from the Abbey Theatre board in 1928, although she continues to visit Dublin regularly. The house and demesne at Coole Park is sold to the Irish Forestry Commission in 1927, with Lady Gregory retaining life tenancy. Her Galway home had long been a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival, and this continues after her retirement. On a tree in what were the grounds of the house, one can still see the carved initials of Synge, Æ, Yeats and his artist brother Jack, George Moore, Seán O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Katharine Tynan and Violet Martin.

Lady Gregory, whom Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman,” dies at the age of 80 on May 22, 1932 at home from breast cancer. She is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park are auctioned three months after her death, and the house is demolished in 1941.

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Birth of George Moore, Writer, Poet & Dramatist

george-augustus-mooreGeorge Augustus Moore, novelist, short story writer, poet, art critic, memoirist, and dramatist, is born in Moore Hall, near Lough Carra, County Mayo on February 24, 1852. He is considered an innovator in fiction in his day.

Moore comes from a distinguished Catholic family of Irish landholders. When he is 21, he leaves Ireland for Paris to become a painter. His Reminiscences of the Impressionist Painters (1906) vividly describes the Café Nouvelle-Athènes and the circle of Impressionist painters who frequent it. He is particularly friendly with Édouard Manet, who sketches three portraits of him. Another account of the years in Paris, in which he introduces the younger generation in England to his version of fin de siècle decadence, is his first autobiography, Confessions of a Young Man (1888).

Deciding that he has no talent for painting, Moore returns to London in 1882 to write. His first novels, A Modern Lover (1883) and A Mummer’s Wife (1885), introduce a new note of French Naturalism into the English scene, and he later adopts the realistic techniques of Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac. Esther Waters (1894), his best novel, deals with the plight of a servant girl who has a baby out of wedlock. It is a story of hardship and humiliation illumined by the novelist’s compassion. It is an immediate success, and he follows it with works in a similar vein: Evelyn Innes (1898) and Sister Teresa (1901).

In 1901 Moore moves to Dublin, partly because of his loathing for the South African War and partly because of the Irish Literary Revival spearheaded by his friend, the poet William Butler Yeats. In Dublin he contributes notably to the planning of the Abbey Theatre. He also produces The Untilled Field (1903), a volume of fine short stories reminiscent of Ivan Turgenev’s writing that focuses on the drudgery of Irish rural life, and a short poetic novel, The Lake (1905). The real fruits of his life in Ireland, however, come with the trilogy Hail and Farewell (Ave, 1911; Salve, 1912; Vale, 1914). Discursive, affectionate, and satirical by turns, it reads like a sustained monologue that is both a carefully studied piece of self-revelation and an acute, though not always reliable, portrait gallery of his Irish acquaintance, which included Yeats, George William Russell, and Lady Gregory. Above all it is a perfectly modulated display of the comic spirit.

The increasing narrowness of the Irish mind, politics, and clericalism sends Moore back to England in 1911. After Hail and Farewell he makes another literary departure. Aiming at epic effect he produces The Brook Kerith (1916), an elaborate and stylish retelling of the Gospel story that is surprisingly effective despite some dull patches. He continues his attempts to find a prose style worthy of epic theme in Héloïse and Abélard (1921). His other works include A Story-Teller’s Holiday (1918), a blend of autobiography, anecdote, Irish legend, and satire, Conversations in Ebury Street (1924), autobiography, The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe (1924) and Ulick and Soracha (1926), an Irish legendary romance.

George Moore dies at his home at Ebury Street in the London district of Belgravia on January 21, 1933, leaving a fortune of £70,000. He is cremated in London at a service attended by Ramsay MacDonald among others. An urn containing his ashes is interred on Castle Island in Lough Carra in view of the ruins of Moore Hall, which had been burned by anti-treaty forces in 1923, during the final months of the Irish Civil War.


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Death of Teresa Deevy, Playwright & Writer

teresa-deevyTeresa Deevy, deaf Irish playwright, short story writer, and writer for radio, dies in Waterford, County Waterford on January 19, 1963.

Deevy is born on January 21, 1894 in Waterford. She is the youngest of 13 siblings, all girls. Her mother is Mary Feehan Deevy and her father is Edward Deevy who passes away when she is two years old.

Deevy attends the Ursuline Convent in Waterford and in 1913, at the age of 19, she enrolls in University College Dublin, to become a teacher. However, that same year, she becomes deaf through Ménière’s disease and has to relocate to University College Cork so she can receive treatment in the Cork Ear, Eye, and Throat Hospital, while also being closer to the family home. In 1914 she goes to London to learn lip reading and returns to Ireland in 1919. She starts writing plays and contributing articles and stories to the press around 1919.

Deevy’s return to Ireland takes place during the Irish War of Independence and this heavily influences her writing and ideology as she is heavily involved in the nationalistic cause. She heavily admires Constance Markievicz and joins Cumann na mBan, an Irish women’s Republican group and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers.

In 1930 Deevy has her first production at the Abbey Theatre, Reapers. Many more follow in rapid succession, such as In Search of Valour, Temporal Powers, The King of Spain’s Daughter and Katie Roche, the play she is perhaps best known for. Her works are generally very well received with some of them winning competitions, becoming headline performances, or being revived numerous times. After a number of plays staged in the Abbey, her relationship with the theater sours over the rejection of her play, Wife to James Whelan in 1937.

After Deevy stops writing plays for the Abbey, she mainly concentrates on radio, a remarkable feat considering she had already become deaf before radio had become a popular medium in Ireland in the mid-to-late 1920s. She has a prolific output for twenty years on Raidio Éireann and on the BBC.

Deevy is elected to the prestigious Irish Academy of Letters in 1954, as a recognition to her contribution to the Irish theater. Her sister, Nell, with whom she had lived in Dublin, dies in the same year, so she returns to Waterford. She becomes a familiar figure in Waterford as she cycles around the city on her “High Nelly” bike.

When Deevy’s health begins to fail she is eventually admitted to the Maypark Nursing Home in Waterford. She dies there on January 19, 1963, at the age of 68, two days before her birthday.


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Birth of Novelist Jennifer Johnston

jennifer-johnstonJennifer Prudence Johnston, Irish novelist whose works deal with political and cultural tensions in Ireland with an emphasis on the problems of the Anglo-Irish people, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1930. Rich in dialogue, Johnston’s novels often concern interpersonal relationships and the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

Johnston is born to Irish actress and director Shelah Richards, and Irish playwright Denis Johnston. A cousin of actress and film star Geraldine Fitzgerald, via Fitzgerald’s mother, Edith (née Richards), she is educated at Trinity College Dublin. Other cousins include the actresses Tara Fitzgerald and Susan Fitzgerald.

Born into the Church of Ireland, many of Johnston’s novels deal with the fading of the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy in the 20th century.

Johnston’s first published book, The Captains and the Kings (1972), is actually written after The Gates (1973). Both novels feature the Anglo-Irish setting of a decaying manor house. Johnston’s third novel, How Many Miles to Babylon? (1974), concerns the complex and tragic friendship of two young men who are sentenced to death during World War I. Shadows on Our Skin (1977) and The Railway Station Man (1984) focus on violence in Northern Ireland, and The Old Jest (1979 and filmed as The Dawning, 1988) and Fool’s Sanctuary (1987) are set during the emergence of modern Ireland in the 1920s. The protagonist of The Christmas Tree (1981) attempts to salvage her troubled life before it is cut short by leukemia.

Johnston’s other novels include The Invisible Worm (1991), The Illusionist (1995), Two Moons (1998), This Is Not a Novel (2002), and Foolish Mortals (2007). She also writes short stories and plays, such as Three Monologues: Twinkletoes, Mustn’t Forget High Noon, Christine (1995) and The Desert Lullaby: A Play in Two Acts (1996).

Johnston marries a fellow student at Trinity College, Ian Smyth in 1951. She is a mother of four and currently lives near Dublin. She is also a member of Aosdána.


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.


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Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.