seamus dubhghaill

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


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Inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

jfk-inaugurationJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States on Friday, January 20, 1961 at the eastern portico of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., becoming the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the office. The inauguration marks the commencement of Kennedy’s only term as President and of Lyndon B. Johnson‘s only term as Vice President. Kennedy is assassinated 2 years, 306 days into this term, and Johnson succeeds to the presidency.

Kennedy takes office following the November 1960 presidential election, in which he narrowly defeats Richard Nixon, the then–incumbent Vice President. In addition to being the first Catholic to become President, he also becomes the youngest person elected to the office.

His inaugural address encompasses the major themes of his campaign and defines his presidency during a time of economic prosperity, emerging social changes, and diplomatic challenges. This inauguration is the first in which a poet, Robert Frost, participates in the program. Frost, then 86 years old, recites his poem “The Gift Outright” at Kennedy’s request as an act of gratitude towards Frost for his help during the campaign.

The oath of office for the President is administered to Kennedy by Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren using a closed family Bible at 12:51 (ET) although he officially became president at the stroke of noon as defined by the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution. He does not wear an overcoat when taking the oath of office and delivering the inaugural address, despite the cold conditions of 22 °F (−6 °C) with windchill at 7 °F (−14 °C) at noon.

Kennedy’s 1366-word inaugural address, the first delivered to a televised audience in color, is considered among the best presidential inaugural speeches in American history. It includes the iconic line “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

Five First Ladies, Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy attend the event, as does future First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford. Former President Harry S. Truman joins Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Kennedy on the platform, as does future Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford, making this, retroactively, the largest conclave of the “presidential fraternity” prior to the opening of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in the 1990s.

Presidential inaugurations are organized by the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. For Kennedy’s inauguration, this committee is chaired by Senator John Sparkman, and includes Senators Carl Hayden and Styles Bridges, and Representatives Sam Rayburn, John W. McCormack, and Charles A. Halleck.


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Birth of Poet & Linguist Michael O’Siadhail

michael-o-siadhailMicheal O’Siadhail, poet and linguist, is born in Dublin on January 12, 1947. Among his awards are The Marten Toonder Prize and The Irish American Culture Institute Prize for Literature.

O’Siadhail is born into a middle-class Dublin family. His father, a chartered accountant, is born in County Monaghan and works most of his life in Dublin, and his mother is a Dubliner with roots in County Tipperary. Both of them are portrayed in his work in several poems such as “Kinsmen” and “Promise”. From the age of twelve, he is educated at the Jesuit boarding school Clongowes Wood College, an experience he is later to describe in a sequence of poems “Departure” (The Chosen Garden).

At Clongowes O’Siadhail is influenced by his English teacher, the writer Tom MacIntyre, who introduces him to contemporary poetry. At thirteen he first visits the Aran Islands. This pre-industrial society with its large-scale emigration has a profound impact on him. His earlier work reflects this tension between his love of his native Dublin and his emotional involvement with those outlying communities and which features in the sequence “Fists of Stone” (The Chosen Garden).

O’Siadhail studies at Trinity College Dublin (1964–68) where his teachers include David H. Greene and Máirtín Ó Cadhain. He is elected a Scholar of the College and takes a First Class Honours Degree. His circle at Trinity includes David McConnell (later professor of genetics), Mary Robinson and David F. Ford (later Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge). He subsequently embarks on a government exchange scholarship studying folklore and the Icelandic language at the University of Oslo. He retains lifelong contacts with Norwegian friends and sees Scandinavian literature as a major influence.

In 1970 O’Siadhail marries Bríd Ní Chearbhaill, who is born in Gweedore, County Donegal. She is for most of her life a teacher and later head mistress in an inner-city Dublin primary school until her retirement in 1995 due to Parkinson’s disease. She is a central figure in his oeuvre celebrated in the sequence “Rerooting” in The Chosen Garden and in Love Life, which is a meditation on their lifelong relationship. One Crimson Thread travels with the progression of her Parkinson’s Disease. She dies on June, 17, 2013.

For seventeen years, O’Siadhail earns his living as an academic; firstly as a lecturer at Trinity College (1969–73) where he is awarded a Master of Letters degree in 1971 and then as a research professor at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. During these years he gives named lectures in Dublin and at Harvard University and Yale University and is a visiting professor at the University of Iceland in 1982. In 1987 he resigns his professorship to devote himself to writing poetry which he describes as “a quantum leap.”

During his years as an academic, O’Siadhail, writing under the Irish spelling of his name, published works on the linguistics of Irish and a textbook for learners of Irish.

O’Siadhail serves as a member of the Arts Council of the Republic of Ireland (1987–93), of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Relations (1989–97) and is editor of Poetry Ireland Review. He is the founding chairman of ILE (Ireland Literature Exchange). As a founder member of Aosdána (Academy of Distinguished Irish Artists) he is part of a circle of artists and works with his friend the composer Seóirse Bodley, the painters Cecil King and Mick O’Dea and in 2008 gives a reading as part of Brian Friel‘s eightieth birthday celebration.

O’Siadhail represents Ireland at the Poetry Society‘s European Poetry Festival in London in 1981 and at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1997. He is writer-in-residence at the Yeats Summer School in 1991 and writer in residence at the University of British Columbia in 2002.

O’Siadhail is now married to Christina Weltz, who is a native of New York, and Assistant Professor of surgical oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital. They reside in New York.


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Death of Padraic Colum, Poet & Novelist

padraic-columPadraic Colum, Irish-born American poet, novelist, biographer, playwright, and children’s author whose lyrics capture the traditions and folklore of rural Ireland, dies in Enfield, Connecticut on January 11, 1972. He is one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival.

Colum was born on December 8, 1881 in Columcille, County Longford, the first of eight children born to Patrick and Susan Columb. In 1892, the family moves to Glasthule, near Dublin and he attends the local national school. He starts writing after he finishes school and meets a number of the leading Irish writers of the time, including W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and Æ. He also joins the Gaelic League and is a member of the first board of the Abbey Theatre. He becomes a regular user of the National Library of Ireland, where he meets James Joyce and the two become lifelong friends.

Influenced by the literary activity of the Celtic revival centered in Dublin at the turn of the century, Colum publishes the collection of poetry Wild Earth (1907). He co-founds The Irish Review in 1911, then three years later settles permanently in the United States. His varied literary output includes volumes of poetry including Dramatic Legends (1922) and Creatures (1927), plays such as Broken Soil (first performed 1903) and The Land (1905), novels, anthologies of folklore and children’s books. The reminiscence Our Friend James Joyce (1959) is written with his wife Mary (Maguire), a well-known literary critic.

The Colums spent the years from 1930 to 1933 living in Paris and Nice, where Padraic renews his friendship with James Joyce and becomes involved in the transcription of Finnegans Wake. After their time in France, the couple moves to New York City, where they do some teaching at Columbia University and City College of New York. He is a prolific author and publishes a total of 61 books, not counting his plays. While in New York, he writes the screenplay for the 1954 stop-motion animated film Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy. It is his only screenplay.

Mary dies in 1957 and Colum completes Our Friend James Joyce, which they had worked on together. It is published in 1958. He divides his later years between the United States and Ireland. In 1961 the Catholic Library Association awards him the Regina Medal.

Padraic Colum dies on January 11, 1972, at the age of 90, in Enfield, Connecticut. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery in Sutton, Dublin.


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Death of Samuel Beckett, Playwright & Poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, dies in Paris, France on December 22, 1989.

Beckett is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art of evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies on July 17, 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson’s disease, he dies on December 22, 1989.

 


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W.B. Yeats Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

william-butler-yeats-1William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, receives Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, 1923.

Yeats is born at Sandymount in County Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, is a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. He is educated in London and in Dublin, but spends his summers in the west of Ireland in the family’s summer house at Connacht. The young Yeats is very much part of the fin de siècle in London. At the same time he is active in societies that attempt an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appears in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighs his poetry both in bulk and in import.

Together with Lady Gregory, Yeats founds the Irish Literary Theatre, which later becomes the Abbey Theatre, and serves as its chief playwright until the movement is joined by John Millington Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends and also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.

After 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art takes a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays are written for small audiences. They experiment with masks, dance, and music, and are profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, he deplores the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He is appointed to the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, in 1922.

Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works are actually written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he receives the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), make him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

Yeats dies at the age of 73 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on January 28, 1939. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

(From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969)


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Death of Oscar Wilde, Poet & Playwright

oscar-wildeOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, dies in Paris, France on November 30, 1900. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, the early 1890s see him become one of the most popular playwrights in London. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the circumstances of his criminal conviction for “gross indecency,” imprisonment, and early death at age 46.

Wilde is born on October 16, 1854 at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College), the second of three children born to Anglo-Irish Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, two years behind his brother William. His parents are successful Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. He learns to speak fluent French and German. At university, he reads Greats. He demonstrates himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, he 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 interior decoration, and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, he becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, Wilde refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draw him to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, he 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 The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is still being performed in London, Wilde has John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for criminal libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearths evidence that causes him 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 sentenced to two years of hard labour, the maximum penalty, and is jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he writes De Profundis, published posthumously in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On 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.

By November 25, 1900 Wilde has developed meningitis, then called “cerebral meningitis”. On November 29, he is conditionally baptised into the Catholic Church by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin. He dies of meningitis on November 30, 1900. Different opinions are given as to the cause of the disease. Richard Ellmann claims it is syphilitic. Merlin Holland, Wilde’s grandson, believes this to be a misconception, noting that Wilde’s meningitis followed a surgical intervention, perhaps a mastoidectomy. Wilde’s physicians, Dr. Paul Cleiss and A’Court Tucker, report that the condition stems from an old suppuration of the right ear treated for several years and makes no allusion to syphilis.

Wilde 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. In 2011, the tomb is cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers and a glass barrier is installed to prevent further marks or damage.

In 2017, Wilde is among an estimated 50,000 men who are pardoned for homosexual acts that are no longer considered offences under the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The Act is known informally as the Alan Turing law.

In 2014 Wilde is one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco’s Castro District noting LGBTQ people who have “made significant contributions in their fields.”


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Birth of C.S. Lewis, Poet & Novelist

clive-staples-lewisClive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist, is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis is schooled by private tutors until age nine when his mother dies in 1908 from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. After the school is closed soon afterward, he attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that he abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions in English literature at both the University of Oxford (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and the University of  Cambridge (Magdalene College, 1954–1963).

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, television, radio and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. He recovers but on July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to the hospital where he suffers a heart attack the following day, lapses into a coma and awakens the next day. After he is discharged from the hospital his condition continues to decline. He is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in mid-November. He collapses and dies in his bedroom on November 22. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, which takes place approximately 55 minutes after Lewis’s collapse.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.