seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Joseph Campbell, Poet & Lyricist

Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist, is born in Belfast on July 15, 1879. He writes under the Gaelic form of his name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil (also Seosamh MacCathmhaoil), as Campbell is a common anglicisation of the old Irish name MacCathmhaoil. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs, such as “My Lagan Love” and “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.” His verse is also set to music by Arnold Bax and Ivor Gurney.

Campbell is born into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After working for his father he teaches for a while. He travels to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. His literary activities begin with songs, as a collector in Antrim, County Antrim and working with the composer Herbert Hughes. He is then a founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. He contributes a play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and several articles to its journal Uladh edited by Bulmer Hobson. The Little Cowherd of Slainge is performed by the Ulster Literary Theatre at the Clarence Place Hall in Belfast on May 4, 1905, along with Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast.

Campbell moves to Dublin in 1905 and, failing to find work, moves to London the following year where he is involved in Irish literary activities while working as a teacher. He marries Nancy Maude in 1910, and they move shortly thereafter to Dublin, and then later to County Wicklow. His play Judgement is performed at the Abbey Theatre in April 1912.

Campbell takes part as a supporter in the Easter Rising of 1916, doing rescue work. The following year he publishes a translation from Irish of the short stories of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising.

Campbell becomes a Sinn Féin Councillor in Wicklow in 1921. Later in the Irish Civil War he is on the Republican side, and is interned in 1922-23. His marriage breaks up, and he emigrates to the United States in 1925 where he settles in New York City. He lectures at Fordham University, and works in academic Irish studies, founding the University’s School of Irish Studies in 1928, which lasts four years. He is the editor of The Irish Review (1934), a short lived “magazine of Irish expression.” The business manager is George Lennon, former Officer Commanding of the County Waterford Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence. The managing editor is Lennon’s brother-in-law, George H. Sherwood.

Campbell returns to Ireland in 1939, settling at Glencree, County Wicklow. He dies at Lacken Daragh, Enniskerry, County Wicklow on June 6, 1944.


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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.


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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)


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Birth of Austin Clarke, Poet, Playwright & Novelist

Austin Clarke, considered at his death to be the greatest poet of his generation after W. B. Yeats, is born in 83 Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin, on May 9, 1896. He also writes plays, novels and memoirs. His main contribution to Irish poetry is the rigour with which he uses technical means borrowed from classical Irish language poetry when writing in English.

Effectively, this means writing English verse based not so much on metre as on complex patterns of assonance, consonance, and half rhyme. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, Clarke says, “I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free.”

Clarke’s early poetry clearly shows the influence of Yeats. His first book, The Vengeance of Fionn, is a long narrative poem retelling an Ossianic legend. It meets with critical acclaim and, unusually for a first book of poetry, goes to a second edition. Between this and the 1938 volume Night and Morning, he publishes a number of collections, all of which, to one extent or another, can be seen as being written in the shadow of Yeats. There is, however, one significant difference. Unlike the older poet, Clarke is a Catholic, and themes of guilt and repentance run through this early work.

Between 1938 and 1955, Clarke publishes no new lyric or narrative poetry. He is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre, Dublin and writes a number of verse plays for them. He also works as a journalist and has a weekly poetry programme on RTÉ radio. It seems likely that he also experiences some kind of personal crisis during this time and this has significant consequences for his later poetry.

Clarke returns to publishing poetry with the 1955 collection Ancient Lights, and is to continue writing and publishing prolifically for the remainder of his life. Although he continues to use the same Gaelic-derived techniques, this late poetry is markedly different from his earlier work. Many of the later poems are satires of the Irish church and state, while others are sensual celebrations of human sexuality, free of the guilt of the earlier poems. He also publishes the intensely personal Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, which is a poem sequence detailing the fictional Maurice Devanes’s nervous breakdown and subsequent recovery.

Clarke also comes to admire the work of more avant-garde poets like Ezra Pound and Pablo Neruda, both of whom he writes poems about. A number of the late long poems, such as, for instance, the 1971 Tiresias, show the effects of studying these poets and their looser formal structures. He sets up the Bridge Press to publish his own work, which allows him the freedom to publish work that many mainstream Irish publishers of the time might have been reluctant to handle. His Collected Poems is published in 1974 and a Selected Poems in 1976.

In addition to some twenty volumes of poetry and numerous plays, Clarke publishes three novels: The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). All of these are banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Ireland). He also publishes two volumes of memoirs, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968), and a number of scattered critical essays and book reviews. While all of these prose writings are of interest, his reputation rests firmly on his poetry.

In 1920 Clarke marries Cornelia (Lia) Cummins. The marriage effectively lasts only a few days, and he spends several months in St. Patrick’s Hospital recovering from it, but they do not divorce before Cummins dies in 1943. He meets, has three sons with, and later marries (1945) Norah Esmerelda Patricia Walker (1900–1985), granddaughter of Matthew Harris, MP for East Galway from 1885 to 1890.

Clarke lives in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge which spans the River Dodder in the south Dublin suburb of Templeogue. After his death on March 19, 1974, there is a proposal to preserve the house and his library of 6,500 books as a memorial. This is not possible owing to long-term plans to demolish the house and widen the road. The old Templeogue Bridge, built in 1800, and Bridge House are removed. A new bridge is opened by Councillor Bernie Malone, Chairman Dublin City Council, on December 11, 1984, which is renamed Austin Clarke Bridge in his honour.


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Death of Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet & Priest

Abram Joseph Ryan, Irish American poet, active proponent of the Confederate States of America, and a Catholic priest, dies in Louisville, Kentucky on April 22, 1886. He has been called the “Poet-Priest of the South” and, less frequently, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy.”

Ryan is born Matthew Abraham Ryan in Hagerstown, Maryland on February 5, 1838, the fourth child of Irish immigrants Matthew Ryan and his wife, Mary Coughlin, both of Clogheen, County Tipperary, and their first to be born in the United States.

In 1840 the family relocates to Ralls County, Missouri, and then, in 1846, to St. Louis, where the father opens a general store. Ryan is educated at St. Joseph’s Academy, run by the De La Salle Brothers. Showing a strong inclination to piety, he is encouraged by his mother and teachers to consider becoming a priest. He decides to test a calling to the priesthood and on September 16, 1851, at the age of 13, enters the College of St. Mary’s of the Barrens, near Perryville, Missouri, a minor seminary for young candidates for the priesthood. By the time of his graduation in 1855, he has decided to pursue Holy Orders.

Ryan then enters the Vincentians, taking the oath of obedience to the Congregation. He does three more years of study at the college during the course of which, on June 19, 1857, he receives minor orders. In 1858, shortly after the death of his father, he is sent to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels near Niagara Falls, New York.

As a Southerner, Ryan feels out of place at the seminary, and soon begins to express his opposition to the abolitionist movement then gaining popularity in the Northeastern United States. He then joins in the sentiment expressed by the Catholic bishops and editors of the nation in that period, who feel threatened by the anti-Catholic opinions expressed by the leadership of the Abolitionists. His writings in that period begin to express suspicion of Northern goals. Possibly for that reason, he is sent back to St. Mary of the Barrens.

During the winter of 1860, Ryan gives a lecture series through which he starts to gain notice as a speaker. His abilities as a preacher gain wide approval, and his superiors decide to have him ordained a priest earlier than is the normal age under church law. On September 12, 1860, he is ordained a priest at his home parish in St. Louis, with the ordination being performed by the Bishop of St. Louis, Peter Richard Kenrick.

In the Fall of 1861, soon after the start of the American Civil War, Ryan is transferred back to the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in New York. After a couple of bouts of illness, he declares himself fit to teach again in April 1862, but his superiors instead transfer him to parish duties in LaSalle, Illinois. After arriving there, he realizes that he will not be able to express his strong views in support of the Confederacy. Frustrated, and feeling ignored by his immediate superior, he requests his release from his oath of obedience. Upon his release he returns home, where he and his brother David intend to enlist in the Confederate States Army.

Ryan makes sporadic early appearances as a freelance chaplain among Confederate troops from Louisiana and begins making appearances in Tennessee in 1862. He begins full-time pastoral duties in Tennessee in late 1863 or early 1864. Though he never formally joins the Confederate Army, he clearly is serving as a freelance chaplain by the last two years of the conflict, with possible appearances at the Battle of Lookout Mountain and the Battle of Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, and well-authenticated service at the Battle of Franklin and the subsequent Battle of Nashville. Some of his most moving poems —”In Memoriam” and “In Memory of My Brother”— come in response to his brother’s death, who died while serving in uniform for the Confederacy in April 1863, likely from injuries suffered during fighting near Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

On June 24, 1865, Ryan’s most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner,” appears in the pages of the New York Freeman’s Journal over his early pen-name “Moina.” Starting in 1865, he moves from parish to parish throughout the South. Beginning in November 1881 he spends a year in semi-retirement at Biloxi, Mississippi while completing his second book, A Crown for Our Queen. In Augusta, Georgia, he founds The Banner of the South, a religious and political weekly in which he republishes much of his early poetry, along with poetry by fellow-southerners James Ryder Randall, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and Sidney Lanier, as well as an early story by Mark Twain.

In 1879, Ryan’s work is gathered into a collected volume of verse, first titled Father Ryan’s Poems and subsequently republished in 1880 as Poems: Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous. His collection sells remarkably well for the next half-century. His work also finds a popular following in his family’s ancestral home of Ireland. An article about his work appears in Irish Monthly during his life, and a decade after his death, yet another collection of his poetry is published in Dublin by The Talbot Press under the title Selected Poems of Father Abram Ryan.

In 1880 Ryan’s old restlessness returns, and he heads north for the twofold object of publishing his poems and lecturing. He dies April 22, 1886, at a Franciscan friary in Louisville, Kentucky, but his body is returned to St. Mary’s in Mobile, Alabama for burial. He is interred in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery. In recognition of his loyal service to the Confederacy, a stained glass window is placed in the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans in his memory. In 1912 a local newspaper launches a drive to erect a statue to him. Dedicated in July 1913, it includes a stanza from “The Conquered Banner” below an inscription that reads: “Poet, Patriot, and Priest.”


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Abbey Theatre Premiere of “The Shadow of a Gunman”

The Shadow Of A Gunman, a 1923 tragicomedy play by Seán O’Casey, premieres at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on April 12, 1923.

The play is the first in O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy” – the other two being Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). It is set in Dublin in May 1920 during the Irish War of Independence and centres on the mistaken identity of a building tenant who is thought to be an Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassin. Each act takes place in Seumus Shield’s room in a tenement in Hilljoy Square.

Donal Davoren is a poet who has come to room with Seumus Shields in a poor, Dublin tenement slum. Many of the residents of the tenement mistake Donal for an IRA gunman on the run. Donal does not refute this notoriety, especially when it wins him the affection of Minnie Powell, an attractive young woman in the tenement. Meanwhile, Seumus’ business partner, Mr. Maguire, drops a bag off at Seumus’ apartment before participating in an ambush in which he is killed. Seumus believes the bag to contain household items for re-sale. The city is put under curfew as a result of the ambush. The Black and Tans raid the tenement and, at that point, Donal and Seumus discover the bag is full of Mills bombs. Minnie Powell takes the bag and hides it in her own room. The Black and Tans find nothing of note in Seumus’ room, but arrest Minnie Powell, who is later shot and killed trying to escape.

The first performance of The Shadow of a Gunman in England is given in 1958 at the Progress Theatre in Reading, Berkshire.

A 1972 televised version of The Shadow of a Gunman stars Frank Converse and Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss. In 1973, Alvin Rakoff directs a televised version for BBC Two starring Stephen Rea, Sinéad Cusack and Donal McCann. In 1992 Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Rea and Bronagh Gallagher star in an adaption as part of the 1992 BBC Two Performance series.

In the music video for Northern Irish rock/pop band The Adventures song “Send My Heart” (1984), the lead character is seen trying out for a version of the play.


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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)


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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.”


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Death of William Drennan, Physician, Poet & Political Radical

William Drennan, physician, poet and political radical, dies on February 5, 1820 in Belfast. He is one of the chief architects of the Society of United Irishmen and is known as the first to refer in print to Ireland as “the emerald isle” in his poem When Erin first rose.

Drennan is born on May 23, 1754 in Belfast, the son the son of Reverend Thomas Drennan (1696–1768), minister of Belfast’s First Presbyterian Church on Rosemary Street. Thomas Drennan is an educated man from the University of Glasgow and is ordained to the congregation of Holywood, County Down in 1731. Drennan is heavily influenced by his father, whose religious convictions serve as the foundation for his own radical political ideas. His sister, Martha, marries fellow future United Irishman Samuel McTier in 1773.

In 1769 Drennan follows in his father’s footsteps by enrolling in the University of Glasgow where he becomes interested in the study of philosophy. In 1772 he graduates in arts and then in 1773 he commences the study of medicine at Edinburgh. After graduating in 1778 he sets up practice in Belfast, specialising in obstetrics. He is credited with being one of the earliest advocates of inoculation against smallpox and of hand washing to prevent the spread of infection. He also writes much poetry, coining the phrase “Emerald Isle” and is the founder and editor of a literary periodical, Belfast Magazine. He moves to Newry in 1783 but eventually moves to Dublin in 1789 where he quickly becomes involved in nationalist circles.

Like many other Ulster Presbyterians, Drennan is an early supporter of the American Colonies in the American Revolution and joins the Volunteers who had been formed to defend Ireland for Britain in the event of French invasion. The Volunteer movement soon becomes a powerful political force and a forum for Protestant nationalists to press for political reform in Ireland eventually assisting Henry Grattan to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament in 1782. However Drennan, like many other reformers, quickly becomes dismayed by the conservative and sectarian nature of the Irish parliament and in 1791 he co-founds the Society of United Irishmen with Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell.

Drennan writes many political pamphlets for the United Irishmen and is arrested in 1794 for seditious libel, a political charge that is a major factor in driving the United Irishmen underground and into becoming a radical revolutionary party. Although he is eventually acquitted, he gradually withdraws from the United Irishmen but continues to campaign for Catholic Emancipation.

On February 8, 1800, Drennan marries Sarah Swanwick, “an English lady of some wealth” from Shropshire. They have one daughter and four sons.

Drennan settles in Belfast in 1807. In 1810 he co-founds the non-denominational Royal Belfast Academical Institution. As a poet, he is best remembered for his poem The Wake of William Orr, written in memory of a United Irishman executed by the British. Despite his links with revolutionary republicans, he gradually becomes alienated from the post-Union nationalism of the period. His abiding concern for Liberalism and post union realities make him contemplate his political ideas anew.

Drennan dies in Belfast on February 5, 1820. He directs that his coffin be carried by an equal number of Catholics and Protestants with clergy from different denominations in attendance.

Drennan’s son, John Swanwick Drennan, is a noted poet who, along with his brother William Drennan, write a biography of him for Richard Davis Webb‘s A Compendium of Irish Biography. Through his daughter Sarah, who marries John Andrews of a prominent family of flax merchants, he has several notable descendants, including William Drennan Andrews, judge of the High Court of Justice in Ireland, Sir James Andrews, 1st Baronet, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, John Miller Andrews, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Thomas Andrews who drew up the plans for the RMS Titanic and was aboard and drowned when she sank, and Thomas Drennan, performance artist known primarily for his seminal work ‘Journey to the Centre of Drennan.’


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Edna O’Brien Receives the Irish PEN Award for Literature

Josephine Edna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, receives a lifetime achievement award from the society for Irish writers, the Irish PEN Award for Literature, on February 2, 2001 in recognition of her work which spans 25 years. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.”

O’Brien is born on December 15, 1930, the youngest child of farmer Michael O’Brien and Lena Cleary at Tuamgraney, County Clare, a place she would later describe as “fervid” and “enclosed.” Her father inherits a “thousand acres or more” and “a fortune from rich uncles,” but is a “profligate” hard-drinker who gambles away his inheritance, the land sold off or bartered to pay debts. From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the Convent of Mercy boarding school at Loughrea, County Galway – a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. In 1950, having studied at night at pharmaceutical college and worked in a Dublin pharmacy during the day, she is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. She reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In Dublin, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot, and says that when she learned that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was autobiographical, it made her realise where she might turn, should she want to write herself. “Unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories”, she says. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, a publishing firm, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. She publishes her first book, The Country Girls, in 1960. This is the first part of a trilogy of novels (later collected as The Country Girls Trilogy), 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. She is accused of “corrupting the minds of young women.” She later says, “I felt no fame. I was married. I had young children. All I could hear out of Ireland from my mother and anonymous letters was bile and odium and outrage.”

In the 1960s, O’Brien is a patient of R. D. Laing. “I thought he might be able to help me. He couldn’t do that – he was too mad himself – but he opened doors,” she later says. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents were vehemently against all things related to literature. Her mother strongly disapproved of her daughter’s career as a writer. Once when her mother found a Seán O’Casey book in her daughter’s possession, she tried to burn it.

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

In 1980, O’Brien 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 and whose research involves visiting Irish republican Dominic McGlinchey who is later killed and whom she calls “a grave and reflective man,” 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.

In addition to the Irish PEN Award, O’Brien’s awards include The Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970 for A Pagan Place, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for Lantern Slides. In 2006, she is appointed adjunct professor of English Literature at University College Dublin.

In 2009, O’Brien is honoured with the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award during a special ceremony at the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. Her collection Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, with judge Thomas McCarthy referring to her as “the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life.” RTÉ airs a documentary on her as part of its Arts strand in early 2012. For her contributions to literature, she is appointed an honorary Dame of the Order of the British Empire on April 10, 2018.

In 2019, O’Brien is awarded the David Cohen Prize for Literature at a ceremony in London. The £40,000 prize, awarded every two years in recognition of a living writer’s lifetime achievement in literature, has been described as the “UK and Ireland Nobel in literature.” Judge David Park says, “In winning the David Cohen Prize, Edna O’Brien adds her name to a literary roll call of honour.”

(Pictured: Edna O’Brien speaking at the 2016 Hay Festival, photo by Andrew Lih and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)