seamus dubhghaill

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


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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)


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Birth of John Todhunter, Poet & Playwright

John Todhunter, Irish poet and playwright who wrote seven volumes of poetry and several plays, is born in Dublin on December 30, 1839.

Todhunter is the eldest son of Thomas Harvey Todhunter, a Quaker merchant of English origin. He is educated at Quaker schools, including Bootham School in York and in Mountmellick, County Laois. He starts work at his father’s offices in Dublin and London before continuing on to attend Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies medicine. While at Trinity, he wins the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for English Verse 1864, 1865 and 1866, and the Gold Medal of the Philosophical Society 1866 for an essay. He also clerks for William Stokes while studying. He receives his Bachelor of Medicine in 1867 and his Doctorate of Medicine degree in 1871.

In 1870, one year prior to receiving his Doctorate of Medicine, Todhunter becomes a Professor of English Literature at Alexandra College, Dublin. Four years later, he resigns from that position and travels to Egypt and several places in Europe. He marries Dora L. Digby in 1879. In 1881, he finally settles in London, where his home in Bedford Park, Chiswick is located in a small community of writers and artists, including William Butler Yeats. Informal “symposia” are held at his house about once a fortnight, when friends gather at his fireside to discuss poetry and philosophy. He is involved in the founding of the Irish Literary Society there.

Todhunter’s first volume is a collection of narrative and lyrical poems entitled Laurella (1876). Grace, tenderness, and melody mark these poems. In later years he does much stronger work under the influence of ancient Celtic literature, to the study of which he is led by the memorable rendering of the Cú Chulainn legend published in 1878 by Standish O’Grady. The Banshee and Other Poems (1888) and The Irish Bardic Tales (1896) contain the best of his work in poetry.

Three of Todhunter’s plays have been acted with success. One of them, The Black Cat (1893), produced by the Independent Theatre Society, a private club formed to forestall censorship by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, is a factor in the revival of the literary drama. However, it only receives one performance, on December 8, 1893 at the Opera Comique. His translation of Heinrich Heine‘s Buch der Lieder is perhaps the best complete English version of a work than which none more irresistibly attracts or more cruelly eludes the art of the translator. He is also author of a few brief prose works, including “The Life of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan” and “A Study of Shelley.”

Todhunter dies on October 25, 1916 at his residence in Bedford Park.


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Death of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, dies in London, England on December 26, 1950, Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephens’ birth is somewhat shrouded in mystery. He claims to have been born on the same day and same year as James Joyce, February 2, 1882, whereas he is in fact probably the same James Stephens who is on record as being born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, on February 9 1880, the son of Francis Stephens of 5 Thomas’s Court, Dublin, a vanman and a messenger for a stationer’s office, and his wife, Charlotte Collins. His father dies when he is two years old and, when he was six years old, his mother remarries. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for boys in Blackrock for begging on the streets, where he spends much of the rest of his childhood. He attends school with his adoptive brothers Thomas and Richard Collins before graduating as a solicitor‘s clerk. They compete and win several athletic competitions despite James’ tiny 4’10” stature. He is known affectionately as “Tiny Tim.” He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier except for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual Montessori school run by Patrick Pearse and later manager of the Irish Theatre. He spends much time with MacDonagh in 1911. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adoptive family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy firm of solicitors.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism, with Deirdre and Irish Fairy Tales especially often praised. He also writes several original novels, including The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish wonder tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of poet and painter Æ (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse. His influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.”

Stephens later lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they wrongly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S (for “Jameses Joyce & Stephens”, but also a pun on the popular Jameson Irish Whiskey, made by John Jameson & Sons). The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of his life Stephens finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC.


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Birth of Alice Milligan, Nationalist Poet & Writer

alice-milliganAlice Letitia Milligan, Irish nationalist poet and writer, is born in Gortmore, near Omagh, County Tyrone on September 4, 1865. She is also active in the Gaelic League.

Milligan is brought up as a Methodist, the daughter of the writer Seaton Milligan, antiquarian and member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA). She is one of eleven children, including music collector Charlotte Milligan Fox, and from 1877 to 1887 attends Methodist College Belfast (MCB), after which she completes a teacher-training course. Together with her father she writes a political travelogue of the north of Ireland in 1888, Glimpses of Erin. She writes her first novel, A Royal Democrat, in 1890.

After the death of Charles Stewart Parnell, Milligan becomes an ardent nationalist. In 1894 with Jenny Armour she founds branches of the Irish Women’s Association in Belfast and other places, and becomes its first president. With Ethna Carbery she founds two nationalist publications in the 1890s, The Northern Patriot, and later The Shan Van Vocht, a monthly literary magazine published in Belfast from 1896 to 1899.

Milligan is a figure of the Irish Literary Revival, and a close associate of Douglas Hyde. She is also “on first-name terms” with William Butler Yeats, James Connolly and Roger Casement. Thomas MacDonagh, writing in the Irish Review in September 1914, describes her as “the best Irish poet of his generation.”

Milligan is awarded an honorary doctorate by the National University of Ireland in 1941. She is also honored during the last decade of her life by the Literary Department of Queen’s University Belfast for her poetry.

Alice Milligan dies in Omagh in April 1953 and is buried in Blackford Municipal Cemetery, County Tyrone. On her headstone is inscribed “She loved no other place than Ireland.”

During 2010/2011 the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.


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Death of Poet & Journalist John Boyle O’Reilly

john-boyle-o-reillyJohn Boyle O’Reilly, Irish American poet, journalist, author and activist, dies on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, due to accidental poisoning. His literature and work with civil rights have been celebrated throughout the years.

O’Reilly is born on June 28, 1844 at Dowth Castle to William David O’Reilly (1808–1871) and Eliza O’Reilly (née Boyle) (1815–1868) near Drogheda. His father is a headmaster. He is the third of six children. A year after his birth, the Great Famine begins, an event that shapes his life and beliefs. Most of his closest family manage to survive the famine, however many of his classmates lose their lives to the famine.

O’Reilly moves to his aunt’s residence in England as a teenager and becomes involved in journalism and shortly after becomes involved in the military. He leaves the military, however, in 1863 after becoming angry with the military’s treatment of the Irish, and returns to Ireland the same year.

In 1864 O’Reilly joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood under an assumed name and is part of the group for two years until he and many others are arrested by authorities in early 1866. After a trial that same year he is sentenced to death but the sentence is later commuted to 20 years’ penal servitude. In 1867 he is transported to Western Australia and moves to the town of Bunbury where he escapes two years later. He is assisted in escaping by a Fr. Patrick McCabe from Arnaghan, Gowna, County Cavan.

Following his escape O’Reilly moves to Boston, Massachusetts and embarks on a successful writing and journalism career that produces works such as Moondyne (1879) and Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), and poems such as The Cry of the Dreamer and The White Rose and In Bohemia (1886). He becomes a prominent spokesperson for the Irish community and culture through his editorship of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, his prolific writing and his lecture tours.

O’Reilly marries Mary Murphy (1850-1897), a journalist who writes for the Young Crusader under the name of Agnes Smiley, on August 15, 1872 and has four daughters. In the final four years of his life he suffers various health issues.

On August 9, 1890, O’Reilly takes an early boat to his residence in Hull, Massachusetts. He has been suffering from bouts of insomnia during this time. That evening he takes a long walk with his brother-in-law, John R. Murphy, hoping that physical fatigue will induce the needed sleep. Later on that night he takes some of his wife’s sleeping medicine, which contains chloral hydrate.

In the early morning hours of August 10 his wife wakes up to find O’Reilly unconscious, sitting in a chair with one hand resting on the table near a book and a cigar in the other. She sends a servant for the family’s physician, Dr. Litchfield, and he spends nearly an hour trying to revive him, but O’Reilly dies shortly before 5:00 AM. Public announcements attribute O’Reilly’s death to heart failure but the official death register claims “accidental poisoning.” His memorial service held at Tremont Temple in Boston is a major public event.

The song “Van Diemen’s Land” on U2‘s Rattle and Hum (1988) album refers to and is dedicated to O’Reilly.


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Birth of Ewart Milne, Irish Poet

ewart-milneEwart Milne, Irish poet, is born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, He describes himself on various book jackets as “a sailor before the mast, ambulance driver and courier during the Spanish Civil War, a land worker and estate manager in England during and after World War II” and also “an enthusiast for lost causes – national, political, social and merely human.”

Milne is born of English and Welsh-Irish parents and is educated at Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School. In 1920 he signs on as a seaman and works on boats, off and on, until 1935. During the 1930s he begins writing and has his first poems published in 1935.

The background to the Spanish Civil War contributes to Milne’s political awakening and he comes to England to work as a voluntary administrator for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in London, for whom he often acts as a medical courier. He also was once unwillingly involved in an arms deal while visiting Spain on their behalf.

After Spanish Medical Aid Committee is wound up, Milne returns to Ireland but remains politically active in support of the campaign for the release of Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column of Irish volunteers on the Republican side, who had been captured and imprisoned in Spain. At one point he takes part in a delegation to Westminster seeking Labour Party support for this. In August 1938 he is reported in The Worker’s Republic as being one of the twelve member committee of the James Connolly Irish club in London.

During his time in England and Spain, Milne gets to know the left-leaning poets who support the Republican cause, including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1938 his first collection of poems, Forty North Fifty West, is published in Dublin, followed by two others in 1940 and 1941. Having taken a pro-British line in neutral Ireland, he is informed by Karl Petersen, the German press attaché in Dublin, that he is on the Nazi death list. This convinces him to help in the British war effort and he returns to England with the help of John Betjeman, then working at the British embassy in Ireland.

Between 1942–1962 Milne is resident in England and an active presence on the English literary scene. In particular he becomes associated with the poets grouped around the magazine Nine, edited by Peter Russell and Ian Fletcher. He and his wife Thelma also back the young Irish poet Patrick Galvin when he launches his own magazine, Chanticleer. This generous encouragement of younger writers is later extended to several others, including John F. Deane, Gerald Dawe and Maurice Scully.

Milne regards his return to Dublin in 1962 as a disaster, as his four-year stay is overshadowed by quarrels with the establishment, the discovery of betrayal by a friend and the death of his wife from lung cancer. The misery of those events is recorded in Time Stopped (1967). The artistic frustration of the time also results in the poems included in Cantata Under Orion (1976). Returning to England in 1966, he settles in Bedford. Politically he remains involved and speaks alongside Auberon Waugh at the rally on behalf of Biafra in 1968, but his views move further to the right in later years. He writes to The Irish Times on April 13, 1976, saying that he has been “taken in by Stalin and that Leninism is Satanism.” He also sides with the Loyalist position in the Ulster conflict. He dies in Bedford of a heart attack on January 14, 1987.

Milne is twice married, first to Kathleen Ida Bradner in 1927, by whom he has two sons; then in 1948 to Thelma Dobson, by whom he has two more sons.

(Pictured: A portrait of Ewart Milne by Cecil F. Salkkeld, as it appears in Milne’s book Forty North Fifty West)