seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Butler Yeats, Poet & Nobel Prize Winner

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, is born in Sandymount, County Dublin on June 13, 1865.

Yeats is the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trained as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandons art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Cathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen ni Houlihan. Around that time, he helps found the Irish National Theatre Society, serving as its president and co-director, with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, he is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). He dies on January 28, 1939 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. 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.

The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

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Death of Victor Herbert, Composer, Cellist and Conductor

victor-herbertVictor August Herbert, an Irish-born, German-raised American composer, cellist and conductor, dies suddenly of a heart attack on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, begins its pre-Broadway run in New Haven, Connecticut.

Herbert is born in Dublin on February 1, 1859 to Protestants Edward Herbert and Fanny Herbert (née Lover). At age three and a half, shortly after the death of his father, he and his mother move to live with his maternal grandparents in London, England, where he received encouragement in his creative endeavours. His grandfather is the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and composer Samuel Lover. The Lovers welcome a steady flow of musicians, writers and artists into their home. He joins his mother in Stuttgart, Germany in 1867, a year after she marries a German physician, Carl Schmidt of Langenargen. In Stuttgart he receives a strong liberal education at the Eberhard-Ludwigs-Gymnasium, which includes musical training.

Herbert initially plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor. Although his stepfather is related by blood to the German royal family, his financial situation is not good by the time Herbert is a teenager. Medical education in Germany is expensive, and so he focuses instead on music. He initially studies the piano, flute and piccolo but ultimately settles on the cello, beginning studies on that instrument with Bernhard Cossmann from age 15 to age 18. He then attends the Stuttgart Conservatory. After studying cello, music theory and composition under Max Seifritz, he graduates with a diploma in 1879.

Although Herbert enjoys important careers as a cello soloist and conductor, he is best known for composing many successful operettas that premiere on Broadway from the 1890s to World War I. He is also prominent among the Tin Pan Alley composers and is later a founder of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). A prolific composer, Herbert produces two operas, a cantata, 43 operettas, incidental music to 10 plays, 31 compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, 22 piano compositions and numerous songs, choral compositions and orchestrations of works by other composers, among other music.

In the early 1880s, Herbert begins a career as a cellist in Vienna, Austria, and Stuttgart, Germany, during which he begins to compose orchestral music. Herbert and his opera singer wife, Therese Förster, move to the United States in 1886 when both are engaged by the Metropolitan Opera. He continues his performing career, while also teaching at the National Conservatory of Music of America, conducting and composing. His most notable instrumental compositions are his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30 (1894), which enters the standard repertoire, and his Auditorium Festival March (1901). He leads the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904 and then founds the Victor Herbert Orchestra, which he conducts throughout the rest of his life.

Herbert begins to compose operettas in 1894, producing several successes, including The Serenade (1897) and The Fortune Teller (1898). Some of the operettas that he writes after the turn of the 20th century are even more successful: Babes in Toyland (1903), Mlle. Modiste (1905), The Red Mill (1906), Naughty Marietta (1910), Sweethearts (1913) and Eileen (1917). After World War I, with the change of popular musical tastes, he begins to compose musicals and contributes music to other composers’ shows. While some of these are well-received, he never again achieves the level of success that he enjoyed with his most popular operettas.

A healthy man throughout his life, Herbert dies suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 65 on May 26, 1924 shortly after his final show, The Dream Girl, began its pre-Broadway run in New Haven. He is survived by his wife and two children, Ella Victoria Herbert Bartlett and Clifford Victor Herbert. He is entombed in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Herbert and his music are celebrated in the 1939 film The Great Victor Herbert, where he is portrayed by Walter Connolly and which also features Mary Martin. He is also portrayed by Paul Maxey in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. Many of Herbert’s own works are made into films, and his music has been used in numerous films and television shows. A Chicago elementary school is named for him. During World War II the Liberty ship SS Victor Herbert is built in Panama City, Florida, and named in his honor.


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”


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Birth of Author Eilís Dillon

eilis-dillonEilís Dillon, Irish author of 50 books, is born in Galway, County Galway on March 7, 1920. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.

Dillon is the third of five children of Professor Thomas Dillon and his wife Geraldine (née Plunkett), who is the sister of Joseph Mary Plunkett. She is raised at Dangan House outside of Galway City before moving to the small fishing village of Barna. She attends the local primary school where she becomes proficient in the Irish language and gains an intimate knowledge of tradition in the Connemara. Her family is involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Her uncle, Joseph Mary Plunkett, is a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is executed after the Easter Rising.

Educated by the Ursuline nuns in Sligo, she works briefly in the hotel and catering trade. In 1940 she marries Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, an academic from University College Cork and 17 years her senior. They have at least three children, including the Irish poet and Trinity College Dublin professor Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and her brother, Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin, also a Trinity professor, who writes novels as Cormac Millar.

Dillon’s first books are written in Irish including An Choill Bheo, published in 1948, Oscar agus an Cóiste sé nEasóg in 1952 and Ceol na coille in 1955. After the success of The Lost Island, published in 1952, she writes almost exclusively in English. Most of her books are aimed at teen readers with themes of self-discovery and problem solving evident.

Dillon’s adult fiction career begins in 1953 with the publication of the detective novel Death at Crane’s Court. This is followed by Sent to His Account in 1954 and Death in the Quadrangle in 1956. These novels are known for their depiction of contemporary Ireland. Over the following decade Dillon publishes many novels including The Bitter Glass (1959), Across the Bitter Sea (1973) and The Wild Geese (1981).

In 1964 she moves to Rome due to her husband’s poor health. While there she acts as adviser to International Commission on English in the Liturgy. She returns to Cork with her husband in 1969 where he dies the following year. She continues to visit Italy over the next several years, setting some of her stories there including Living in Imperial Rome (1974) and The Five Hundred (1972), though these are not as popular as her Irish books. In 1974 she marries the American-based critic and professor Vivian Mercier, dividing her time between California, Italy and Dublin.

In her later years Dillon plays a prominent role in Irish culture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature and a member of Aosdána, serves on the Irish Arts Council 1974–1979, chairs the Irish Writers’ Union and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and founds the Irish Children’s Book Trust. In 1987 she and her husband move permanently to Dublin where she supports up and coming Irish authors. Her last story is Children of Bach published in 1993.

Eilís Dillon dies on July 19, 1994 and is buried beside her second husband in Clara, County Offaly. A prize in her memory is given annually as part of the Bisto Book of the Year Awards.


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Birth of James Henry, Scholar & Poet

james-henryJames Henry, Irish classical scholar and poet, is born in Dublin on December 13, 1798.

Henry is the son of a woolen draper, Robert Henry, and his wife Kathleen Elder. He is educated by Unitarian schoolmasters and then at Trinity College, Dublin. At age 11 he falls in love with the poetry of Virgil and gets into the habit of always carrying a copy of the Aeneid in his left breast-pocket.

Henry graduates from Trinity with the gold medal for Classics. He then turns to medicine and practises as a physician in Dublin until 1845. In spite of his unconventionality and unorthodox views on religion and his own profession, he is very successful. He marries Anne Jane Patton, from Donegal, and has three daughters, only one of whom, Katherine, born in 1830, survives infancy.

His accession to a large fortune in 1845 enables him to devote himself entirely to the absorbing occupation of his life – the study of Virgil. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, he visits all those parts of Europe where he is likely to find rare editions or manuscripts of the poet. When his wife dies in Tyrol he continues his work with his daughter, who becomes quite a Virgil expert in her own right, and crosses the Alps seventeen times. After the death of his daughter in 1872 he returns to Dublin and continues his research at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a commentator on Virgil, Henry will always deserve to be remembered, notwithstanding the occasional eccentricity of his notes and remarks. The first fruits of his researches are published at Dresden in 1853 under the quaint title Notes of a Twelve Years Voyage of Discovery in the first six Books of the Eneis. These are embodied, with alterations and additions, in the Aeneidea, or Critical, Exegetical and Aesthetical Remarks on the Aeneis (1873-1892), of which only the notes on the first book are published during Henry’s lifetime. As a textual critic Henry is exceedingly conservative. His notes, written in a racy and interesting style, are especially valuable for their wealth of illustration and references to the less-known classical authors.

Henry is also the author of five collections of verse plus two long narrative poems describing his travels, and various pamphlets of a satirical nature. At its best his poetry has something of the flavour of Robert Browning and Arthur Hugh Clough while at its worst it resembles the doggerel of William McGonagall. His five volumes of verse are all published at his own expense and receive no critical attention either during or after his lifetime.

James Henry dies at Dalkey, County Dublin, on July 14, 1876.


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Birth of Christopher Nolan, Irish Poet & Author

Christopher Nolan, Irish poet and author, is born to parents Joseph and Bernadette Nolan in Mullingar, County Westmeath on September 6, 1965.

Due to asphyxiation at birth, Nolan is born with permanent impairment of his nerve-signaling system, a condition now labelled dystonia. Because of these complications, Nolan is born with cerebral palsy and can only move his head and eyes. Due to the severity of the cerebral palsy, he uses a wheelchair. In an interview, his father, Joseph, explains how, at the age of 10, he is placed on medication that “relaxed him so he could use a pointer attached to his head to type.” To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while Christopher painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.

He communicates with others by moving his eyes, using a signal system. When he is young, his father tells him stories and reads passages from James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and D.H. Lawrence to keep his mind stimulated. His mother strings up letters of the alphabet in the kitchen, where she keeps up a stream of conversation. His sister, Yvonne, sings songs and acts out skits. His mother stated that “he wrote extensively since the age of 11 and went on to write many poems, short stories and two plays, many of which were published.” Many of the writings are compiled for his first publication, the chapbook Dam-Burst of Dreams.

Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic School, Mount Temple Comprehensive School and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published at the age of fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the U.K., the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the U.K.’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).

Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”

At the age of 43, while working on a new novel, Christopher Nolan dies in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009. His death is the result of a piece of salmon becoming trapped in his airway. However, nothing from the novel he was working on has been released since his death.

Upon hearing the news of Nolan’s death, President of Ireland Mary McAleese says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”


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Birth of Fanny Parnell, Poet & Nationalist

Fanny Parnell, Irish poet and Nationalist, is born Frances Isabelle Parnell in Avondale, County Wicklow on September 4, 1848. She is the sister of Charles Stewart Parnell, an important figure in nineteenth century Ireland.

Parnell is the eighth child out of eleven and fourth daughter born to John Henry Parnell, a landowner and the grandson of the last Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland, and Delia Tudor Stewart Parnell, an Irish American and the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart (1778–1869) of the United States Navy. Her mother hates British rule in Ireland, a view presented through her children’s works. She is an intelligent girl and before she is through her teen years she has studied mathematics, chemistry, and astronomy, and she can speak and write fluently in almost all the major European languages. She also has talents in music and painting and drawing in oil and water colours. Her parents separate when she is young. Soon afterwards, in July 1859, her father dies at the age of forty eight and she and her mother move to Dalkey. A year later they move to Dublin, and in 1865 they move to Paris where Fanny studies art and writes poetry. In 1874 they move to Bordentown, New Jersey in the United States.

Parnell is known as the Patriot Poet. She shows interest in Irish politics and much of her poetry is about Irish nationalism. While she is living in Dublin in 1864, she begins publishing her poetry under the pseudonym “Aleria” in The Irish People, the newspaper of the Fenian Brotherhood. Most of her later work is published in The Pilot in Boston, the best known Irish newspaper in America during the nineteenth century. Two of her most widely published works are The Hovels of Ireland, a pamphlet, and Land League Songs, a collection of poems. Her best known poem is “Hold the Harvest,” which Michael Davitt refers to as the “Marseillaise of the Irish peasant.”

Parnell’s brother, Charles, becomes active in the Irish National Land League, an organisation that fights for poor tenant farmers, in 1879 and she strongly supports him. She and her younger sister, Anna Parnell (1852–1911), co-found the Ladies’ Land League in 1880 to raise money in America for the Land League. In 1881 the Ladies’ Land League continues the work of the men in the Land League while they are being imprisoned by the British government. In Ireland Anna becomes the president of the Ladies’ Land League, and the women hold many protests and quickly become more radical than the men, to the resentment of the male leaders. Fanny stays in America and works to raise money for the organisation. Most of the Land League’s financial support comes from America because of the campaigning done by Fanny Parnell.

Fanny Parnell dies on July 20, 1882, at the young age of 33, of a heart attack at the family mansion in Bordentown, New Jersey. She is buried at the Tudor family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.