seamus dubhghaill

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


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W.B. Yeats Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Death of Oscar Wilde, Poet & Playwright

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

Wilde is born on October 16, 1854 at 21 Westland Row, Dublin (now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College), the second of three children born to Anglo-Irish Sir William Wilde and Jane Wilde, two years behind his brother William. His parents are successful Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. He learns to speak fluent French and German. At university, he reads Greats. He demonstrates himself to be an exceptional classicist, first at Trinity College Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes associated with the emerging philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, he moves to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.

As a spokesman for aestheticism, Wilde tries his hand at various literary activities: he publishes a book of poems, lectures in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and interior decoration, and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, he becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, Wilde refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draw him to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, he produces four society comedies in the early 1890s, which make him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is still being performed in London, Wilde has John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for criminal libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The libel trial unearths evidence that causes him to drop his charges and leads to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he is convicted and sentenced to two years of hard labour, the maximum penalty, and is jailed from 1895 to 1897. During his last year in prison, he writes De Profundis, published posthumously in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. On his release, he leaves immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he writes his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

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

Wilde is initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909 his remains are disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city. In 2011, the tomb is cleaned of the many lipstick marks left there by admirers and a glass barrier is installed to prevent further marks or damage.

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

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


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Birth of C.S. Lewis, Poet & Novelist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Birth of Herbert Trench, Poet & Playwright

herbert-trenchFrederic Herbert Trench, Irish poet and playwright, is born at Avoncore, County Cork on November 12, 1865.

Trench is educated at Haileybury and Keble College, Oxford, and is elected a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. In 1891, after some years spent in traveling, he is appointed an examiner in the Board of Education. He gives up this appointment in 1908 in order to devote himself to literary work.

In 1908 a dramatic symphony, Apollo and the Seaman (Op.51), written by Joseph Holbrooke setting Trench’s poem Apollo and the Seaman is performed, under Thomas Beecham. Trench then moves into theatrical work for a few years becoming director of the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London. Here he collaborates with his friend Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden. They stage The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck in 1909, and Henrik Ibsen‘s The Pretenders in 1913.

During World War I Trench works in Florence for the establishment of a better understanding between Great Britain and Italy.

From his school days Trench has been a writer of verse, and his first volume of poems, Deirdre Wed and other Poems, appears in 1901. It is followed by further poems, notably Apollo and the Seaman, included in New Poems (1907), and Lyrics and Narrative Poems (1911). Among his later publications are an Ode from Italy in time of War (1915), Poems with Fables in Prose (1917) and a poetic play Napoleon (1919), which is produced in London by the Stage Society in 1919. Some of his poems are set to music by Arnold Bax.

Herbert Trench dies in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a coastal city in Northern France, on June 11, 1923.


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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Birth of Sir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere

aubrey-hunt-de-vereSir Aubrey (Hunt) de Vere, 2nd Baronet, Anglo-Irish poet and landowner, is born on August 28, 1788.

De Vere is the son of Sir Vere Hunt, 1st Baronet and Eleanor Pery, daughter of William Pery, 1st Baron Glentworth. He is educated at Harrow School, where he is a childhood friend of Lord Byron, and Trinity College, Dublin. He marries Mary Spring Rice, the daughter of Stephen Edward Rice and Catherine Spring, and sister of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, in 1807. He succeeds to his father’s title in 1818.

The Hunt/de Vere family estate of 300 years (1657–1957), including the period of the de Vere Baronetcy of Curragh, is the present day Curraghchase Forest Park, in County Limerick. De Vere spends most of his life on the estate and is closely involved in its management. He suffers much trouble from his ownership of the island of Lundy, which his father, who was not much of a businessman, had unwisely purchased in 1802, and which becomes a heavy drain on the family’s finances. Sir Vere is never able to find a purchaser for Lundy, and it takes his son until 1834 to dispose of it.

De Vere stands for election in the 1820 General Election and comes in third with 2,921 votes.

De Vere changes his surname from Hunt to de Vere in 1832, in reference to his Earl of Oxford ancestors, dating back to Aubrey de Vere I, a tenant-in-chief in England of William the Conqueror in 1086. He serves as High Sheriff of County Limerick in 1811.

De Vere is a poet. William Wordsworth calls his sonnets the most perfect of the age. These and his drama, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama, are published by his son, the poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere, in 1875 and 1884.

De Vere produces numerous works over his lifetime. The most notable are Ode to the Duchess of Angouleme (1815), Julian the Apostate: A Dramatic Poem (1822), The Duke of Mercia: An Historical Drama [with] The Lamentation of Ireland, and Other Poems (1823), A Song of Faith: Devout Exercises and Sonnets and his most famous work, Mary Tudor: An Historical Drama.

Sir Aubrey de Vere dies on July 5, 1846.


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Birth of Emily Brontë, Novelist & Poet

emily-bronteEmily Brontë, English novelist and poet who produces but one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), is born on July 30, 1818 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is perhaps the greatest of the three Brontë sisters, but the record of her life is extremely meager, for she is silent and reserved and leaves no correspondence of interest, and her single novel darkens rather than solves the mystery of her spiritual existence.

Her father, Patrick Brontë (1777–1861), an Irishman, holds a number of curacies. Hartshead, Yorkshire, is the birthplace of his elder daughters, Maria and Elizabeth, who died young. Nearby Thornton is the birthplace of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Patrick Branwell, and Anne. In 1820 Patrick Brontë becomes rector of Haworth, remaining there for the rest of his life.

After the death of their mother in 1821, the children are left very much to themselves in the bleak moorland rectory. The children are educated, during their early life, at home, except for a single year that Charlotte and Emily spend at the Cowan Bridge School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. In 1835, when Charlotte secures a teaching position at Miss Wooler’s school at Roe Head, Emily accompanies her as a pupil but suffers from homesickness and remains only three months. In 1838 Emily spends six exhausting months as a teacher at Law Hill School, near Halifax, and then resigns.

In an effort to keep the family together at home, Charlotte plans to keep a school for girls at Haworth. In February 1842 she and Emily go to Brussels to learn foreign languages and school management at the Héger Pensionnat. Although Emily pines for home and for the wild moorlands, it seems that in Brussels she is better appreciated than Charlotte. Her passionate nature is more easily understood than Charlotte’s decorous temperament. In October, however, when her aunt dies, Emily returns permanently to Haworth.

In 1845 Charlotte comes across some poems by Emily, and this leads to the discovery that all three sisters have written verse. A year later they publish jointly a volume of verse, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the initials of these pseudonyms being those of the sisters. It contains 21 of Emily’s poems, and a consensus of later criticism has accepted the fact that Emily’s verse alone reveals true poetic genius. The venture costs the sisters about £50 in all, and only two copies are sold.

By midsummer of 1847 Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey have been accepted for joint publication by J. Cautley Newby of London, but publication of the three volumes is delayed until the appearance of their sister Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, which is immediately and hugely successful. Wuthering Heights, when published in December 1847, does not fare well. Critics are hostile, calling it too savage, too animal-like, and clumsy in construction. Only later does it come to be considered one of the finest novels in the English language.

Soon after the publication of her novel, Emily’s health begins to fail rapidly. She had been ill for some time, but now her breathing becomes difficult and she suffers great pain. She dies of tuberculosis on December 19, 1848 in Haworth. She is buried at St. Michael and All Angels’ Church in Haworth.