seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Poet & Barrister Samuel Ferguson

sir-samuel-ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, dies in Howth, County Dublin on August 9, 1886. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson is born in Belfast on March 10, 1810. He lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.

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Death of Brian Merriman, Poet & Teacher

brian-merrimanBrian Merriman, Irish language poet and teacher, dies in County Limerick on July 27, 1805. His single surviving work of substance, the 1000-line long Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court) is widely regarded as the greatest comic poem in the history of Irish literature.

Merriman ius born at Ennistymon, County Clare, the son of a journeyman stonemason, about 1747. He spends his childhood in the district of Lough Graney, near Killanena, Feakle. Some years later he is known to own a 20-acre farm near Lough Graney.

Merriman teaches at various schools in the area for about twenty years, first at Kilclaran and later in a school near his farm. The teaching profession in those days attracts those with a taste for literature. Many of the Irish poets of the 18th and 19th centuries are school teachers. It allows them to exist while they write. Later on he becomes resident tutor to the families of the local gentry.

This may be where Merriman gets the subject matter for his poem Cúirt an Mhéan Óiche. It is likely that he has access to books of European literature which give him ideas for the theme. His famous poem, written in his native Irish language, has well over a thousand lines. It has been translated into English as The Midnight Court by many translators. The principal themes are the plight of young women who lack husbands, clerical celibacy, free love, and the misery of a young woman married to a withered old man. It is written in the form of a vision or aisling. Merriman falls asleep on the shores of Lough Graney near Feakle in East Clare and finds himself present at a fairy court where the women of Ireland are discussing their great problems. It is believed that he writes the poem as a result of certain frustrations he has or of some complex he suffers from. His vigour, fluency and earthy humour make his poem widely popular and while he is still alive numerous manuscript copies are circulated.

Merriman marries around 1787 and has two daughters. In 1797, the Royal Dublin Society awards him two prizes for his flax crop. Around 1800 he moves to County Limerick, where he runs a school until his death on July 27, 1805. He is buried in Feakle. His grave has not been located but a plaque honouring his memory has been erected in Feakle churchyard.

In commemoration of Merriman’s poetic works an Annual Merriman Summer School is held each year in County Clare.


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Birth of James Henry Cousins, Playwright & Actor

james-h-cousinsJames Henry Cousins, Irish writer, playwright, actor, critic, editor, teacher and poet, is born in Belfast on July 22, 1873, a descendant of Huguenot refugees. He uses several pseudonyms including Mac Oisín and the Hindu name Jayaram.

Largely self-educated at night schools, Cousins works some time as a clerk and becomes private secretary and speechwriter to Sir Daniel Dixon, 1st Baronet, the Lord Mayor of Belfast. In 1897 he moves to Dublin where he becomes part of a literary circle which includes William Butler Yeats, George William Russell and James Joyce. It is believed that he serves as a model for the Little Chandler character in Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners.

Cousins is significantly influenced by Russell’s ability to reconcile mysticism with a pragmatic approach to social reforms and by the teachings of Helena Blavatsky. He has a lifelong interest in the paranormal and acts as reporter in several experiments carried out by William Fletcher Barrett, Professor of physics at the University of Dublin and one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research.

Cousins produces several books of poetry while in Ireland as well as acting in the first production of Cathleen ní Houlihan, under the stage name of H. Sproule, with the famous Irish revolutionary and beauty Maud Gonne in the title role. His plays are produced in the first years of the twentieth century in the Abbey Theatre, the most famous being “the Racing Lug”. After a dispute with W.B. Yeats, who objects to “too much Cousins,” the Irish National Theatre movement splits with two-thirds of the actors and writers siding with Cousins against Yeats.

Cousins also writes widely on the subject of Theosophy and in 1915 travels to India with the voyage fees paid for by Annie Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society. He spends most of the rest of his life in the sub-continent, apart from a year as Professor of English Literature at Keio University in Tokyo and another lecturing in New York. Towards the end of his life he converts to Hinduism. At the core of Cousins’s engagement with Indian culture is a firm belief in the “shared sensibilities between Celtic and Oriental peoples.”

While in India he becomes friendly with many key Indian personalities including poet Rabindranath Tagore, Indian classical dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale, painter Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Mahatma Gandhi. He is the person who brings change into the life of poetry of the great renowned Kannada poet and writer Kuvempu. He writes a joint autobiography with his wife Margaret Elizabeth Cousins, a suffragette and one of the co-founders of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and All India Women’s Conference (AIWC).

In his The Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo acclaims Cousins’ New Ways in English Literature as “literary criticism which is of the first order, at once discerning and suggestive, criticism which forces us both to see and think.” He also acknowledges that he learned to intuit deeper being alerted by Cousins’ criticisms of his poems. In 1920 Cousins comes to Pondicherry to meet the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

James Cousins dies on February 20, 1956 in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh, India at the age of 82.


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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.