seamus dubhghaill

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


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First Balloon Crossing of the Irish Sea

william-windham-sadlerWilliam Windham Sadler makes the first balloon crossing of the Irish Sea, from Dublin to Anglesey, on July 22, 1817.

Sadler is born near Dublin on October 17, 1796, the son by a second wife of James Sadler, one of the earliest British balloonists. The elder Sadler makes his first ascent on May 5, 1785, in company with William Windham, the politician, who subsequently consents to stand godfather to his son. In October 1811 he makes a rapid flight from Birmingham to Boston, Lincolnshire, in less than four hours. Less successful is his attempt to cross the Irish Sea on October 1, 1812, when he ascends from the lawn of the Belvedere House, Dublin, receiving his flag from the Duchess of Richmond. In spite of a tear in the balloon fabric, which he partially repairs with his neckcloth, he nearly succeeds in crossing the Channel. However, when over Anglesey a strong southerly current carries him out to sea, and he has a most perilous escape, being rescued by a fishing craft, which ran its bowsprit through the balloon. He is not deterred from making other ascents, and his name is long familiar in connection with ballooning. George III takes a special interest in his ascents.

The younger Sadler is brought up as an engineer, acquires a good practical knowledge of chemistry, and enters the service of the first Liverpool gas company. He gives up his employment there for professional aërostation, with which, upon his marriage in 1819, he combines the management of an extensive bathing establishment at Liverpool.

Sadler’s most notable feat is performed in 1817, when, with a view to carrying his father’s adventure of 1812 to a successful issue, he ascends from the Portobello barracks at Dublin on June 22. He rises to a great height, obtains the proper westerly current, and manages to keep the balloon in it across the St. George’s Channel. In mid-channel he writes, “I enjoyed at a glance the opposite shores of Ireland and Wales, and the entire circumference of Man.” Having started at 1:20 PM, Sadler alights a mile south of Holyhead at 6:45 PM.

On September 29, 1824 Sadler makes his thirty-first ascent at Bolton. He prepares to descend at dusk near Blackburn, but the wind dashes his car against a lofty chimney, and he is hurled to the ground, sustaining injuries of which he dies at 8:00 on the following morning. He is buried at Christchurch in Liverpool, where he was very popular. He well deserves the title of ‘intrepid’ bestowed on his father by Erasmus Darwin, but he did little to advance a scientific knowledge of aërostation by making systematic observations.

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Execution of Irish Republican Liam Mellows

liam-mellowsLiam Mellows, Irish republican and Sinn Féin politician, is executed by firing squad by Free State forces on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of Teachta Dála (TD) Seán Hales.

Mellows is born at Hartshead Military Barracks, Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire, England, to William Joseph Mellows, a British Army non-commissioned officer, and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, County Wexford. His family moves to 10 Annadale Avenue, Fairview, Dublin, in February 1895 when Sergeant Mellows is transferred there, however Liam remains in Wexford with his grandfather Patrick Jordan due to ill health. He attends the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin, but ultimately refuses a military career much to his father’s disappointment, instead working as a clerk in several Dublin firms, including the Junior Army & Navy Stores on D’Olier Street .

A nationalist from an early age, Mellows approaches Thomas Clarke, who recruits him to Fianna Éireann, an organisation of young republicans.

Mellows is introduced to socialism when he meets James Connolly at Countess Markiewicz’s residence, recuperating after his hunger strike. He is active in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is a founder member of the Irish Volunteers , being brought onto its Organising Committee to strengthen the Fianna representation. He is arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act. Eventually escaping from Reading Gaol, he returns to Ireland to command the “Western Division” of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Easter Rising of 1916.

Mellows leads roughly 700 Volunteers in abortive attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary
stations at Oranmore and Clarinbridge in County Galway and takes over the town of Athenry. However, his men are very badly armed and supplied and they disperse after a week, when British troops and the cruiser HMS Gloucester are sent west to attack them.

After this insurrection fails, Mellows escapes to the United States, where he is arrested and detained without trial in The Tombs in Lower Manhattan, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in World War I. After his release in 1918, he works with John Devoy and helps to organise Éamon de Valera’s fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920.

Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.

Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.

Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”


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Birth of Actor Arthur Shields

arthur-shieldsArthur Shields, Irish actor on television, stage, and film, is born on February 15, 1896, into an Irish Protestant family in Portobello, Dublin. Shields starts acting in the Abbey Theatre when he is 17 years old. He is the younger brother of Oscar-winning actor Barry Fitzgerald. They are the sons of Adolphus Shields, who is well-known in Dublin as a labor organizer although the 1901 census lists his occupation as “press reader,” and Fanny Sophia Sheilds.

An Irish nationalist, Shields fights in the Easter Rising of 1916. He is captured and held for six months in the Frongoch internment camp in Frongoch, Wales. His obituary in the San Mateo County Times of San Mateo, California, reports, “upon his release he was decorated by the Republic of Eire.”

Shields returns to the Abbey Theatre and has a varied career there from 1914-1939 as actor, assistant director, director, and stage manager. He appears in more than 300 roles in 350 plays while he is at the Abbey. Three of the productions he appears in are by Irish playwright Teresa DeevyThe Reapers, Temporal Powers, and Katie Roche. Three times he brings the Abbey Company to the United States.

In 1936, John Ford brings him to the United States to act in a film version of The Plough and the Stars in the role of Patrick Pearse. Some of his memorable roles are in Ford films. Shields portrays the Reverend Playfair in Ford’s The Quiet Man, opposite John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and his brother, Barry Fitzgerald. He plays Dr. Laughlin in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Wayne and Joanne Dru, and appears yet again with Wayne and Barry Fitzgerald in Ford’s The Long Voyage Home. His other films include Little Nellie Kelly, The Keys of the Kingdom, The Fabulous Dorseys, Gallant Journey, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim, Drums Along the Mohawk, Lady Godiva, National Velvet, and The River. He also makes television appearances including a 1958 role on Perry Mason as Dr. George Barnes in “The Case of the Screaming Woman.”

Shields dies of complications related to emphysema on April 27, 1970, in Santa Barbara, California. He is survived by his wife, actress Laurie Bailey, a daughter, a son, and four great-grandchildren. His body is cremated, with the ashes taken to Dublin, where a burial with full military honors takes place.


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Death of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, Irish artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, dies suddenly in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin, on December 13, 1955 .

Gifford is the second youngest of twelve children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. She grows up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants. The girls attend Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attend the The High School in Harcourt St.

At the age of 16, Gifford enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards Gifford as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketches her and eventually paints her as one of his subjects for a series on “Young Ireland.” Around this time, Gifford’s talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, attempts to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet, and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Later that year, she meets Plunkett for the first time at the opening of St. Edna’s School, a new bilingual school in Ranelagh, Dublin. Plunkett is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to Gifford’s sister Muriel.

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915. She accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plan to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, her brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is executed by firing squad along with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke on May 3. That same day, Gifford learns that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweller’s shop in Dublin city centre and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Plunkett are married on the night of May 3, 1916 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few short hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. She moves from one rented apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants. She befriends many people and has many admirers, but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, which leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one of the required two witnesses and also the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. She begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and Plunkett is paid £700, plus costs.

From the late 1940s onwards, Plunkett’s health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like because it restricts her freedom.

After her sudden death on December 13, 1955, Grace Gifford Plunkett’s body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours near the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Grace Gifford Plunkett is the subject of “Grace,” a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, which becomes popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.


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Birth of Playwright George Bernard Shaw

george-bernard-shawGeorge Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. Shaw has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that include Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist.

The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 he provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award. His appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left — he expresses admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.