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


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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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Artist Derek Hill Awarded Honorary Irish Citizenship

arthur-derek-hillArthur Derek Hill, English portrait and landscape painter and longtime resident in Ireland, is awarded honorary Irish citizenship by President Mary McAleese on January 13, 1999.

Hill is born at Southampton, Hampshire on December 6, 1916, the son of a wealthy sugar trader. He first works as a theatre designer in Leningrad in the 1930s and later as an historian. In World War II he registers as a conscientious objector and works on a farm.

Hill’s long association with Ireland begins when he visits Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal to paint the portrait of the Irish American art collector Henry McIlhenny, whose grandfather had emigrated to the United States from the nearby village of Milford, and who subsequently made a fortune from his patent gas meter.

Hill begins to enjoy increased success as a portrait painter from the 1960s. His subjects include many notable composers, musicians, politicians and statesmen, such as broadcaster Gay Byrne, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and The Prince of Wales. He is also an enthusiastic art collector and traveller, with a wide range of friends such as Bryan Guinness and Isaiah Berlin. Greta Garbo visits Hill in the 1970s, a visit which forms inspiration for Frank McGuinness‘ 2010 play Greta Garbo Came to Donegal.

In 1981, he donates his home, St. Columb’s Rectory, near the village of Churchill, County Donegal, which he had owned since 1954, along with a considerable collection including work by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, Graham Sutherland, Anna Ticho and Jack Butler Yeats to the State.

An exhibition of his work and personal art collection can be seen at the House and associated Glebe Gallery at Churchill, near Letterkenny. Another collection of his work is held at Mottisfont Abbey. Many of his landscapes portray scenes from Tory Island, where he has a painting hut for years, and starts and then mentors the artists’ community there, teaching the local fishermen how to paint. This leads to the informal but busy “Tory School” of artists such as James Dixon and Anton Meenan, who find that they have the time to paint and use their wild surroundings as a dramatic subject.

Hill is made a CBE in 1997. A Retrospective exhibition is arranged for and by him at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1998. On January 13, 1999, he is made an honorary Irish citizen by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Arthur Derek Hill dies at the age of 83 at a London hospital on July 30, 2000. He is buried in Hampshire in the South of England with his parents. Memorial services are held for him in Dublin at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, and his local Church in Trentagh, County Donegal.


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Birth of Painter Richard Rothwell

Richard Rothwell, nineteenth-century Irish portrait and genre painter, is born on November 20, 1800 in Athlone, County Westmeath.

Rothwell is born to James and Elizabeth and is the oldest of their seven children. He trains to become a painter at the Dublin Society‘s school from 1814 until 1820 and wins a silver medal for his work. At the age of 24, he is made a member of the newly established Royal Hibernian Academy and exhibits portraits there from 1826 to 1829. He subsequently moves to London and works as a studio assistant to Thomas Lawrence. When Lawrence dies in 1830, Rothwell completes many of his unfinished works and is poised to become the next foremost portrait painter in Britain and Ireland.

According to Leoneé Ormond’s biographical article in the Grove Dictionary of Art, Rothwell “was at the height of his powers from 1829 to 1831” and he “was much influenced by Lawrence, but he lacked the incisiveness and flair of his master.” According to Fintan Cullen‘s biographical entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rothwell’s “portraits are highly accomplished” and “fine examples” including those of novelist Gerald Griffin and Mary Shelley.

From 1831 to 1834, Rothwell tours Italy to study Italian art so that he can paint history paintings. In the 1830s, he starts painting genre pictures, such as The Poor Mendicants (1837). He usually paints Italian-inspired pieces, such as his semi-nude study Calisto, a work he considers to be his masterpiece. He is furious when the painting is poorly hung at the 1862 International Exhibition in London and publishes a pamphlet on the topic.

When Rothwell returns to London, his popularity has evaporated. He lives and exhibits works in Ireland, the United States, London, and Italy, but he never again achieves the same level of popularity he had reached in the late 1820s.

In 1842 Rothwell marries Rosa Marshall. The couple has several children.  Rothwell contracts a fever while working in Rome and dies on September 13, 1868. Joseph Severn, who painted a portrait of the Romantic poet John Keats, arranges for Rothwell’s funeral and tomb in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome.


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Birth of Painter Daniel Maclise

daniel-macliseDaniel Maclise, Irish history, literary and portrait painter, and illustrator, is born in Cork, County Cork, on January 25, 1806. He works in London, England for most of his life.

His early education is of the plainest kind, but he is eager for culture, fond of reading, and anxious to become an artist. He later studies at the Cork School of Art.

Maclise exhibits for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1829. Gradually he begins to confine himself more exclusively to subject and historical pictures, varied occasionally by portraits – such as those of Lord Campbell, novelist Letitia Landon, Charles Dickens, and other of his literary friends. In 1833, he exhibits two pictures which greatly increase his reputation and, in 1835, the Chivalric Vow of the Ladies and the Peacock procure his election as associate of the Academy, of which he becomes full member in 1840. The years that follow are occupied with a long series of figure pictures, deriving their subjects from history and tradition and from the works of William Shakespeare, Oliver Goldsmith, and Alain-René Lesage.

Maclise also designs illustrations for several of Dickens’s Christmas books and other works. Between the years 1830 and 1836 he contributes to Fraser’s Magazine, under the pseudonym of Alfred Croquis, a remarkable series of portraits of the literary and other celebrities of the time – character studies, etched or lithographed in outline, and touched more or less with the emphasis of the caricaturist, which are afterwards published as the Maclise Portrait Gallery (1871). During the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament in London in 1834–1850 by Charles Barry, Maclise is commissioned in 1846 to paint murals in the House of Lords on such subjects as Justice and Chivalry.

In 1858, Maclise commences one of the two great monumental works of his life, The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher, on the walls of the Palace of Westminster. It is begun in fresco, a process which proves unmanageable. The artist wishes to resign the task, but, encouraged by Prince Albert, he studies in Berlin the new method of water-glass painting, and carries out the subject and its companion, The Death of Nelson, in that medium, completing the latter painting in 1864.

marriageaoifestrongbowMaclise’s vast painting of The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife (1854) hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. It portrays the marriage of the main Norman conqueror of Ireland “Strongbow” to the daughter of his Gaelic ally. By the grand staircase of Halifax Town Hall, which is completed in 1863, there is a wall painting by Maclise.

The intense application which he gives to these great historic works, and various circumstances connected with the commission, has a serious effect on Maclise’s health. He begins to shun the company in which he formerly delighted, his old buoyancy of spirits is gone, and in 1865, when the presidency of the Royal Academy is offered to him he declines the honour. He dies of acute pneumonia on April 25, 1870 at his home 4 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London.

(Pictured lower right: The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife)