seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Actor T.P. McKenna

thomas-patrick-mckennaCharacter actor Thomas Patrick McKenna, known professionally as T.P. McKenna and for his stage, film, and television work, dies at Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London on February 13, 2011 following a long illness.

McKenna is born in Mullagh, County Cavan on September 7, 1929. A prolific theater actor throughout his career, he makes his stage debut in Summer and Smoke by Tennessee Williams at the Pike Theatre in Dublin in 1954.

McKenna makes his film debut in the IRANazi drama The Night Fighters (1960) and from this uncredited beginning he moves up to tenth billing in The Siege of Sidney Street (1960). His next major movie is Girl with Green Eyes (1964), by which time he has also started a successful television career, making his TV debut in Espionage (1963) and over the next few years appears in several more TV shows. His versatility enables him to play three characters in The Avengers (1961). He is also featured in such well-regarded shows as Adam Adamant Lives! (1966), Dixon of Dock Green (1955) and The Saint (1962).

Meanwhile, McKenna’s film career develops along literary lines, and he is featured in Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow (1962), the Sean O’Casey biopic Young Cassidy (1965) and James Joyce‘s Ulysses (1967). He takes smaller parts in such epics as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Anne of the Thousand Days (1969).

British films such as Perfect Friday (1970) and Villain (1971) allowed McKenna to showcase his suave, urbane persona before trying something different in the controversial Straw Dogs (1971). He appears alongside a young Anthony Hopkins in All Creatures Great and Small (1975) before starring with John Gielgud for the second time, this time in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). Over the next few years his co-stars are as diverse as Leonard Rossiter (Britannia Hospital (1982)), Timothy Dalton (The Doctor and the Devils (1985)), Ben Kingsley (Pascali’s Island (1988)) and Dolph Lundgren (Red Scorpion (1988)). Not all of these films are successes, but he always gives good value for the money and develops themes of his, such as an interest in Irish issues, in The Outsider (1980). His last released film is Valmont (1989), which is unfortunately completely overshadowed by Dangerous Liaisons (1988), which is based on the same novel.

Over the years McKenna makes numerous guest appearances in TV series such as Minder (1979), Casualty (1986), Lovejoy (1986), Inspector Morse (1987), Heartbeat (1992) and Ballykissangel (1996). He is also prominent in TV movies and series, featuring in Charles DickensMasterpiece Theatre: Bleak House (1985), Stendhal‘s Scarlet and Black (1993) and an adaptation of Henry JamesThe American (1998).

McKenna dies on February 13, 2011 at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London, at the age of 81 following a long period of illness. He is buried alongside his wife at Teampall Cheallaigh Cemetery in his native County Cavan.

Following his death, tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Prince Charles, and Ireland’s Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin, who says that McKenna was “one of a great generation whose talents on the screen and stage both at home and abroad gave us all great pride in his accomplishments.” In County Cavan, he is commemorated by the T. P. McKenna Drama Scholarships (VEC) and the T. P. McKenna Perpetual Trophy presented as part of the Millrace Annual Drama Festival.


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President McAleese & Queen Elizabeth II Meet in Belfast

mcaleese-and-queen-elizabethPresident of Ireland Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II shake hands on Northern Ireland soil for the first time on December 9, 2005 — a symbolic milestone following years of peacemaking in this long-disputed British territory.

The British monarch and the Republic of Ireland‘s head of state chat and pose together at Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast, for an occasion that would have provoked hostility within Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority just a few years earlier. But their trouble-free meeting becomes inevitable once Ireland dropped its territorial claim to Northern Ireland as part of the landmark Good Friday Agreement peace accord of 1998. The visit also fuels speculation the queen could soon make her first official visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

No British monarch has visited the territory of the modern-day Republic of Ireland since George V visited Dublin in 1911, a decade before the island’s partition into a mostly Protestant north that remains within the United Kingdom, and a predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland that gradually gains full independence from Britain.

Camera crews are allowed to film the moment, but not record the sound, when McAleese shakes the queen’s hand at the start of a 20-minute meeting, their fourth since 1998. Previous meetings occurred at Buckingham Palace and on a World War I battlefield site. McAleese later calls it “a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships” that brings forward the day when the queen will visit the Irish Republic.

McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic, had made scores of visits to Northern Ireland since being elected to the Irish Republic’s largely symbolic presidency in 1997. As part of her presidential theme of “building bridges,” she regularly invites Protestant groups to her official Dublin mansion and has built impressive diplomatic contacts with northern Protestants.

Before McAleese’s arrival, visits north by an Irish president were rare events that drew public protests from Protestants, who demanded that Ireland remove its territorial claim from its 1937 constitution. The republic’s voters overwhelmingly supported this in a May 1998 referendum, an action completed in December 1999.

The queen has avoided traveling to the Irish Republic, in part, because of security fears following the IRA assassination of Mountbatten in August 1979. He, his daughter-in-law and two teenage boys are killed when the IRA blows up his private boat near his castle in County Sligo. However, Prince Philip and their son, Prince Charles, make several visits to the Irish Republic in the decade following the IRA’s 1994 cease-fire.


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Prince Charles & Camilla Visit County Sligo

Charles, Prince of Wales, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, arrive at the Model Arts Centre in Sligo town on May 20, 2015, where the Prince makes an address.

On arrival at the Model the couple delays for some time chatting to school children and local residents who line the street to greet them. The welcoming party also includes Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charles Flanagan, and members of Sligo County Council including Sinn Féin’s Sean MacManus.

Charles speaks of his “deep anguish” following the killing of his “much loved grand uncle” Lord Louis Mountbatten by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Mullaghmore on August 27, 1979.

“At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with such anguish and such deep loss” he tells the gathering. “In August 1979, my much-loved great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed alongside his young grandson and my godson, Nicholas, and his friend, Paul Maxwell, and Nicholas’s grandmother, the Dowager Lady Brabourne.”

“At the time I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss since, for me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had. So it seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.”

But he stresses the tragedy helped him understand the widespread suffering.

“Through this dreadful experience, though, I now understand in a profound way the agonies borne by so many others in these islands, of whatever faith, denomination or political tradition. Despite the tragedy of August 1979, the memories that Lord Mountbatten’s family have of Classiebawn Castle and Mullaghmore, going right back to 1946, are of great happiness. I look forward to seeing, at last, the place that he and they so loved and to meeting its inhabitants. Many of them showed the most extraordinary outpouring of compassion and support to both Lord Mountbatten’s and Paul Maxwell’s families in the aftermath of the bombing. Their loving kindness has done much to aid the healing process.”

Charles says he is “only too deeply aware of the long history of suffering that Ireland has endured. A history that has caused much pain and much resentment in a world of imperfect human beings, where it’s always too easy to overgeneralise and attribute blame.” Referring to his mother’s speech at Dublin Castle he says, “with the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”

Charles and Camilla then travel to Drumcliff church for a service of peace and reconciliation before proceeding to the village of Mullaghmore.


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“Riverdance” Performed for the First Time

riverdance-1994Riverdance, a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish music and dance and featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley and a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, is performed for the first time on April 30, 1994, as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin.

Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded, and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which is hosted by Ireland. At the time, Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny compose the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece is performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. Whelan has previously produced EastWind, an album by Planxty member Andy Irvine with Davy Spillane whose cross between Irish and Southeastern European folk music proves an influence on Riverdance. Thirteen years later, Bill Whelan is invited to do the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and composes Riverdance. In the book The Humours of Planxty by Leagues O’Toole, Whelan says, “It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance.”

The 1994 performance earns a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. As a result of this success, Riverdance is invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London, in the presence of Prince Charles on November 28, 1994.

At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest’s Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance is named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.

An audio recording of Riverdance enters the Irish Singles Chart at number one on May 5, 1994, and remains there throughout the summer, eventually totalling a record eighteen weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance is released by the Irish broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann under the title Riverdance for Rwanda with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.

The success of the Eurovision performance leads husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decide to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan’s composition. In November 1994, tickets are sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opens at the Point Theatre on February 9, 1995. The show runs for five weeks and is a sell out with over 120,000 tickets sold. It stars the original lead dancers from the Eurovision performance as well as many from the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance.

Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions.