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


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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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Founding of “The Freeman’s Journal”

the-freemans-journalThe Freeman’s Journal, the oldest nationalist newspaper in Dublin, is founded by Charles Lucas on September 10, 1763. It is identified with radical 18th-century Protestant patriot politicians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood. This changes from 1784 when it passes to Francis Higgins and takes a more pro-British and pro-administration view. In fact, Higgins is mentioned in the Secret Service Money Book as having betrayed Lord Edward FitzGerald. Higgins is paid £1,000 for information on FitzGerald’s capture.

In the 19th century The Freeman’s Journal becomes more nationalist in tone, particularly under the control and inspiration of Sir John Gray (1815–75).

The Journal, as it is widely known, is the leading newspaper in Ireland throughout the 19th century. Contemporary sources record it being read to the largely illiterate population by priests and local teachers gathering in homes. It is mentioned in contemporary literature as when James Joyce immortalises The Freeman’s Journal as the place of employment of Leopold Bloom in Ulysses. It is seen as symbolising Irish newspapers for most of its time. By the 1880s it becomes the primary media supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP).

The Journal is challenged on all sides by rivals. On the nationalist side some prefer The Nation founded by Thomas Davis while others, including radical supporters of Parnell, read the United Irishman. The Anglo-Irish establishment in contrast reads the historically Irish unionist The Irish Times. With the split in the IPP over Parnell’s relationship with Katharine O’Shea, its readership splits too. While The Journal goes with the majority in 1893 in opposing Parnell, a minority moves to read the Daily Irish Independent. It is also challenged from the turn of the century by William O’Brien‘s The Irish People and the Cork Free Press. With Thomas Sexton becoming Chairman of the Board of Directors (1893–1911), The Journal languishes under his spartanic management.

The collapse of the IPP in 1918, and the electoral success of Sinn Féin, see a more radical nationalism appear that is out of step with the moderation of The Journal. It finds itself overshadowed by the more aggressively marketed Irish Independent, the successor to the Daily Irish Independent. Just prior to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in March 1922, The Freeman’s Journal printing machinery is destroyed by Anti-Treaty IRA men under Rory O’Connor for its support of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It does not resume publication until after the outbreak of civil war, when the Irish Free State re-asserts its authority over the country.

The Freeman’s Journal ceases publication in 1924, when it is merged with the Irish Independent. Until the 1990s, the Irish Independent includes the words ‘Incorporating the Freeman’s Journal’ in the masthead over its editorials.


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Death of Sir Richard Steele, Writer, Playwright & Politician

richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, dies in Carmarthen, Wales on September 1, 1729.

Steele is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672 to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William‘s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. He leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, 3rd Baron Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele is a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison become closely associated with Child’s Coffee-house in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he is serving in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction.

Steele writes a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, he writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband with contributions from Addison, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first appears on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. He writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his second wife’s homeland of Wales. He remains in Carmarthen after his wife’s death, dying there on September 1, 1729. He is buried there at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson)


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Birth of James Molyneaux, Northern Irish Politician

james-molyneauxJames Henry Molyneaux, Baron Molyneaux of Killead, Northern Irish unionist politician and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) from 1979 to 1995, is born in Killead, County Antrim on August 27, 1920. He is a leading member and sometime Vice-President of the Conservative Monday Club. An Orangeman, he is also Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1971 to 1995. He is an unrelenting though peaceful supporter of the Protestant cause during the factional conflict that divides Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

Molyneaux is educated at nearby Aldergrove School. Although he is raised an Anglican, as a child he briefly attends a local Catholic primary school. He leaves school at age 15 and works on his father’s poultry farm. When a Catholic church near his home is burned down by Ulster loyalist arsonists in the late 1990s, he helps to raise funds for its rebuilding.

In World War II Molyneaux serves in the Royal Air Force between 1941 and 1946. He participates in the D-Day landings in FranceFrance and in the liberation of the Belsen-Belsen concentration camp, and occasionally gives interviews about what he sees there. On April 1, 1947, he is promoted to flying officer.

After demobilization Molyneaux establishes a printing business with his uncle, and in 1946 he joins the UUP. He is first elected to local government in 1964 and enters Parliament six years later. He staunchly opposes all power-sharing deals, notably the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Irish Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, which gives Dublin an official consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland and paves the way for devolution.

Molyneaux lacks the firebrand public image of his longtime rival Ian Paisley, who in 1971 breaks with the UUP to form the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). He never acquiesces to the Good Friday Agreement, which calls for the devolution of Northern Ireland’s government from London to Belfast, however, unlike Paisley and David Trimble, who in 1997 succeeds Molyneaux as the UUP leader and in April 1998 signs the devolution accord.

On retiring as UUP leader, Molyneaux is knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1996. The following year, after standing down as an MP at the 1997 general election, he is created a life peer on June 10, 1997 as Baron Molyneaux of Killead, of Killead in the County of Antrim.

James Molyneaux dies at the age of 94 in Antrim, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on March 9, 2015, Commonwealth Day.


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Birth of The Reverend Edward Hincks

edward-hincksThe Reverend Edward Hincks, Anglo-Irish clergyman best remembered as an Assyriologist and one of the decipherers of Mesopotamian cuneiform, is born in Cork, County Cork on August 19, 1792. He is one of the three men known as the “holy trinity of cuneiform,” with Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson and Jules Oppert.

Hincks is the eldest son of the Rev. Thomas Dix Hincks, a distinguished Protestant minister, orientalist and naturalist. He is an elder brother of Sir Francis Hincks, a prominent Canadian politician who is also sometime Governor of Barbados, and William Hincks, the first Professor of Natural History at Queen’s College, Cork and afterwards University College, Toronto.

Hincks is educated at home by his father and at Midleton College before entering Trinity College Dublin. He is elected a Scholar of the College in 1810, and in 1812 wins the Gold Medal and Bishop Law‘s Prize for Mathematics. He is elected a Fellow of the College in 1813 and four years later takes his M.A. In 1819, following the death of Thomas Meredith, he is presented to the Rectory of Ardtrea in County Tyrone. Though Ardtrea is a valuable and highly prized Rectory, it is also isolated for a young bachelor and he resigns the position in 1826, taking up the Rectory in nearby Killyleagh, County Down, an office he holds for the remainder of his life.

The undemanding nature of his clerical duties leave him with more than enough time to pursue his interest in ancient languages. His first love is for the hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt. His greatest achievement is the decipherment of the ancient language and writing of Babylon and Assyria: Akkadian cuneiform.

Hincks deduces correctly that cuneiform writing had been invented by one of the earliest civilisations of Mesopotamia, who then bequeathed it to later states such as Babylon, Assyria and Elam. In 1848 he is awarded the Cunningham Medal of the Royal Irish Academy for his achievements.

By 1850 Hincks comes to a number of important conclusions regarding the nature of Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform. He also discovers that cuneiform characters are “polyphonic,” by which he means that a single sign can have several different readings depending on the context in which it occurs. However, not everyone is convinced by the claims being made by the Irishman and his distinguished colleagues. Some philologists even suggest that they are simply inventing multiple readings of the signs to suit their own translations.

In 1857 the versatile English Orientalist William Henry Fox Talbot suggests that an undeciphered cuneiform text be given to several different Assyriologists to translate. If, working independently of one another, they come up with reasonably similar translations, it will surely dispel the doubts surrounding their claims.

As it happens, Talbot, Hincks, Rawlinson and Oppert, are in London in 1857. Edwin Norris, secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, gives each of them a copy of a recently discovered inscription from the reign of the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser I. A jury of experts is impaneled to examine the resulting translations and assess their accuracy.

In all essential points the translations produced by the four scholars are found to be in close agreement with one another. There are of course some slight discrepancies. The inexperienced Talbot makes a number of mistakes, and Oppert’s translation contains a few doubtful passages due to his unfamiliarity with the English language. But Hincks’ and Rawlinson’s versions are virtually identical. The jury declares itself satisfied, and the decipherment of cuneiform is adjudged a fait accompli.

Hincks devotes the remaining years of his life to the study of cuneiform and makes further significant contributions to its decipherment. He dies at his rectory in Killyleagh on December 3, 1866 at the age of 74. He is survived by a wife and four daughters.


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Birth of Fenian John O’Leary

john-o-learyJohn O’Leary, Irish republican and a leading Fenian, is born on July 23, 1830 in Tipperary, County Tipperary. He is imprisoned in England during the nineteenth century for his involvement in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

O’Leary, born a Catholic, is educated at the local Protestant grammar school, The Abbey School, and later the Catholic Carlow College. He identifies with the views advocated by Thomas Davis and meets James Stephens in 1846.

He begins his studies in law at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1847, where, through the Grattan Club, he associates with Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor and Thomas Francis Meagher.

After the failure of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848, O’Leary attempts to rescue the Young Ireland leaders from Clonmel Gaol, and is himself imprisoned for a week from September 8, 1849. He takes part in a further attempted uprising in Cashel on September 16, 1849, but this proves abortive.

O’Leary abandons his study of law at Trinity College because he is unwilling to take the oath of allegiance required of a barrister. He enrolls at Queen’s College, Cork in 1850, to study medicine, later moving to Queen’s College, Galway, then on to further studies at Meath Hospital in Dublin, in Paris and in London. In 1855, he visits Paris, where he becomes acquainted with Kevin Izod O’Doherty, John Martin and the American painter, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. He subsequently becomes financial manager of the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and is joint editor of the IRB paper The Irish People.

On September 16, 1865, O’Leary is arrested and later tried on charges of high treason, eventually reduced to “treason felony.” He is sentenced to twenty years of penal servitude, of which five years are spent in English prisons, prior to his release and exile in January 1871. During his exile, he lives mainly in Paris, also visiting the United States, remains active in the IRB and its associated organisations, and writes many letters to newspapers and journals.

On the expiration of his 20-year prison term and therefore of the conditions associated with his release in 1885, O’Leary returns to Ireland. He and his sister, the poet Ellen O’Leary, both become important figures within Dublin cultural and nationalist circles, which include William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, George Sigerson, and Katharine Tynan. He also functions as an elder statesman of the separatist movement, being active in the Young Ireland Society, and acts as president of the Irish Transvaal Committee, which supports the Boer side in the Second Boer War.

John O’Leary dies at his residence in Dublin on the evening of March 16, 1907. He is referred to famously by W.B. Yeats in his poem September 1913: “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone/It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

(Pictured: Painting of John O’Leary, a favorite subject of John Butler Yeats (1904). The National Gallery of Ireland owns three oil portraits of O’Leary.)


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Birth of Chartist Leader Feargus O’Connor

feargus-edward-o-connorFeargus Edward O’Connor, advocate of the Land Plan and prominent Chartist leader who succeeds in making Chartism the first specifically working class national movement in Great Britain, is born near Castletown-Kinneigh, County Cork on July 18, 1796.

O’Connor is born into a prominent Irish Protestant family who claims to be the descendants of the 12th-century king Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair. He is educated mainly at Portarlington Grammar School and has some elementary schooling in England.

O’Connor practices law but exchanges law for politics when he enters the British Parliament in 1832 as a member for County Cork. Unseated in 1835, he turns to radical agitation in England, although he continues to press Irish grievances and to seek Irish support. As a result of his humour, invective, and energy, he becomes the best known Chartist leader and the movement’s most popular speaker. His journal, the Northern Star (founded in 1837), gains a wide circulation.

O’Connor’s methods and views alienate other Chartist leaders, particularly William Lovett, but in 1841, after spending a year in prison for seditious libel, he acquires undisputed leadership of the Chartists. Failing to lead the movement to victory and vacillating in his attitude toward the middle class and toward the People’s Charter, a six-point bill drafted and published in May 1838, he begins to lose power, although he is elected to Parliament for Nottingham in 1847. The failure of the People’s Charter in 1848 marks the beginning of the end for O’Connor, whose egocentricity is already bordering on madness.

The circulation of the Northern Star falls steadily and it loses money. O’Connor’s health is failing, and reports of his mental breakdown regularly appear in the newspapers. In the spring of 1852 he visits the United States, where his behaviour leaves no doubt that he is not a well man.

In 1852 in the House of Commons O’Connor strikes three fellow MPs, one of them Sir Benjamin Hall, a vocal critic of the Land Plan. Arrested by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, he is sent by his sister to Dr. Thomas Harrington Tuke‘s private Manor House Asylum in Chiswick, where he remains until 1854, when he is moved to his sister’s house. He dies on August 30, 1855 at 18 Albert Terrace, Notting Hill Gate and is buried on September 10 in Kensal Green Cemetery. No fewer than 40,000 people witness the funeral procession. Most Chartists preferred to remember O’Connor’s strengths rather than his shortcomings.