seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Munitions Strike

dublin-dock-strike-1920In May 1920, East London dockers refuse to load the SS Jolly George, a ship intended to carry arms to be used against the new Bolshevik state. The Munitions Strike begins in Dublin on May 20, 1920 when dock workers follow suit and refuse to handle war material. They are soon joined by members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

When news of the proposed radical action is brought to trade unionist William O’Brien’s desk on May 19, he informs Thomas Foran, General President of the union. The following day, the men standing around waiting to begin work are told that the work is not to start.

On hearing of the political action at the Dublin docks, a second ship was diverted to Dun Laoghaire. There, the military are on hand to unload its cargo, but when the cargo arrives at Westland Row station, workers there refuse to handle the goods. While the dockworkers are casual workers who can be reallocated elsewhere, the railwaymen are permanent employers and members of the separate National Union of Railwaymen.

In the following days, the action taken in Dublin and Dun Laoghaire is replicated elsewhere. To sections of the conservative press, the behaviour of dockers and railwaymen is scandalous. The ever reliable Punch illustrated news produces a sketch in a June 1920 edition showing an IRA gunman hiding behind a rural wall, joined by a railway worker, or “the blameless accomplice.”

The brave stand that began on the docks of Dublin spreads nationwide, largely thanks to the militancy of railway workers. From arms in storage, the strike is widened to include the carrying of men holding arms representing Crown Forces.

The munitions strike is an effective tactic, proven by the infuriated responses to it from the upper-echelons of the British military and political class. In November, the British Government begins closing rail lines, including the Limerick to Waterford and Limerick to Tralee lines,as well as trains into Galway, which instigate a fear among the public that the Irish railway system could be shut down in its entirety.

In the absence of sympathetic strike action in Britain, and with increasingly vicious physical assaults on railwaymen, the Irish leadership feels increasingly vulnerable in the dispute, which eventually winds down in December.

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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Birth of William Maginn, Journalist & Writer

william-maginnWilliam Maginn, journalist and miscellaneous writer, is born in Cork on July 10, 1794.

Maginn becomes a contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine and, after moving to London in 1824, becomes for a few months in 1826 the Paris correspondent to The Representative, a paper started by John Murray, the publisher. When its short career is run, he helps to found in 1827 the ultra Tory Standard, a newspaper that he edits along with a fellow graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Stanley Lees Giffard. He also writes for the more scandalous Sunday paper, The Age.

In 1830 Maginn instigates and becomes one of the leading supporters of Fraser’s Magazine. His Homeric Ballads, much praised by contemporary critics, are published in Fraser’s between 1839 and 1842. In 1837, Bentley’s Miscellany is launched, with Charles Dickens as editor, and Maginn writes the prologue and contributes over the next several years a series of “Shakespeare Papers” that examine characters in counter-intuitive fashion. From “The Man in the Bell” (Blackwood’s, 1821) through “Welch Rabbits” (Bentley’s, 1842) Maginn is an occasional though skillful writer of short fiction and tales. His only novel, Whitehall (1827) pretends to be a historical novel set in 1820s England written in the year 2227. It is a droll spoof of the vogue for historical novels as well as the contemporary political scene.

In 1836, Maginn fights a duel with Grantley Berkeley, a member of Parliament. Berkeley had brutally assaulted magazine publisher James Fraser over a review Maginn wrote of Berkeley’s novel Berkeley Castle, and Maginn calls him out. Three rounds are fired but no one is struck.

One of the most brilliant periodical writers of his time, Maginn leaves little permanent work behind him. In his later years, his intemperate habits land him in debtor’s prison. When he emerges through the grace of the Insolvent Debtor’s Act he is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He writes until the end, including in the first volume of Punch, but he dies in extreme poverty in Walton-on-Thames, London on August 21, 1842, survived by his wife Ellen, and daughters Annie and Ellen, and son John. His nephew Francis Maginn, who is deaf, is a co-founder of the British Deaf and Dumb Association, now called the British Deaf Association (BDA).


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Birth of Harry Furniss, Artist & Illustrator

harry-furnissHarry Furniss, artist and illustrator, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on March 26, 1854. His father is English and his mother Scottish, Furniss identifying himself as English. He is educated at Wesley College in Dublin.

Furniss’s first job as an illustrator is for the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, and when it is purchased by the owner of The Illustrated London News he moves to that magazine. There he produces illustrations of social events such as the The Boat Race, Goodwood Racecourse and even the annual fancy dress ball at Brookwood Asylum, as well as acting as a special correspondent reporting on less pleasant aspects of life in contemporary England, such as the scandalous divorce trial of Lady Colin Campbell.

After some years Furniss moves to The Graphic, initially writing and illustrating a series of supplements titled “Life in Parliament,” and he comments that “from this time forward it would be difficult to name any illustrated paper with which I have not at sometime or other been connected.”

Furniss’s most famous humorous drawings are published in Punch, for which he starts working in 1880, and to which he contributes over 2,600 drawings. He leaves Punch in 1894 when its owners discover that he has sold one of his Punch drawings to Pears Soap for use in an advertising campaign.

He illustrates Lewis Carroll‘s novel Sylvie and Bruno in 1889 and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded in 1893. Carroll and Furniss sometimes produce both pictures and text simultaneously. Carroll exerts strong control over Furniss’s illustration, to such an extent that Furniss pretends to be out when Carroll calls at his home. After completing Sylvie and Bruno Concluded Furniss vows never to work for the author again. In 1890, he illustrates the Badminton Library‘s volume on Golf.

Upon leaving Punch, Furniss brings out his own humorous magazine, Lika Joko, but when this fails he moves to the United States where he works as a writer and actor in the fledgling film industry and where, in 1914, he pioneers the first animated cartoon film for Thomas Edison.

His two-volume autobiography, titled The Confessions of a Caricaturist is published in 1902, and a further volume of personal recollections and anecdotes, Harry Furniss At Home, is published in 1904.

Furniss writes and illustrates 29 books of his own, including Some Victorian Men and Some Victorian Women and illustrates 34 works by other authors, including the complete works of Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. On some projects, like his illustrations for G. E. Farrow‘s Wallypug books, Furniss collaborates with his daughter, fellow artist Dorothy Furniss.

Harry Furniss dies on January 14, 1925 in London, England.