seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Writer Francis Stuart

Henry Francis Montgomery Stuart, Irish writer, is born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia on April 29, 1902. He is awarded one of the highest artistic accolades in Ireland, being elected a Saoi of Aosdána, before his death in 2000. His years in Nazi Germany lead to a great deal of controversy.

Stuart is born to Irish Protestant parents, Henry Irwin Stuart and Elizabeth Barbara Isabel Montgomery. His father is an alcoholic and kills himself when Stuart is an infant. This prompts his mother to return to Ireland and Stuart’s childhood is divided between his home in Ireland and Rugby School in England, where he boards.

In 1920, at age 17, Stuart becomes a Catholic and marries Iseult Gonne, daughter of Maud Gonne. Her father is the right-wing French politician Lucien Millevoye, with whom Maud Gonne had had an affair between 1887 and 1899. Because of her complex family situation, Iseult is often passed off as Maud Gonne’s niece in conservative circles in Ireland. Iseult has a brief affair with Ezra Pound prior to meeting Stuart. Pound and Stuart both believe in the primacy of the artist over the masses and are subsequently drawn to fascism; Stuart to Nazi Germany and Pound to Fascist Italy.

Gonne and Stuart have a baby daughter who dies in infancy. Perhaps to recover from this tragedy, they travel for a while in Europe but return to Ireland as the Irish Civil War begins. Unsurprisingly given Gonne’s strong opinions, the couple are caught up on the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) side of the fight. Stuart is involved in gun running and is interned following a botched raid.

After independence, Stuart participates in the literary life of Dublin and writes poetry and novels. His novels are successful and his writing is publicly supported by W. B. Yeats.

Stuart’s time with Gonne is not an entirely happy time as both he and his wife apparently struggle with personal demons and their internal anguish poisons their marriage. In letters to close friend W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne characterizes Stuart as being emotionally, financially, and physically abusive towards Iseult.

During the 1930s Stuart becomes friendly with German Intelligence (Abwehr) agent Helmut Clissmann and his Irish wife Elizabeth. Clissmann is working for the German Academic Exchange Service and the Deutsche Akademie (DA). He is facilitating academic exchanges between Ireland and the Third Reich but also forming connections which might be of benefit to the Abwehr. Clissmann is also a representative of the Nazi Auslandorganisation (AO), the Nazi Party’s foreign organisation, in pre-war Ireland.

Stuart is also friendly with the head of the German Legation in Dublin, Dr. Eduard Hempel, largely as a result of Maud Gonne MacBride’s rapport with him. By 1938 he is seeking a way out of his marriage and the provincialism of Irish life. Iseult intervenes with Clissmann to arrange for Stuart to travel to Germany to give a series of academic lectures in conjunction with the DA. He travels to Germany in April 1939 and visits Munich, Hamburg, Bonn and Cologne. After his lecture tour, he accepts an appointment as lecturer in English and Irish literature at Berlin University to begin in 1940. At this time, under the Nuremberg Laws, the German academic system has barred Jews.

In July 1939, Stuart returns home to Laragh, County Wicklow, and after his plans for traveling to Germany are finalised, he receives a visit from his brother-in-law, Seán MacBride, following the seizure of an IRA radio transmitter on December 29, 1939 which had been used to contact Germany. Stuart, MacBride, Seamus O’Donovan, and IRA Chief of Staff Stephen Hayes then meet at O’Donovan’s house. Stuart is told to take a message to Abwehr HQ in Berlin. Upon arrival in Berlin in January 1940, he delivers the IRA message and has some discussion with the Abwehr on conditions in Ireland and the fate of the IRA-Abwehr radio link. Around August 1940, he is asked by Sonderführer Kurt Haller if he will participate in Operation Dove and he agrees, although he is later dropped in favour of Frank Ryan.

Between March 1942 and January 1944 Stuart works as part of the Redaktion-Irland team, reading radio broadcasts containing Nazi propaganda which are aimed at and heard in Ireland. In his broadcasts he frequently speaks with admiration of Adolf Hitler and expresses the hope that Germany will help unite Ireland. He is dropped from the Redaktion-Irland team in January 1944 because he objects to the anti-Soviet material that is presented to him and deemed essential by his supervisors. His passport is taken from him by the Gestapo after this event.

In 1945 Stuart plans to Ireland with a former student Gertrude Meissner. They are arrested and detained by Allied troops. Following their release, Stuart and Meissner live in Germany and then France and England. They marry in 1954 after Iseult’s death and in 1958 they return to settle in Ireland. In 1971 Stuart publishes his best known work, Black List Section H, an autobiographical fiction documenting his life and distinguished by a queasy sensitivity to moral complexity and moral ambiguity.

In 1996 Stuart is elected a Saoi of Aosdána, a high honour in the Irish art world. Influential Irish language poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi objects strongly, referring to Stuart’s actions during the war and claiming that he holds anti-Semitic opinions. When it is put to a vote, she is the only person to vote for her motion. She resigns from Aosdána in protest, sacrificing a government stipend by doing so. While the Aosdána affair is ongoing, The Irish Times columnist Kevin Myers attacks Stuart as a Nazi sympathiser. Stuart sues for libel and the case is settled out of court. The statement from The Irish Times read out in the High Court accepts “that Mr. Stuart never expressed anti-Semitism in his writings or otherwise.”

For some years before his death Stuart lives in County Clare with his partner Fionuala and in County Wicklow with his son Ian and daughter-in-law Anna in a house outside Laragh village. He dies of natural causes on February 2, 2000 at the age of 97 in County Clare.


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Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-frenchMajor General Sir George Arthur French, KCMG, British Army officer, is born in Roscommon, County Roscommon on June 19, 1841. He serves as the first Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876, and as Commandant of the colonial military forces in Queensland (1883–91) and New South Wales (1896–1902). He is also a relative of songwriter Percy French.

French is educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1860.

In 1871, at the request of the Canadian government, French is sent to Canada as a military inspector, eventually becoming head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario.

French is appointed to organise the North-West Mounted Police on its creation in 1873, and the next year he leads the force on its famous march to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

French resigns in 1876 and returns to duty in the British Army, eventually attaining the rank of major general. The organizational skills developed in Canada are used to establish local defence forces in India and Australia. In September 1883 he is appointed Commandant of the Queensland Local Forces with the local rank of colonel, and arrives in the colony on January 4, 1884. In 1862, he marries Janet Clarke, daughter of the late Robert Long Innes, formerly of the 37th Regiment. French retires in 1891 and returns to England.

French retires from the army on September 3, 1902 and is knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the November 1902 Birthday Honours. For the next 19 years much of his time is spent guarding the crown jewels in London, where he dies on July 7, 1921. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.