seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Writer Aidan Higgins

Aidan Higgins, Irish writer of short stories, travel pieces, radio drama and novels, is born on March 3, 1927 in Celbridge, County Kildare. Among his published works are Langrishe, Go Down (1966), Balcony of Europe (1972) and the biographical Dog Days (1998). His writing is characterised by non-conventional foreign settings and a stream of consciousness narrative mode. Most of his early fiction is autobiographical – “like slug trails, all the fiction happened.”

Higgins attends local schools and Clongowes Wood College, a private boarding school. In the early 1950s he works in Dublin as a copywriter for the Domas Advertising Agency. He then moves to London and works in light industry for about two years. He marries Jill Damaris Anders in London on November 25, 1955. From 1960, he sojourns in southern Spain, South Africa, Berlin and Rhodesia. In 1960 and 1961 he works as scriptwriter for Filmlets, an advertising firm in Johannesburg. These journeys provide material for much of his later work, including his three autobiographies, Donkey’s Years (1996), Dog Days (1998) and The Whole Hog (2000).

His upbringing in a landed Catholic family provides material for Higgins first novel, Langrishe, Go Down (1966). The novel is set in the 1930s in a run-down “big house” in County Kildare, inhabited by the last members of the Langrishe family, three spinster sisters, Catholics, living in not-so-genteel poverty in a once-grand setting. One sister, Imogen, has an affair with a German intellectual, Otto Beck, which transgresses the moral code of the time, bringing her a brief experience of happiness. Otto’s intellectual pursuits contrast with the moribund cultural life of mid-20th century Ireland. The book is awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction and is later adapted as a BBC Television film by British playwright Harold Pinter, in association with RTÉ. Langrishe, Go Down also receives the Irish Academy of Letters Award.

Higgins second major novel is Balcony of Europe, taking its name from a feature of the Spanish fishing village, Nerja Andalusia, where it is set. The novel is carefully crafted, and rich in embedded literary references, using Spanish and Irish settings and various languages, including Spanish and some German, in its account of the daily life in the beaches and bars of Nerja of a largely expatriate community. The protagonist, an artist called Dan Ruttle, is obsessed with his friend’s young American wife, Charlotte, and by the contrast between his life among a cosmopolitan artistic community in the Mediterranean, and his Irish origins. The book is re-edited in collaboration with Neil Murphy and published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2010, with the Irish material cut and the affair between Dan Ruttle and Charlotte foregrounded.

Higgins later novels include widely acclaimed Bornholm Night Ferry and Lions of the Grunwald. Various writings have been collected and reprinted by the Dalkey Archive Press, including his three-volume autobiography, A Bestiary, and a collection of fiction, Flotsam and Jetsam, both of which demonstrate his wide erudition and his experience of life and travel in South Africa, Germany and London which gives his writing a largely cosmopolitan feel, utilising a range of European languages in turns of phrase.

Higgins lives in Kinsale, County Cork, from 1986 with the writer and journalist Alannah Hopkin. They are married in Dublin in November 1997. He is a founder member of Irish artists’ association Aosdána. He dies on December 27, 2015 in Kinsale.


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Birth of English Playwright John Arden

John Arden, English playwright, is born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England, on October 26, 1930. At the time of his death he is lauded as “one of the most significant British playwrights of the late 1950s and early 60s.”

Arden is the son of the manager of a glass factory. He is educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, King’s College, Cambridge and the Edinburgh College of Art, where he studies architecture. He first gains critical attention for the radio play The Life of Man in 1956 shortly after finishing his studies.

Arden is initially associated with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London. His 1959 play, Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance, in which four army deserters arrive in a northern mining town to exact retribution for an act of colonial violence, is considered to be his best. His work is influenced by Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre as in Left-Handed Liberty (1965, on the anniversary of Magna Carta). Other plays include Live Like Pigs, The Workhouse Donkey, and Armstrong’s Last Goodnight, the last of which is performed at the 1963 Chichester Festival by the Royal National Theatre after it was rejected by the Royal Court.

Arden’s 1978 radio play Pearl is considered in a Guardian survey to be one of the best plays in that medium. He also writes several novels, including Silence Among the Weapons, which is shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1982, and Books of Bale, about the Protestant apologist John Bale. He is a member of the Royal Society of Literature.

With his wife and co-writer Margaretta D’Arcy, Arden pickets the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) premiere of his Arthurian play The Island of the Mighty, because they believe the production to be pro-imperialist. They write several plays together which are highly critical of British presence in Ireland, where he and D’Arcy live from 1971 onward.

In 1961, Arden is a founder member of the anti-nuclear Committee of 100, and he also chairs the pacifist weekly Peace News. In Ireland, he is for a while a member of Official Sinn Féin. He is an advocate of civil liberties, and opposes anti-terror legislation, as demonstrated in his 2007 radio play The Scam.

Arden is elected to Aosdána in 2011 before dying in Galway, County Galway on March 28, 2012. He is waked in a wicker casket.

(Pictured: Photograph of John Arden in 1966, credit to Sam Falk/The New York Times)