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


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Birth of William Dargan, 19th Century Engineer

william-darganWilliam Dargan, arguably the most important Irish engineer of the 19th century and certainly the most important figure in railway construction, is born at Killeshin near Carlow in County Laois (then called Queen’s County) on February 28, 1799. He designs and builds Ireland’s first railway line from Dublin to Dún Laoghaire in 1833. In total he constructs over 1,300 km (800 miles) of railway to important urban centres of Ireland. He is a member of the Royal Dublin Society and also helps establish the National Gallery of Ireland. He is also responsible for the Great Dublin Exhibition held on the lawn of Leinster House in 1853. His achievements are honoured in 1995, when the Dargan Railway Bridge in Belfast is opened, and again in 2004 when the William Dargan Bridge in Dublin, a new cable stayed bridge for Dublin’s Light Railway Luas, are both named after him.

Dargan is the eldest in a large family of tenant farmers on the Earl of Portarlington‘s estate. He attends a local hedge school in Graiguecullen near Carlow, where he excels in mathematics and accounting. He subsequently works on his father’s 101-acre farm before securing a position in a surveyor’s office in Carlow. With the assistance of prominent local people, particularly John Alexander, a prominent Carlow miller, and Henry Parnell MP for County Laois, he begins working with the Scottish engineer Thomas Telford on the Holyhead side of the London-Holyhead road. He works there between 1819 and 1824.

In 1824 Telford asks Dargan to begin work on Howth Road, from Raheny to Sutton in Dublin. He earns the relatively large sum of £300 for his work on this road and this provides the capital for future public works investments. Henry Parnell describes the road as “a model for other roads in the vicinity of Dublin.” Around the same time Dargan contributes roads in Dublin, Carlow and Louth as a surveyor. He also serves as assistant manager for about three years on the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal and the Middlewich Branch, which are two canals in the English midlands.

On October 13, 1828, Dargan marries Jane Arkinstall in the Anglican Church of St. Michael & All Angels, Adbaston, Staffordshire. He and Jane do not produce any offspring.

When Dargan comes back to Ireland, he is occupied by minor construction projects, including rebuilding the main street of Banbridge and the 13 kilometers long Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal. After Irish parliament decides to launch a plan for the very first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway in 1825, he becomes increasingly invested in the project. To fight against the skepticism of any railway program in Ireland, he spends a considerable amount of unpaid time promoting this first railway of Ireland, working along with engineer Charles Vignoles to plan the route. After a persistent effort, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway is opened on December 17, 1834, with eight trains running in each direction.

Dargan next constructs the water communication between Lough Erne and Belfast, afterwards known as the Ulster Canal, a signal triumph of engineering and constructive ability.

Other great works follow – the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Midland Great Western Railway. By 1853 Dargan has constructed over six hundred miles of railway, and he has contracts for two hundred more. He pays the highest wages with the greatest punctuality and his credit is unbounded. At one point he is the largest railway projector in Ireland and one of its greatest capitalists.

Dargan has a strong sense of patriotism to Ireland. He is offered a knighthood by the British Viceroy in Ireland, but declines. Following this, Britain’s Queen Victoria visits Dargan at his residence, Dargan Villa, Mount Annville on August 29, 1853. She offers him a baronetcy, but he declines this also. Wishing to encourage the growth of flax, he then takes a tract of land which he devotes to its culture, but owing to some mismanagement the enterprise entails a heavy loss. He also becomes a manufacturer, and sets some mills working in Chapelizod, in the neighbourhood of Dublin, but that business does not prosper.

In his later years Dargan devotes himself chiefly to the working and extension of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, of which he is chairman. In 1866 he is seriously injured by a fall from his horse. He dies at 2 Fitzwilliam Square East, Dublin, on February 7, 1867, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. His widow, Jane, is granted a civil list pension of £100 on June 18, 1870.

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Birth of Stephen Lucius Gwynn, Writer & Politician

stephen-lucius-gwynnStephen Lucius Gwynn, journalist, biographer, author, poet, Protestant Nationalist politician, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is born on February 13, 1864 in St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin, where his father John Gwynn, a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman, is a warden.

Gwynn spends his early childhood in rural County Donegal, which shapes his later view of Ireland. He is educated at St. Columba’s College and goes on to Brasenose College, Oxford, where, as scholar, in 1884 he is awarded first-class honours in classical moderations and in 1886 literae humaniores. During term holidays he returns to Dublin, where he meets several of the political and literary figures of the day.

After graduating Gwynn moves to France where he works as a schoolmaster for ten years. In December 1889 he marries his cousin Mary Louisa Gwynn. They have four sons and two daughters. Having dabbled in journalism since his student days, he moves to London in 1896 to pursue a career as a writer. He soon becomes a prominent figure in literary and journalistic circles.

In 1904 the Gwynns return to Ireland to live in Raheny, County Dublin. In November 1906 he wins a seat for Galway Borough, which he represents as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party until 1918. During this time he also becomes active with the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Revival.

At the outbreak of World War I, Gwynn gives his support to John Redmond that Irishmen should enlist in the British forces. At the age of fifty-one he enlists as a private in the 7th Leinster Regiment and is later commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers, attached to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is promoted to captain in 1915 and serves with his battalion at the battles of Ginchy and Guillemont during the Somme offensive and also at Messines in 1917, leaving the front line shortly afterwards.

Gwynn is appointed to the Dardanelles Commission in 1916, an investigation into the unsuccessful 1915 Gallipoli Campaign.

After the war Gwynn continues with his writing and political life. He receives honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland in 1940 and the University of Dublin in 1945. He dies on June 11, 1950 at his home in Terenure, Dublin and is buried at Tallaght cemetery.


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Death of Arthur Guinness

arthur-guinnessArthur Guinness, entrepreneur, visionary, philanthropist, brewer, and the founder of the Guinness brewery business, dies at Mountjoy Square, Dublin, on January 23, 1803.

Arthur Guinness is believed to be born in Celbridge, County Kildare on September 25, 1725 into the Protestant Guinness family, part of the Anglo-Irish aristrocracy. They claim to descend from the Gaelic Magennis clan of County Down. However, recent DNA evidence suggests descent from the McCartans, another County Down clan, whose spiritual home lay in the townland of “Guiness” near Ballynahinch, County Down.

Guinness’s place and date of birth are the subject of speculation. His gravestone in Oughter Ard, County Kildare, reads that he dies on January 23, 1803, at the age of 78, and that he is born some time in 1724 or very early in 1725. This contradicts the date of September 28, 1725 chosen by the Guinness company in 1991, apparently to end speculation about his birthdate. The place of birth is perhaps his mother’s home at Read homestead at Ardclough, County Kildare.

In 2009 it is claimed that Guinness is born in nearby Celbridge where his parents live in 1725 and where his father later becomes land steward for the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr. Arthur Price. In his will, Dr. Price leaves £100 each to “his servant” Arthur and his father in 1752.

Guinness leases a brewery in Leixlip in 1755, brewing ale. Guinness also purchases a long lease of an adjacent site from George Bryan of Philadelphia in 1756 that is developed as investment property. He leaves his younger brother in charge of the Leixlip enterprise in 1759 and moves on to another at St. James’ Gate, Dublin. He signs a 9,000-year lease for the brewery, effective from December 31, 1759. The lease is presently displayed in the floor at St. James’ Gate. By 1767 he is the master of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers. His first actual sales of porter are listed on tax data from 1778. From the 1780s his second son, Arthur, works at his side and becomes the senior partner in the brewery in 1803.

Guinness’ major achievement is the expansion of his brewery in 1797–1799. Thereafter he brews only porter and employs members of the Purser family who have brewed porter in London from the 1770s. The Pursers become partners in the brewery for most of the 19th century. By the time of his death in 1803, the annual brewery output is over 20,000 barrels. Subsequently Arthur and/or his beer is nicknamed “Uncle Arthur” in Dublin. Guinness’ florid signature is still copied on every label of bottled Guinness.

From 1764, Guinness and his wife Olivia, whom he marries in 1761, live at Beaumont House, which Guinness has built on a 51-acre farm which is now a part of Beaumont Convalescent Home, behind the main part of Beaumont Hospital, between Santry and Raheny in north County Dublin. His landlord is Charles GardinerBeaumont, meaning beautiful hill, is named by Arthur and the later Beaumont parish copies the name. From March 1798 he lives at Mountjoy Square in Dublin, which is then in the process of being built in the style of elegant Georgian architecture. Three of his sons are also brewers, and his other descendants eventually include missionaries, politicians, and authors.

Sir Arthur Guinness dies in Mountjoy Square, Dublin, on January 23, 1803 and is buried in his mother’s family plot at Oughter Ard, County Kildare.

To further honour Arthur Guinness’s legacy, in 2009 Guinness & Co. established the Arthur Guinness Fund (AGF). An internal fund set up by the Company, its aim is to enable and empower individuals with skills and opportunities to deliver a measured benefit to their communities. Guinness has donated more than €7 million to the Fund since its inception. Arthur Guinness is also one of a handful of Irish people commemorated twice on stamps, in 1959 and 2009.


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Birth of Neil Patrick Jordan, Screenwriter & Director

neil-patrick-jordanNeil Patrick Jordan, film director, screenwriter, novelist, and short-story writer, is born in County Sligo on February 25, 1950. His first book, Night in Tunisia, wins a Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1979. He wins an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Crying Game (1992). He also wins the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival for The Butcher Boy (1997).

Jordan is educated at St. Paul’s College, Raheny. Later, Jordan attends University College Dublin, where he studies Irish history and English literature. He is raised a Catholic and is quite religious during the early stages of his life. Regarding his current beliefs, he states that “God is the greatest imaginary being of all time. Along with Einstein‘s General Theory of Relativity, the invention of God is probably the greatest creation of human thought.”

When John Boorman is filming Excalibur in Ireland, he recruits Jordan as a “creative associate.” A year later Boorman is executive producer on Jordan’s first feature, Angel, a tale of a musician caught up in the Troubles, starring Stephen Rea who subsequently appears in almost all of Jordan’s films to date. During the 1980s, he directs films that win him acclaim, including The Company of Wolves and Mona Lisa, both made in England. The Company of Wolves becomes a cult favorite.

As a writer/director, Jordan has a highly idiosyncratic body of work, ranging from mainstream hits like Interview with the Vampire to commercial failures like We’re No Angels to a variety of more personal, low-budget arthouse pictures. He is also the driving force behind the cable TV series The Borgias.

Unconventional sexual relationships are a recurring theme in Jordan’s work, and he often finds a sympathetic side to characters that audiences would traditionally consider deviant or downright horrifying. His film The Miracle, for instance, follows two characters who struggle to resist a strong, incestuous attraction, while The Crying Game makes complicated, likable characters out of an IRA volunteer and a transgender woman. Interview with the Vampire, like the Anne Rice book it is based on, focuses on the intense, intimate interpersonal relationship of two undead men who murder humans nightly, accompanied by an equally lusty vampire woman who is eternally trapped in the body of a little girl. While Lestat (Tom Cruise) is depicted in an attractive but villainous manner, his partner Louis (Brad Pitt) and the child vampire Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) are meant to capture the audience’s sympathy despite their predatory nature.

In addition to the unusual sexuality of Jordan’s films, he frequently returns to the Troubles of Northern Ireland. The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto both concern a transgender character, both concern the Troubles, and both feature frequent Jordan leading man Stephen Rea. The two films, however, are very different, with The Crying Game being a realistic thriller/romance and Breakfast on Pluto a much more episodic, stylized, darkly comic biography. Jordan also frequently tells stories about children or young people, such as The Miracle and The Butcher Boy. While his pictures are most often grounded in reality, he occasionally directs more fantastic or dreamlike films, such as The Company of Wolves, High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, and In Dreams.

The critical success of Jordan’s early pictures lead him to Hollywood, where he directs High Spirits and We’re No Angels. Both are critical and financial disasters. He later returns home to make the more personal The Crying Game, which is nominated for six Academy Awards. Jordan wins the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film. Its unexpected success leads him back to American studio filmmaking, where he directs Interview with the Vampire. He also directs the crime drama The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.

Jordan also writes and directs the Irish-made film Ondine (2009), starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda-Curuś. He also directs Byzantium, an adaptation of the vampire play of the same name starring Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, and Jonny Lee Miller.

Jordan lives in Dalkey, which is a part of the larger town of Dún Laoghaire.


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Birth of Arthur Guinness, Founder of the Guinness Brewery

arthur-guinnessArthur Guinness, Irish brewer and the founder of the Guinness brewery, is born in Celbridge, County Kildare, on September 28, 1725. He is also an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Arthur Guinness is born into the Protestant Guinness family, part of the Anglo-Irish aristrocracy. They claim to descend from the Gaelic Magennis clan of County Down. However, recent DNA evidence suggests descent from the McCartans, another County Down clan, whose spiritual home lay in the townland of “Guiness” near Ballynahinch, County Down.

Guinness’s place and date of birth are the subject of speculation. His gravestone in Oughter Ard, County Kildare, reads that he dies on January 23, 1803, at the age of 78, and that he is born some time in 1724 or very early in 1725. This contradicts the date of September 28, 1725 chosen by the Guinness company in 1991, apparently to end speculation about his birthdate. The place of birth is perhaps his mother’s home at Read homestead at Ardclough, County Kildare.

In 2009 it is claimed that Guinness is born in nearby Celbridge where his parents live in 1725 and where his father later becomes land steward for the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr. Arthur Price. In his will, Dr. Price leaves £100 each to “his servant” Arthur and his father in 1752.

Guinness leases a brewery in Leixlip in 1755, brewing ale. Guinness also purchases a long lease of an adjacent site from George Bryan of Philadelphia in 1756 that is developed as investment property. He leaves his younger brother in charge of the Leixlip enterprise in 1759 and moves on to another at St. James’ Gate, Dublin. He signs a 9,000-year lease for the brewery, effective from December 31, 1759. The lease is presently displayed in the floor at St. James’ Gate. By 1767 he is the master of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers. His first actual sales of porter are listed on tax data from 1778. From the 1780s his second son, Arthur, works at his side and becomes the senior partner in the brewery in 1803.

Guinness’ major achievement is the expansion of his brewery in 1797–1799. Thereafter he brews only porter and employs members of the Purser family who have brewed porter in London from the 1770s. The Pursers become partners in the brewery for most of the 19th century. By the time of his death in 1803, the annual brewery output is over 20,000 barrels. Subsequently Arthur and/or his beer is nicknamed “Uncle Arthur” in Dublin. Guinness’ florid signature is still copied on every label of bottled Guinness.

From 1764, Guinness and his wife Olivia, whom he marries in 1761, live at Beaumont House, which Guinness has built on a 51-acre farm which is now a part of Beaumont Convalescent Home, behind the main part of Beaumont Hospital, between Santry and Raheny in north County Dublin. His landlord is Charles Gardiner. Beaumont, meaning beautiful hill, is named by Arthur and the later Beaumont parish copies the name. From March 1798 he lives at Mountjoy Square in Dublin, which is then in the process of being built in the style of elegant Georgian architecture. Three of his sons are also brewers, and his other descendants eventually include missionaries, politicians, and authors.

Sir Arthur Guinness dies in Mountjoy Square, Dublin, on January 23, 1803 and is buried in his mother’s family plot at Oughter Ard, County Kildare.