seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Playwright & Broadcaster Máiréad Ní Ghráda

Máiréad Ní Ghráda, poet, playwright, and broadcaster, dies on June 13, 1971. She is a tireless promoter of the Irish language and writes many educational texts, some of which are still widely used today including Progress in Irish.

Máiréad is born and raised in Kilmaley, County Clare, a Breac Ghaeltacht, with Irish speaking parents. She wins a university scholarship while attending the local Convent of Mercy School and receives a BA in English, Irish, and French and an MA in Irish from University College Dublin (UCD).

An active member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan, she is imprisoned in 1920 for selling flags on behalf of the Gaelic League on Grafton Street. After a short time teaching in St. Brendan’s private school, Glenageary, County Dublin, Máiréad is employed as organiser and later as secretary to Ernest Blythe in the first Dáil Éireann and during the Irish Civil War. In 1923, she marries Richard Kissane, a civic guard (Garda Síochána). They have two sons and settle in Ranelagh, Dublin.

Beginning in 1926 she spends nine years working for 2RN (now Radió Éireann). She is the first female announcer with 2RN, engaged as Woman’s Organiser with the national radio station for many years, a job which involves programming for women and children. She is the first female announcer in Ireland and Britain, and perhaps in Europe.

Máiréad writes her first play in 1931 while teaching Irish in a domestic science college in Kilmacud. An Uacht, a one act comedy based on Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini, is produced by Michéal Mac Liammóir at the Gate Theatre (1931). Her writing for theatre includes Mícheál, 1933 (adaptation of Michael, a story by Leo Tolstoy), An Grádh agus an Garda (1937), Giolla an tSoluis (1945), Hansel & Gretel (1951), Lá Buí Bealtaine (1953), Úll glas Oíche Shamhna (1955), Ríte (1955), Súgán Sneachta (1959), Mac Uí Rudaí (1961) and Stailc Ocrais (1962). An Triail (1964) and On Trial (1965) and Breithiúnas (1968), although critical of Irish society at the time, are her greatest successes.

Her enormous contribution to Irish language theatre includes eleven original plays, more than any other playwright in Irish.

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Death of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, Irish artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, dies suddenly in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin, on December 13, 1955 .

Gifford is the second youngest of twelve children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. She grows up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants. The girls attend Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attend the The High School in Harcourt St.

At the age of 16, Gifford enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards Gifford as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketches her and eventually paints her as one of his subjects for a series on “Young Ireland.” Around this time, Gifford’s talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, attempts to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet, and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Later that year, she meets Plunkett for the first time at the opening of St. Edna’s School, a new bilingual school in Ranelagh, Dublin. Plunkett is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to Gifford’s sister Muriel.

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915. She accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plan to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, her brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is executed by firing squad along with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke on May 3. That same day, Gifford learns that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweller’s shop in Dublin city centre and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Plunkett are married on the night of May 3, 1916 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few short hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. She moves from one rented apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants. She befriends many people and has many admirers, but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, which leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one of the required two witnesses and also the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. She begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and Plunkett is paid £700, plus costs.

From the late 1940s onwards, Plunkett’s health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like because it restricts her freedom.

After her sudden death on December 13, 1955, Grace Gifford Plunkett’s body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours near the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Grace Gifford Plunkett is the subject of “Grace,” a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, which becomes popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.


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Patrick Pearse Opens St. Edna’s School

pearse-museumSt. Enda’s School, or Scoil Éanna, a secondary school for boys set up in Ranelagh, Dublin, by Irish nationalist Patrick Pearse, is opened on September 8, 1908.

Pearse, generally known as a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, has long been critical of the educational system in Ireland, which he believes teaches Irish children to be good Englishmen. He has for years been committed to the preservation of the Irish language, mostly through the Gaelic League, and is dearly concerned about the language’s future. A trip abroad to Belgium and his observations of bi-lingual education there inspires him to attempt a similar experiment at home.

Pearse is not a practical businessman, but he is never one to let lack of finances get in the way of his plans. With promises from prominent nationalists as proponents of Irish heritage that they will give him whatever limited financial support they can, and, when applicable, will enroll their children in his school, Pearse establishes his school, which officially opens on September 8, 1908, in Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, a suburb of Dublin.

The school proves a successful experiment, but is never to fully escape the shadow of looming financial woes. In fact, the school would not have survived the crucial first few years without the devoted aid of his good friend and assistant headmaster Thomas MacDonagh, and the solid dedication of Pearse’s brother Willie.

St. Enda’s teaches many of the classes in Irish, and particularly stresses the arts and dramatics. Everything is given an Irish approach. After two years the school is doing quite well. Thrilled with his creation, and concerned that Cullenswood House is not a location that does St. Enda’s justice, Pearse moves the school to the Hermitage in Rathfarnham, substantially further from Dublin than Cullenswood House. In 1910 St. Enda’s opens its doors at the Hermitage but proves to be a financial disaster. With bankruptcy looming Pearse is forced to look to the United States for further funding which only keeps the school barely in solvency.

Pearse is a person who shows extreme dedication to a project once it catches his interest, but this leaves him unable to fully devote himself to multiple tasks. His involvement in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and his active participation in the Irish Republican Brotherhood shortly thereafter, leaves St. Enda’s with a less devoted master than it had previously.

Following the execution of the Pearse brothers after the rising, their mother reopens St. Enda’s back at Cullenwood House. The school then returns to the Hermitage in 1919. The international fame the Easter Rising gives Pearse and his martyrdom makes raising funds easier than before and Margaret Pearse raises enough money to buy the property Pearse could never afford in his lifetime. However, without the leadership of either of the Pearse brothers, St. Enda’s could not last, and it eventually closes its doors for good in 1935. Today the Hermitage stands as the Pearse Museum, dedicated to the memory of the school’s founder.

(Pictured: The Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham)


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Birth of Actress Maureen O’Hara

maureen-oharaMaureen O’Hara, Irish actress and singer, is born Maureen FitzSimons on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, County Dublin. The famously red-headed O’Hara is known for her beauty and playing fiercely passionate but sensible heroines, often in westerns and adventure films. She works on numerous occasions with director John Ford and longtime friend John Wayne, and was one of the last surviving stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

O’Hara grows up in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh to an “eccentric” devout Catholic family, and aspires to become an actress from a very young age. She trains with the Rathmines Theatre Company from the age of 10 and at the Abbey Theatre from the age of 14. She is given a screen test, which is deemed unsatisfactory, but Charles Laughton sees potential and arranges for her to co-star with him in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Jamaica Inn in 1939. She moves to Hollywood the same year to appear with him in the production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and is given a contract by RKO Pictures. From there, she goes on to enjoy a long and highly successful career, and acquires the nickname “The Queen of Technicolor,” which she detests, believing that people see her only for her beauty rather than talent.

O’Hara gains a reputation in Hollywood for bossiness and prudishness, avoiding the partying lifestyle. She appears in films such as How Green Was My Valley (1941), her first collaboration with John Ford, The Black Swan (1942) with Tyrone Power, The Spanish Main (1945), Sinbad the Sailor (1947), the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with John Payne and Natalie Wood and Comanche Territory (1950).

O’Hara appears in her first film with John Wayne, the actor with whom she is most closely associated, with Rio Grande (1950). This is followed by The Quiet Man (1952), her best-known film, and The Wings of Eagles (1957), by which time her relationship with Ford has deteriorated. Such is her strong chemistry with Wayne that many assume they are married or in a relationship. In the 1960s O’Hara increasingly turns to more motherly roles as she ages, appearing in films such as The Deadly Companions (1961), The Parent Trap (1961), and The Rare Breed (1966).

O’Hara retires from the industry in 1971 after starring with Wayne one final time in Big Jake, but returns 20 years later to appear with John Candy in Only the Lonely (1991). In the late 1970s, O’Hara helps run her third husband’s flying business in St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands, and edits a magazine, but later sells them to spend more time in Glengariff in Ireland. She is married three times and has one daughter, Bronwyn, born in 1944 to her second husband.

Her autobiography, ‘Tis Herself, is published in 2004 and becomes a New York Times Bestseller. In November 2014, she is presented with an Honorary Academy Award with the inscription “To Maureen O’Hara, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, whose inspiring performances glowed with passion, warmth and strength.”

Maureen O’Hara dies of natural causes in her sleep at the age of 95 on October 24, 2015, at her home in Boise, Idaho. O’Hara is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia next to her late husband Charles Blair.