seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Grace Gifford Plunkett, Artist & Irish Republican

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on March 4, 1888. She marries her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he is executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Gifford is the second youngest of 12 children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants with the girls attending Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace.

At the age of 16, Gifford goes to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards her as one of his most talented pupils. Around this time, her talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tries 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. Nora Dryhurst, a journalist from London, brings her to the opening of the new bilingual school Scoil Éanna in Ranelagh, Dublin. It is here that she meets Plunkett for the first time. He is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to her sister Muriel.

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

After the Rising, Gifford’s brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is shot with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke by firing squad on May 3. That day, she hears that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweler’s shop in Dublin and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Joseph are married on the night of May 3 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few 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 paints pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. 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. Her talent as an artist is her only real asset and her cartoons are published in various newspapers and magazines. She moves from one apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants 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 Street with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, in which he leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one witness, rather than the required two, and the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. For years she receives nothing, so she begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and she is paid £700, plus costs.

At around this time Plunkett joins the Old Dublin Society, where she meets the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal marries, she gives him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, her health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like, mainly because it restricts her freedom.

Grace Gifford Plunkett dies suddenly on December 13, 1955 in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello. Her 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 close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Leave a comment

Birth of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Politician, Writer & Historian

conor-cruise-o-brienConor Cruise O’Brien, politician, writer, historian and academic often nicknamed “The Cruiser,” is born in Rathmines, Dublin on November 3, 1917. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1973 to 1977, a Senator for University of Dublin from 1977 to 1979, a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-East constituency from 1969 to 1977 and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from January 1973 to March 1973.

Cruise O’Brien follows his cousin Owen into Sandford Park School, which has a predominantly Protestant ethos despite objections from Catholic clergy. He subsequently attends Trinity College Dublin before joining the Irish diplomatic corps.

Although he is a fierce advocate of his homeland, Cruise O’Brien is a strong critic of Irish Republican Army violence and of what he considers the romanticized desire for reunification with Northern Ireland. His collection of essays Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Modern Catholic Writers (1952; written under the pseudonym Donat O’Donnell) impresses UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who in 1961 appoints him UN special representative in the Congo, later the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He orders UN peacekeeping forces into the breakaway Katanga province, and the resulting scandal forces him out of office. Despite UN objections, he writes To Katanga and Back (1963) to explain his actions.

After serving as vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana (1962–65) and Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at New York University (1965–69), Cruise O’Brien enters Irish politics. He holds a Labour Party seat in Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1977 and then in the Senate from 1977 to 1979, representing Trinity College, of which he is pro-chancellor (1973–2008).

In 1979 Cruise O’Brien is named editor in chief of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, but he leaves after three tumultuous years. He remains an active newspaper columnist, especially for the Irish Independent until 2007. His books include States of Ireland (1972) and On the Eve of the Millennium (1995), as well as perceptive studies of Charles Stewart Parnell, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson.

Conor Cruise O’Brien dies at the age of 91 on December 18, 2008 in Howth, Dublin.


Leave a comment

The Siege of Drogheda

st-laurences-gate-droghedaThe Siege of Drogheda begins on September 3, 1649 and runs through September 11, at the outset of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

The Royalist rebellion that breaks out in Ireland against the new English republic in 1649 is met by a prompt English response. On August 15 Oliver Cromwell and 15,000 troops land in Dublin. His merciless policy toward the Irish Royalists becomes brutally clear within a month.

The defeat of the Irish Royalists at Rathmines in early August is fortuitous for Cromwell, for without it, the English would have held only the small port of Derry (known as Londonderry from 1662) in the north, making his invasion almost impossible to effect. Cromwell quickly finds that the Irish Royalists have retreated into fortified towns. He therefore prepares for a series of sieges.

The first such siege occurs at Drogheda, 28 miles north of Dublin. Cromwell arrives at Drogheda on September 3. His siege guns, brought up by sea, arrive two days later. He finds the town surrounded by high but relatively thin walls and its governor, Sir Arthur Ashton, is confident of his defenses and refuses an order to surrender. On September 10 Cromwell begins an artillery bombardment of the walls. These are breached the following day, but the gap created is too small to allow troops to enter the city. Twice they are repelled until Cromwell himself leads an assault and overwhelms the defenders on September 11.

The carnage inside the city is appalling. Cromwell’s troops kill priests and monks on sight and set fire to a Catholic church sheltering some soldiers. Civilians as well as soldiers are massacred, and Ashton is bludgeoned to death with his own wooden leg. The few Royalist soldiers who survive are transported to Barbados. What happens at Drogheda is replicated at Wexford the following month and Clonmel the next May. By the time Cromwell has put down the rebellion and returned to England in that same month, he has become forever hated by Irish Catholics.

During the eight day siege the British lose 150 of their 12,000 men while 2,800 Irish are killed and 200 captured of the 3,100 at Drogheda.

(Pictured: St Laurence’s Gate – the last remaining of the ten original defensive gates at Drogheda)


Leave a comment

Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


Leave a comment

Birth of Frank Harte, Traditional Irish Singer

frank-harteFrank Harte, traditional Irish singer, music collector, architect and lecturer, is born in Chapelizod, County Dublin on May 14, 1933. He emigrates to the United States for a short period, but later returns to Ireland where he works as an architect, lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology in Rathmines, Dublin and in later life fully engages in songs in many ways.

Harte’s introduction to Irish traditional singing comes from a chance listening to an itinerant who is selling ballad sheets at a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon. He begins collecting early in life and by the end of his life has assembled a database of over 15,500 recordings.

Harte becomes a great exponent of the Dublin street ballad, which he prefers to sing unaccompanied. He is widely known for his distinctive singing, his Dublin accent having a rich nasal quality complementing his often high register. His voice mellows considerably by the time of his later recordings, allowing for an expressive interpretation of many love songs such as “My Bonny Light Horseman” on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. This is contrasted sublimely by his cogent interpretation of the popular “Molly Malone.” He also becomes more accustomed to singing with accompaniment which is not strictly part of the Irish singing tradition and does not come naturally to him.

Though Irish Republican in his politics, Harte believes that the Irish song tradition need not be a sectarian or nationalist preserve. He believes that songs are a key to understanding the past often saying, “those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs, and, given our history, we have an awful lot of songs.” Though considered a stalwart of traditional Irish singing and well aware of it, he does not consider himself to be a sean-nós singer.

Harte wins the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil singing competition on a number of occasions and in 2003 receives the Traditional Singer of the Year award from the Irish-language television channel TG4.

Harte records several albums and makes numerous television and radio appearances, most notably the Singing Voices series he writes and presents for RTÉ Radio, which is produced by Peter Browne in 1987. He is a regular at the Sunday morning sessions at The Brazen Head pub, along with Liam Weldon who runs the session. He is also an enthusiastic supporter of An Góilín Traditional Singer’s Club.

Harte appears at many American festivals including The Blarney Star in New York City, Gaelic Roots in Boston College, The Catskills Irish Arts Week, The Greater Washington Ceili Club Festival in Maryland and the Milwaukee Irish Fest and for seventeen years he is a veritable staple at the Irish Week every July in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia where he often performs with Mick Moloney.

Frank Harte dies of a heart attack, aged 72, on June 27, 2005. His influence is still evident in singers such as Karan Casey and he continues to be remembered fondly in sessions and folk clubs on both sides of the Irish Sea.


Leave a comment

Death of George Petrie, Painter & Musician

george-petrieGeorge Petrie, Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era dies on January 17, 1866.

Petrie is born and grows up in Dublin, living at 21 Great Charles Street, just off Mountjoy Square. He is the son of the portrait and miniature painter James Petrie, a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, who had settled in Dublin. He is interested in art from an early age. He is sent to the Royal Dublin Society‘s schools, being educated as an artist, where he wins the silver medal in 1805 at the age of fourteen.

After an abortive trip to England in the company of Francis Danby and James Arthur O’Connor, both of whom are close friends of his, he returns to Ireland where he works mostly producing sketches for engravings for travel books including among others, George Newenham Wright‘s guides to Killarney, Wicklow and Dublin, Thomas Cromwell‘s Excursions through Ireland, and James Norris Brewer‘s Beauties of Ireland.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalises the Royal Irish Academy‘s antiquities committee. He is responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong. His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture are of great significance, especially his essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appear in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland. He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology.” His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

From 1833 to 1843 Petrie is employed by Thomas Frederick Colby and Thomas Larcom as head of the Topographical Department of the Irish Ordnance Survey. Amongst his staff are John O’Donovan, one of Ireland’s greatest ever scholars, and Eugene O’Curry. A prizewinning essay submitted to the Royal Irish Academy in 1834 on Irish military architecture is never published, but his seminal essay On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill is published by the Academy in 1839. During this period Petrie is himself the editor of two popular antiquarian magazines, the Dublin Penny Journal and, later, the Irish Penny Journal.

Another major contribution of Petrie’s to Irish culture is the collection of Irish traditional airs and melodies which he records. William Stokes’s contemporary biography includes detailed accounts of Petrie’s working methods in his collecting of traditional music: “The song having been given, O’Curry wrote the Irish words, when Petrie’s work began. The singer recommenced, stopping at a signal from him at every two or three bars of the melody to permit the writing of the notes, and often repeating the passage until it was correctly taken down …”

As an artist, Petrie’s favourite medium is watercolour which, due to the prejudices of the age, is considered inferior to oil painting. Nonetheless, he can be considered as one of the finest Irish Romantic painters of his era. Some of his best work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, such as his watercolour painting Gougane Barra Lake with the Hermitage of St. Finbarr, County Cork (1831).

Petrie is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s prestigious Cunningham Medal three times: firstly in 1831 for his essay on the round towers, secondly in 1834 for the now lost essay on Irish military architecture, and thirdly in 1839 for his essay on the antiquities of Tara Hill.

The closing years of Petrie’s life are devoted to the publication of a portion of his collection of Irish music. He dies at the age of 77 at Rathmines, Dublin, on January 17, 1866. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


Leave a comment

The Battle of Rathmines

The Battle of Rathmines is fought in and around what is now the Dublin suburb of Rathmines on August 2, 1649, during the Irish Confederate Wars. It is fought between an English Parliamentarian army under Michael Jones which holds Dublin and an army composed of Irish Confederate and English Royalist troops under the command of the James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde.

By 1649, Ireland has already been at war for eight years, since the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641. The English Parliament holds only two small enclaves, Dublin and Derry, in Ireland.

In July 1649, Ormonde, marches his coalition forces of 11,000 men to the outskirts of Dublin with the intent of taking the city from its Parliamentary garrison, which had landed there in 1647. Ormonde takes Rathfarnham Castle and camps at Palmerston Park in Rathgar, about 4 km south of the city. The area from Ormonde’s camp to the city of Dublin is now a heavily urbanised area, but in 1649, it is open countryside. Ormonde begins inching his forces closer to Dublin by taking the villages around its perimeter and to this end, sends a detachment of troops to occupy Baggotrath Castle, on the site of present-day Baggot Street bridge. For reasons which have never been clear, they take several hours to reach Baggotrath, a distance of about a mile, and they arrive to find that the Parliamentary troops have already occupied the castle.

However, Ormonde is not expecting Michael Jones, the Parliamentary commander, to take the initiative and has not drawn up his troops for battle. Unfortunately for the Royalists, this is exactly what Jones does, launching a surprise attack on August 2 from the direction of Irishtown with 5,000 men and sending Ormonde’s men at Baggotsrath reeling backwards towards their camp in confusion.

Too late, Ormonde and his commanders realise what is going on and send units into action piecemeal to try to hold up the Parliamentarian advance, so that they can form their army into battle formation. However, Jones’ cavalry simply outflanks each force sent against them, sending them too fleeing back south through the townland of Rathmines. The battle becomes a rout as scores of fleeing Royalist and Confederate soldiers are cut down by the pursuing Roundheads. The fighting finally ends when the English Royalist troops under Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, mounts a disciplined rearguard action, allowing the rest to get away. Ormonde claims he has lost less than a thousand men. Jones claims to have killed around 4,000 Royalist or Confederate soldiers and taken 2,517 prisoners, while losing only a handful himself. Ormonde certainly loses at least one leading officer, Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingall, who is fatally wounded and dies in Dublin Castle a few days later. Ormonde also loses his entire artillery train and all his baggage and supplies.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ormonde withdraws his remaining troops from around Dublin, allowing Oliver Cromwell to land in the city at Ringsend with 15,000 veteran troops on August 15. Cromwell calls the battle “an astonishing mercy,” taking it as a sign that God has approved of his conquest of Ireland. Over the next four years he completes the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.

Without Jones’ victory at Rathmines, the New Model Army would have had no port to land at in Ireland and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland would have been much more difficult. Ormonde’s incompetent generalship at Rathmines disillusions many Irish Confederates with their alliance with the English Royalists and Ormonde is ousted as commander of the Irish forces the following year.