seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Phil Coulter, Songwriter & Producer

phil-coulter

Phil Coulter, musician, songwriter and record producer, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on February 19, 1942. He is one of the most eclectic and accomplished arranger/musicians to emerge from Ireland during the 1960s.

Coulter spends his secondary school years at St. Columb’s College. He later studies music and French at the Queen’s University Belfast. During his time at Queen’s he takes up songwriting, composing the hit Foolin’ Time for the Capitol Showband. His talents are swiftly captured by leading entrepreneur Phil Solomon. Initially working with such showbands as the Cadets and Pacific, he continues to compose for the Capitol Showband and even pens their 1965 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Walking the Streets in the Rain. In the meantime, Coulter works on Solomon’s other acts, including Twinkle, who enjoys a major UK hit with the Coulter-arranged Terry. He also contributes to Them’s song catalogue, with the driving I Can Only Give You Everything.

After leaving the Solomon stable in 1967, Coulter, now based in London, forms a partnership with Bill Martin, which becomes one of the most successful of its era. The duo is particularly known for their ability to produce instantly memorable pop hits, and achieve international fame after penning Sandie Shaw’s 1967 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Puppet on a String. They barely miss repeating that feat the following year with Cliff Richard’s stomping Congratulations.

Coulter subsequently leads his own country to victory in the contest by arranging Dana’s 1970 winner, All Kinds of Everything. That same year, Coulter/Martin are commissioned to write Back Home, the official song for the England national football team, which proves a lengthy UK number 1. As well as his pop outings, which include writing My Boy and an album’s worth of material for Richard Harris, he maintains his connection with the Irish folk scene, via his work with another of Solomon’s acts, The Dubliners. He also produces three albums for the groundbreaking Planxty and works with The Fureys.

During the mid-1970s, Coulter and Martin are called in to assist the Bay City Rollers, and subsequently compose a string of hits for the Scottish teenyboppers, including Remember (Sha-La-La), Shang-a-Lang, Summerlove Sensation, Saturday Night, and All Of Me Loves All Of You. During the same period, they enjoy three Top 10 hits with Kenny and reach the top again in 1976 with Slik’s Forever and Ever. He also produces several records by comedian Billy Connolly, including 1975’s UK number 1 D.I.V.O.R.C.E..

After his partnership with Martin ends in the late 1970s, Coulter specializes in orchestral recordings, which prove hugely successful in Irish communities. Albums such as Classic Tranquillity and Sea Of Tranquillity (both 1984), Words And Music (1989), American Tranquillity (1994), Celtic Horizons (1996), and collaborations with flautist James Galway and Roma Downey, also enjoy major international success, and Coulter is a regular fixture in the upper regions of the U.S. New Age album chart.

Coulter’s production credits during the 1990s include work for Sinéad O’Connor and Boyzone. His lengthy career, as producer, arranger, songwriter and performer, is all the more remarkable for encompassing such contrasting musical areas from folk and orchestral to straightforward Tin Pan Alley pop.

Despite his successes, Coulter suffers several family tragedies. His son is born with Down syndrome and dies at the age of three. The song Scorn Not His Simplicity is written in his memory. His brother also dies tragically in a drowning incident in Ireland, which briefly causes him to retreat from the music business. He records the anthemic Home From The Sea with the Lifeboat Chorus as a tribute.

Coulter has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster (1988), Dublin Institute of Technology (2006), and The Open University (2018).

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Death of Richard Harris, Actor & Singer

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, Irish actor and singer, dies in London from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pneumonia on October 25, 2002.

Harris is born to a farming family on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, County Limerick. He is the son of Mildred Josephine (Harty) and Ivan John Harris. He is an excellent rugby player with a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ends his aspirations to a rugby career. He becomes fascinated with the theater and skips a local dance one night to attend a performance of Henry IV. He is hooked and goes on to learn his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by several years in stage productions.

Harris makes his film debut in 1959 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. His second film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), quickly scores regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Harris’ breakthrough performance is as the quintessential “angry young man” in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), for which he receives an Academy Award nomination. He then appears in the World War II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next shows up in Hawaii (1966) and plays King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He takes the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which becomes something of a cult film and spawns two sequels.

As the 1970s progress, Harris continues to appear regularly on screen, however, the quality of the scripts vary from above average to woeful. His credits during this period include directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971), the western The Deadly Trackers (1973), the big-budget “disaster” film Juggernaut (1974), the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).

The 1980s kick off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade has him appearing in some very forgettable productions.

However, the luck of the Irish once again shines on Harris’ career and he scores rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for The Field (1990). He then locks horns with Harrison Ford as an Irish Republican Army sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and gets one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). He is firmly back in vogue and rewards his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune comes his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he becomes known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role is as “Lucius Sulla” in Julius Caesar (2002).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002 after spending his final three days in a coma. His body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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Bill Whelan Receives IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award

bill-whelanTaoiseach Bertie Ahern presents Irish composer and musician Bill Whelan with the IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award at Dublin Castle on March 2, 2001. Such big names as The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Jean Butler, Jim Sheridan, Paul McGuinness and Moya Doherty join him to celebrate the award.

Whelan is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, is a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that becomes a full-length stage production and spawns a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music and also wins him a Grammy Award. It is released as a single in the United Kingdom in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995. He also composes a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.

Whelan is a native of Limerick and is educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, he has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album), Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton’s Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of William Butler Yeats‘s plays for Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre and his film credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother’s Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.


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Birth of Actor Ray McAnally

Ray McAnally, Irish actor and winner of four BAFTA awards in the late 1980s, is born on March 30, 1926, in Buncrana, a seaside town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal.

The son of a bank manager, McAnally is educated at Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where he writes, produces and stages a musical called “Madame Screwball” at the age of sixteen. He enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the age of 18 but leaves after a short time having decided that the priesthood is not his vocation. He joins the Abbey Theatre in 1947 where he meets and marries actress Ronnie Masterson.

The couple later forms Old Quay Productions and present an assortment of classic plays in the 1960s and 1970s. McAnally makes his theatre debut in 1962 with A Nice Bunch of Cheap Flowers and gives a well-received performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Constance Cummings, at the Piccadilly Theatre.

On television he is a familiar face, often in glossy thriller series like television series The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, and Strange Report. In 1968 he takes the title role in Spindoe, a series charting the return to power of an English gangster, Alec Spindoe, after a five-year prison term. This is a spin-off from another series, The Fellows (1967) in which McAnally had appeared in several episodes as the Spindoe character. He could render English accents very convincingly.

McAnally regularly acts in the Abbey Theatre and at Irish festivals, but in the last decade of life he achieves award-winning notice on TV and films. His impressive performance as Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission (1986) earns him Evening Standard and BAFTA awards. He earns a second BAFTA award for his role in the BBC’s A Perfect Spy (1987). In 1988 he wins the BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in A Very British Coup, a role that also brings him a Jacob’s Award. In the last year of his life he portrays the father of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in the Academy Award-winning film, My Left Foot (1989).

McAnally dies suddenly of a heart attack on June 15, 1989, at the age of 63, at his home in County Wicklow which he shares with Irish actress Britta Smith. He remains married to actress Ronnie Masterson until his death, although they reside in different homes. He receives a posthumous BAFTA award for his last film in 1990.

At the time of his death, McAnally is due to play “Bull McCabe” in Jim Sheridan‘s film The Field. The part eventually goes to Richard Harris who receives an Academy Award nomination for his performance. McAnally had also been cast in the lead role of First and Last, a drama about a man who walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Filming is almost a third of the way done when he dies, but the whole play has to be re-filmed, with Joss Ackland taking the role instead.


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Birth of Jim Sheridan, Playwright, Director & Producer

jim-sheridanJim Sheridan, Irish playwright, screenwriter, film director, and film producer, is born in Dublin on February 6, 1949. In the few years from 1989 to 1993, Sheridan makes three acclaimed films set in Ireland (My Left Foot, The Field, and In the Name of the Father) that between them receive a remarkable 13 Academy Award nominations. Sheridan has personally received six Academy Award nominations. In addition to the above-mentioned films, he is also known for the films The Boxer and In America.

Sheridan is born to Anna and Peter Sheridan Snr and raised in the inner city of Dublin. He is the brother of playwright Peter Sheridan. The family runs a lodging house, while Anna Sheridan works at a hotel and Peter Sheridan Snr is a railway clerk with CIÉ. Sheridan’s early education is at a Christian Brothers school. In 1969 he attends University College Dublin to study English and History. He becomes involved in student theater there, where he meets Neil Jordan, who also is later to become an important Irish film director. After graduating from UCD in 1972, Sheridan and his brother begin writing and staging plays, and together found the Project Theatre Company.

In 1981, Sheridan emigrates to Canada, but eventually settles in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. He enrolls in New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts and becomes the artistic director of the Irish Arts Center.

Sheridan returns to Ireland in the late 1980s. In 1989, he directs My Left Foot, which becomes a critical and commercial success and wins Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker Academy Awards. He follows that with The Field starring Richard Harris in 1990, then with In the Name of the Father in 1993, a fictionalized re-telling of the case of the Guildford Four. The film wins the Golden Bear at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.

In 1996 he co-writes Some Mother’s Son with Terry George. The Boxer, with Daniel Day-Lewis, is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best film drama in 1997. In 2003, he releases the semi-autobiographical In America, which tells the story of a family of Irish immigrants trying to succeed in New York. The film receives positive reviews and earns Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounsou Academy Award nominations. In 2005 he releases Get Rich or Die Tryin’, a film starring rap star 50 Cent. He is connected with the upcoming film adaptation of Artemis Fowl and is rumoured to have written the screenplay and been asked to direct it.

Sheridan helms the 2009 film Brothers, starring Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is shot in New Mexico. He also directs the thriller Dream House, which stars Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz.

Sheridan has a wife, Fran, and three daughters, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan, and Tess Sheridan, with whom he has collaborated, most notably with Naomi and Kirsten on the screenplay for In America.


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Birth of Actor Richard Harris

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, actor, singer, songwriter, producer, director, and writer, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 1, 1930. He is brought up in a middle class and staunchly Roman Catholic family.

Harris is schooled by the Jesuits at Crescent College. He is a talented rugby player, however his athletic career is cut short when he comes down with tuberculosis in his teens. After recovering from tuberculosis, Harris moves to Britain, wanting to become a director. Unable to find any suitable training courses, he enrolls in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) to learn acting.

Harris makes his film debut in 1958 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. Harris’ first starring role is in the film This Sporting Life (1963), as a bitter young coal miner, Frank Machin, who becomes an acclaimed rugby league football player. For his role, Harris wins Best Actor in 1963 at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination. He also wins notice for his role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Major Dundee (1965), as an Irish immigrant who becomes a Confederate cavalryman during the American Civil War.

Harris performs the role of King Arthur in the film adaptation of the musical play Camelot (1967). He continues to appear on stage in this role for many years, including a successful Broadway run in 1981–1982. In 1970 British exhibitors vote him the 9th most popular star at the UK box office.

Other film performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informant in the coal-mining tale The Molly Maguires (1970), also starring Sean Connery. Harris stars in Cromwell (1970), a film based on the life of Oliver Cromwell who leads the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and, as Lord Protector, ruled Great Britain and Ireland in the 1650s.

Harris’ film career collapses after the late 1970s and in the next decade he is rarely seen on screen, although he continues to act on stage. During his career Harris appears in two films which win the Academy Award for Best Picture. First, as the gunfighter “English Bob” in the Western Unforgiven (1992); second, as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in Ridley Scott‘s Gladiator (2000).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002, at the age of 72. He was in a coma in his final three days. Harris’ body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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Birth of Academy Award Winning Actress Brenda Fricker

(Newscom TagID: mrpphotos209322) [Photo via Newscom]

Brenda Fricker, Irish actress of theatre, film, and television, is born in Dublin on February 17, 1945. In 1989, she becomes the first Irish actress to win an Oscar, earning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for My Left Foot.

In her teens, Fricker aspires to follow her parents’ footsteps into journalism. Before becoming an actress, she is assistant to the art editor of The Irish Times, with hopes to become a reporter. At age 19, she becomes an actress “by chance,” as her feature film career begins with a small uncredited part in the 1964 film Of Human Bondage, based on the 1915 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. She also appears in Tolka Row, Ireland’s first ever soap opera.

One of Fricker’s first TV roles is as staff nurse Maloney in Coronation Street, debuting on January 10, 1977. Fricker comes to wider public attention in the United Kingdom in another nursing role, as Megan Roach in the BBC One television drama series Casualty, appearing in 65 episodes. After making cameo appearances in three additional episodes, Fricker’s final appearance as Megan is in August 2010, when her character takes a lethal cocktail of drugs to end her life.

Fricker finds international acclaim after she wins the 1989 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Christy Brown‘s mother in My Left Foot, becoming the first Irish actress to win an Oscar. The film is a triumph for Irish film making. Daniel Day-Lewis wins best actor for his portrayal of the disabled Brown while director Jim Sheridan receives numerous Best Director nominations at various film festivals.

She rejoins  Sheridan to make the 1990 film The Field, starring alongside Richard Harris as Maggie McCabe. She continues her television work during this period, starring in the Australian-produced short series Brides of Christ (1991). She then co-stars in the 1992 TV miniseries Seekers alongside Josette Simon and produced by Sarah Lawson.

Buoyed by her Oscar win, Fricker goes on to appear in several high profile Hollywood films, most notably in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. The following year she portrays May Mackenzie in So I Married an Axe Murderer, and next portrayed Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character’s motherly caretaker Maggie in Angels in the Outfield. One of her last Hollywood film roles comes with A Time to Kill, as Ethel Twitty, loyal secretary to Matthew McConaughey‘s Jake Brigance. She then focuses almost exclusively on film and television work in Canada and the British Isles.

In July 2014, Fricker tentatively retires from acting. Previously married to director Barry Davies, Fricker currently lives in the Liberties in Dublin.