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


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Death of Saint Laurence O’Toole

st-laurence-o-tooleLorcán Ua Tuathail, also known as Saint Laurence O’Toole, Archbishop of Dublin at the time of the Norman invasion of Ireland, dies in Eu, Normandy, France on November 14, 1180.

O’Toole is born in Castledermot in what is now County Kildare in 1128. His father is Maurice O’Toole, King of Hy Murray. It is common practice in the day for princes of one clan to be given as hostages to another clan, as a guarantee of peace. When he is ten years old O’Toole is given as hostage to Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, who treats him very badly. He is sent in chains to a remote place, where he gets very little to eat and does not have enough clothes to keep him warm in the winter. For two years, even though he is a king’s son, he learns what it is like to be poor and to be oppressed.

After two years, it is agreed that O’Toole is to be released. He is sent to a monastery at Glendalough, and the monks make him welcome. It is agreed that his father is to come and collect him there. But he soon comes to love Glendalough and likes joining the monks in prayer. After his two years as a hostage, he realises that wealth and power are not important. He feels very close to God in Glendalough. He asks his father’s permission to stay there and become a monk, to which his father agrees. At the age of only 25 years old, he is elected Abbot of the monastery. As the leader of the community he encourages the monks in their learning. There is always a welcome in the monastery for the poor. When there is a famine in the area, he sells some of the treasures of Glendalough to provide food for those who are hungry.

In 1162 O’Toole becomes the first Irish-born Archbishop of the Danish city of Dublin. In those days, many of the people of Dublin do not take their Christian religion very seriously. He encourages them to become real Christians. He brings monks to Dublin from France and they live at Christ Church Cathedral. They help many people to come back to Mass and the Sacraments. O’Toole himself never forgets his own days of poverty. He continues to care for the poor, especially homeless children. He makes room for them in his own house, and they share the food at his table.

The Normans land in Ireland in 1169. The following year they besiege Dublin under their leader, Strongbow. O’Toole meets Strongbow to arrange peace but the Normans attack while the talks are going on. They seize the city and begin killing the citizens and looting their houses. O’Toole saves the lives of many people.

As Archbishop of Dublin, O’Toole participates in the Third Council of the Lateran in Rome in 1179, with some of the other Irish bishops. Pope Alexander III knows that Ireland has been going through a bad time. He knows that many people, including priests, are no longer taking their religion seriously. He entrusts to O’Toole the task of reforming the Church in Ireland.

A new dispute breaks out between the King of England and the Irish Kings. In the spring of 1180, O’Toole leaves Ireland to see if he can help settle the dispute. The English King, Henry II, does not have much time for bishops. He has already arranged to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, murdered. He does not welcome O’Toole. He sees a chance to get rid of O’Toole as Archbishop of Dublin and does not let him return to Ireland. Henry has control of Normandy as well as England. O’Toole follows him there. As long as there is a chance of peace, he would not give up trying.

In 1180, O’Toole becomes seriously ill. The monks at Eu in Normandy look after him in their monastery but on November 14, 1180, at the age of 52, he dies. His tomb is in the crypt under the Collegial Church at Eu. Many people still go there to pray. Laurence O’Toole is canonized in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.

(From “St. Laurence O’Toole: a spiritual leader for difficult times,” CatholicIreland.net, November 30, 1999)

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Birth of Father Leonard Eugene Boyle

leonard-eugene-boyleLeonard Eugene Boyle, Irish and Canadian scholar in medieval studies and palaeography, is born in Ballintra, County Donegal on November 13, 1923. He is the first Irish and North American Prefect of the Vatican Library in Rome from 1984 to 1997.

Boyle spends some years in Tralee, County Kerry, following the July 1940 death of his older brother John, who is a member of Garda Síochána and drowns while on holiday in Ballybunion, County Kerry. He is educated in the Irish language and enters the Dominican Order in 1943. He is ordained a priest in 1949 having received his doctorate in Oxford.

Boyle frequently visits Tralee, where a number of his family still reside, and is involved in many projects in the town. His immense knowledge and expertise in historical and archaeological issues is freely given in order to enhance the town. Of particular concern is his hope that the site of the original Dominican Priory at the centre of the town be conserved for future archaeological excavation.

After moving to Toronto, Boyle teaches at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto from 1961 to 1984. He also serves as Professor of Latin Palaeography and History of Medieval Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome from 1956 to 1961.

In 1984 Boyle is appointed Prefect of the Vatican Library by Pope John Paul II. This appointment takes him by surprise but appears to be a recognition of his immense scholarship, expertise in antiquity and renowned interest in learning as a whole. In an effort to modernise the Vatican Library, he sets about the digitisation of the library’s many thousands of manuscripts that date from hundreds of years BC, which leads to their greater availability to scholars around the world. He also extends the opening hours of the library and employs women for the first time as part of the library’s staff. In 1987, he is made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1997, he is ousted as Prefect after his dealings with some American fund-raising associates result in lawsuits involving the Vatican.

Known for his wit and independence of mind and spirit, Boyle is once asked of his interest in being a Cardinal given the fact that all of his predecessors have gone on to be Cardinals. His reply is in the negative saying “nothing but the papacy” would do him.

Father Boyle dies on October 25, 1999. He is buried in his beloved Basilica di San Clemente, in 2000, a year after his death, following official desire to give him the honour of interment in the vaults of San Clemente — one of Rome’s holiest and most historical shrines.


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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.


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Birth of Painter James Barry

james-barry-self-portraitJames Barry, Irish painter best remembered for his six-part series of paintings entitled The Progress of Human Culture in the Great Room of the Royal Society of Arts in London, is born in Water Lane (now Seminary Road) on the northside of Cork, County Cork on October 11, 1741.

Barry first studies painting under local artist John Butts. At the schools in Cork to which he is sent he is regarded as a child prodigy. About the age of seventeen he first attempts oil painting, and between that and the age of twenty-two, when he first goes to Dublin, he produces several large paintings.

The painting that first brings him into public notice, and gains him the acquaintance and patronage of Edmund Burke, is founded on an old tradition of the landing of Saint Patrick on the sea-coast of Cashel, although Cashel is an inland town far from the sea, and of the conversion and Baptism of the King of Cashel. It is exhibited in London in 1762 or 1763 and rediscovered in the 1980s in unexhibitable condition.

In late 1765 Barry goes to Paris, then to Rome, where he remains upwards of three years, from Rome to Florence and Bologna, and thence home through Venice. He paints two pictures while abroad, an Adam and Eve and a Philoctetes.

Soon after his return to England in 1771 Barry produces his painting of Venus, which is compared to the Triumph of Galatea of Raphael, the Venus of Urbino of Titian and the Venus de’ Medici. In 1773 he exhibits his Jupiter and Juno on Mount Ida. His Death of General Wolfe, in which the British and French soldiers are represented in very primitive costumes, is considered as a falling-off from his great style of art.

In 1773 Barry publishes An Inquiry into the real and imaginary Obstructions to the Acquisition of the Arts in England, vindicating the capacity of the English for the fine arts and tracing their slow progress to the Reformation, to political and civil dissensions, and lastly to the general direction of the public mind to mechanics, manufactures and commerce.

In 1774 a proposal is made through Valentine Green to several artists to ornament the Great Room of the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (now the Royal Society of Arts), in London’s Adelphi Theatre, with historical and allegorical paintings. This proposal is rejected at the time. In 1777 Barry makes an offer, which is accepted, to paint the whole on condition that he is allowed the choice of his subjects, and that he is paid by the society the costs of canvas, paints and models. He finishes the series of paintings after seven years to the satisfaction of the members of the society. He regularly returns to the series for more than a decade, making changes and inserting new features. The series of six paintings, The progress of human knowledge and culture, has been described by critic Andrew Graham-Dixon as “Britain’s late, great answer to the Sistine Chapel.”

Soon after his return from the continent Barry is chosen a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1782 he is appointed professor of painting in the room of Edward Penny with a salary of £30 a year. In 1799 he is expelled from the Academy soon after the appearance of his Letter to the Society of Dilettanti, an eccentric publication, full of enthusiasm for his art and at the same time of contempt for the living professors of it. He remains the only academician ever to be expelled by the Academy until Brendan Neiland in July 2004.

After the loss of his salary, a subscription is set on foot by the Earl of Buchan to relieve Barry from his difficulties, and to settle him in a larger house to finish his painting of Pandora. The subscription amounts to £1000, with which an annuity is bought, but on February 6, 1806 he is seized with illness and dies on February 22. His remains are interred in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London on March 4, 1806.

(Pictured: James Barry, Self-portrait, 1803, oil on canvas. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.)


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Pope John Paul II Meets Jubilee 2000 Delegation

geldof-bono-pope-john-paul-iiBob Geldof, Bono, Quincy Jones and other members of an international lobby group meet with Pope John Paul II in Rome on September 23, 1999 to discuss the cancellation of third world debt repayments.

In an extraordinary meeting, marking 100 days to the millennium, Pope John Paul II makes a strong appeal to world to leaders to take urgent and decisive action towards resolving the debt crisis that afflicts the world’s poorest countries.

Speaking during a meeting with an international Jubilee 2000 delegation of economists, artists and campaigners, the Pope questions why progress in resolving the debt problem is so slow, and expresses impatience with the protracted negotiations. He warns that it “is the poor that pay the cost of indecision and delay.”

The Pope says “the Catholic Church looks at the situation with great concern. Not because she has any concrete technical model of development to offer, but because she has a moral vision of what the good of individuals and of the human family demands. She has consistently taught that there is a ‘social mortgage‘ on all private property, a concept which today must also be applied to ‘intellectual property‘ and to ‘knowledge.’ The law of profit alone cannot be applied to that which is essential for the fight against hunger, disease and poverty.”

Addressing the Pope on behalf of the delegation, Ann Pettifor, director and co-founder of Jubilee 2000, appeals to the Vatican to prevail upon the world’s leaders to meet again before the New Year, to cancel debts that result in the deaths of 20,000 children every day. She says, “This is a day that will go down in history. The Pope has given his endorsement and blessing to the passion and commitment of millions of Jubilee 2000 campaigners around the world. It is now up to the world’s leaders to rise to the Pope’s call and moral leadership.”

Following the meeting Bob Geldof says, “Were the spirit of this frail old man mirrored in a practical way by our political leaders, then the final push of political will to eradicate this unnecessary tragedy, would be easily achieved…and I liked his shoes!”

Professor Jeffrey Sachs adds, “With 100 days left to the millennium, we are halfway up the summit. But much more is needed. For hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people, the Pope’s message today is crucial: the time is urgent for rich and poor to take the full and bold measure of debt cancellation that is so vitally needed.”

Bono summed it up saying, “His everyday courage amazes me. As aged as he is and as infirm as he has been, he will, you know, hang out with a bunch of pop stars…who could turn this man down?”

(Source: “Pope meets Bobo and calls for debt relief,” The Guardian, September 23, 1999)


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Birth of Thomas Burke, Irish Dominican Preacher

thomas-nicholas-burke-statueThomas Nicholas Burke, Irish Dominican preacher, is born in Galway, County Galway on September 8, 1830.

Burke’s parents, though in moderate circumstances, gave him a good education. He studies at first under the care of the Patrician Brothers, and is afterwards sent to a private school. An attack of typhoid fever when he is fourteen years old and the famine year of 1847 have a sobering effect. Toward the end of that year he asks to be received into the Order of Preachers, and is sent to Perugia in Italy to make his novitiate. On December 29, he is clothed there in the habit of St. Dominic and receives the name of Thomas.

Shortly afterward Burke is sent to Rome to begin his studies at the College of St. Thomas, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he is a student of philosophy and theology. He passes thence to the Roman convent of Santa Sabina. His superiors send him, while yet a student, as novice-master to Woodchester, the novitiate of the resuscitated English Province. He is ordained into the priesthood on March 26, 1853. On August 3, 1854, he defends publicly the theses in universâ theologiâ. He is made lector at the College of St. Thomas in 1854.

Early in the following year Burke is recalled to Ireland to found the novitiate of the Irish Province at Tallaght, near Dublin. In 1859 he preaches his first notable sermon on “Church Music.” It immediately lifts him into fame.

Elected Prior of Tallaght in 1863, Burke goes to Rome the following year as Rector of the Dominican Convent of San Clemente and attracts great attention by his preaching. He returns to Ireland in 1867 and delivers his oration on Daniel O’Connell at Glasnevin before fifty thousand people.

Bishop Leahy takes him as his theologian to the First Vatican Council in 1870, and the following year he is sent as Visitor to the Dominican convents in America. He is besieged with invitations to preach and lecture. The seats are filled hours before he appears and his audiences overflow the churches and halls in which he lectures. In New York City he delivers the discourses in refutation of the English historian James Anthony Froude.

In an eighteen month period Burke gives four hundred lectures, exclusive of sermons, with the proceeds amounting to nearly $400,000. His mission is a triumph, but the triumph is dearly won. When he arrives in Ireland on March 7, 1873, he is spent and broken.

During the next decade Burke preaches in Ireland, England, and Scotland. He begins the erection of the church in Tallaght in 1883, and the following May preaches a series of sermons in the new Dominican church, London. In June he returns to Tallaght in a dying condition and preaches his last sermon in the Jesuit church, Dublin, in aid of the starving children of Donegal. A few days afterwards, on July 2, 1882, he dies. He is buried in the church of Tallaght, now a memorial to him.

(Pictured: Statue of Thomas Nicholas Burke by John Francis Kavanagh by Nimmo’s Pier in Galway)


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Opening of The Museum of Science and Art, Dublin

national-museum-of-irelandThe Museum of Science and Art, Dublin on Kildare Street opens on August 29, 1890. The museum is founded on August 14, 1877 by act of Parliament. The decision to establish a state-run museum arises from requests by the Royal Dublin Society for continued government funding for its expanding museum activities.

A number of developments lead to the Science and Art Museums Act of 1877, which has the effect of transferring the buildings and collections of the Royal Dublin Society to state ownership. The collections are further enhanced by the transfer of other notable collections from institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College Dublin.

The Museum is the responsibility of the Department of Science and Art, which is also responsible for the South Kensington museums in London. State support for the institution is manifested in the construction of the new building on Kildare Street. It is built in the Victorian Palladian style and has been compared with the Altes Museum in Berlin, designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s. Neoclassical influences can be seen in the colonnaded entrance and the domed rotunda, which rises to a height of 20 metres, and is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome.

The new museum houses coins, medals and significant Irish antiquities from the Royal Irish Academy including the Tara Brooch and Ardagh Chalice, ethnographical collections with material from Captain James Cooke‘s voyages from Trinity College Dublin, and the collections of the Geological Survey of Ireland.

These are joined by material from the decorative arts and ethnographical collections of the Royal Dublin Society along with their Irish collections of antiquities, minerals and plants. The old Royal Dublin Society museum on the Merrion Street side of Leinster House, erected with government assistance and opened in 1856, is devoted to natural history. It is dominated by zoology throughout much of its subsequent history and has an annex devoted to geology.

The building on Kildare Street is designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and is used to show contemporary Irish, British and Continental craftsmanship in its construction. State involvement in the running of the Museum allows for steady funding and a connection with other state museums in London and Edinburgh which is of considerable benefit. The collections grow with material acquired through purchase, public donation and shares of significant collections acquired by the state and dispersed by the London museums.

Catalogues are prepared by leading experts in various disciplines and printed in the Museum’s own press. In 1900 control passes to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction and in 1908 its name is changed from “The Dublin Museum of Science and Art” to the “National Museum of Science and Art.” The name of the institution is changed again in 1921 to the “National Museum of Ireland.”