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


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-frenchMajor General Sir George Arthur French, KCMG, British Army officer, is born in Roscommon, County Roscommon on June 19, 1841. He serves as the first Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876, and as Commandant of the colonial military forces in Queensland (1883–91) and New South Wales (1896–1902). He is also a relative of songwriter Percy French.

French is educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1860.

In 1871, at the request of the Canadian government, French is sent to Canada as a military inspector, eventually becoming head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario.

French is appointed to organise the North-West Mounted Police on its creation in 1873, and the next year he leads the force on its famous march to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

French resigns in 1876 and returns to duty in the British Army, eventually attaining the rank of major general. The organizational skills developed in Canada are used to establish local defence forces in India and Australia. In September 1883 he is appointed Commandant of the Queensland Local Forces with the local rank of colonel, and arrives in the colony on January 4, 1884. In 1862, he marries Janet Clarke, daughter of the late Robert Long Innes, formerly of the 37th Regiment. French retires in 1891 and returns to England.

French retires from the army on September 3, 1902 and is knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the November 1902 Birthday Honours. For the next 19 years much of his time is spent guarding the crown jewels in London, where he dies on July 7, 1921. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

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Death of Irish Songwriter Percy French

percy-frenchPercy French, one of Ireland’s foremost songwriters and entertainers of his day, dies of pneumonia in Formby, England, on January 24, 1920.

French is born at Cloonyquin House, near Tulsk, County Roscommon. He is educated at Foyle College, Derry, and writes his first successful song, Abdul Abulbul Amir, while studying at Trinity College Dublin in 1877. The song is sold for £5 to an unscrupulous publisher and later becomes hugely popular and is falsely claimed by other authors.

He graduates from Trinity as a civil engineer in 1881 and joins the Board of Works in County Cavan as an “Inspector of Drains.” It is said that he writes his best songs during this period. French is also a prolific painter of landscape watercolours and during this period he considers art to be his true vocation. When he becomes well-known later in his life, his paintings from his time as a civil engineer become fashionable and sought after.

When the Board of Works reduces its staff around 1887, French turns to journalism as the editor of The Jarvey, a weekly comic paper. Upon the failure of the paper, French embarks on a long and successful career as a songwriter and entertainer. It is around this time that French marries Ethel Kathleen Armitage-Moore, second daughter of William Armytage-Moore, brother of Countess of Annesley. Tragically, at the age of 20, she dies during childbirth along with her daughter.

percy-french-statueFrench becomes renowned for composing and singing comic songs and gains considerable distinction with such songs as Phil the Fluther’s Ball, Slattery’s Mounted Foot, and The Mountains of Mourne. One of French’s most famous songs is Are Ye Right There Michael, a song that ridicules the state of the rail system in rural County Clare. The song causes such embarrassment to the rail company that it lead to an ultimately unsuccessful libel action against French. It is said that French arrives late for the libel hearing and, when questioned by the judge on his lateness, he responds, “Your honour, I travelled by the West Clare Railway,” which results in the case being thrown out.

French takes ill while performing in Glasgow and dies of pneumonia on January 24, 1920, at the age of 65 at the home of his cousin, Canon Richardson of Green Lea, in Formby. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Luke’s Parish Church, Formby in Merseyside. A statue of him sitting on a park bench can be found in the town center of Ballyjamesduff in honour of him and his famous song, Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff.


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Birth of Dr. Douglas Hyde, First President of Ireland

douglas-hydeDr. Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar and the first President of Ireland, is born at Longford House in Castlerea, County Roscommon, on January 17, 1860. In 1867, his father is appointed prebendary and rector of Tibohine, and the family moves to neighbouring Frenchpark, in County Roscommon. He is home schooled by his father and his aunt due to a childhood illness. While a young man, he becomes fascinated with hearing the old people in the locality speak the Irish language.

Rejecting family pressure to follow previous generations with a career in the Church, Hyde instead becomes an academic. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he gains a great facility for languages, learning Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and German, but his great passion in life is the preservation of the Irish language.

After spending a year teaching modern languages in Canada, Hyde returns to Ireland. For much of the rest of his life he writes and collects hundreds of stories, poems, and folktales in Irish, and translates others. His work in Irish helps to inspire many other literary writers, such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory.

In 1892, Hyde helps establish the Gaelic Journal and in November of that year writes a manifesto called The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation, arguing that Ireland should follow her own traditions in language, literature, and even in dress.

In 1893, Hyde founds the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) along with Eoin MacNeill and Fr. Eugene O’Growney and serves as its first president. Many of the new generation of Irish leaders who play a central role in the fight for Irish independence in the early twentieth century, including Patrick Pearse, Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, and Ernest Blythe first become politicised and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement in the Gaelic League. Hyde does not want the Gaelic League to be a political entity, so when the surge of Irish nationalism that the Gaelic League helps to foster begins to take control of many in the League and politicize it in 1915, Hyde resigns as president.

Hyde takes no active part in the armed upheaval of the 1910s and 1920s, but does serve in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Irish Free State’s Oireachtas, as a Free State senator in 1925-26. He then returns to academia, as Professor of Irish at University College Dublin, where one of his students is future Attorney General and President of Ireland Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

In 1938, Hyde is unanimously elected to the newly created position of President of Ireland, a post he holds until 1945. Hyde is inaugurated on June 26, 1938, in the first inaugural ceremony in the nation’s history. Despite being placed in a position to shape the office of the presidency via precedent, Hyde by and large opts for a quiet, conservative interpretation of the office. In April 1940 he suffers a massive stroke and plans are made for his lying-in-state and state funeral, but to the surprise of everyone he survives, albeit paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. One of Hyde’s last presidential acts is a visit to the German ambassador Eduard Hempel on May 3, 1945 to offer his condolences on the death of Adolf Hitler, a visit which remains a secret until 2005.

Hyde leaves office on June 25, 1945, opting not to nominate himself for a second term. He opts not return to his Roscommon home due to his ill-health, but rather moves into the former Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant’s residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, where he lived out the remaining four years of his life.

Hyde dies in Dublin on July 12, 1949 at age 89. As a former President of Ireland he is accorded a state funeral which, as a member of the Church of Ireland, takes place in Dublin’s Church of Ireland St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since contemporary rules of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland at the time prohibit Roman Catholics from attending services in non-Catholic churches, all but one member of the Catholic cabinet remain outside the cathedral grounds while Hyde’s funeral takes place. Hyde is buried in Frenchpark, County Roscommon at Portahard Church.