seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Christy Brown, Writer & Painter

christy-brownChristy Brown, Irish writer and painter who has cerebral palsy and is able to write or type only with the toes of one foot, dies on September 7, 1981 in Parbrook, Somerset, England. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot (1954).

Brown is born into a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on June 5, 1932. He is one of 22 siblings of parents Bridget Fagan and Patrick Brown. After his birth, doctors discover that he has severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which leaves him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a hospital, his parents are unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During his adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt becomes aware of his story and begins to visit the Brown family regularly. She brings him books and painting materials as, over the years, he has shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He has also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, he had learned to both write and draw himself with his left leg, the only limb over which he has unequivocal control.

Brown quickly matures into a serious artist. Although he famously receives almost no formal schooling during his youth, he does attend St. Brendan’s School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan’s he comes in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovers that Brown is also a natural novelist and, later, helps use his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown’s struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.

When My Left Foot becomes a literary sensation, one of the many people who write letters to Brown is married American woman Beth Moore. Brown and Moore become regular correspondents and, in 1960, he holidays in North America and stays with Moore at her home in Connecticut. When they meet again in 1965 they began an affair. Brown journeys to Connecticut once more to finish his magnum opus, which he had been developing for years. He finally does so in 1967 with help from Moore, who introduces and administers a strict working regimen, mostly by denying him alcohol until a day’s work is completed. The book, Down All the Days, is published in 1970. It is an ambitious project drawn largely from a playful expansion of My Left Foot. It becomes an international best-seller, translated into fourteen languages. The Irish Times reviewer Bernard Share claims the work is “the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”

Down All the Days is followed by a series of other novels, including A Shadow on Summer (1972), Wild Grow the Lilies (1976) and A Promising Career (published posthumously in 1982). He also publishes three poetry collections: Come Softly to My Wake, Background Music and Of Snails and Skylarks. All the poems are included in The Collected Poems of Christy Brown.

Brown’s fame continues to spread internationally and he becomes a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he is able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister’s family. Though he and Beth had planned to marry and live together at the new home, and though Moore had informed her husband of these plans, it is around this time that he begins an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he meets at a party in London. He then terminates his affair with Moore and marries Carr at the Registry Office, Dublin, in 1972. They move to Stoney Lane, Rathcoole, County Dublin, to Ballyheigue, County Kerry and then to Somerset. He continues to paint, write novels, poetry and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, is based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considers a friend.

Brown’s health deteriorates after marrying Carr. He becomes mainly a recluse in his last years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr’s influence and perhaps abusive nature. He dies at the age of 49 on September 7, 1981 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body is found to have significant bruising, which leads many to believe that Carr had physically abused him. Further suspicions arise after Georgina Hambleton’s biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, reveals a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful. He is buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

A film adaptation of My Left Foot directed by Jim Sheridan is produced in 1989 from a screenplay by Shane Connaughton. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Brown and Brenda Fricker as his mother. Both win Academy Awards for their performances. The film also receives Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Anglo-Irish rock band The Pogues pay tribute to Christy Brown with a song titled “Down All the Days.” It is the seventh track on their 1989 recording Peace and Love. Similarly, U2 releases a song titled “Down All the Days” with the 20th anniversary edition of Achtung Baby. The Men They Couldn’t Hang also writes a song “Down All the Days” which appears on their Silver Town album also released in 1989.

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Laying of the Rotunda Hospital Foundation Stone

rotunda-hospitalThe foundation stone of the Rotunda Hospital, a maternity hospital in Parnell Street, Dublin, is laid by the Lord Mayor of Dublin on July 9, 1751.

The hospital is founded by Bartholomew Mosse, a surgeon and man-midwife who is appalled at the conditions that pregnant women have to endure, in George’s Lane as the Dublin Lying-In Hospital in March 1745. Lying-in is an archaic term for childbirth, referring to the month-long bed rest prescribed for postpartum confinement. The venture is very successful and Mosse raises money through concerts, exhibitions and even a lottery to establish larger premises.

The hospital moves to new premises, designed by Richard Cassels, where it becomes known as “The New Lying-In Hospital” in December 1757. The rotunda itself, which is designed by James Ensor, is completed just in time for a reception hosted by the Marquess of Kildare in October 1767. Extensive new rooms, designed by Richard Johnston and built adjacent to the rotunda, are completed in 1791.

Records indicate that around 1781, “when the hospital was imperfectly ventilated, every sixth child died within nine days after birth, of convulsive disease; and that after means of thorough ventilation had been adopted, the mortality of infants, within the same, in five succeeding years, was reduced to one in twenty.” This issue is not limited to the Lying-In-Hospital. In that era, ventilation improvement is a general issue in patient care, along with other issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the conditions in which surgeons such as Robert Liston in Britain and elsewhere, have to operate. Florence Nightingale famously works on the design of safe and healthy hospitals.

By the early 19th century the facility becomes known as the Rotunda Hospital, after its prominent architectural feature. The first Caesarean section in Ireland is undertaken at the hospital in 1889.

The Rotunda Hospital, as both a maternity hospital and also as a training centre (affiliated with Trinity College Dublin) is notable for having provided continuous service to mothers and babies since inception, making it the oldest continuously operating maternity hospital in the world. It is estimated that over 300,000 babies have been born there.

Rotunda Hospital is currently managed by RCSI Hospitals.


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Percival Lea-Wilson

percival-lea-wilsonPercival Lea-Wilson, a District Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) who is stationed at Gorey, County Wexford, is shot dead on June 15, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) outside his Gorey home on the orders of Michael Collins.

Lea-Wilson is born in Kensington, London and is educated at the University of Oxford but his route into the British Army begins with a stint as a RIC constable in Charleville, County Cork in the early 20th century.

When World War I breaks out in 1914 Lea-Wilson joins the British army where he reaches the rank of captain in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment. An injury during the war forces him back to Ireland where he is stationed in Dublin, just in time for the Easter Rising in 1916.

When the week long rising ends, the rebels who had fought in the Four Courts and the GPO are marched to the Rotunda Hospital where they are kept overnight under the glare of British troops. Among those detained are leaders of the rebellion such as Sean Mac Diarmada and Tom Clarke. Clarke is singled out and subjected to public humiliation by 28-year-old British army Captain Percival Lea-Wilson.

Lea-Wilson and his soldiers walk among the captured rebels and he picks the 58-year-old Clarke out of the group. He marches Clarke to the steps of the hospital where he orders soldiers to strip him bare as nurses look on in horror from the windows above. Clarke is beaten and left there overnight in his tattered clothes. One of the prisoners, Michael Collins, who witnesses Clarke’s mistreatment at the hands of the British captain vows vengeance.

In the years following the Easter Rising, Lea-Wilson settles in Wexford where he attains the role of RIC district inspector.

On the morning of June 15, 1920, Lea-Wilson is walking back home after paying a visit to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Dressed in his civilian clothes, he stops at the local railway station where he purchases a newspaper and meets Constable Alexander O’Donnell, who accompanies him on part of his walk home.

O’Donnell and Lea-Wilson part company at the railway bridge on Ballycanew Road while further up that very same stretch of road there is a number of men standing around a parked car with its hood raised. Michael Collins had sent Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton from Dublin to meet with Joe McMahon, Michael McGrath and Michael Sinnott in Enniscorthy. They were then driven by Jack Whelan to Ballycanew Road to carry out the assassination of Lea-Wilson.

Unaware of his assassins lying in wait , Lea-Wilson is reading his paper while strolling along the road. The men by the parked car pull out revolvers when their target comes into range and two bullets strike him down. He manages to quickly get back on his feet and attempts to make an escape but his six assassins run after him and finally bring him down in a hail of bullets. A coroner’s report later states that Lea-Wilson had been shot seven times.

When the shooting ends, one of Lea-Wilson’s executioners calmly walks up to the body to make sure he is dead. He then picks up the newspaper from the ground and takes it with him. Later that evening Michael Collins is in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin when word reaches him from Wexford of the shooting death of Lea-Wilson. Collins greets the news with glee and mentions to one of his comrades, “Well we finally got him!”

Percival Lea-Wilson is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in southwest London. His grave is marked by a plaque which mentions his assassination in Gorey in 1920, a death which has its roots in the Easter Rising four years previously.


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Birth of John Jordan, Poet & Writer

john-jordanJohn Jordan, Irish poet, short-story writer and broadcaster, is born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Jordan is educated at Synge Street CBS, University College Dublin (UCD) and Pembroke College, Oxford. In his teens he acts on the stage of the Gate Theatre, Dublin, before winning a Scholarship in English and French to the University of Oxford from UCD. In the mid-1950s he returns to UCD as a lecturer in English and teaches there until the end of the 1960s. He also lectures on sabbatical leave at the Memorial University of Newfoundland and briefly at Princeton University in the United States. He is a founding member of Aosdána. He is a celebrated literary critic from the late 1950s until his death on June 6, 1988 in Cardiff, Wales, where he had been participating in the Merriman Summer School.

In 1962 Jordan re-founds and edits the literary magazine Poetry Ireland in hopes of contributing towards the recreation of Dublin as a literary centre. In this journal, he introduces a number of poets who are to become quite famous later, including Paul Durcan, Michael Hartnett and Seamus Heaney. This series of Poetry Ireland lasts until 1968–69.

In 1981 Jordan becomes the first editor of the new magazine published by the Poetry Ireland Society, called Poetry Ireland Review. He serves as a reviewer of novels for The Irish Times, writes a column for Hibernia, contributes to Envoy, A Review of Literature and Art and The Irish Press among others, a serves as a TV presenter and arts interviewer. He is a defender of Gaelic literature, translates Pádraic Ó Conaire, edits The Pleasures of Gaelic Literature (Mercier Press, 1977), and champions the later plays of Seán O’Casey. His translation of one of Aogán Ó Rathaille‘s essays is published in The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry (London: Allen Lane, 1982).

Jordan’s Collected Poems (Dedalus Press) and Collected Stories (Poolbeg Press) are edited by his literary executor, Hugh McFadden, and published in Dublin in 1991. His Selected Prose, Crystal Clear, also edited by McFadden, is published by The Lilliput Press in Dublin in 2006. His Selected Poems, edited with an introduction by McFadden, is published in February 2008 by Dedalus Press. Uncollected stories appear in Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories, Cyphers, and The Irish Press, among other places.

Jordan’s literary papers and letters are held in the National Library of Ireland. In 1953 the young Irish artist Reginald Gray is commissioned by University College Dublin to design the decor and costumes for their production of “The Kings Threshold” by William Butler Yeats. The leading role is given to Jordan. During the preparations for the production, Gray starts a portrait of Jordan, which he never finishes. This work now hangs in the Dublin Writers Museum.

(Pictured: John Jordan, by Patrick Swift, c. 1950)


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Unveiling of the Charles Stewart Parnell Statue in Dublin

The statue of Charles Stewart Parnell on Sackville Street, now known as O’Connell Street, is unveiled in Dublin on October 1, 1911. It is one of the last sculptural initiatives in the city before independence.

On January 3, 1882 a resolution is passed by the Dublin City Council to grant the freedom of the city to Parnell. The plan for the Parnell monument is instigated by John Redmond, who succeeded Parnell as leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, partly as a symbolic gesture to honour the “uncrowned king of Ireland” and to consolidate his aspiration to reunite the constitutionalists under his own leadership. The monument is funded through the efforts of a voluntary body, the Parnell Committee, founded in 1898. It is first proposed to place the monument on the site of the Thomas Moore statue, which would be moved to another location. The City Council refuses to grant this site and directs that the monument be erected on a site near the Rotunda Hospital, where it now stands.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, an Irish-born sculptor and the most eminent in the art of public monuments in the United States, accepts the commission. It is however to prove a protracted project as the demand for Saint-Gaudens’ work in America is such that completion of the Parnell project is fraught with delays.

For the Parnell monument, Saint-Gaudens makes a scale replica of the buildings and square in Dublin and also a full scale model of the monument in wood in a field near his studio. In 1904 there is a disastrous fire in his studio and only the head of the statue is saved. The original concept is of an 8-foot high bronze figure placed by a bronze table and set against a 30-foot pyramid. However, as this form is already utilised in the Wellington Monument obelisk in Phoenix Park, Saint-Gaudens and architect Henry Bacon propose a triangular shaft almost double the height of the original.

Saint-Gaudens finally presents Parnell in what he considers a noble and calm manner, depicted in an open frock coat, with one hand resting on a table and the other extended dramatically as if making a point at a parliamentary debate. The shaft of the monument is constructed in undecorated ashlar granite.

On October 1, 1911, the monument is unveiled to a large crowd, many of whom had been absent from the foundation stone ceremony, but there are also strikes and marches indicating the unrest to follow.

In June 1913, John Redmond, as Secretary to the Parnell Monument Committee, writes to the City Council requesting the council to take the
Monument into their charge on behalf of the Citizens of Dublin. The Council agrees to this request and ever since then the Parnell Monument has been in the care of the Dublin Corporation.

The inscription on the monument reads:

To Charles Stewart Parnell

No Man has a right to fix the
Boundary to the march of a nation
No man has a right
To say to his country
Thus far shat thou
Go and no further
We have never
Attempted to fix
The ne-plus-ultra
To the progress of
Ireland’s nationhood
And we never shall

At the base of the statue the Irish inscription reads:

Go roimhigid Dia Éire da Clainn


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The Opening of Dublin Zoo

Dublin Zoo, located in Phoenix Park, Dublin, opens on September 1, 1831. It is the largest zoo in Ireland and one of Dublin’s most popular attractions. The zoo describes its role as conservation, study, and education. Its stated mission is to “work in partnership with zoos worldwide to make a significant contribution to the conservation of the endangered species on Earth.”

Covering over 28 hectares (69 acres) of Phoenix Park, the Dublin Zoo is divided into areas named Asian Forests, Orangutan Forest, The Kaziranga Forest Trail, Fringes of the Arctic, Sea Lion Cove, African Plains, Roberts House, House of Reptiles, City Farm and South American House.

The Royal Zoological Society of Dublin is established at a meeting held at the Rotunda Hospital on May 10, 1830. The zoo, then called the Zoological Gardens Dublin, initially opens to the public with 46 mammals and 72 birds, all donated by London Zoo.

The initial entry charge per person is sixpence, which is a sizable sum at the time and limits admission to relatively wealthy middle-class people. What makes Dublin Zoo very different from some of its contemporaries is a decision to reduce the charge to one penny on Sundays. This makes a day at the zoo something that nearly every Dubliner can afford once in a while and it becomes very popular.

In 1833, the original cottage-style entrance lodge to the zoo is built at a cost of £30. The thatch-roofed building is still visible to the right of the current entrance. In 1838, to celebrate Queen Victoria‘s coronation, the zoo holds an open day on which 20,000 people visit. This remains the highest number of visitors in one day. President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant, after leaving office, is among the celebrities who come to see Dublin’s world-famous lions in the 19th century. In 1844 the zoo receives its first giraffe, and in 1855 it purchases its first pair of lions.

In 2015, Dublin Zoo is the third most popular visitor attraction in Ireland with 1,105,005 visitors.

Dublin Zoo is part of a worldwide programme to breed endangered species. It is a member of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), which helps the conservation of endangered species in Europe. Each species supervised by the EEP has a single coordinator that is responsible for the building of breeding groups with the aim of obtaining a genetically balanced population.

Dublin Zoo manages the EEP for the golden lion tamarin and the Moluccan cockatoo. It also houses members of the species Goeldi’s monkey and the white-faced saki monkey which are part of EEPs coordinated by other zoos. The focus is on conservation, which includes breeding and protecting endangered species, as well as research, study and education.


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Birth of Christy Brown, Author of “My Left Foot”

christy-brownChristy Brown, writer and painter who has cerebral palsy and is able to write or type only with the toes of one foot, is born into a working-class Irish family at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on June 5, 1932. His most recognized work is his autobiography, My Left Foot, which is later made into a 1989 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, starring Daniel-Day Lewis as Brown.

After his birth, doctors discovered that he has severe cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder which leaves him almost entirely spastic in his limbs. Though urged to commit him to a hospital, Brown’s parents are unswayed and subsequently determined to raise him at home with their other children. During Brown’s adolescence, social worker Katriona Delahunt becomes aware of his story and begins to visit the Brown family regularly. She brings Christy books and painting materials as, over the years, he has shown a keen interest in the arts and literature. He has also demonstrated extremely impressive physical dexterity since, soon after discovering several household books, Christy learns to both write and draw himself using his left leg, the only limb over which he had unequivocal control.

Brown quickly matures into a serious artist. Although Brown famously receives almost no formal schooling during his youth, he does attend St. Brendan’s School-Clinic in Sandymount intermittently. At St. Brendan’s he comes in contact with Dr. Robert Collis, a noted author. Collis discovers that Brown is also a natural novelist and later uses his own connections to publish My Left Foot, by then a long-gestating autobiographical account of Brown’s struggle with everyday life amidst the vibrant culture of Dublin.

In 1965, after My Left Foot has become a literary sensation, Brown meets and begins corresponding with Beth Moore, a married American woman, and they begin an affair. She helps push Brown to complete his book Down All the Days, which is published in 1970 and includes a dedication to Moore.

During this time, Brown’s fame continues to spread internationally and he becomes a prominent celebrity. Upon his return to Ireland, he is able to use proceeds from the sales of his books to design and move into a specially constructed home outside Dublin with his sister’s family. It is around this time that Brown begins an affair with Englishwoman Mary Carr, whom he marries in 1972 at the Registry Office in Dublin. He continues to paint, write novels, poetry, and plays. His 1974 novel, A Shadow on Summer, is based on his relationship with Moore, whom he still considers a friend.

Brown’s health deteriorates after marrying Carr. He becomes a recluse in his final years, which is thought to be a direct result of Carr’s influence and perhaps abusive nature. Brown dies in Parbrook, Somerset, England on September 7, 1981, at the age of 49 after choking during a lamb chop dinner. His body is found to have significant bruising, which lead many to believe that Carr has physically abused him. Further suspicions arise after Georgina Hambleton’s biography, The Life That Inspired My Left Foot, reveals a supposedly more accurate and unhealthy version of their relationship. The book portrays Carr as an abusive alcoholic and habitually unfaithful. Brown is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.