seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Dame Jean Iris Murdoch, Novelist & Philosopher

Dame Jean Iris Murdoch DBE, Irish and British novelist and philosopher, dies in Oxford, England, on February 8, 1999. She is best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. In 2008, The Times ranks her twelfth on a list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

Murdoch is born on July 15, 1919 in Phibsborough, Dublin, the daughter of Irene Alice (née Richardson) and Wills John Hughes Murdoch. Her father, a civil servant, comes from a mainly Presbyterian sheep farming family from Hillhall, County Down. In 1915, he enlists as a soldier in King Edward’s Horse and serves in France during World War I before being commissioned as a second lieutenant. Her mother trains as a singer before Iris is born, and is from a middle-class Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Her parents first meet in Dublin when her father is on leave and are married in 1918. Iris is the couple’s only child. When she is a few weeks old the family moves to London, where her father had joined the Ministry of Health as a second-class clerk.  She is a second cousin of the Irish mathematician Brian Murdoch.

Murdoch is brought up in Chiswick and educated in progressive independent schools, entering the Froebel Demonstration School in 1925 and attending Badminton School in Bristol as a boarder from 1932 to 1938. In 1938 she goes up to Somerville College, Oxford, with the intention of studying English, but switches to “Greats“, a course of study combining classics, ancient history, and philosophy. At Oxford she studies philosophy with Donald M. MacKinnon and attends Eduard Fraenkel‘s seminars on Agamemnon. She is awarded a first class honours degree in 1942. After leaving Oxford she goes to work in London for HM Treasury. In June 1944 she leaves the Treasury and goes to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). At first she is stationed in London at the agency’s European Regional Office. In 1945 she is transferred first to Brussels, then to Innsbruck, and finally to Graz, Austria, where she works in a refugee camp. She leaves the UNRRA in 1946.

From 1947 to 1948 Murdoch studies philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge. She meets Ludwig Wittgenstein at Cambridge but does not hear him lecture, as he had left his Trinity College professorship before she arrives. In 1948 she becomes a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where she teaches philosophy until 1963. From 1963 to 1967 she teaches one day a week in the General Studies department at the Royal College of Art.

In 1956 Murdoch marries John Bayley, a literary critic, novelist, and from 1974 to 1992 Warton Professor of English at Oxford University, whom she had met in Oxford in 1954. The unusual romantic partnership lasts more than forty years until Murdoch’s death. Bayley thinks that sex is “inescapably ridiculous.” She in contrast has “multiple affairs with both men and women which, on discomposing occasions, Bayley witnesses for himself.”

Murdoch’s first novel, Under the Net, is published in 1954 and is selected in 1998 as one of Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. She had previously published essays on philosophy, and the first monograph about Jean-Paul Sartre published in English. She goes on to produce 25 more novels and additional works of philosophy, as well as poetry and drama.

Murdoch’s 1978 novel The Sea, the Sea wins the Booker Prize. Her other books include The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), The Red and the Green (1965), The Nice and the Good (1968), The Black Prince (1973), Henry and Cato (1976), The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983), The Good Apprentice (1985), The Book and the Brotherhood (1987), The Message to the Planet (1989), and The Green Knight (1993).

In 1976 she is named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 1987 is made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for services to literature. She is awarded honorary degrees by the University of Bath (D.Litt, 1983), University of Cambridge (1993) and Kingston University (1994), among others. She is elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982.

Murdoch’s last novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, is published in 1995. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1997 and dies on February 8, 1999 in Oxford. There is a bench dedicated to her in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she enjoyed walking.


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Birth of William James “Willie” Pearse

William James “Willie” Pearse, Irish republican executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Dublin on November 15, 1881. He is a younger brother of Patrick Pearse, a leader of the rising.

Throughout Pearse’s life he lives in the shadow of his brother to whom he is devoted and with whom he forms a particularly close relationship.

Pearse inherits his father’s artistic abilities and becomes a sculptor. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School, Westland Row. He studies at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art under Oliver Sheppard. He also studies art in Paris. While attending the Royal College of Art in London he gains notice for several of his artworks. Some of his sculptures are to be found in St. John’s Cathedral in Limerick, the Cathedral of St. Eunan and St. Columba in Letterkenny and several Dublin churches. He is trained to take over his father’s stonemason business, but gives it up to help Patrick run St. Enda’s School which he founds in 1908. He is involved in the arts and theatre at St. Enda’s and aids the overall running of the school.

Pearse follows his brother into the Irish Volunteers and the Republican movement. He takes part in the Easter Rising in 1916, always staying at his brother’s side at the General Post Office. Following the surrender he is court-martialed and sentenced to death. It has been said that as he is only a minor player in the struggle it is his surname that condemns him. However, at his court martial he emphasizes his involvement.

On May 3, 1916, Pearse is granted permission to visit his brother in Kilmainham Gaol, to see him for the final time. However, while he is en route, Patrick is executed. He is executed on May 4. He and his brother are the only two brothers to be executed after the Easter Rising.

There are many more public commemorations of Patrick Pearse than of William. In 1966, Dublin’s Westland Row railway station is renamed Dublin Pearse railway station to honour both brothers. Pearse Square and Pearse Street in Dublin are renamed in honour of both, Pearse Street (then Great Brunswick Street) having been their birthplace. Many streets and roads in Ireland bear the name Pearse. Few name William, but there is a Pearse Brothers Park in Rathfarnham. The bridge over the River Dodder on the Rathfarnham Road, between Terenure and Rathfarnham is named after them and carries a plaque depicting the brothers in profile.

Brothers Pearse Athletic Club, founded in Rathfarnham, is named after the two brothers. A number of Gaelic Athletic Association clubs and playing fields are named after both Pearses, and at least one after William.


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Birth of Sculptor Oliver Sheppard

Oliver Sheppard RHA, Irish sculptor most famous for his 1911 bronze statue of the mythical Cúchulainn dying in battle, is born at Old Town, Cookstown, County Tyrone on April 10, 1865. His work is also part of the art competitions at the 1924 Summer Olympics and the 1928 Summer Olympics.

Sheppard is born to Simpson Sheppard, a sculptor, and Ellen White, of Ormond Quay, Dublin.

Sheppard is based in Dublin for almost all of his life, having travelled widely across Europe. He and his wife Rosie have several children. They live at Howth and 30 Pembroke Road in central Dublin. She dies in 1931.

Sheppard’s main influence is the Frenchman Édouard Lantéri who teaches him at the Royal College of Art in London, and then at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin (now the National College of Art and Design), where he later becomes a lecturer.

From 1902 to 1937 Sheppard teaches sculpture at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, which is renamed the National College of Art in 1936. His annual stipend is £250 but for this he only has to lecture on three mornings per week, allowing him plenty of time for work on commissioned projects. One of his most famous students is the sculptor Kathleen Cox.

As a prominent sculptor Sheppard is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Royal Dublin Society, and is made a governor of the National Gallery of Ireland from 1925–41. He also exhibits works at European exhibitions during his lifetime, occasionally winning prizes.

Sheppard is generally critical of the low standards of sculpture in Ireland, saying, “For the last sixty years or so thousands of figures and groups have been executed in Dublin for ecclesiastical purposes, and, with one or two exceptions…was not up to a reasonable standard. The making of a work of art hardly entered into it at all. The sculptor, well trained and properly encouraged, should collaborate with the architect.”

In 1890–1910 Sheppard is a part of the Celtic Revival movement, and, from his works such as Inis Fáil, is admired by his student William Pearse. Through him he meets his brother, Patrick Pearse, who later helps launch the Easter Rising in 1916. While most of the Revival’s artists are writers, playwrights and poets, Sheppard can claim to be the main sculptor working on themes similar to theirs.

Sheppard is in the minority of Irish Protestants who support independence, starting with support for the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 1880s, when he is an art student. After the Irish War of Independence (1919–21) he says, “They thought me too old to fight but I have tried to help in other ways. My politics are simple. I have always thought that this country should be a free country.” His opinions are not overly dogmatic, considering his work on the war memorials in 1920.

In the mid-1920s the first series of Irish Free State coinage is planned, and is finally launched in 1928. Sheppard is one of the designers short-listed but his designs are not accepted.

Sheppard dies in Dublin on September 14, 1941.

(Pictured: “The Dying Cúchulainn,” sculpture by Oliver Sheppard, now at the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin)


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Death of Alan Rickman, Actor & Director

alan-rickmanAlan Sidney Patrick Rickman, English actor and director, dies in London on January 14, 2016.

Rickman is born into a working class family of Irish and Welsh descent in Hammersmith, London, on February 21, 1946. Rickman attends Derwentwater Primary School in Acton, and then Latymer Upper School in London through the Direct Grant system, where he becomes involved in drama. After leaving Latymer, he attends Chelsea College of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art. After graduation, Rickman and several friends open a graphic design studio called Graphiti, but after three years of successful business, he decides that he is going to pursue acting professionally. He writes to request an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), which he attends from 1972 until 1974.

Upon leaving the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Rickman becomes a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, performing in modern and classical theatre productions. His first big television role comes in 1982, but his big break is as the Vicomte de Valmont in the stage production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985, for which he is nominated for a Tony Award.

Rickman’s first film role is as the German terrorist leader Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). His other film roles include the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), for which he receives the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Elliott Marston in Quigley Down Under (1990), Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), P.L. O’Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), Éamon de Valera in Neil Jordan‘s Michael Collins (1996), Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest (1999), Harry in Love Actually (2003) and Judge Turpin in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s musical of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). He gains further notice for his film performances as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. He also stars in television films, playing the title character in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), which wins him a Golden Globe Award, an Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, and Dr. Alfred Blalock in the Emmy-winning Something the Lord Made (2004). His final film roles are as Lieutenant General Frank Benson in the thriller Eye in the Sky (2015), and the voice of Absolem, the caterpillar in Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).

In August 2015, Rickman suffers a minor stroke, which leads to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He reveals the fact that he has terminal cancer to only his closest confidants. He dies of pancreatic cancer on January 14, 2016 at the age of 69. His remains are cremated on February 3, 2016 in the West London Crematorium in Kensal Green. His ashes are given to his wife, Rima Horton. His final two films, Eye in the Sky and Alice Through the Looking Glass, are dedicated to his memory.