seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Playwright St. John Greer Ervine

st-john-greer-ervineSt. John Greer Ervine, unionist playwright, author, critic, and manager of the Abbey Theatre from 1915 to 1916, is born in Ballymacarrett, Belfast on December 28, 1883. He is considered to be the founding father of modern Northern Irish drama.

Although accepted to study at Trinity College, Dublin, circumstances force Ervine to leave school at the age of 15 to begin working in an insurance office.

Two years later, Ervine immigrates to London, where he discovers a love for the theatre. He begins his writing career with Mixed Marriage (1911), an Ulster tragedy, and produces three plays between 1911 and 1915. In 1915, after a meeting with William Butler Yeats in London, he becomes the director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It is however, not a happy appointment as his personality and politics clash with the management of the theatre.

Ervine then joins the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and fights in Flanders, losing a leg in the conflict. Returning home, he feels increasingly alienated by nationalism and more attracted to the unionism of his family background. He becomes a vehement detractor of the south, describing Ireland in a letter to George Bernard Shaw as brimming with “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen men.”

Ervine is a distinctively Ulster orientated writer, focusing on a naturalistic portrayal of rural and urban life. His most famous and popular work amongst his Northern Irish audience is Boyd’s Shop (1936), which becomes one of the Ulster Group Theatre’s stalwart productions. The play is a classic of the homely yet sincere Ulster genre and centres around the struggles of the folk that Ervine grew up with in his grandmother’s shop on the Albertbridge Road. Ervine creates in Boyd’s Shop a template for Ulster theatre that is to dominate until the advent of Samuel Thompson‘s Over the Bridge.

Ervine’s reactionary unionism and anti-southern hatred becomes more pronounced as he ages and eclipses his more subtle characteristics and abilities as a writer. Although many of his novels and plays are at times clouded by his prejudices, they are also very often capable of tremendous feeling and humanity showing he is a writer of note.

St. John Greer Ervine dies at the age of 87 in London on January 24, 1971.

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The Flight of the Wild Geese

flight-of-the-wild-geesePatrick Sarsfield sails to France on December 22, 1691, leading 19,000 of his countrymen to enter the French service in the first phase of the military denuding of Ireland known as the Flight of the Wild Geese, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3, 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland.

More broadly, the term “Wild Geese” is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who leave to serve in continental European armies in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, or even, poetically, Irish soldiers in British armies as late as World War I.

Irish recruitment for continental armies dries up after it is made illegal in 1745. In 1732 Sir Charles Wogan indicates in a letter to Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, that 120,000 Irishmen have been killed and wounded in foreign service “within these forty years.” Swift later replies, “I cannot but highly esteem those gentlemen of Ireland who, with all the disadvantages of being exiles and strangers, have been able to distinguish themselves by their valour and conduct in so many parts of Europe, I think, above all other nations.”

It was some time before the British armed forces begin to tap into Irish Catholic manpower. In the late eighteenth century, the Penal Laws are gradually relaxed and in the 1790s the laws prohibiting Catholics bearing arms are abolished.

Thereafter, the British begin recruiting Irish regiments for the Crown Forces – including such famous units as the Connaught Rangers. Several more Irish units are created in the 19th century. By 1914 specifically Irish infantry regiments in the British Army comprise the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers. With the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 five of the above regiments are disbanded, with most of the remainder undergoing a series of amalgamations between 1968 and 2006. The United Kingdom still retains three Irish regiments: the Irish Guards, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the London Irish Rifles.

Sarsfield is honored to this day in the crest of County Limerick. The Flight of the Wild Geese is remembered in the poetic words…“War-battered dogs are we, Fighters in every clime, Fillers of trench and of grave, Mockers, bemocked by time. War-dogs, hungry and grey, Gnawing a naked bone, Fighters in every clime, Every cause but our own.”

(Pictured: ‘Irish Troops Leaving Limerick’, 1692, (Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, Paris & New York, c1880), Artist Unknown)