seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Robert Gibbings, Wood Engraver & Sculptor

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Robert John Gibbings, Irish artist and author most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history, is born into a middle-class family in Cork, County Cork on March 23, 1889. Along with Noel Rooke he is one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and is a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

Gibbings’ father, the Reverend Edward Gibbings, is a Church of Ireland minister. His mother, Caroline, is the daughter of Robert Day, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and president of The Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He grows up in the town of Kinsale where his father is the rector of St. Multose Church.

Gibbings studies medicine for three years at University College Cork before deciding to persuade his parents to allow him to take up art. He studies under the painter Harry Scully in Cork and later at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

During World War I Gibbings serves in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and is wounded at Gallipoli before eventually being invalided out of the army in 1918. He then resumes his studies in London.

Gibbings is very much at the centre of developments in wood engraving. He is a founder member and leading light of the Society of Wood Engravers, which he sets up with Noel Rooke in 1920. In 1922 he contributes two wood engravings, “Clear Waters” and “Hamrun,” to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Gerald Duckworth & Company and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. In 1923 he receives a commission for a set of wood engravings for The Lives of Gallant Ladies for the Golden Cockerel Press, his most important commission to date at 100 guineas.

Gibbings is working on the wood engravings The Lives of Gallant Ladies when Hal Taylor, the owner of the press, becomes very ill with tuberculosis and has to put it up for sale. He seeks a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors, to buy the press. He takes over in February 1924 and owns and runs the press until 1933.

Gibbings illustrates numerous books on travel and natural history, including Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and writes a series of bestselling river books, notably Sweet Thames Run Softly. He does a huge amount to popularise the subject of natural history, travelling extensively through Polynesia, Bermuda and the Red Sea to gather inspiration for his work.

Gibbings is the first man to draw underwater, the illustrations filling his Penguin classic Blue Angels and Whales. He is one of the first natural history presenters on the BBC.

In September 1955 Gibbings and his wife, Patience, purchase Footbridge Cottage, a tiny beehive of a cottage in Gibbings’s words, in Long Wittenham on the banks of the River Thames. Life there suits him, and he has a period of tranquility that he had not known previously. They live there until he dies of cancer in an Oxford hospital on January 19, 1958. He is buried in the churchyard at Long Wittenham. The grave is marked by a simple headstone featuring his device of a crossed quill and graver, carved by Michael Black, a young sculptor who is a friend of Gibbings.


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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)