seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Robert Ballagh, Artist, Painter & Designer

Robert “Bobby” Ballagh, artist, painter and designer, is born in Dublin on September 22, 1943. His painting style is strongly influenced by pop art. He is particularly well known for his hyperealistic renderings of well known Irish literary, historical or establishment figures.

Ballagh grows up in a ground-floor flat on Elgin Road in Ballsbridge, the only child of a Presbyterian father and a Catholic mother. He studies at Bolton Street College of Technology and becomes an atheist while attending Blackrock College. Before turning to art as a profession, he is a professional musician with the Irish showband Chessmen. He meets artist Michael Farrell during this period, and Farrell recruits him to assist with a large mural commission, which is painted at Ardmore Studios.

Ballagh represents Ireland at the 1969 Biennale de Paris. Among the theatre sets he has designed are sets for Riverdance, I’ll Go On, Gate Theatre (1985), Samuel Beckett‘s Endgame (1991) and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé (1998). He also designs over 70 Irish postage stamps and the last series of Irish banknotes, “Series C,” before the introduction of the euro. He is a member of Aosdána and his paintings are held in several public collections of Irish painting including the National Gallery of Ireland, the Hugh Lane Gallery, the Ulster Museum, Trinity College, Dublin, and Nuremberg‘s Albrecht Dürer House.

In 1991, he co-ordinates the 75th anniversary commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, during which he claims he is harassed by the Special Branch of the Garda Síochána.

He is the president of the Ireland Institute for Historical and Cultural Studies, which promotes international republicanism. It is based at the new Pearse centre at 27 Pearse Street, Dublin, which is the birthplace of Pádraig Pearse in 1879.

In July 2011 it is reported that he might consider running for the 2011 Irish Presidential election with the backing of Sinn Féin and the United Left Alliance. A Sinn Féin source confirms there has been “very informal discussions” and that Ballagh’s nomination is “a possibility” but “very loose at this stage.” However, on July 25 Ballagh rules out running in the election, saying that he has never considered being a candidate. His discussions with the parties had been about the election “in general” and he has no ambitions to run for political office.

That same month, Ballagh breaks ranks with his colleagues in the travelling production of Riverdance in their decision to perform in Israel. He is an active member of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which insists that artists and academics participate in boycotts of Israeli businesses and cultural institutions.

In July 2012, Ballagh says he is “ashamed and profoundly depressed” at the en masse closure of Irish galleries and museums. He cites an example of some Americans and Canadians on holiday in Ireland. “They described most of the National Gallery as being closed along with several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I’m glad they didn’t bother going out to the Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham because that’s closed too. At the point I met them, they were returning from Galway where they had found the Nora Barnacle Museum closed too.” He condemns the hypocrisy of political leaders, saying, “I know arts funding is not a big issue for people struggling to put food on the table but we are talking about the soul of the nation.”

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First Performance of Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”

lady-windermeres-fanOscar Wilde‘s four-act comedy Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is first produced on February 22, 1892 at the St. James’s Theatre in London. The play is first published in 1893. Like many of Wilde’s comedies, it bitingly satirizes the morals of society.

The story concerns Lady Windermere, who suspects that her husband is having an affair with another woman. She confronts him with it but although he denies it, he invites the other woman, Mrs. Erlynne, to his wife’s birthday ball. Angered by her husband’s supposed unfaithfulness, Lady Windermere decides to leave her husband for another lover. After discovering what has transpired, Mrs. Erlynne follows Lady Windermere and attempts to persuade her to return to her husband and in the course of this, Mrs. Erlynne is discovered in a compromising position. It is then revealed Mrs. Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, who abandoned her family twenty years before the time the play is set. Mrs. Erlynne sacrifices herself and her reputation to save her daughter’s marriage.

By the summer of 1891 Wilde has already written three plays, Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua find little success, and Salome is censored. Unperturbed, he decides to write another play but turns from tragedy to comedy. He goes to the Lake District in the north of England, where he stays with a friend and later meets Robert Ross. Numerous characters in the play appear to draw their names from the north of England: Lady Windermere from the lake and nearby town Windermere (though Wilde had used “Windermere” earlier in Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime), the Duchess of Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lord Darlington from Darlington. Wilde begins writing the play at the prodding of Sir George Alexander, the actor manager of St. James’s Theatre. The play is finished by October 1891. Alexander likes the play, and offers him an advance of £1,000 for it. Wilde, impressed by his confidence, opts to take a percentage instead, from which he earns £7,000 in the first year alone.

Alexander is a meticulous manager and he and Wilde begin exhaustive revisions and rehearsals of the play. Both are talented artists with strong ideas about their art. Wilde, for instance, emphasises attention to aesthetic minutiae rather than realism. He resists Alexander’s suggested broad stage movements, quipping that “Details are of no importance in life, but in art details are vital.” These continue after the opening night, when at the suggestion of both friends and Alexander, Wilde makes changes to reveal Mrs. Erylnne’s relationship with Lady Windermere gradually throughout the play, rather than reserving the secret for the final act. Despite these artistic differences, both are professional and their collaboration is a fruitful one.

There exists an extant manuscript of the play and it is held in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California in Los Angeles.


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Birth of Oscar Wilde

oscar-wildeOscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, playwright, novelist, essayist, and poet, is born on October 16, 1854, at 21 Westland Row, Dublin, now home of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he becomes one of London‘s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

Wilde’s parents are successful Anglo-Irish Dublin intellectuals. Their son becomes fluent in French and German early in life. At university, Wilde read Greats and proves himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Magdalen College, Oxford. He becomes known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moves to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.

As a spokesman for aestheticism, Wilde tries his hand at various literary activities. He publishes a book of poems, lectures in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art,” and then returns to London where he works prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Wilde becomes one of the best-known personalities of his day.

At the turn of the 1890s, he refines his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporates themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, draws Wilde to write drama. He writes Salome (1891) in French in Paris but it is refused a licence for England due to the absolute prohibition of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde produces four society comedies in the early 1890s, which make him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.

At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), is still on stage in London, Wilde has the John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carries a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearths evidence that causes Wilde to drop his charges and leads to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with men. After two more trials he is convicted and imprisoned for two years’ penal labour.

In 1897, in prison, he writes De Profundis, which is published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he leaves immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he writes his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.

Wilde dies destitute of cerebral meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900. at the age of 46. He is initially buried in the Cimetière parisien de Bagneux outside Paris. In 1909 his remains are disinterred and transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery, inside the city.