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


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”

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Birth of Author & Journalist Mary Kenny

mary-kennyMary Kenny, Irish author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist, is born in Dublin on April 4, 1944. She is a frequent columnist for the Irish Independent and is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM). She has modified the radical ideas of her past, but not rejected feminist principles.

Kenny grows up in Sandymount and is expelled from convent school at age 16. She begins working at the London Evening Standard in 1966 on the Londoner’s Diary, later as a general feature writer, and is woman’s editor of The Irish Press in the early 1970s.

Kenny is one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Although the group has no formal structure of officials, she is often seen as the “ring leader” of the group. In March 1971, as part of an action by the IWLM, she walks out of Haddington Road church after the Archbishop of Dublin‘s pastoral is read out from the pulpit, confirming that “any contraceptive act is always wrong,” saying “this is Church dictatorship.” In a follow-up letter to The Irish Times she explains her actions by saying Ian Paisley was right, “Home Rule is Rome Rule.”

In 1971, Kenny travels with Nell McCafferty, June Levine and other Irish feminists on the so-called “Contraceptive Train” from Dublin to Belfast to buy condoms, then illegal within the Republic of Ireland. Later that year she returns to London as Features Editor of the Evening Standard.

In 1973, Kenny is allegedly “disturbed in the arms of a former cabinet minister of President Obote of Uganda during a party,” which leads poet James Fenton to coin the euphemism “Ugandan discussions” to mean sexual intercourse. The phrase is first used by the magazine Private Eye on March 9, 1973, but has been widely used since then and is included by the BBC in a list of “The 10 most scandalous euphemisms” in 2013.

Kenny has written for many British and Irish broadsheet newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and has authored books on William Joyce and Catholicism in Ireland. She also writes for the weekly The Irish Catholic. She is known in the UK as a Roman Catholic journalist. Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy (2009), is described by R.F. Foster as “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful.” She is author of the play Allegiance, in which Mel Smith plays Winston Churchill and Michael Fassbender plays Michael Collins, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006.

Kenny marries journalist and writer Richard West in 1974 and the couple raises two children, Patrick West and Ed West, both journalists.


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Death of Poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Recipient

Seamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, dies in Dublin on August 30, 2013. He is the 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney is born near Castledawson, County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. The family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. After attending Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in the early 1960s and begins to publish poetry. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. Heaney is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and, in 2012, a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky has stated that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he enters the hospital for a medical procedure, but dies at 7:30 the following morning before it takes place. His funeral is held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of September 2, 2013, and he is buried in the evening in the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael reveals at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died. Shortly after Heaney’s death, graffiti artist Maser paints a mural in Dublin referencing this message.

On September 1, the day after his death, a crowd of 81,553 spectators applaud Heaney for three minutes at a semi-final match of the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. His funeral is broadcast live the following day on RTÉ television and radio and is streamed internationally at RTÉ’s website. RTÉ Radio 1 Extra transmits a continuous broadcast, from 8:00 AM until 9:15 PM on the day of the funeral, of his Collected Poems album, recorded in 2009. His poetry collections sell out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.


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Birth of Brendan Kennelly, Poet & Novelist

Brendan Kennelly, Irish poet and novelist, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 17, 1936. Now retired from teaching, he serves as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin until 2005. Since his retirement he has been titled “Professor Emeritus” by Trinity College.

Kennelly is educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita’s College, Tarbert, County Kerry, and at Trinity College, Dublin where he edits the student literary magazine Icarus. He graduates from Trinity and writes his PhD thesis there. He also studies at Leeds University. Brendan is married for 18 years to Margaret (Peggy) O’Brien, a colleague in the English Department at Trinity College. They live together in Sandymount, Dublin, with daughter Doodle for 12 years before separating. Brendan and Peggy remain friends and Peggy is now remarried. Peggy is a published poet and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Kennelly’s poetry can be scabrous, down-to-earth and colloquial. He avoids intellectual pretension and literary posturing, and his attitude to poetic language can be summed up in the title of one of his epic poems, “Poetry my Arse.” A 400-page long epic poem, “The Book of Judas”, published in 1991, tops the Irish best-seller list.

A prolific and fluent writer, he has more than twenty books of poetry to his credit, including My Dark Fathers (1964), Collection One: Getting Up Early (1966), Good Souls to Survive (1967), Dream of a Black Fox (1968), Love Cry (1972), The Voices (1973), Shelley in Dublin (1974), A Kind of Trust (1975), Islandman (1977), A Small Light (1979) and The House That Jack Didn’t Build (1982).

Kennelly has edited several other anthologies, including “Between Innocence and Peace: Favourite Poems of Ireland” (1993), “Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present, with Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares” (1994), and “Dublines,” with Katie Donovan (1995).

Kennelly has also written two novels, “The Crooked Cross” (1963) and “The Florentines” (1967), and three plays in a Greek Trilogy, Antigone, Medea and The Trojan Women.

Kennelly is an Irish language speaker, and has translated Irish poems in “A Drinking Cup” (1970) and “Mary” (Dublin 1987). A selection of his collected translations is published as “Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish” (1989).

Language is important in Kennelly’s work – in particular the vernacular of the small and isolated communities in North Kerry where he grew up, and of the Dublin streets and pubs where he becomes both roamer and raconteur for many years. Kennelly’s language is also grounded in the Irish-language poetic tradition, oral and written, which can be both satirical and salacious in its approach to human follies.

Regarding the oral tradition, Kennelly is a great reciter of verse with tremendous command and the rare ability to recall extended poems by memory, both his own work and others, and recite them on call verbatim.

Kennelly has commented on his own use of language: “Poetry is an attempt to cut through the effects of deadening familiarity and repeated, mechanical usage in order to unleash that profound vitality, to reveal that inner sparkle. In the beginning was the Word. In the end will be the Word…language is a human miracle always in danger of drowning in a sea of familiarity.”


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Death of William Butler Yeats

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, dies on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France.

Yeats is born in Sandymount, County Dublin, on June 13, 1865, the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trains as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland as well.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandoned art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson, and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Kathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Around that time, Yeats helps found the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge, serving as its president and co-director. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre, and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son William Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, Yeats is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). Yeats passes away on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

In September 1948, Yeats’ body is moved to Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette LÉ Macha.


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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.