seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Austin Clarke, Poet, Playwright & Novelist

Austin Clarke, poet, playwright and novelist, dies in Dublin on March 19, 1974. At the time of his death he is considered to be the greatest poet of his generation after W. B. Yeats,

Clarke is born in 83 Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin, on May 9, 1896. His main contribution to Irish poetry is the rigour with which he uses technical means borrowed from classical Irish language poetry when writing in English. Effectively, this means writing English verse based not so much on metre as on complex patterns of assonance, consonance, and half rhyme. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, he says, “I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free.”

Clarke’s early poetry clearly shows the influence of Yeats. His first book, The Vengeance of Fionn, is a long narrative poem retelling an Ossianic legend. It meets with critical acclaim and, unusually for a first book of poetry, goes to a second edition. Between this and the 1938 volume Night and Morning, he publishes a number of collections, all of which, to one extent or another, can be seen as being written in the shadow of Yeats. There is, however, one significant difference. Unlike the older poet, Clarke is a Catholic, and themes of guilt and repentance run through this early work.

Between 1938 and 1955, Clarke publishes no new lyric or narrative poetry. He is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre, Dublin and writes a number of verse plays for them. He also works as a journalist and has a weekly poetry programme on RTÉ radio. It seems likely that he also experiences some kind of personal crisis during this time and this has significant consequences for his later poetry.

Clarke returns to publishing poetry with the 1955 collection Ancient Lights, and is to continue writing and publishing prolifically for the remainder of his life. Although he continues to use the same Gaelic-derived techniques, this late poetry is markedly different from his earlier work. Many of the later poems are satires of the Irish church and state, while others are sensual celebrations of human sexuality, free of the guilt of the earlier poems. He also publishes the intensely personal Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, which is a poem sequence detailing the fictional Maurice Devanes’s nervous breakdown and subsequent recovery.

Clarke also comes to admire the work of more avant-garde poets like Ezra Pound and Pablo Neruda, both of whom he writes poems about. A number of the late long poems, such as, for instance, the 1971 Tiresias, show the effects of studying these poets and their looser formal structures. He sets up the Bridge Press to publish his own work, which allows him the freedom to publish work that many mainstream Irish publishers of the time might have been reluctant to handle. His Collected Poems is published in 1974 and a Selected Poems in 1976.

In addition to some twenty volumes of poetry and numerous plays, Clarke publishes three novels: The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). All of these are banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Ireland). He also publishes two volumes of memoirs, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968), and a number of scattered critical essays and book reviews. While all of these prose writings are of interest, his reputation rests firmly on his poetry.

In 1920 Clarke marries Cornelia (Lia) Cummins. The marriage effectively lasts only a few days, and he spends several months in St. Patrick’s Hospital recovering from it, but they do not divorce before Cummins dies in 1943. He meets, has three sons with, and later marries (1945) Norah Esmerelda Patricia Walker (1900–1985), granddaughter of Matthew Harris, MP for East Galway from 1885 to 1890.

Clarke lives in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge which spans the River Dodder in the south Dublin suburb of Templeogue. After his death on March 19, 1974, there is a proposal to preserve the house and his library of 6,500 books as a memorial. This is not possible owing to long-term plans to demolish the house and widen the road. The old Templeogue Bridge, built in 1800, and Bridge House are removed. A new bridge is opened by Councillor Bernie Malone, Chairman Dublin City Council, on December 11, 1984, which is renamed Austin Clarke Bridge in his honour.

(Photo © RTÉ Archives)


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Death of Hannah Lynch, Feminist, Novelist, Journalist & Translator

Hannah Lynch, Irish feminist, novelist, journalist and translator, dies in Paris, France on January 9, 1904, where she spends much of her working life.

Lynch is born in Dublin on March 25, 1859. Her father, who is a committed, non-violent Fenian, dies when she is young. Her mother, Anna Theresa Calderwood, is married twice. She grows up in a very female house with her mother and ten sisters and half-sisters. Her stepfather is James Cantwell, also a Fenian, who runs the Star and Garter Hotel. After finishing school she works as a sub-editor for a provincial paper and as a governess in Europe.

A nationalist like her father and stepfather, Lynch is an executive member of the Ladies’ Land League and as a result closely associates with Fanny Parnell. She writes extensively, producing short stories and satirical sketches, as well as Land War fiction, travel writing, translations and literary criticism. Her satirical pieces include “A Dublin Literary Coterie Sketched by a Non-Pretentious Observer” (1888) and “My Friend Arcanieva” (1895). She publishes William O’Brien‘s paper United Ireland from France, after it is suppressed in Ireland. She disagrees with William Butler Yeats on the literary merit of Emily Lawless, calling her work “highly polished literary stories.”

Lynch also writes fiction on the subject of political and cultural affairs in Ireland, sometimes meeting controversy. Her first novel, Through Troubled Waters (1885), is a fictionalised version of a real-life incident in Galway in which the daughters of a prosperous landowning family are murdered to make way for the sons to inherit the land. The novel also depicts the rural clergy as complicit, by denouncing the victims from the pulpit. The newspaper United Ireland strongly criticises the novel, claiming it peddles in anti-Irish stereotypes for a British audience. She responds by stating that she had intended the book for an Irish publisher and audience, and that she should not be asked “to prove my patriotism at the expense of truth.”

Lynch publishes across Ireland, the United Kingdom and from Paris. By 1896, she has settled in Paris, having also lived in both Spain and Greece. She speaks Greek and French. She then returns to lecture in Ireland and is a part of the salons of Paris in the Belle Époque as well as the Irish Literary Revival in Dublin. She is friends with the historian, biographer and literary critic Arvède Barine (pseudonym of Louise-Cécile Vincens), the writers Mabel and Mary Robinson, and the medievalist Gaston Paris. Her work however does not bring significant income and she is forced to apply to the Royal Literary Fund for help on multiple occasions. Eventually it takes a toll on her health. She spends time in hospital in Margate in England in 1903.

Lynch dies in Paris on January 9, 1904.


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Death of Pádraic Ó Conaire, Writer & Journalist

Pádraic Ó Conaire, Irish writer and journalist whose production is primarily in the Irish language, dies in Dublin on October 6, 1928. In his lifetime he writes 26 books, 473 stories, 237 essays and 6 plays. His acclaimed novel Deoraíocht has been described by Angela Bourke as “the earliest example of modernist fiction in Irish.”

Ó Conaire is born in the Lobster Pot public house on the New Docks in Galway, County Galway, on February 28, 1882. His father is a publican, who owns two premises in the town., and his mother is Kate McDonagh. He is orphaned by the age of eleven. He spends a period living with his uncle in Gairfean, Ros Muc, Connemara. The area is in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) and Ó Conaire learns to speak Irish fluently.

Ó Conaire emigrates to London in 1899 where he gets a job with the Board of Education and becomes involved in the work of the Gaelic League. A pioneer in the Gaelic revival in the last century, he and Pádraig Pearse are regarded as being the two most important Irish language short story writers during the first decades of the 20th century.

Ó Conaire marries Molly Ní Mhanais, with whom he has four children: Eileen (b. 22 Feb 1905), Patrick (b. 3 Nov 1906), Kathleen (b. 24 Feb 1909), and Mary Josephine (b. 28 Jul 1911), who dies of diphtheria in 1922.

Ó Conaire returns to Ireland in 1914, leaving his family in London. Living mostly in Galway, he earns a meagre living through writing, teaching at Gaeltacht summer schools, and as an occasional organiser for the Gaelic League.

Ó Conaire dies at the age of 46 on October 6, 1928, while on a visit to Dublin, after complaining of internal pains while at the head office of the Gaelic League. His fellow poet Frederick Robert Higgins writes a celebrated Lament for Pádraic Ó Conaire.

Ó Conaire has family still living to this day in England, as well as in Galway and Canada. The Ó Conaire surname is still strong in the Ros Muc area.

Ó Conaire’s short story M’asal Beag Dubh is the inspiration for an Internet-based satire on the football transfer market. The fictitious character Masal Bugduv is created. The name sounds similar to the Gaelic pronunciation of M’asal Beag Dubh. Journalists who did not fact check quite as thoroughly as they should have missed the satire and tell the world of the up-and-coming Moldovan star.

A statue of Ó Conaire’s is unveiled in 1935 by Éamon de Valera in Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City. It is popular with tourists until it is decapitated by four men in 1999. It is repaired at a cost of £50,000 and moved to Galway City Museum in 2004. A bronze replica of the statue is unveiled in Eyre Square in November 2017.


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Birth of Mervyn Wall, Novelist & Playwright

Mervyn Wall, novelist and playwright who writes under the pseudonym of Eugene Welply, is born in Dublin on August 23, 1908. He attends Belvedere College and works as a civil servant from 1934-48. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Wall is probably the last survivor of the remarkably gifted generation which emerged from University College Dublin (UCD) in the 1930s. It includes Brian O’Nolan, Donagh MacDonagh, Cyril Cusack, Liam Redmond, Denis Devlin, Niall Sheridan, and the shortlived poet Charles Donnelly who dies in the Spanish Civil War. Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds contains portraits of many of these people, under fictitious names, and evokes the whole ambience of intellectual student life in Dublin at the time.

Like other literary civil servants of the period, Wall often takes a satirical view of bureaucracy. Unlike Brian O’Nolan, however, he can play the bureaucrats at their own game and by most accounts he is a highly efficient public servant in his own right. His late novel Hermitage (1982) has some sharp sidelights on the world of Green Tape.

Wall makes his mark mainly as a novelist, but he begins as a playwright and has at least two works performed in the Abbey Theatre. His first real success comes in 1946 with The Unfortunate Fursey, in which he creates a mythical monk who is tormented by the Devil. The picaresque humour and fantasy of the story are enjoyed by the public as essentially good-natured farce, but it is possible that he also intends it as oblique satire on the Irish clergy in general, at a time when any open criticism of them might invite trouble. Fergus Linehan later turns it into a successful musical.

The first Fursey book has successors, and all of them are published in a single volume in 1985, entitled The Complete Fursey. During the 1950s Wall writes two “serious” novels of social criticism, Leaves for the Burning and No Trophies Raise, in which his satirical sense takes a more direct route. They are praised at the time by respected critics and are still well worth rereading.

Apart from his writing, Wall has a distinguished career in Radio Éireann, where he and his colleagues, the novelist Francis MacManus and the poet Roibeard O Farachain, make up a literary and administrative trio nicknamed “Frank, Incense and Mer” by a staff wit. He later becomes secretary of the Arts Council, a sometimes difficult job which he handles with tact and fairness.

Wall is himself a witty, observant, sometimes catty man in a generation famous for its wit. He and his wife Fanny, who is known as a leading music critic, are for decades an almost indispensable duo in Dublin cultural and social life, although Wall, in spite of his various public roles, is at heart a home loving and industrious man who never seeks publicity.

Wall dies on May 19, 1997, just eight months after his wife, in St. Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, after a short illness.

If and when a fullscale cultural history of Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s comes to be written, Wall’s place in it should be assured. As a successful, long term civil servant, he learned how to work the system in favour of literature and the arts in an age when patronage of them was thin on the ground.


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Publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield”

the-vicar-of-wakefieldThe Vicar of Wakefield, a novel written from 1761 to 1762 by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith is first published on March 27, 1766. It is one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians.

Soon after Goldsmith had completed the novel, his landlady arrests him for being delinquent on his rent. He summons one of his closest friends, Dr. Samuel Johnson, who takes the novel and sells it to bookseller and publisher Francis Newbery for sixty pounds. Johnson returns and gives Goldsmith the money which he uses to pay his landlady. Newbery holds the novel for two years before releasing it for publication. It is later illustrated by English illustrator Arthur Rackham for the 1929 edition.

In literary history books, The Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar’s values are apparently not compatible with the real “sinful” world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill’s help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose’s suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.

The novel is mentioned in George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, Stendhal‘s The Life of Henry Brulard, Arthur Schopenhauer‘s The Art of Controversy, Jane Austen‘s Emma, Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein, Sarah Grand‘s The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë‘s The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott‘s Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit.

Silent film adaptations of the novel are produced in 1910, in 1913, and in 1916.


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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)


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First Performance of “She Stoops to Conquer”

she-stoops-to-conquerShe Stoops to Conquer, a comedy by the Anglo-Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, is first performed at Covent Garden Theatre, London on March 15, 1773 and is an immediate success. Lionel Brough is supposed to have played Tony Lumpkin 777 times. Lillie Langtry has her first big success in this play in 1881.

She Stoops to Conquer is a stage play in the form of a comedy of manners, which ridicules the manners of a certain segment of society, in this case the upper class. The play is also sometimes termed a drawing room comedy. The play uses farce, including many mix-ups, and satire to poke fun at the class-consciousness of eighteenth-century Englishmen and to satirize what Goldsmith calls the “weeping sentimental comedy so much in fashion at present.”

Most of the play takes place in the Hardcastle mansion in the English countryside, about sixty miles from London during the eighteenth century. The mansion is an old but comfortable dwelling that resembles an inn. A brief episode takes place at a nearby tavern, The Three Pigeons Alehouse.

She Stoops to Conquer is a favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in the English-speaking world. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have retained its appeal and continues to be performed regularly. The play has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923. Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night and the events within the play take place in one long night. In 1778 John O’Keeffe wrote a loose sequel, Tony Lumpkin in Town.

Perhaps one of the most famous modern incarnations of She Stoops to Conquer is Peter Hall‘s version, staged in 1993 and starring Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Hardcastle. The most famous TV production is the 1971 version featuring Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay, Juliet Mills and Brian Cox, with Trevor Peacock as Tony Lumpkin. It is shot on location near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire and is part of the BBC archive.

(Pictured: Kyrle Bellew and Eleanor Robson in a scene from She Stoops to Conquer in 1905)