seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Death of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

Brian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, dies of a heart attack in Dublin on April 1, 1966. He is better known by his pen name Flann O’Brien.

O’Nolan is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911. He attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Dublin.


Leave a comment

Birth of Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor

Bartholomew “Batt” O’Connor, Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael politician, is born in Brosna, County Kerry, on July 4, 1870. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin County from 1924 to 1935.

At seventeen O’Connor leaves school to become a stonemason. In October 1893, at the age of 23, he goes to Boston, where he stays five years. On his return to Ireland, he moves to Dublin, where he soon establishes himself as a “speculative builder” constructing houses in Anglesea Road, Dolphin’s Barn, Eglington Road, Brendan Road, and Donnybrook.

O’Connor joins the Gaelic League in 1900, through which he comes into contact with many of the future leaders of the Independence movement, including Tom Clarke and Seán Mac Diarmada. He is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1909 and enrolls in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, the same night as Éamon de Valera.

While not directly involved during the Easter Rising, O’Connor is recognised and arrested on his return to Dublin and sent to Kilmainham Gaol, then to Richmond Barracks, Wandsworth Prison, and finally to Frongoch internment camp, in North Wales.

On his release in September 1916, O’Connor re-establishes his business and takes up his political activities. He reconnects with members of the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League at 46 Parnell Square, and takes part in the re-organising of the fragmented IRB. He canvasses for by-elections in Kilkenny and Armagh on behalf of Sinn Féin candidates W. T. Cosgrave and Patrick McCartan.

O’Connor is involved with the revolutionary Sinn Féin party during the time of the First Dáil, handling money and hiding documents for Michael Collins. He purchases 76 Harcourt Street for Michael Collins, following a raid on the Sinn Féin Office at No. 6. There he installs a secret recess for private papers and means of escape through the skylight. When the recess escapes discovery following a raid, he goes on to construct hiding places in many of the other houses used by the movement. He is one of the shareholders of the National Land Bank which is set up in March 1920 at 68 Lower Leeson Street.

O’Connor plays a role in the “National Loan,” raised by Collins to fund the fledgling Dáil Éireann. The loan, which had been declared illegal, is lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees. The gold is kept under the floor of O’Connor’s house until 1922.

O’Connor takes the pro-Treaty side during the subsequent split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann at the 1923 general election, in the Dublin County constituency.

After the death in November 1923 of Cumann na nGaedheal TD Michael Derham, O’Connor is the Cumann na nGaedheal candidate at the Dublin County by-election on March 19, 1924, when he is elected to the 4th Dáil ahead of Seán MacEntee. He retains his seat at the next four general elections, joining Fine Gael when Cumann na nGaedheal merges in 1933 with the National Centre Party and the Blueshirts. He serves as a Trustee of Cumann na nGaedheal.

After his death on February 7, 1935, the 1935 Dublin County by-election is won by Cecil Lavery of Fine Gael.