seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Ronnie Drew, Singer & Folk Musician

Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on September 16, 1934. He is most recognised for his lead vocals on the single “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover” both charting in the U.K. top 10. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which is once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coal being crushed under a door.”

Drew is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ 1 to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.

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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Opening Night of “The Playboy of the Western World”

playboy-of-the-western-worldThe Playboy of the Western World, a three-act play written by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, is first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on January 26, 1907. The play is set in Michael James Flaherty’s public house in County Mayo during the early 1900s. It tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father. The locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed, and in fact, Christy’s tale captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flaherty. The play is best known for its use of the poetic, evocative language of Hiberno-English, heavily influenced by the Irish language, as Synge celebrates the lyrical speech of the Irish.

The Playboy Riots occur during and following the opening performance of the play. The riots are stirred up by Irish nationalists who view the contents of the play as an offence to public morals and an insult against Ireland. The riots take place in Dublin, spreading out from the Abbey Theatre, and are finally quelled by the actions of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The fact that the play is based on a story of apparent patricide also attracts a hostile public reaction. Egged on by nationalists, including Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith, who believe that the theatre is not sufficiently political and describes the play as “a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform,” and with the pretext of a perceived slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood in the line “a drift of females standing in their shifts” (a shift being a female undergarment), a significant portion of the crowd riots, causing the remainder of the play to be acted out in dumbshow. Nevertheless, press opinion soon turns against the rioters and the protests peter out.

Years later, William Butler Yeats declares to rioters against Seán O’Casey‘s pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars, in reference to the Playboy Riots, “You have disgraced yourself again. Is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”

In the 1965 film Young Cassidy, a riot occurs during a play by the fictitious playwright Cassidy, following which the character W.B. Yeats refers to Synge and speaks similar words, starting with “You have disgraced yourselves again.”

The production of Synge’s play meets with more disturbances in the United States in 1911. On opening night in New York City, hecklers boo, hiss and throw vegetables and stink bombs while men scuffle in the aisles. The company is later arrested in Philadelphia and charged with putting on an immoral performance. The charges are later dismissed.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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The Abbey Theatre Destroyed by Fire

abbey-theatre-fire-1951Fire destroys the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on July 17, 1951, with only the Peacock, a small experimental theatre in the ground floor of the main theatre surviving intact. The play earlier in the evening closes with soldiers on stage singing Keep the Home Fires Burning.

In February 1961, the ruins of the Abbey are demolished. The board has plans for rebuilding with a design by the Irish architect Michael Scott. On September 3, 1963, the President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, lays the foundation stone for the new theatre. The Abbey reopens on July 18, 1966, at its new location at 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.

The Abbey Theatre first opens its doors to the public on December 27, 1904. Despite the loss of the original building to the 1951 fire, it has remained active to the present day. The Abbey is the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world. From 1925 onwards it receives an annual subsidy from the Irish Free State.

In its early years, the theatre is closely associated with the writers of the Irish Literary Revival, many of whom are involved in its founding and most of whom have plays staged there. The Abbey serves as a nursery for many of the leading Irish playwrights and actors of the 20th century, including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Seán O’Casey, and John Millington Synge. In addition, through its extensive programme of touring abroad and its high visibility to foreign, particularly American, audiences, it has become an important part of the Irish tourist industry.


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Death of Irish Actor Barry Fitzgerald

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationBarry Fitzgerald, Irish stage, film, and television actor, dies on January 14, 1961.

Fitzgerald is born William Joseph Shields in Walworth Road, Portobello, Dublin, Ireland, on March 10, 1888. He is the older brother of Irish actor Arthur Shields. He goes to Skerry’s College in Dublin before going on to work in the civil service while also working at the Abbey Theatre.

Unknown to many, Fitzgerald is also a patriot. In 1916 he is a member of the Irish Volunteers and is prepared to fight on Easter Sunday when the orders are countermanded. On Easter Monday the revolution is on again, and Shields goes to the Abbey Theatre and retrieves his rifle from under the stage. He goes around the corner to Liberty Hall and joins with James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army.

He then marches to the General Post Office on Sackville Street where he fights before evacuating on Friday. He is sent to Stafford Prison in England with another famous rebel, Michael Collins, and from there they are both sent to the Frongoch internment camp in Wales. Both return to Dublin by the end of 1916, Collins to terrorise the British and Shields to return to the Abbey Theatre stage.

By 1929, he turns to acting full-time. He is briefly a roommate of famed playwright Sean O’Casey and stars in such plays as O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock and the premiere of The Silver Tassie.

Fitzgerald goes to Hollywood to star in another O’Casey work, The Plough and the Stars (1936), directed by John Ford. He has a successful Hollywood career in such films as The Long Voyage Home (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), And Then There Were None (1945), The Naked City (1948), and The Quiet Man (1952). Fitzgerald achieves a feat unmatched in the history of the Academy Awards. He is nominated for both the Best Actor Oscar and the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the same performance, as Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (1944). He wins the Best Supporting Actor Award. This feat will likely never be matched as the Academy Award rules have since been changed to prevent this. During World War II, Oscar statues are made of plaster rather than gold due to wartime metal shortages. Being an avid golfer, Fitzgerald later breaks the head off his Oscar statue while practicing his golf swing.

Fitzgerald has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for films located at 6220 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television located at 7001 Hollywood Blvd.

Fitzgerald returns to live in Dublin in 1959. He dies of heart failure on January 14, 1961 and is buried at Deansgrange Cemetery in Dublin.