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


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Birth of Sophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Irish Aviator

lady-heathSophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Lady Heath, Irish aviator, is born on November 10, 1896 in Knockaderry, County Limerick, near the town of Newcastle West. She is one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.

When Peirce-Evans is one year old, her father, John Peirce-Evans, bludgeons her mother, Kate Theresa Dooling, to death with a heavy stick. He is found guilty of murder and declared insane. She is taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she is brought up by two maiden aunts, who discourage her passion for sports.

After schooldays in Rochelle School in Cork, Princess Garden Belfast and St. Margaret’s Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she plays hockey and tennis, Peirce-Evans enrolls in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. The college is designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needs. One of the few women in the college, she duly takes a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also plays with the college hockey team and contributes to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library of Ireland.

Before becoming a pilot, Peirce-Evans has already made her mark. She spends two years as a dispatch rider during World War I, based in England and later France. By that time, she has married the first of her three husbands, Major William Elliot Lynn, and, as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, is one of the founders of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association after her move to London in 1922. She is Britain’s first women’s javelin champion and sets a disputed world record for the high jump. Alleging cruelty, her marriage to Elliot Lynn ends in divorce.

In 1925, Elliot-Lynn takes her first flying lessons and two years later becomes the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain. Along the way, she set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane and is the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane.

In an era when the world has gone aviation-mad due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Elliot-Lynn is more than able to hold her own. “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she is known in the United States, makes front-page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London. A scale model of the plane is on display at The Little Museum of Dublin. She writes about the experience later in the book Woman and Flying, which she co-authors with Stella Wolfe Murray. After her great flight from the Cape, she takes a mechanic’s qualification in the United States, the first woman to do so.

On October 11, 1927, Peirce-Evans marries Sir James Heath at Christ Church in Mayfair, London, and assumes the title Lady Heath. In July 1928, she spends a few weeks volunteering as a co-pilot with a civil airline, KLM. She is hoping to be appointed to the newly created Batavia route, which would make her the first female pilot with a commercial airline. The world is not ready for female pilots and her hope is not fulfilled.

In 1929, just when her fame is at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long-distance flights, Lady Heath is badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the accident Lady Heath applies for American citizenship, intending to remain in the United States where she has made a good living on the lecture circuit and as an agent for Cirrus engines. She is never the same after her accident.

Lady Heath divorces Sir James Heath in Reno, Nevada in January 1930. On 12 November 12, 1931 in Lexington, Kentucky, she marries G.A.R Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin. They return to Ireland and she becomes involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus.

Lady Heath dies in St Leonard’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London on May 9, 1939, following a fall inside a double-decker tram. Although alcoholism had been a problem in previous years, a pathologist finds no evidence of alcohol but detailed evidence of an old blood clot which might have caused the fall. On May 15, 1939, according to newspaper reports, her ashes are scattered over Surrey from an aircraft flown by her estranged husband although legend has it that her ashes are returned to Ireland where they are scattered over her native Newcastle West.

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Birth of James White, Science Fiction Writer

james-whiteJames White, author of science fiction novellas, short stories and novels, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 7, 1928.

White is educated in Belfast at St. John’s Primary School and St. Joseph’s Technical Secondary School. As a teenager he lives with foster parents. He wants to study medicine but financial circumstances prevented this. Between 1943 and 1965 he works for several Belfast tailoring firms and then as assistant manager of a Co-op department store. He marries Margaret “Peggy” Sarah Martin, another science fiction fan, in 1955 and the couple has three children. He later works for the aeroplane builders Short Brothers as a technical clerk, publicity assistant and publicity officer.

White becomes a science fiction fan in 1941, attracted particularly by the works of E. E. “Doc” Smith, which features good aliens as well as evil ones, and of Robert A. Heinlein, many of whose stories concern ordinary people. In 1947 he meets another Irish fan, Walt Willis, and the two help to produce the fan magazines Slant and Hyphen, which feature stories and articles by noted authors including John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler and Bob Shaw. In 2004 both White and Willis are nominated for the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer of 1953, although neither wins. White says that he started writing stories because the Slant team felt that Astounding Stories of Super-Science was too dominated by prophesies of nuclear doom, and his friends dared him to write the kind of story that they all liked to read. Getting published is fairly easy during the 1950s, as the World War II restrictions on paper are ended, and there are at least 12 science magazines in Britain and about 40 in the United States. His first published short story, Assisted Passage, a parody of 1950s Anglo-Australian emigration policies, appears in the January 1953 edition of the magazine New Worlds. Further stories appear in New Worlds during the next few years, but White’s attempt to access the more lucrative American market by submitting stories to Astounding Stories of Super-Science stall after the publication of The Scavengers. As a result, White’s work is little-known outside the UK until the 1960s.

In 1957, Ace Books publishes White’s first novel, The Secret Visitors, which includes locations in Northern Ireland. Ace Books’ science fiction editor, Donald A. Wollheim, thinks the original ending is too tame and suggests that White should insert an all-out space battle just after the climactic courtroom scene. In November of the same year New Worlds publishes White’s novella Sector General, and editor John Carnell requests more stories set in the same universe, founding the series for which White is known best. White gains a steady following for his scientifically accurate stories, which are examples of hard science fiction in New Worlds, despite the magazine’s promotion of literary New Wave science fiction during the 1960s.

White keeps his job with Short Brothers and writes in the evenings, as his stories do not make enough money for him to become a full-time author. In 1980 he teaches a literature course at a Belfast branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. When diabetes has severely impaired his eyesight, he takes early retirement in 1984 and relocates to the north County Antrim resort town of Portstewart, where he continues to write. For many years he is a Council Member of the British Science Fiction Association and, with Harry Harrison and Anne McCaffrey, a Patron of the Irish Science Fiction Association. He is also a strong pacifist.

James White dies of a stroke in Portstewart, Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 23, 1999, while his novels Double Contact and The First Protector are being prepared for publication.


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Birth of Artist Thomas James Carr

Thomas James Carr, British artist who is associated with the Euston Road School in the 1930s and has a long career as a painter of domestic scenes and landscapes, is born in Belfast to a well-to-do family on September 21, 1909.

Carr attends Oundle School where his art masters include E.M.O’R. Dickey and Christopher Perkins. In 1927 Carr moves to London where he studies at the Slade School of Fine Art. After two years at the Slade, he moves to Italy and spends six months in Florence. Upon returning to London, he establishes himself as a well-regarded painter of domestic scenes.

Although essentially a realist painter, Carr is included in the 1934 Objective Abstractionists exhibition at Zwemmer’s Gallery. In 1937, he shares an exhibition with Victor Pasmore and Claude Rogers at the Storran Gallery and subsequently becomes associated with the representational style of the Euston Road School. Starting in 1940, at Georges Wildenstein‘s gallery, he holds a series of one-man exhibitions at various galleries including at the Leicester Galleries, The Redfern Gallery and also at Thomas Agnew & Sons.

In 1939, Carr returns to Northern Ireland and settles in Newcastle, County Down. During the World War II, he receives a small number of commissions from the War Artists’ Advisory Committee to depict parachute manufacture and the Short Sunderland flying-boats being built at the Short Brothers factory in Belfast.

After the war, Carr teaches at the Belfast College of Art and moves to Belfast in 1955. After the death of his wife in 1995, he moves to Norfolk, England to be nearer one of his three daughters and her family. He continues to paint into old age, and tends to concentrate on landscape painting.

Carr is a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy of Arts and is a member of the Royal Ulster Academy, the New English Art Club, the Royal Watercolour Society and is an honorary member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Queen’s University awards him an honorary doctorate in 1991. For his services to art in Northern Ireland, he is awarded the MBE in 1974 and receives an OBE in 1993.

Thomas Carr dies at the age of 89 in Norwich, England on February 17, 1999.

(Pictured: “Making Coloured Parachutes” by Thomas James Carr (http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/4674) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)