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


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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.

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Birth of James Hanley, Novelist & Playwright

james-hanleyJames (Joseph) Hanley, British novelist, short story writer, and playwright of Irish descent, is born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, Lancashire on September 3, 1897. He publishes his first novel, Drift, in 1930. The novels and short stories about seamen and their families that he writes in the 1930s and 1940s include Boy (1931), the subject of an obscenity trial. He comes from a seafaring family and spends two years at sea himself. After World War II there is less emphasis on the sea in his works. While frequently praised by critics, his novels do not sell well. In the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s he writes plays, mainly for the BBC, for radio and then for television, and also for the theatre. He returns to the novel in the 1970s. His last novel, A Kingdom, is published in 1978, when he is 80 years old.

Hanley is born to a working class family. Both his parents are born in Ireland, his father Edward Hanley around 1865, in Dublin, and his mother, Bridget Roache, in Queenstown, County Cork, around 1867. Both are well established in Liverpool by 1891, when they are married. Hanley’s father works most of his life as a stoker, particularly on Cunard Line liners, and other relatives have also gone to sea. He grows up living close to the docks. He leaves school in the summer of 1910 and works for four years in an accountants’ office. Then early in 1915 at the age of 17, he goes to sea for the first time. Thus life at sea is a formative influence and much of his early writing is about seamen.

In April 1917, Hanley jumps ship in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and shortly thereafter joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He fights in France in the summer of 1918, but is invalided out shortly thereafter. After the war he works as a railway porter in Bootle and devotes himself to a prodiguous range of autodidactic, high cultural activities – learning the piano, regularly attending concerts, reading voraciously and, above all, writing. However, it is not until 1930 that his novel Drift is accepted.

Hanley moves from Liverpool to near Corwen, North Wales in 1931, where he meets Dorothy Enid “Timothy” Thomas, neé Heathcote, a descendant of Lincolnshire nobility. They live together and have a child, Liam Powys Hanley, in 1933, but do not marry until 1947. In July 1939, as World War II is approaching, he moves to London to write documentaries and plays for the BBC. He moves back to Wales during the early years of the war, settling in Llanfechain on the other side of the Berwyn range from Corwen. In 1963, the Hanleys move to North London to be close to their son.

In 1937 Hanley publishes an autobiographical work, Broken Water: An Autobiographical Excursion, and while this generally presents a true overall picture of his life, it is seriously flawed, incomplete and inaccurate. Chris Gostick describes it as “a teasing palimpsest of truth and imagination.”

Hanley’s brother is the novelist Gerald Hanley and his nephew is the American novelist and playwright William Hanley. Hanley’s wife also publishes three novels, as Timothy Hanley. She dies in 1980. James Hanley himself dies in London on November 11, 1985 and is buried in Llanfechain, Wales.


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.


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Birth of Short Story Writer Seán Ó Faoláin

sean-ofaolainSeán Proinsias Ó Faoláin, Irish short story writer, is born as John Francis Whelan on February 22, 1900 in Cork, County Cork.

Ó Faoláin is educated at the Presentation Brothers Secondary School in Cork. He comes under the influence of Daniel Corkery, joining the Cork Dramatic Society and increasing his knowledge of the Irish language, which he had begun in school. Shortly after entering University College Cork, he joins the Irish Volunteers and fights in the Irish War of Independence. During the Irish Civil War he serves as Censor for The Cork Examiner and as publicity director for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After the Republican loss, he receives M.A. degrees from the National University of Ireland and from Harvard University where he studies for three years. He is a Commonwealth Fellow from 1926 to 1928 and is a Harvard Fellow from 1928 to 1929.

Ó Faoláin writes his first stories in the 1920s, eventually completing 90 stories over a period of 60 years. From 1929 to 1933 he lectures at the Catholic college, St. Mary’s College, at Strawberry Hill in Twickenham, England, during which period he writes his first two books. His first book, Midsummer Night Madness, is published in 1932. It is a collection of stories partly based on his Civil War experiences. He afterwards returns to his native Ireland. He publishes novels, short stories, biographies, travel books, translations, and literary criticism – including one of the rare full-length studies of the short story, The Short Story (1948). He also writes a cultural history, The Irish, in 1947.

Ó Faoláin serves as director of the Arts Council of Ireland from 1956 to 1959, and from 1940 to 1990 is a founder member and editor of the Irish literary periodical The Bell. The list of contributors to The Bell include many of Ireland’s foremost writers, among them Patrick Kavanagh, Patrick Swift, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan. His Collected Stories are published in 1983. He is elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1986.

Seán Proinsias Ó Faoláin dies after a short illness on April 20, 1991 in the Dublin nursing home where he had lived for two years.


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Birth of Irish Writer Frank O’Connor

Frank O’Connor, Irish writer of over 150 works and best known for his short stories and memoirs, is born Michael Francis O’Donovan in Cork, County Cork, on September 17, 1903. The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is named in his honour.

Raised in Cork, the only child of Minnie (née O’Connor) and Michael O’Donovan, O’Connor attends Saint Patrick’s School on Gardiner’s Hill and North Monastery CBS. His early life is marked by his father’s alcoholism, debt, and ill-treatment of his mother. His childhood is shaped in part by his mother, who supplies much of the family’s income by cleaning houses, because his father is unable to keep steady employment due to his drunkenness. He adores his mother and is bitterly resentful of his father. In his memoirs, he recalls his childhood as “those terrible years,” and admits that he has never been able to forgive his father for his abuse of himself and his mother. When his mother is seventy, O’Connor is horrified to learn from his own doctor that she has suffered for years from chronic appendicitis, which she has endured with great stoicism, as she has never had the time nor the money to see a doctor.

In 1918 O’Connor joins the First Brigade of the Irish Republican Army and serves in combat during the Irish War of Independence. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War, working in a small propaganda unit in Cork City. He is one of twelve thousand Anti-Treaty combatants who are interned by the government of the new Irish Free State. Between 1922 and 1923 he is imprisoned in Cork City Gaol and in Gormanston, County Meath.

Following his release, O’Connor takes various positions including that of teacher of Irish, theatre director, and librarian. He begins to move in literary circles and is befriended by George William Russell (Æ), through whom he comes to know most of the well-known Irish writers of the day, including William Butler Yeats, Lennox Robinson, F. R. Higgins and Lady Gregory. In his memoirs, he pays tribute to both Yeats and Russell for the help and encouragement they gave him.

In 1935, O’Connor becomes a member of the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, founded by Yeats and other members of the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1937, he becomes managing director of the Abbey. Following Yeats’s death in 1939, O’Connor’s long-standing conflict with other board members comes to a head and he leaves the Abbey later that year. In 1950, he accepts invitations to teach in the United States, where many of his short stories have been published in The New Yorker and have won great acclaim. He spends much of the 1950s in the United States, although it is always his intention to return eventually to Ireland.

From the 1930s to the 1960s O’Connor is a prolific writer of short stories, poems, plays, and novellas. His work as an Irish teacher complements his plethora of translations into English of Irish poetry, including his initially banned translation of Brian Merriman‘s Cúirt an Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). Many of O’Connor’s writings are based on his own life experiences – notably his well-known The Man of the House in which he reveals childhood details concerning his early life in County Cork. The Sullivan family in this short story, like his own boyhood family, is lacking a proper father figure.

O’Connor’s early years are recounted in An Only Child, a memoir published in 1961 which has the immediacy of a precocious diary. He continues his autobiography through his time with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in his book My Father’s Son, which is published posthumously in 1968. It contains valuable character sketches of many of the leading Irish literary figures of the 1930s, in particular Yeats and Æ.

Frank O’Connor has a stroke while teaching at Stanford University in 1961, and he later dies from a heart attack in Dublin on March 10, 1966. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery two days later.


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Death of Frank Harris, Novelist & Journalist

Frank Harris, British editor, novelist, short story writer, journalist and publisher, dies on August 26, 1931. He is friendly with many well-known figures of his day.

Harris is born James Thomas Harris on February 14, 1855, in Galway, County Galway, to Welsh parents. While living with his older brother he is, for a year or more, a pupil at The Royal School, Armagh. At the age of twelve he is sent to Wales to continue his education as a boarder at the Ruabon Grammar School in Denbighshire, a time he is to remember later in My Life and Loves. Harris is unhappy at the school and runs away within a year.

Harris runs away to the United States in late 1869, arriving in New York City virtually penniless. The 13-year-old takes a series of odd jobs to support himself, working first as a shoeshiner, a porter, a general laborer, and a construction worker on the erection of the Brooklyn Bridge. He later turns these early occupational experiences into art, incorporating tales from them into his book The Bomb.

From New York Harris moves to the American Midwest, settling in Chicago, where he takes a job as a hotel clerk and eventually a manager. Owing to Chicago’s central place in the meat packing industry, Harris makes the acquaintance of various cattlemen, who inspire him to leave the big city to take up work as a cowboy. He eventually grows tired of life in the cattle industry and enrolls at the University of Kansas, where he studies law and earns a degree, gaining admission to the Kansas state bar association.

Harris is not cut out to be a lawyer and soon decides to turn his attention to literature. He returns to England in 1882, later traveling to various cities in Germany, Austria, France, and Greece on his literary quest. He works briefly as an American newspaper correspondent before settling down in England to seriously pursue the vocation of journalism.

Harris first comes to general notice as the editor of a series of London papers including The Evening News, The Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, the last-named being the high point of his journalistic career, with H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw as regular contributors.

From 1908 to 1914 Harris concentrates on working as a novelist, authoring a series of popular books such as The Bomb, The Man Shakespeare, and The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories. With the advent of World War I in the summer of 1914, Harris decides to return to the United States.

From 1916 to 1922 he edits the U.S. edition of Pearson’s Magazine, a popular monthly which combines short story fiction with socialist-tinted features on contemporary news topics. One issue of the publication is banned from the mails by United States Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson during the period of American participation in the Great War. Despite this Harris manages to navigate the delicate situation which faces the left wing press and to keep the Pearson’s Magazine functioning and solvent during the war years.

Harris becomes an American citizen in April 1921. In 1922 he travels to Berlin to publish his best-known work, his autobiography My Life and Loves. It is notorious for its graphic descriptions of Harris’ purported sexual encounters and for its exaggeration of the scope of his adventures and his role in history. Years later, Time Magazine reflects in its March 21, 1960 issue “Had he not been a thundering liar, Frank Harris would have been a great autobiographer….he had the crippling disqualification that he told the truth, as Max Beerbohm remarked, only ‘when his invention flagged’.” A fifth volume, supposedly taken from his notes but of doubtful provenance, is published in 1954, long after his death.

Harris also writes short stories and novels, two books on Shakespeare, a series of biographical sketches in five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits and biographies of his friends Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. His attempts at playwriting are less successful. Only Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900), which is based on an idea by Oscar Wilde, is produced on the stage.

Married three times, Harris dies of a heart attack in Nice at the age of 75 on August 26, 1931. He is subsequently buried at Cimetière Caucade in the same city. Just after his death a biography written by Hugh Kingsmill (pseudonym of Hugh Kingsmill Lunn) is published.


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Birth of Irish Author Mary Anne Sadlier

mary-anne-sadlierMary Anne Sadlier, Irish author, is born Mary Anne Madden in Cootehill, County Cavan, on December 30, 1820.

Sadlier publishes roughly sixty novels and numerous stories in her lifetime. She writes for Irish immigrants in both the United States and Canada, encouraging them to attend mass and retain the Catholic faith. In so doing, Sadlier also addresses the related themes of anti-Catholicism, the Great Famine, emigration, and domestic work. Her writings are often found under the name Mrs. J. Sadlier.

Upon the death of her father, Francis, a merchant, Mary Madden emigrates to Sainte-Marthe, Quebec in 1844, where she marries publisher James Sadlier, also from Ireland, on November 24, 1846. Sadlier publishes much of her work in the family’s Catholic magazine, The Tablet. Sadlier experiences her most productive literary period after her marriage and is most creative after the time all of her children are born. While living in Canada, Sadlier publishes eighteen books — five novels, one collection of short stories, a religious catechism, and nine translations from the French — in addition to assorted magazine articles she contributes to the Pilot and American Celt free of charge. In New Lights (1853), Sadlier deals with the Great Famine for the first time. The book proves one of her most popular, going through at least eight editions in fifty years. In this novel, Sadlier focuses a polemical attack on the Protestant practice of converting Irish peasants by promising them soup, but condemns peasant retaliation and violence.

In the early 1860s, the couple moves to New York City. The Sadlier’s New York home becomes the hub of literary activity in the Catholic community, and Sadlier also enjoys the company of the brightest Irish writers in the United States and Canada, including New York Archbishop John Hughes, editor Orestes Brownson, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee. She holds weekly salons in her Manhattan home, as well as her summer home on Far Rockaway on Long Island. Her closest friend is D’Arcy McGee, a poet, Irish nationalist exile and Canadian statesman known as one of the founding “Fathers of Confederation” who helps bring about Canada’s independence. McGee and Sadlier share an interest in a “national poetry” that does not only capture the spirit of a people, but inspires them to political and national independence. While McGee, as a man, can take part in political rallies and organize Irish American support for Home Rule, Sadlier, as a woman, directs her support for Irish independence into literature. McGee’s biographer notes that Sadlier’s success inspires him to write emigrant novels, and is planning a novel on this subject at the time of his assassination by an Irish American radical in 1868. His death is a crushing blow to Sadlier and her husband. Sadlier edits a collection of McGee’s poetry in 1869 in tribute to his memory.

Sadlier remains in New York for nine years before returning to Canada, where she dies in Montreal on April 5, 1903. In later years she loses the copyright to all her earlier works, many of which remain in print. One of Mary Anne’s daughters, Anna Theresa Sadlier, also becomes a writer.