seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Breandán Ó hEithir, Writer & Broadcaster

Breandán Ó hEithir, Irish writer and broadcaster, is born in Cill Rónáin, Aran, County Galway, on January 18, 1930.

Ó hEithir’s parents are national school teachers, Pádraic Ó hEithir and Delia Ní Fhlaithearta. He is a nephew of Aran Islands authors Liam Ó Flaithearta and Tom Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, the brothers of his mother. He attends the Kilronan national school where his parents teach. He receives his secondary school education at Coláiste Éinde (St. Enda’s College), Galway. He attends University College Galway for three years, finishing his university course in 1952 but leaves without sitting his final examinations. He writes in both Irish and English, and is highly regarded for the originality and liveliness of his journalism, especially his work in Irish.

Ó hEithir marries Catherine von Hildebrand, a young student recently arrived in Dublin from Colombia, in 1957 and they have five children: Ruairí, Máirín, Brian, Aindriú, and Rónán. Catherine is born in Paris, the daughter of Deirdre Mulcahy from Sligo and Franz von Hildebrand from Munich, son of the noted philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand.

After college, Ó hEithir spends a number of years working as an itinerant bookseller for Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge. He serves as an editor at Sáirséal agus Dill, the Irish language publishing house, and as Irish language editor for The Irish Press from 1957 to 1963. He also writes a column for The Sunday Press. He is a regular columnist with the journal Comhar and also contributes a weekly column to The Irish Times. He also serves as a staff journalist with Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), working on the current affairs programmes Cúrsaí and Féach.

In 1975 the Irish American Cultural Institute awards Ó hEithir a scholarship of £2,000 to allow him to devote more time to writing. The following year his first novel, Lig sinn i gcathú (1976), loosely based on his student days in Galway, becomes a best-seller. He and Catherine move to Paris in 1986, where most of his second novel, Sionnach ar mo Dhuán (1988), is written. Hopes of having produced his definitive novel are soon dashed by a series of devastating reviews.

Ó hEithir visits Colombia with his wife in the summer of 1990. On his return, he is presented with the Butler literary award of $10,000 in further recognition of his writing in Irish. A month later, after a very short illness, he dies of cancer in St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin on October 26, 1990. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, daughter Máirín, and sons Ruairí, Brian, and Aindriú.

A biography of Ó hEithir has been written by Liam Mac Con Iomaire.


Leave a comment

Death of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, Educator & Publisher

Elizabeth Corbet Yeats, known as Lolly, Anglo-Irish educator and publisher, dies on January 16, 1940. She works as an art teacher and publishes several books on art and is a founder of Dun Emer Press which publishes several works by her brother, W. B. Yeats. She is the first commercial printer in Ireland to work exclusively with hand presses.

Yeats is born at 23 Fitzroy Road, London, on March 11, 1868. She is the daughter of the Irish artist John Butler Yeats and Susan Yeats (née Pollexfen). She is sister to W. B., Jack and Susan Mary “Lily” Yeats. From the age of four she lives in Merville, Sligo, at the home of her grandfather William Pollexfen. In November 1874 her family moves to 14 Edith Villas, West Kensington, London. Her governess is Martha Jowitt from 1876 until 1879 before the family moves to Bedford Park, Chiswick, in 1878.

Yeats returns to Howth, County Dublin, in 1881. She enrolls, with her sister Susan, in the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1883 and takes classes at the Royal Dublin Society.

The family moves to Eardley Crescent, South Kensington, London, in 1886. While there Yeats starts to write fiction and publishes a homemade magazine, The Pleiades, with six friends, contributing “Story without a plot” to the Christmas 1888 issue. In addition, she publishes “Scamp and three friends” in The Vegetarian.

Yeats also attends the Chiswick School of Art with her sister Susan and brother Jack Butler Yeats, learning “Freehand drawing in all its branches, practical Geometry and perspective, pottery and tile painting, design for decorative purposes.”

In the 1890s Yeats lives at 3 Blenheim Road, Bedford Park, London, and trains as a kindergarten teacher at the Froebel College in Bedford, Bedfordshire. She undertakes her teaching practice at the Bedford Park High School. In 1892, when her training is completed, she teaches as a visiting art mistress at the Froebel Society, Chiswick High School and the Central Foundation School.

Yeats earns a good income from lecturing and publication of four popular painting manuals: Brushwork (1896), Brushwork Studies of Flowers, Fruits and Animals (1898), Brushwork Copy Book (1899), and Elementary Brushwork Studies (1900).

Yeats trains and works as an art teacher and is a member of William Morris‘s circle in London before her family returns to Dublin in 1900. She writes and creates the artwork for Elementary Brush-Work Studies (1900), an educational book that teaches young children the technique of painting flowers and plants using her simple method. At the suggestion of Emery Walker, who works with Morris on the Kelmscott Press, she studies printing with the Women’s Printing Society in London.

In Dublin, Yeats accepts the invitation to join Evelyn Gleeson to form the Dun Emer Guild along with Lily, who is an embroiderer. She manages the Dun Emer Press from 1902 with a printing press acquired from a provincial newspaper. The Press is located at Runnymede, the house of Evelyn Gleeson. This is set up with the intention of training young women in bookbinding and printing as well as embroidery and weaving. In 1903 she starts printing and Dun Emer’s first book is W. B. Yeats’s In the Seven Woods (1903).

Despite being a gifted printer, the costings exceed the quality of work that Yeats produces with the result that the press is often at risk financially. Eleven books, decorated with pastels by George William Russell, appear under the Dun Emer imprint produced from a first-floor room. She has several disagreements with her brother William over his directions as literary editor. She also dislikes Evelyn Gleeson. In October 1906 she travels to New York to advertise her products but publishes Dun Emer’s last book, William’s Discoveries (1907), in late November when she returns to Dublin.

After many years of strained relations between the Yeats sisters and Evelyn Gleeson, their business relationship is finally ended. Subsequently, in 1908, Lolly and her brother William start the Cuala Press, publishing over 70 books including 48 by the poet. Yeats manages the press while her sister Lily controls the embroidery section. Cuala continues to be a family strain. Their father, John Butler Yeats, has to castigate his son William for sending overtly critical letters to his sisters about the press. However, Cuala produces magnificent books: W. B. Yeats’ The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910) and a series of Broadsides (published 1908–15, with illustrations from Jack Yeats).

Yeats works with Cuala Press until just before her death in Dublin on January 16, 1940, after a diagnosis of high blood pressure and heart trouble.

(Pictured: “Elizabeth Corbet Yeats” by Jack Butler Yeats, oil on canvas, circa 1899, National Gallery of Ireland)


Leave a comment

Death of Michael Corcoran, General in the Union Army

Michael Corcoran, Irish American general in the Union Army during the American Civil War and a close confidant of President Abraham Lincoln, dies on December 22, 1863, of a fractured skull after being thrown from a runaway horse.

Corcoran is born in Carrowkeel, near Ballymote, County Sligo, on September 21, 1827. As its colonel, he leads the 69th Infantry Regiment (New York) to Washington, D.C. and is one of the first to serve in the defense of Washington by building Fort Corcoran. He then leads the 69th into action at the First Battle of Bull Run. After promotion to brigadier general, he leaves the 69th and forms the Corcoran Legion, consisting of at least five other New York regiments.

Corcoran is the only child of Thomas Corcoran, an officer in the British Army, and Mary McDonagh. Through his mother, he claims descent from Patrick Sarsfield, hero of the Williamite War in Ireland and leader of the Wild Geese. In 1846 he takes an appointment to the Revenue Police, enforcing the laws and searching for illicit stills and distilling activities in Creeslough, County Donegal. He also joins a guerrilla group called the Ribbonmen.

On August 30, 1849, Corcoran emigrates from Sligo to the United States and settles in New York City where he finds work as a clerk in the tavern owned by John Heaney, whose niece, Elizabeth, he marries in 1854.

Corcoran enlists as a Private in the 69th New York Militia. By 1859 he is appointed colonel of the regiment. The regiment is a state militia unit at the time composed of citizens, not soldiers, and is involved in the maintenance of public order. On October 11, 1860, he refuses to march the regiment on parade for the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, who is visiting New York City at the time, protesting the British imposition of the Irish Famine. He is removed from command and a court martial is pending over that matter when the Civil War begins.

Corcoran also becomes involved in Democratic politics at Tammany Hall. He becomes district leader, a member of the judicial nominations committee, an elected school inspector for his ward, and a member of the Fourteenth Ward General Committee. He is one of the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in America.

With the outbreak of war, the court martial is dropped and Corcoran is restored to his command because he had been instrumental in bringing other Irish immigrants to the Union cause. He leads the 69th to Washington, D.C. and serves for a while in the Washington defenses building, Fort Corcoran. In July 1861 he leads the regiment into action at the First Battle of Bull Run and is taken prisoner.

While Corcoran is imprisoned, the United States makes threats to execute captured Confederate privateers. Corcoran and several other Union prisoners are selected by lot for execution if the United States carries out its threats against the privateers. This event is known as the Enchantress Affair, but no executions are ever carried out by either side. Corcoran is then offered a parole under the conditions that he does not take up arms against the Confederacy. Intending to resume his place in the Union army upon his release he refuses the offer of parole. He is appointed Brigadier General of volunteers in July and exchanged in August 1862. His role in the Enchantress Affair and his refusal for parole gains him some attention and upon his release he is invited to dinner with President Abraham Lincoln.

In April 1863 Corcoran is involved in an incident that ends with Corcoran shooting and killing Edgar A. Kimball, commander of the 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Corcoran attempts to pass through the 9th New York’s area without giving the required password after receiving the challenge from a sentry. When Kimball intervenes on the side of the sentry, Corcoran shoots him. Corcoran is not charged with a crime or reprimanded and continues to serve.

Corcoran returns to the army and sets about recruiting more Irish volunteers. He raises and takes command of what becomes known as the Corcoran Legion. Placed in command of the 1st Division, VII Corps he is engaged in the Battle of Deserted House and takes part in the Battle of Suffolk. In late 1863 he is placed in command of a division in the XXII Corps and returns to serve in the Washington defenses. While riding alone in Fairfax, Virginia he is thrown from a runaway horse and suffers a fractured skull. He dies at the age of 36 at the William Gunnell House on December 22, 1863.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveils Ireland’s national monument to the Fighting 69th in Ballymote on August 22, 2006. The monument is sculpted by Philip Flanagan. The inscription around the top of the monument reads “Michael Corcoran 1827–1863” Around the base is inscribed “New York Ballymote Creeslough Bull Run.” Underneath the monument is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center, donated by the family of Michael Lynch, who died in the tower on September 11, 2001. Lynch’s family are also from County Sligo.


Leave a comment

The Murder of Henry Luttrell, Career Soldier

Henry Luttrell, Irish soldier known for his service in the Jacobite cause, is murdered in Dublin on October 22, 1717, a case that has never been solved. A career soldier, he serves James II in England until his overthrow in 1688. In Ireland he continues to fight for James, reaching the rank of General in the Irish Army.

Luttrell is born in 1655, the second son of Thomas Luttrell of Luttrellstown Castle in County Dublin, an Irish landowner of Catholic heritage. He spends his early life on the Continent, where he kills the so-called 3rd Viscount Purbeck in a duel at Liège.

In England Luttrell is commissioned a Captain in Princess Anne of Denmark‘s Regiment of Foot in 1685 and in 1686 is given command of the 4th Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards. During the Glorious Revolution he fights under Patrick Sarsfield at the Wincanton Skirmish in November 1688. At a time when many officers of the English Army defect to William of Orange, he remains loyal to James II.

Following the disintegration of the English Army and William’s capture of London, Luttrell goes to Ireland. He joins the Irish Army under the command of Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, which has remained loyal to James and is undergoing a major expansion. He and other Catholic officers flock to the army, while Protestants are purged. Protestant inhabitants in Ireland rise, proclaiming their loyalty to William of Orange. While an uprising at Bandon in County Cork is quickly put down, a lengthy Siege of Derry begins. He is given command of a cavalry regiment. He also sits in the Patriot Parliament called by King James, as a representative for County Carlow.

In 1689 Luttrell is made Governor of Sligo, which had recently been recaptured from the enemy by Patrick Sarsfield. He immediately sets about improving the town’s fortifications. He is a friend and supporter of Sarsfield, and backs his policy of continued resistance following the Jacobite defeat the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Luttrell’s precipitate withdrawal with the cavalry of the left flank at the Battle of Aughrim gives rise to suspicions of disloyalty. During the Siege of Limerick, he is found to be in correspondence with the besiegers, and scarcely escapes hanging, bringing his regiment of horse over to the Williamite side after the surrender of the city. As a reward, he receives the forfeited estates of his elder brother, Simon Luttrell, including Luttrellstown, and is made a major general in the Dutch army.

Luttrell attempts to deprive his brother’s widow, Catherine, of her jointure by discreditable means, but is ultimately obliged to yield it to her.

On October 13, 1704, Luttrell marries Elizabeth Jones and has two sons: Robert Luttrell (d. 1727), and Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton (1713–1787).

Luttrell is shot and mortally wounded in his sedan chair on the night of October 21, 1717, on the Blind-quay in Dublin as he is proceeding from Lucas’ Coffee House on Cork-hill to his house in Stafford Street. He dies the following day, at the age of sixty-three. Despite large rewards, the murderers are never apprehended.

His grandson, Henry Luttrell, 2nd Earl of Carhampton, sells Luttrellstown Castle which the family had owned for almost 600 years in 1800. After Luttrellstown Castle is sold Luttrell’s grave is opened and the skull smashed.

(Pictured: Depiction of the Battle of Aughrim (1691) by John Mulvany (c. 1839 – 1906). Luttrell’s conduct during the 1691 battle becomes a subject of historical debate.)


Leave a comment

Birth of Lord Edward FitzGerald

Lord Edward FitzGerald, Irish aristocrat who abandoned his prospects as a distinguished veteran of British service in the American Revolutionary War, and as an Irish Parliamentarian, to embrace the cause of an independent Irish republic, is born at Carton House, near Dublin, on October 15, 1763.

FitzGerald is the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, and the Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond. In 1773 his father dies and his mother soon afterwards marries William Ogilvie, who had been the tutor for him and his siblings. He spends most of his childhood in Frescati House at Blackrock, Dublin, where he is tutored by Ogilvie in a manner chiefly directed to the acquisition of knowledge that will fit him for a military career.

FitzGerald joins the British Army in 1779 and then becomes aide-de-camp on the staff of Lord Rawdon in the Southern theatre of the American Revolutionary War. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, his life being saved by an escaped slave named Tony Small. He commissions a portrait of Small by John Roberts in 1786. He frees Small and employs him to the end of his life. He is evacuated from Charleston, South Carolina in 1782 when the British forces abandon the city.

In 1783 FitzGerald visits the West Indies before returning to Ireland, where his brother, William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster, has procured Edward’s election to the Irish Parliament as an MP for Athy, a seat he holds until 1790. In Parliament he acts with the small Opposition Irish Patriot Party group led by Henry Grattan, but takes no prominent part in debate. In the spring of 1786 he takes the then unusual step for a young nobleman of entering the Military College, Woolwich, after which he makes a tour through Spain in 1787. Dejected by unrequited love for his cousin Georgina Lennox, he sails for New Brunswick to join the 54th Regiment with the rank of Major.

In April 1789, guided by compass, FitzGerald traverses the country with a brother officer from Fredericton, New Brunswick to Quebec, falling in with Indians by the way, with whom he fraternizes. He accomplishes the journey in twenty-six days, and establishes a shorter practicable route than that hitherto followed. The route crosses the extremely rugged and heavily forested northern part of the present state of Maine. In a subsequent expedition he is formally adopted at Detroit by the Bear clan of the Mohawk with the name “Eghnidal,” and makes his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, whence he returns to England.

Finding that his brother has procured his election for Kildare County, a seat he holds from 1790 to 1798, and desiring to maintain political independence, FitzGerald refuses the command of an expedition against Cádiz offered him by William Pitt the Younger, and devotes himself for the next few years to the pleasures of society and to his parliamentary duties. He is on terms of intimacy with his first cousin Charles Fox, with Richard Sheridan and other leading Whigs. According to Thomas Moore, FitzGerald is only one of numerous suitors of Sheridan’s first wife, Elizabeth, whose attentions are received with favour. She conceives a child by him, a baby girl who is born on March 30, 1792.

His Whig connections, together with his transatlantic experiences, predisposed FitzGerald to sympathize with the doctrines of the French Revolution, which he embraces enthusiastically when he visits Paris in October 1792. He lodges with Thomas Paine and listens to the debates in the Convention. While in Paris, he becomes enamoured of a young girl named Pamela whom he chances to see at the theatre, and who has a striking likeness to Elizabeth Sheridan. On December 27, 1792, he and Pamela are married at Tournai, one of the witnesses being Louis Philippe, afterwards King of the French. In January 1793 the couple reaches Dublin.

Ireland is by then seething with dissent which is finding a focus in the increasingly popular and revolutionary Society of the United Irishmen, which has been forced underground by the outbreak of war between France and Britain in 1793. FitzGerald, fresh from the gallery of the Convention in Paris, returns to his seat in the Irish Parliament and immediately springs to their defence. Within a week of his return he is ordered into custody and required to apologise at the bar of the House of Commons for violently denouncing in the House a Government proclamation which Grattan had approved for the suppression of the United-Irish attempt to revive the Irish Volunteer movement with a “National Guard.” However, it is not until 1796 that he joins the United Irishmen, who by now have given up as hopeless the path of constitutional reform and whose aim, after the recall of Lord FitzWilliam in 1795, is nothing less than the establishment of an independent Irish republic.

In May 1796 Theobald Wolfe Tone is in Paris endeavouring to obtain French assistance for an insurrection in Ireland. In the same month, FitzGerald and his friend Arthur O’Connor proceed to Hamburg, where they open negotiations with the Directory through Reinhard, French minister to the Hanseatic towns. The Duke of York, meeting Pamela at Devonshire House on her way through London with her husband, tells her that his plans are known and advises that he should not go abroad. The proceedings of the conspirators at Hamburg are made known to the government in London by an informer, Samuel Turner. The result of the Hamburg negotiations is Louis Lazare Hoche‘s abortive expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796.

In September 1797 the Government learns from the informer Leonard McNally that FitzGerald is among those directing the conspiracy of the United Irishmen, which is now quickly maturing. Thomas Reynolds, converted from a conspirator to an informer, keeps the authorities posted in what is going on, though lack of evidence produced in court delays the arrest of the ringleaders. But on March 12, 1798 Reynolds’ information leads to the seizure of a number of conspirators at the house of Oliver Bond. FitzGerald, warned by Reynolds, is not among them.

As a fellow member of the Ascendancy class, the Government are anxious to make an exception for FitzGerald, avoiding the embarrassing and dangerous consequences of his subversive activities. They communicate their willingness to spare him from the normal fate meted out to traitors. FitzGerald however refuses to desert others who cannot escape, and whom he has himself led into danger. On March 30 the government proclamation of martial law authorising the military to act as they see fit to crush the United Irishmen leads to a campaign of vicious brutality in several parts of the country.

FitzGerald’s social position makes him the most important United Irish leader still at liberty. On May 9 a reward of £1,000 is offered by Dublin Castle for his apprehension. Since the arrests at Bond’s house, he has been in hiding. The date for the rising is finally fixed for May 23 and FitzGerald awaits the day hidden by Mary Moore above her family’s inn in Thomas Street, Dublin.

Tipped off that the house is going to be raided, Moore turns to Francis Magan, a Catholic barrister and trusted sympathiser, who agrees to hide Fitzgerald. Making its way to Magan’s house on May 18, Fitzgerald’s party is challenged by Major Henry Sirr and a company of Dumbarton Fencibles. Moore escapes with Fitzgerald and takes him back to Thomas Street to the house of Nicholas Murphy.

Moore explains to Magan what had happened and, unbeknownst to her, Magan informs Dublin Castle. The Moore house is raided that day. Mary, running to warn the Leinster Directory meeting nearby in James’s Gate, receives a bayonet cut across the shoulders. That same evening Sirr storms Murphy’s house where FitzGerald is in bed suffering from a fever. Alerted by the commotion, he jumps out of bed and, ignoring the pleas of the arresting officers to surrender peacefully, he stabs one and mortally wounds the other with a dagger in a desperate attempt to escape. He is secured only after Major Sirr shoots him in the shoulder.

FitzGerald is conveyed to New Prison, Dublin where he is denied proper medical treatment. After a brief detention in Dublin Castle he is taken to Newgate Prison, Dublin where his wound, which has become infected, becomes mortally inflamed. His wife, whom the government probably has enough evidence to convict of treason, has fled the country, never to see her husband again, but FitzGerald’s brother Henry and his aunt Lady Louisa Conolly are allowed to see him in his last moments. He dies at the age of 34 on June 4, 1798, as the rebellion rages outside. He is buried the next day in the cemetery of St. Werburgh’s Church, Dublin. An Act of Attainder confiscating his property is passed as 38 Geo. 3 c. 77, but is eventually repealed in 1819.

There are Lord Edward Streets named in FitzGerald’s honour in many places in Ireland, such as Dublin, Limerick, Sligo, Kilkenny, Ballina, Ballymote, and Ballycullenbeg in County Laois. The County Roscommon GAA club Tulsk Lord Edward’s and the Geraldines P. Moran’s GAA club in Cornelscourt, Dublin, are named after him.


Leave a comment

Westlife Becomes First Act with 6 Consecutive No. 1 Singles in British Pop History

On September 24, 2000, Westlife, an Irish pop vocal group formed in Sligo in 1998, makes British pop history by becoming the first act to have six consecutive number one singles.

Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan, all schoolmates in Summerhill College in Sligo, participate in a school production of Grease with fellow Sligo men Derrick Lacey, Graham Keighron, and Michael Garrett. They considered it as the start of Westlife. The sextet forms a pop vocal group called Six as One in 1997, which they later rename IOYOU. The group is managed by choreographer Mary McDonagh and two other informal managers. McDonagh first encounters Egan as a six-year-old student at her weekly dance classes, and comes to know Filan and Feehily in their early teens as they star in shows such as Oliver! and Godspell for Sligo Fun Company.

Louis Walsh, the manager of fellow Irish boy band Boyzone, comes to know the group after Filan’s mother Mae contacts him, but the group fails to secure a BMG record deal with Simon Cowell. Cowell tells Walsh, “You are going to have to fire at least three of them. They have great voices, but they are the ugliest band I have ever seen in my life.” Lacey, Keighron, and Garrett are told they will not be part of the new group, and auditions are held in Dublin where Nicky Byrne and Brian McFadden are recruited. McFadden is part of an R&B group called Cartel before this.

The new group, formed on July 3, 1998, is originally named Westside, but as another band is already using that name, the group is renamed Westlife. They manage to secure a major record deal the second time around under BMG with all other record labels competing. They sign a four million pound record deal with RCA Records. Westlife’s first big break comes in 1998 when they open for Boyzone and Backstreet Boys concerts in Dublin.

Westlife has released twelve studio albums. They rise to fame with their debut international self-titled studio album, Westlife (1999). It is followed by Coast to Coast (2000), World of Our Own (2001), Unbreakable – The Greatest Hits Volume 1 (2002), and Turnaround (2003), which continues the group’s success worldwide. The group then releases their cover albums Allow Us to Be Frank (2004) and The Love Album (2006) and the studio albums Face to Face (2005) and Back Home (2007). After a hiatus of studio recording for almost one year in 2008, they release the studio albums Where We Are (2009), and Gravity (2010), and the compilation album Greatest Hits (2011). After eight years, the quartet group releases their eleventh studio album, Spectrum (2019), followed by their twelfth studio album, Wild Dreams (2021).

Westlife is the act with the most Number 1 debuts on the UK Singles Chart, with all 14 of their chart-toppers landing there in their first week. They have the most singles certifications for a pop band on the UK number one singles artists chart since The Beatles. According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), Westlife has been certified for 13.1 million albums, 1.3 million video albums, and 10.4 million singles, with a total of more than 24 million combined sales in the United Kingdom (UK). They are also currently ranked 19th with the most number-one albums of all time and sixth-highest band in the list. The group has accumulated 14 number-one singles as a lead artist as well as having eight number-one albums in the United Kingdom, making them Ireland’s and non-British act’s (since Elvis Presley) most prolific chart-toppers. In 2012, the Official Charts Company lists Westlife 34th among the biggest-selling singles artist, 16th amongst the biggest selling groups, and 14th with most top ten hits — all the highest for a boy band and a pop group in British music history. They are also the biggest selling album group of the 2000s, and three of their studio albums are part of the 50 fastest-selling albums of all time in the UK.

Westlife has the most consecutive number one studio albums in a decade in the UK and Ireland for a band, since The Beatles, and for a pop band and act since ABBA. Also in Ireland, they have 11 number one albums with a total of 13 top two albums, 16 number one singles, as well as 34 top fifty singles. They have sold over 55 million records and are holders of the following Guinness World Records: first to achieve seven consecutive number-one singles in the UK; most public appearances in 36 hours by a pop group; most singles to debut at number one on the UK chart; and top-selling album group in the United Kingdom in the 21st century.

Westlife is one of the most successful music groups of all time, among the highest-profile acts in 2000s popular culture in most territories worldwide, and one of the few boy bands to have continued success after their commercial peak. On the best-selling boy bands of all time list, they are currently tenth worldwide along with the biggest-selling boy band from Ireland in history globally. They have received numerous accolades including one World Music Award, two Brit Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, and four Record of the Year Awards. As a live act, Westlife has sold 5.5 million concert tickets worldwide from their fourteen concert tours so far. They hold the record for the most shows played at The SSE Arena, Belfast and Wembley Arena. This makes them the biggest arena act of all-time in the United Kingdom. They sell out Croke Park in Dublin in a record-breaking five minutes. Their fourteenth, and latest concert tour is called The Wild Dreams Tour.


Leave a comment

Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


Leave a comment

Birth of Jeremiah Joseph “Ginger” O’Connell, Irish Revolutionary

Jeremiah Joseph “Ginger” O’Connell, Irish revolutionary, active in the Irish War of Independence, and later a senior officer in the Defence Forces, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on December 21, 1887.

O’Connell is born to Jeremiah Ambrose and Winifred O’Connell. He is nicknamed “Ginger” because of his red hair. His father is a national school inspector, so the family lives in Sligo, Derry, Longford and Belfast, and he attends a succession of primary schools. He studies at University College Dublin (UCD) where he receives a BA and a first class MA. He is a member of the Literary and Historical Society at UCD, and has an interest in boxing.

O’Connell is living in Cavan with his father, his sister Mary Margaret, his brother John Aloysius and two servants, Mary Burke and Rose Anne O’Reilly, at the time of the 1911 census, when he is 23. He is working as a Solicitor’s Apprentice, can read and write as well as speak both English and Irish, and is single. His mother is not living as it is recorded that his father is a widower.

O’Connell spends some time in the United States Army, serving with the 69th New York Infantry Regiment between 1912 and 1914. He returns to Ireland in 1914 and joins the Irish Volunteers, becoming Chief of Inspection in 1915. He travels the country organising volunteer corps, as well as contributing to the Irish Volunteer’s journal and delivering lectures on military tactics to both the Volunteers and Fianna Éireann. He also delivers a series of lectures about the famous Irish battles to the Gaelic League in Dublin. He is not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) as he believes that soldiers should not be a part of secret societies.

At the time the 1916 Easter Rising, O’Connell is operating in Dublin under instruction from Joseph Plunkett. He is dispatched to Cork by Eoin MacNeill to try to prevent the Rising. Following the Rising, he is arrested and held in Frongoch internment camp from April to July 1916. In 1918 he is again arrested and interned, spending time in Wandsworth Prison with Arthur Griffith for the alleged involvement in the fabricated German Plot.

During the Irish War of Independence, O’Connell is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) headquarters staff, as Assistant Director of Training and, after the killing of Dick McKee in 1920, as Director of Training. He coordinates, and is the principal lecturer, for a training course for military officers. The course is run clandestinely in the premises of the Topographical Society on Gardiner Street in Dublin. A sympathetic doorkeeper allows the group in at night when the society is not present. Topics delivered by O’Connell include tactics, ordinance and engineering.

In the IRA split after Dáil Éireann ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty, O’Connell takes the pro-Treaty side. He is made Deputy Chief of Staff in the National Army. On June 26, 1922, he is kidnapped by anti-treaty forces in reprisal for the arrest of an anti-treaty officer. His kidnapping is a precipitating factor in the formal outbreak of the Irish Civil War, when government pro-treaty forces two days later attack anti-treaty forces occupying the Four Courts. He survives the fighting and spends the rest of the civil war as General Officer Commanding the Curragh Command.

Following the Irish Civil War, the National Army is reorganised, and as part of that O’Connell is demoted from general to colonel. He subsequently holds a variety of positions: chief lecturer in the army school of instruction (1924–1929); director of no. 2 (intelligence) bureau (1929–1932); OC Irish Army Equitation School (March–June 1932); quartermaster-general (1932–1935) and director of the military archives (1935–1944). He also publishes articles on Irish and foreign military history and tactics in his time as a military historian. He marries Gertrude McGilligan, and they have two children together – one son and one daughter.

O’Connell dies of a heart attack at the age of 56 on February 19, 1944.


2 Comments

The Battle of Curlew Pass

The Battle of Curlew Pass is fought on August 15, 1599, during the campaign of the Earl of Essex in the Nine Years’ War, between an English force under Sir Conyers Clifford and a rebel Irish force led by Hugh Roe O’Donnell. The English are ambushed and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains, near the town of Boyle, in northwestern Ireland. The English forces suffer heavy casualties. Losses by allied Irish forces are not recorded but are probably minimal.

In April 1599, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, lands in Ireland with over 17,000 troops and cavalry to put down the rebellion of Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell, which has spread from Ulster to all Ireland. To this end, he supports an Irish enemy of O’Donnell’s, Sir Donogh O’Connor (O’Connor Sligo), encouraging him to repossess those territories of his in Sligo that O’Donnell has occupied. Sligo Town is an excellent advance base, with Ballyshannon 20 miles to the northeast commanding an important river-ford at the principal western passage into O’Donnell’s country in Ulster. English military advisers have long urged the government councils in Dublin and London to capture these strategic points. O’Connor’s brother-in-law, Tibbot ne Long Bourke, is appointed joint-commander with an English captain of a force sailing from Galway, and O’Connor is expected to receive them in Sligo. However, O’Donnell quickly besieges O’Connor at Collooney Castle with over 2,000 men in an effort to starve him out, and Essex is put on the back foot. Essex has no option but to support the besieged O’Connor, one of the few Gaelic chieftains the Crown can rely upon for support. He orders the experienced Sir Conyers Clifford, who is based in Athlone, to relieve the castle with 1,500 English infantry and 200 cavalry. It is hoped that the operation would also distract the chief rebel, O’Neill, and afford the crown an opportunity to march into his Ulster territory across its southeastern border.

O’Donnell leaves 300 men at Collooney Castle under his cousin, Niall Garbh O’Donnell, and sends another 600 to Sligo town to prevent the landing of English reinforcements under Tibbot ne Long Bourke. He then marches to Dunavaragh with 1,500 of his men, where he is joined by additional forces under local chieftains Conor MacDermott and Brian Óg na Samhthach Ó Ruairc. The Irish then carefully prepare an ambush site in the Curlew Mountains, along the English line of march. O’Donnell has trees felled and placed along the road to impede their progress. When he gets word of the English passing through Boyle, O’Donnell positions his men. Musketeers, archers and javelin men are placed in the woods alongside the road to harass the English. The main body of Irish infantry, armed with pikes and axes, are placed out of sight behind the ridge of the mountain.

In hot harvest weather, Clifford’s force marches from Athlone through Roscommon, Tulsk and Boyle. At 4:00 PM on August 15, they reach the foot of the Curlew Mountains, which have to be crossed before Sligo can be approached. The expedition is poorly supplied, and Clifford’s men are tired and hungry, and probably in no fit state to continue. But Clifford has received false intelligence that the pass is undefended, and he therefore chooses to seize the opportunity and march across, promising his troops plenty of beef in the evening. This means that his men miss out on the rest that had been planned for them in Boyle, whereas the Irish are well fed and prepared.

The English come under gunfire, arrow and javelin attack as soon as they reach the first of O’Donnell’s barricades, between Boyle and Ballinafad. The barricade is immediately abandoned by the Irish but as the English moved past and proceed up the hill they sustain further casualties. The road consists of “stones of six or seven foot broad, lying above ground, with plashes of bog between them,” and is lined with woodland on one side. The further the English advance, the more intensive the rebels’ fire becomes, and some English soldiers begin to lose their nerve and slip away. Eventually, there is a firefight, lasting about 90 minutes, at the end of which the English vanguard has run out of gunpowder. The commander of the vanguard, Alexander Radcliffe, can no longer control his troops. They wheel about in a panic and collide with the main column, which breaks and flees. The commander leads a charge with his remaining pikemen but is shot dead. With the English ranks in disarray, the main body of Irish infantry, which has concealed itself on the reverse slope of the hill, closes in and fights hand to hand. Clifford tries to regain control over his men, but appears overcome by his circumstances. He manages to rally himself and is killed by a pike-thrust as he rushes the enemy. The English are routed, but the situation is prevented from becoming a complete disaster for them when the commander of the horse, Sir Griffin Markham, charges uphill and temporarily drives the rebels back.

Though the actions of the English cavalry allows many of their foot soldiers to escape, Clifford’s men are pursued as far as the town of Boyle, where they find shelter in Boyle Abbey. About 500 English are killed in the battle. Irish losses are not recorded, but are probably small, having been firing from prepared positions and then routing a disorganised and demoralised enemy.

Clifford’s head is cut off and delivered to O’Donnell, who has remained nearby but without taking part in the fight. While the head is brought to Collooney Castle to intimidate its defenders, the trunk is carried by MacDermott to the monastery of Lough Key, where he hopes to use it to ransom his own prisoners. At last, the trunk is given a decent burial in the monastery.

O’Connor Sligo surrenders the castle shortly afterwards and reluctantly joins with the rebels. After the victory, there is a noticeable increase in the rate of desertion by Irish troops from the ranks of Essex’s army, and the earl orders that the surviving troops be divided up as fit only to hold walls.

The battle is a classic Gaelic Irish ambush, similar to the Battle of Glenmalure in 1580 or the Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the victory is put down to the intercession of the Blessed Mary, rather than to arms. But Clifford had been overconfident, a trait in him that Essex once warned against, and it is clear that English military commanders are choosing to learn the hard way about the increased effectiveness of Irish rebel forces. Queen Elizabeth I‘s principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, rates this defeat (and the simultaneous defeat of Sir Henry Harrington in the Battle of Deputy’s Pass in County Wicklow) as the two heaviest blows ever suffered by the English in Ireland, and seeks to lay the blame indirectly on Essex. It leaves O’Donnell and O’Neill free from any threat from the Connacht side, and renders a land-based attack through Armagh highly improbable, a factor that weighs with Essex as he marches northward later in the year and enters a truce with O’Neill.

In August 1602, the Curlew Pass is the scene of the last victory won by the rebels during the war, when a panicking English force is again routed and suffers significant losses. This time the rebels are led by Rory O’Donnell who commands 400 musketeers.

Today the battlefield at Curlew Pass is overlooked by an impressionistic sculpture by Maurice Harron called “The Gaelic Chieftain”, unveiled in 1999.


Leave a comment

Death of Leland Bardwell, Poet, Novelist & Playwright

Constan Olive Leland Bardwell, Irish poet, novelist, and playwright, dies at the age of 94 on June 28, 2016 in Sligo, County Sligo.

Bardwell is born Leland Hone in India on February 25, 1922 to Irish parents William Hone and Mary Collise, and moves to Ireland at the age of two. Her father’s family are of the Anglo-Irish Hone family. She grows up in Leixlip, County Kildare. She is educated at Alexandra School and later at the University of London.

Bardwell realises from childhood that a writing life is inevitable. In her memoirs she records: “Since the age of six writing had been not an ambition but a condition.” However, there are years of editorial rejections before she blossoms into a writer of the poetry, short stories for radio, plays and autobiographical novels that flowed, due in part to the encouragement of the coterie assembled there, from her basement flat in Dublin.

Bardwell’s five volumes of acclaimed poetry are The Mad Cyclist (1970), The Fly and the Bed Bug (1984), Dostoevsky’s Grace (1991), her “new and selected” The White Beach (1998) and The Noise of Masonry Settling (2005).

Bardwell is considered an important poet by her contemporaries. On the publication of her fourth collection of poetry, The White Beach, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin states, “it is good to see her work of the decades collected – it has inspired many Irish poets, male and female, and should be much more widely known,” adding that her work is “witty, full of sharp intimate honesty, full of truth and surprises.”

In 1975, along with Pearse Hutchinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, and Macdara Woods, she co-founds the long running literary magazine Cyphers.

Bardwell’s novel Girl on a Bicycle, originally published in 1977, is republished by Irish publisher Liberties Press in 2009.

Bardwell lives in Sligo and is a member of Aosdána. She dies in Sligo on June 28, 2016. One of her children is the composer John McLachlan.

(Photo by Pat Boran)