seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Composer Siobhán Cleary

Siobhán Cleary, composer, is born in Dublin on May 10, 1970. Her most successful compositions are her orchestral works Alchemy and Cokaygne and her choral piece Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett. Her opera Vampirella is first performed in Dublin in March 2017. She is a member of Aosdána.

Cleary starts to compose from an early age, often writing pieces while she is supposed to be practising at the piano. When she begins to study music at Maynooth University, she is initially inspired by Luciano Berio‘s Sinfonia, and soon afterwards by the works of the Irish composer Gerald Barry, the Frenchman Olivier Messiaen and the Hungarian György Ligeti. She continues her studies at Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College, Dublin. In addition, she follows courses in composition with the Italian composer Franco Donatoni and the Dutchman Louis Andriessen and receives private tuition from the American Tom Johnson and the South African Kevin Volans. She also studies film scoring with the Italian composer Ennio Morricone and the American Don Brandon Ray.

Inspired by the alchemists’ Opus Alchymicum which describes how cheaper metals are transmuted into gold, Cleary’s orchestral work Alchemy (2001) is, like the stages in the Opus, presented in four parts: it evolves from the slow nigrendo, the moderate albedo, the strong citronatus, and the burning rubedo. The work is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in January 2002.

Cleary’s tone poem Cokaygne (2009), which, like Alchemy, is commissioned by RTÉ for the National Symphony Orchestra, is based on a poem and old sources which evoke a land of extreme luxury and contentment. The elaborately orchestrated piece is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in November 2009, Vladimir Altschuler conducting. It is performed by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra once again in June 2016, this time under the baton of Alan Buribayev.

Cleary’s choral work Theophilus Thistle and the Myth of Miss Muffett (2010), commissioned by the Cork International Choral Festival, is first performed in April 2011 by Chamber Choir Ireland directed by Paul Hillier. The work is based on a series of tongue twisters and other strange combinations of words popular in various European languages and dialects, moving from Italy, through Germany and Spain, finishing in Ireland. In 2013, it is performed twice by Chamber Choir Ireland in Dublin and Cork in connection with Ireland’s presidency of the European Union. The journalist and music critic Terry Blain comments on the choir’s “dazzingly virtuosic performance” in Belfast in 2013, qualifying the piece as “a tour de force of 21st century vocal chicanery, a clever and richly entertaining composition.” Theophilus Thistle is also performed the same year in the United States as part of the “Imagine Ireland” festival.

The chamber opera Vampirella with a libretto by Katy Hayes is first performed by students from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre in March 2017. Based on a short story by Angela Carter telling how a young English soldier is seduced by a vampire countess, it is directed by Conor Hanratty and conducted by Andrew Synnott. Michael Dervan of The Irish Times finds the electronic sounds in the score particularly effective, commenting, “Perhaps this is a case of a genuinely electronic opera trying to break out of a more conventional mold.”

In 1996, Cleary receives a young artists award from Pépinières européennes pour jeunes artistes, followed in 1997 by the first prize in the Arklow Music Festival Composers’ Competition. In 2008, she is invited to become a member of Aosdána, an Irish association of creative artists.


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Birth of Actress Margaret “Peg” Woffington

peg-woffingtonMargaret “Peg” Woffington, well-known Irish actress in Georgian London, is born of humble origins in Dublin on October 18, 1720.

Woffington’s father is believed to have been a bricklayer and, after his death, the family becomes impoverished. Her mother is obliged to take in washing while Peg sells watercress door to door. It is said that she is walking through a marketplace as a pre-teen and happens upon Madame Signora Violante, a famous tightrope walker. Violante is so immediately enthralled by Peg’s beautiful face that she accompanies her home and asks her mother permission to take her in as her apprentice.

Around 1730, Violante features Woffington as Polly Peachum in a production of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This serves as a springboard for her fame in Dublin, and she continues dancing and acting in the area playing Dorinda in an adaptation of The Tempest at the Theatre Royal, Dublin in 1735 and joining the Smock Alley Theatre to perform with well known actor David Garrick.

Woffington dances and acts at various Dublin theaters until her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple leads to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden. She becomes well known as an actress thereafter.

Woffington enjoys success in the role of Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer. She performs at Drury Lane for several years and later returns to Dublin, appearing in a variety of plays. Her most well-received performances are in comic roles, such as elegant women of fashion like Lady Betty Modish and Lady Townley, and breeches roles. She is impeded in the performance of tragedy by a harsh tone in her voice that she strives to eliminate.

Woffington lives openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs are numerous and notorious. She becomes friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning, and also shares the stage with the likes of Charles Macklin, Kitty Clive, and the tragedienne Susannah Maria Arne.

Though Woffington is popular with society figures, she is not always favored by her competition. She tends to create rivalries with similar-type actresses at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Her fiercest rivalry is with “equally peppery” actress Kitty Clive. According to Garrick biographer Thomas Davies, “No two women in high life ever hated each other more unreservedly than these two great dames of the stage.” When she returns to Covent Garden, rivalries with these women and with the manager, John Rich, eventually send her back to Dublin, where she is unrivaled and celebrated at the Smock Alley Theatre.

Rich decides to start a Beefsteak Club in 1749, also known as the Sublime Society of Steaks or “the Club.” Some of its members include Garrick and William Hogarth, as well as many other London celebrities. Not only is Woffington the first female member of the all male dining club, in 1750 she becomes president of the club by election. She also educates and supports her sister and cares for and pensions her mother.

For whatever reason, Woffington leaves Garrick in about 1744 and moves to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place. In 1754 she becomes the beneficiary of the will of the Irish impresario Owen Swiny. In 1756, she performs the part of Lady Randolph in Douglas, a part which finds a later exponent in Sarah Siddons.

On May 3, 1757, Woffington is playing the part of Rosalind in As You Like It when she collapses on stage. She rallies but would never act again, lingering with a wasting illness. She dies in Queen Square, Westminster on March 28, 1760. She is buried in St. Mary’s Church, the parish church in Teddington.