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


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Birth of Novelist Katherine Cecil Thurston

katherine-cecil-thurstonKatherine Cecil Thurston, Irish novelist best known for two political thrillers, is born at 14 Bridge Street, Cork, County Cork on April 18, 1875.

Born Kathleen Annie Josephine Madden, she is the only daughter of banker Paul J. Madden, who is Mayor of Cork in 1885–1886 and a friend of Charles Stewart Parnell, and Eliza Madden (née Dwyer). She is educated privately at her family home, Wood’s Gift, Blackrock Road.

By the end of the 19th century Madden is contributing short stories to various British and American publications, such as The Pall Mall Magazine, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Windsor Magazine and others.

On February 16, 1901, five weeks after her father’s death, she marries the writer Ernest Temple Thurston. They separate in 1907 and are divorced in 1910 on grounds of his adultery and desertion. The suit goes undefended. Thurston “complained that she was making more money by her books than he was, that her personality dominated his, and had said that he wanted to leave her.”

Thurston’s novels achieve success in Britain and the United States. Her best-known work is a political thriller entitled John Chilcote, M.P. (as The Masquerader in the United States), published in 1904 and on The New York Times bestseller list for two years, ranking as third best-selling book for 1904 and seventh best in 1905. Her next book, The Gambler, comes out in 1905 and it too makes the U.S. best-selling lists for that year. This is the first time The New York Times had recorded any author, female or male, as having two top-ten books in a single year. In 1910, she is back on the same list at No. 4 with her novel Max, the story of a young Russian princess, who flees disguised as a boy to the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, on the night before her arranged marriage.

John Chilcote, M.P. is adapted for the stage by John Hunter Booth and opens on Broadway in 1917. It is filmed four times, the first silent film by American Pathé in 1912 under the title The Compact and starring Crane Wilbur. The second film is a 1920 Russian/French co-production entitled Chlen parlamenta. Two more films are made using the American book title The Masquerader, in 1922 and then by The Samuel Goldwyn Company in 1933 as a “talkie” starring Ronald Colman.

An epileptic, Thurston’s blossoming career is cut short at the age of 36 when she is found dead in her hotel room in Cork on September 5, 1911. The official enquiry the following day gives the cause of death as asphyxia as result of a seizure. She had been due to remarry later in the month to Dr. A. T. Bulkeley Gavin. She is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The story of her final years and her relations with Bulkeley Gavin are the subject of a published thesis by C. M. Copeland, written while studying at the Napier University, Edinburgh.


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Birth of Actor Noel Purcell

noel-purcellPatrick Joseph Noel Purcell, distinguished Irish actor of stage, screen and television, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1900. He appears in the 1956 film Moby Dick and the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty.

Purcell is the son of auctioneer Pierce Purcell and his second wife Catherine (née Hoban) of 4 Ashbrook Terrace, South Circular Road, Dublin. He is baptised six days after his birth at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street. Within a few months, the Purcell family moves to 12 Mercer Street Lower. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He loses the tip of his right index finger while making cigarette vending machines, and also loses his entire left index finger due to an accident while he is an apprentice carpenter, a feature which he exploits for dramatic effect in the film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

Purcell begins his show business career at the age of 12 in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Later, he tours Ireland in a vaudeville act with Jimmy O’Dea. Stage-trained in the classics in Dublin, he moves into films in 1934. He appears in Captain Boycott (1947) and as the elderly sailor whose death maroons the lovers-to-be in the first sound film version of The Blue Lagoon (1949). He plays a member of Captain Ahab‘s crew in Moby Dick (1956), Dan O’Flaherty in episode one, The Majesty of the Law, of The Rising of the Moon (1957), a gamekeeper in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and a barman in The Mackintosh Man (1973). The last two films are directed by John Huston.

In 1955, Purcell is an off-and-on regular on the British filmed TV series The Buccaneers and he narrates a Hibernian documentary, Seven Wonders of Ireland (1959). In 1962, he portrays the lusty William McCoy in Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty. He plays a taciturn Irish in-law to Lebanese American entertainer Danny Thomas‘ character Danny Williams in a 1963 episode of The Danny Thomas Show. In 1971, he plays the caring rabbi in the children’s musical drama Flight of the Doves.

Purcell is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 when he is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre. He also gains some recognition as a singer. Shortly after World War II, songwriter Leo Maguire composes “The Dublin Saunter” for him. He performs the song live for many years and later records it for the Glenside label but the recording is not a hit. However, over time it becomes one of the most favourite songs about Dublin, receiving countless air-plays on radio programmes.

In 1981, Purcell records a spoken word version of Pete St. John‘s “The Rare Ould Times.” In June 1984, he is given the Freedom of the City of Dublin. Nine months later, on March 3, 1985, he dies at the age of 84 in Dublin. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Blackrock, Dublin.