seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Irish Artist Sarah Henrietta Purser

sarah-purser-by-john-butler-yeatsSarah Henrietta Purser, Irish artist mainly noted for her work with stained glass, dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943.

The Purser family had come to Ireland from Gloucestershire in the eighteenth century. Purser is born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on March 22, 1848. She is raised in Dungarvan, County Waterford, one of the numerous children of Benjamin Purser, a prosperous flour miller and brewer, and his wife Anne Mallet. She is related to Sir Frederic William Burton, RHA (1816-1900), who is a son of Hannah Mallet. Two of her brothers, John and Louis, become professors at Trinity College Dublin. Her niece Olive Purser, daughter of her brother Alfred, is the first woman scholar at Trinity.

At thirteen Purser attends the Moravian school, Institution Evangélique de Montmirail, Switzerland where she learns to speak fluent French and begins painting. In 1873 her father’s business fails and she decides to become a full-time painter. She attends classes at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and joins the Dublin Sketching Club, where she is later appointed an honorary member. In 1874 she distinguishes herself in the National Competition. In 1878 she again contributes to the Royal Hibernian Academy, and for the next fifty years becomes a regular exhibitor, mainly portraits, and shows an average of three works per show.

In 1878-1879, Purser studies at the Académie Julian in Paris where she meets the German painter Louise Catherine Breslau, with whom she becomes a lifelong friend.

Purser becomes wealthy through astute investments, particularly in Guinness, for which several of her male relatives have worked over the years. She is very active in the art world in Dublin and is involved in the setting up of the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, persuading the Irish government to provide Charlemont House in Parnell Square to house the gallery.

Purser works mostly as a portraitist. Through her talent and energy, and owing to her friendship with the Gore-Booths, she is very successful in obtaining commissions. When the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland commissions her to portray his children in 1888, his choice reflects her position as the country’s foremost portraitist. Various portraits painted by Purser are held in the National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser finances An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), a stained glass cooperative, at 24 Upper Pembroke and runs it from its inauguration in 1903 until her retirement in 1940. Michael Healy is the first of a number of distinguished recruit, such as Catherine O’Brien, Evie Hone, Wilhelmina Geddes, Beatrice Elvery and Ethel Rhind. She is determined the stained glass workshop should adhere to true Arts and Crafts philosophy. An Túr Gloine archive is held in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

Purser does not produce many items of stained glass herself. Most of the stained glass works are painted by other members of the co-operative, presumably under her direction. Two early works are St. Ita (1904) for St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea and The Good Shepard (1904) for St. Columba’s College, Dublin. Her last stained glass work is believed to be The Good Shepard and the Good Samaritan (1926) for the Church of Ireland at Killucan, County Westmeath.

Until her death Purser lives for many years in Mespil House, a Georgian mansion with beautiful plaster ceilings on Mespil Road, on the banks of the Grand Canal. Here she is “at home” every Tuesday afternoon to Dublin’s writers and artists. Her afternoon parties are a fixture of Dublin literary life.

Purser dies in Dublin on August 7, 1943 and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her brothers John and Louis. Mespil House is demolished after her death and developed into apartments.

Purser is the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians, National Gallery of Ireland, 1914-1943. She is made an Honorary Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1890, becoming the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924. Also in 1924 she initiates the movement for the launching of the Friends of the National Collection of Ireland. Archives relating to Sarah Purser are housed in the Centre for the Study of Irish Art, National Gallery of Ireland.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sarah Purser by John Butler Yeats, c. 1880–1885)


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Birth of Gerald O’Donovan, Priest & Writer

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default qualityGerald O’Donovan, Irish priest and writer born Jeremiah Donovan, is born in Kilkeel, County Down  on July 15, 1871.

O’Donovan is the son of a pier builder. He attends Ardnaree College in Killala and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He leaves Maynooth after ordination for the Diocese of Clonfert in 1895 and is appointed as a Roman Catholic priest to Loughrea, County Galway between 1896 and 1904. He is an enthusiastic advocate of the Gaelic League and the Irish Cooperative Association, and promotes his views in articles and lectures. His literary friends include Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George Moore. He is in charge of decorating St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea in 1901, the financing provided by O’Donovan’s close friend Edward Martyn. He quit Loughrea in 1904 after the arrival of a new bishop, Thomas O’Dea.

O’Donovan moves to London but, failing to find work as a priest, he leaves the Catholic priesthood in May 1908. He becomes a subwarden at Toynbee Hall in the East End in March 1910. In October that year, he marries Florence Emily Beryl Verschoyle (1886–1968), the daughter of an Irish Protestant colonel fifteen years his junior. They have three children, two daughters and a son.

In 1913, O’Donovan publishes his first and best known novel, Father Ralph, which draws in large part on his own life. Around this time he changes his first name from Jeremiah to Gerald. Another novel titled Waiting is published in 1914. He joins the war effort in 1915, and rises to become head of the Italian section at the Ministry of Information in 1918. There he meets his secretary and future lover, English novelist Rose Macaulay.

O’Donovan publishes a few more novels after the war: How They Did It (1920), Conquest (1920), Vocations (1921), and The Holy Tree (1922). The clandestine affair with Macaulay continues for nearly two decades. In 1939, the pair are on holiday in the Lake District when they meet with a motoring accident, which damages O’Donovan’s health. He dies of cancer in Albury, Surrey three years later, on July 26, 1942. His letters to Macaulay had been destroyed the previous year when her flat in Central London was bombed during the Blitz.

In her novel The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay features a woman character (Laurie) torn between her attraction to Christianity and her adulterous love for a married man. This is considered to reflect the author’s relationship with O’Donovan.


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Birth of Sculptor John Hughes

john-hughesJohn Hughes, Irish sculptor, is born in Dublin on January 30, 1865.

Hughes is educated at North Richmond Street CBS. He enters the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1878 and trains as a part-time student for ten years. In 1890 he wins a scholarship to the South Kensington School of Art in London, after which another scholarship takes him to Paris, France. He then studies further in Italy.

Hughes is appointed as teacher to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1894 and in 1902 becomes Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Hibernian Academy School. His last residence in Dublin is at 28 Lennox Street, Portobello.

From 1903 Hughes lives in Italy and in France, dying in Nice in 1941.

Hughes’s influences are mainly from the Italian Renaissance and include: