seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Ewart Milne, Irish Poet

ewart-milneEwart Milne, Irish poet, is born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, He describes himself on various book jackets as “a sailor before the mast, ambulance driver and courier during the Spanish Civil War, a land worker and estate manager in England during and after World War II” and also “an enthusiast for lost causes – national, political, social and merely human.”

Milne is born of English and Welsh-Irish parents and is educated at Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School. In 1920 he signs on as a seaman and works on boats, off and on, until 1935. During the 1930s he begins writing and has his first poems published in 1935.

The background to the Spanish Civil War contributes to Milne’s political awakening and he comes to England to work as a voluntary administrator for the Spanish Medical Aid Committee in London, for whom he often acts as a medical courier. He also was once unwillingly involved in an arms deal while visiting Spain on their behalf.

After Spanish Medical Aid Committee is wound up, Milne returns to Ireland but remains politically active in support of the campaign for the release of Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column of Irish volunteers on the Republican side, who had been captured and imprisoned in Spain. At one point he takes part in a delegation to Westminster seeking Labour Party support for this. In August 1938 he is reported in The Worker’s Republic as being one of the twelve member committee of the James Connolly Irish club in London.

During his time in England and Spain, Milne gets to know the left-leaning poets who support the Republican cause, including W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1938 his first collection of poems, Forty North Fifty West, is published in Dublin, followed by two others in 1940 and 1941. Having taken a pro-British line in neutral Ireland, he is informed by Karl Petersen, the German press attaché in Dublin, that he is on the Nazi death list. This convinces him to help in the British war effort and he returns to England with the help of John Betjeman, then working at the British embassy in Ireland.

Between 1942–1962 Milne is resident in England and an active presence on the English literary scene. In particular he becomes associated with the poets grouped around the magazine Nine, edited by Peter Russell and Ian Fletcher. He and his wife Thelma also back the young Irish poet Patrick Galvin when he launches his own magazine, Chanticleer. This generous encouragement of younger writers is later extended to several others, including John F. Deane, Gerald Dawe and Maurice Scully.

Milne regards his return to Dublin in 1962 as a disaster, as his four-year stay is overshadowed by quarrels with the establishment, the discovery of betrayal by a friend and the death of his wife from lung cancer. The misery of those events is recorded in Time Stopped (1967). The artistic frustration of the time also results in the poems included in Cantata Under Orion (1976). Returning to England in 1966, he settles in Bedford. Politically he remains involved and speaks alongside Auberon Waugh at the rally on behalf of Biafra in 1968, but his views move further to the right in later years. He writes to The Irish Times on April 13, 1976, saying that he has been “taken in by Stalin and that Leninism is Satanism.” He also sides with the Loyalist position in the Ulster conflict. He dies in Bedford of a heart attack on January 14, 1987.

Milne is twice married, first to Kathleen Ida Bradner in 1927, by whom he has two sons; then in 1948 to Thelma Dobson, by whom he has two more sons.

(Pictured: A portrait of Ewart Milne by Cecil F. Salkkeld, as it appears in Milne’s book Forty North Fifty West)


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”