seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Brian O’Nolan, Novelist & Playwright

brian-o-nolanBrian O’Nolan, Irish novelist, playwright and satirist considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature, is born in Strabane, County Tyrone on October 5, 1911.

O’Nolan attends Blackrock College where he is taught English by President of the College, and future Archbishop, John Charles McQuaid. He also spends part of his schooling years in Synge Street Christian Brothers School. His novel The Hard Life is a semi autobiographical depiction of his experience with the Christian Brothers.

O’Nolan writes prodigiously during his years as a student at University College, Dublin (UCD), where he is an active, and controversial, member of the well known Literary and Historical Society. He contributes to the student magazine Comhthrom Féinne (Fair Play) under various guises, in particular the pseudonym Brother Barnabas. Significantly, he composes a story during this same period titled “Scenes in a Novel (probably posthumous) by Brother Barnabas”, which anticipates many of the ideas and themes later to be found in his novel At Swim-Two-Birds.

In 1934 O’Nolan and his student friends found a short-lived magazine called Blather. The writing here, though clearly bearing the marks of youthful bravado, again somewhat anticipates O’Nolan’s later work, in this case his Cruiskeen Lawn column as Myles na gCopaleen. Having studied the German language in Dublin, he may have spent at least parts of 1933 and 1934 in Germany, namely in Cologne and Bonn, although details are uncertain and contested.

A key feature of O’Nolan’s personal situation is his status as an Irish government civil servant, who, as a result of his father’s relatively early death, is obliged to support ten siblings, including an elder brother who is an unsuccessful writer. Given the desperate poverty of Ireland in the 1930s to 1960s, a job as a civil servant is considered prestigious, being both secure and pensionable with a reliable cash income in a largely agrarian economy. The Irish civil service is fairly strictly apolitical, prohibiting Civil Servants above the level of clerical officer from publicly expressing political views. This fact alone contributes to his use of pseudonyms, though he had started to create character-authors even in his pre-civil service writings. He rises to be quite senior, serving as private secretary to Seán T. O’Kelly and Seán McEntee.

Although O’Nolan is a well known character in Dublin during his lifetime, relatively little is known about his personal life. On December 2, 1948 he marries Evelyn McDonnell, a typist in the Department of Local Government. On his marriage he moves from his parental home in Blackrock to nearby Merrion Street, living at several further locations in South Dublin before his death. The couple has no children.

O’Nolan is an alcoholic for much of his life and suffers from ill health in his later years. He suffers from throat cancer and dies from a heart attack in Dublin on the morning of April 1, 1966.

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Birth of George Sigerson, Physician & Writer

george-sigersonGeorge Sigerson, Irish physician, scientist, writer, politician, and poet, is born at Holy Hill, near Strabane in County Tyrone on January 11, 1836. He is a leading light in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century in Ireland.

Sigerson is the son of William and Nancy (née Neilson) Sigerson and has three brothers, James, John and William, and three sisters, Ellen, Jane, and Mary Ann. He attends Letterkenny Academy but is sent by his father, who developed the spade mill and who played an active role in the development of Artigarvan, to complete his education in France.

He studies medicine at the Queen’s College, Galway, and Queen’s College, Cork, and takes his degree in 1859. He then goes to Paris where he spends some time studying under Jean-Martin Charcot and Duchenne de Boulogne. Sigmund Freud is one of his fellow students.

Sigerson returns to Ireland and opens a practice in Dublin, specializing in neurology. He continues to visit France annually to study under Charcot. His patients included Maud Gonne, Austin Clarke, and Nora Barnacle. He lectures on medicine at the Catholic University of Ireland and is professor of zoology and later botany at the University College Dublin.

His first book, The Poets and Poetry of Munster, appears in 1860. He is actively involved in political journalism for many years, writing for The Nation. Sigerson and his wife Hester are by now among the dominant figures of the Gaelic Revival. They frequently hold Sunday evening salons at their Dublin home to which artists, intellectuals, and rebels alike attend, including John O’Leary, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Roger Casement, and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh. Sigerson is a co-founder of the Feis Ceoil and President of the National Literary Society from 1893 until his death. His daughter, Dora, is a poet who is also involved in the Irish literary revival.

Nominated to the first Seanad Éireann of the Irish Free State, Sigerson briefly serves as the first chairman on December 11-12, 1922 before the election of James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy. Sigerson dies at his home at 3 Clare Street, Dublin, on February 17, 1925, at the age of 89, after a short illness. On February 18, 1925, the day after his death, the Seanad Éireann pays tribute to him.

The Sigerson Cup, the top division of third level Gaelic football competition in Ireland is named in his honour. Sigerson donates the salary from his post at UCD so that a trophy can be purchased for the competition. In 2009, he is named in the Sunday Tribune‘s list of the “125 Most Influential People In GAA History.” The cup is first presented in 1911, with the inaugural winners being UCD GAA.


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Execution of “Half-Hanged MacNaghten”

half-hanged-macnaghtenJohn MacNaghten, Anglo-Irish land owner, gambler, and convicted murderer also known as “Half-Hanged MacNaghten,” is hanged at Strabane jail on December 15, 1761, for his involvement in the killing of Mary Anne Knox, daughter of Andrew Knox MP.

MacNaghten is born into a landed Anglo-Irish family and attends Raphoe Royal school in County Donegal. In 1740, he inherits his family estate worth £500 a year and that same year enters Trinity College, Dublin. MacNaghten marries the sister-in-law of the first earl of Massereene. However, he is quickly enamoured of the extravagant lifestyle of Ascendancy Dublin where he becomes a popular and colourful character. He develops an addiction to gambling and squanders away a large part of his inheritance, running up substantial gaming debts and by 1750 is threatened with arrest.

Following the death of his wife in childbirth, he is appointed to the lucrative post of tax collector for Coleraine but gambles away £800 of the King’s money. His estate is sequestered and by 1760 he is penniless.

He gains support trying to help overcome his addiction from a childhood friend, Andrew Knox. Knox is a wealthy land-owner and Member of Parliament (MP) for Donegal who lives on an estate at Prehen about two miles outside the city of Derry. Mary Ann, Knox’s 15-year-old daughter, is already a substantial heiress, having received some £6,000, and would collect a further legacy if her brother dies without issue. MacNaghten and Mary Ann develop a relationship as the former visits Prehen regularly. Nonetheless by 1761 their relationship has run into difficulties.

The practice of abduction and marriage is prevalent in 18th century Ireland among young men of social standing but with little property and, within their society, it is tolerated. So, on November 10, 1761, MacNaghten and his followers attempt to abduct Mary Ann from a carriage on a family journey to Dublin Parliament with the intention of eloping with her. The attempt fails miserably as MacNaghten shoots and mortally wounds her by mistake. He is taken to Lifford Courthouse in County Donegal, where a court finds MacNaghten guilty of murder and he is sentenced to execution by hanging.

At Strabane jail on December 15, 1761, MacNaghten hurls himself from the gallows with such force that the rope breaks. He has the sympathy of the crowd who believe this is divine intervention for a man distraught with grief over the death of his love. Despite the belief that MacNaghten could not be hanged a second time, he fails to use the cover of a sympathetic crowd to make good his escape. Rather he defies the public mood of the people with the never-to-be-forgotten words, “I vow that no one will ever speak of me as Half-Hanged MacNaghten.” He returns himself to the jurisdiction of the hangman and, with a new rope, is dispatched into the arms of eternity.

John McNaghton is buried at Patrick Street graveyard, Strabane, County Tyrone.