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


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Birth of James White, Science Fiction Writer

james-whiteJames White, author of science fiction novellas, short stories and novels, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 7, 1928.

White is educated in Belfast at St. John’s Primary School and St. Joseph’s Technical Secondary School. As a teenager he lives with foster parents. He wants to study medicine but financial circumstances prevented this. Between 1943 and 1965 he works for several Belfast tailoring firms and then as assistant manager of a Co-op department store. He marries Margaret “Peggy” Sarah Martin, another science fiction fan, in 1955 and the couple has three children. He later works for the aeroplane builders Short Brothers as a technical clerk, publicity assistant and publicity officer.

White becomes a science fiction fan in 1941, attracted particularly by the works of E. E. “Doc” Smith, which features good aliens as well as evil ones, and of Robert A. Heinlein, many of whose stories concern ordinary people. In 1947 he meets another Irish fan, Walt Willis, and the two help to produce the fan magazines Slant and Hyphen, which feature stories and articles by noted authors including John Brunner, A. Bertram Chandler and Bob Shaw. In 2004 both White and Willis are nominated for the retrospective Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer of 1953, although neither wins. White says that he started writing stories because the Slant team felt that Astounding Stories of Super-Science was too dominated by prophesies of nuclear doom, and his friends dared him to write the kind of story that they all liked to read. Getting published is fairly easy during the 1950s, as the World War II restrictions on paper are ended, and there are at least 12 science magazines in Britain and about 40 in the United States. His first published short story, Assisted Passage, a parody of 1950s Anglo-Australian emigration policies, appears in the January 1953 edition of the magazine New Worlds. Further stories appear in New Worlds during the next few years, but White’s attempt to access the more lucrative American market by submitting stories to Astounding Stories of Super-Science stall after the publication of The Scavengers. As a result, White’s work is little-known outside the UK until the 1960s.

In 1957, Ace Books publishes White’s first novel, The Secret Visitors, which includes locations in Northern Ireland. Ace Books’ science fiction editor, Donald A. Wollheim, thinks the original ending is too tame and suggests that White should insert an all-out space battle just after the climactic courtroom scene. In November of the same year New Worlds publishes White’s novella Sector General, and editor John Carnell requests more stories set in the same universe, founding the series for which White is known best. White gains a steady following for his scientifically accurate stories, which are examples of hard science fiction in New Worlds, despite the magazine’s promotion of literary New Wave science fiction during the 1960s.

White keeps his job with Short Brothers and writes in the evenings, as his stories do not make enough money for him to become a full-time author. In 1980 he teaches a literature course at a Belfast branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. When diabetes has severely impaired his eyesight, he takes early retirement in 1984 and relocates to the north County Antrim resort town of Portstewart, where he continues to write. For many years he is a Council Member of the British Science Fiction Association and, with Harry Harrison and Anne McCaffrey, a Patron of the Irish Science Fiction Association. He is also a strong pacifist.

James White dies of a stroke in Portstewart, Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 23, 1999, while his novels Double Contact and The First Protector are being prepared for publication.

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Birth of Civil War Officer John O’Neill

john-oneillJohn Charles O’Neill, Irish-born officer in the American Civil War and member of the Fenian Brotherhood, is born on March 9, 1834 in Drumgallon, Clontibret, County Monaghan. He is best known for his activities leading the Fenian raids on Canada in 1866 and 1871.

O’Neill receives some schooling in Drumgallon. He emigrates to New Jersey in 1848 at the height of the Great Famine in Ireland. He receives an additional year of education there and works in a number of jobs. In 1857 he enlists in the 2nd United States Dragoons and serves in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), apparently deserting afterwards to California.

In California, he joins the 1st Cavalry and serves as a sergeant in the American Civil War with this regiment until December 1862, at which time he is commissioned as an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry. He is credited as being a daring fighting officer, but believes he has not received due promotion, which leads to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as captain. He leaves the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict, marrying Mary Crow, with whom he has several children.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill joins the militant Irish American movement, the Fenian Brotherhood, which eschews politics in favor of militant action to expel the British presence in Ireland. He attaches himself to the group led by William Randall Roberts, who wishes to attack Canada.

O’Neill, ranked as colonel, travels to the Canada–US border with a group from Nashville to participate in the Fenian raids. The assigned commander of the expedition does not appear, so O’Neill takes command. On June 1, 1866, he leads a group of six hundred men across the Niagara River and occupies Fort Erie.

The following day, north of Ridgeway, Ontario, O’Neill’s group encounters a detached column of Canadian volunteers, commanded by Lt-Col. Alfred Booker. The inexperienced Canadians are routed by the Civil War veterans. O’Neill withdraws back to Fort Erie and fights a battle against a detachment led by John Stoughton Dennis. With overwhelming numbers of Canadian forces closing in, O’Neill oversees a successful evacuation on the night of June 2-3 back to United States territory. He is later charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States but the charges are later dropped.

The penetration of O’Neill’s organisation by British and Canadian spies ensures that his next venture into Canada, the Battle of Eccles Hill, in 1870 is known in advance, and Canada is accordingly prepared. After the Battle of Trout River ends in a disorganized rout, O’Neill is arrested by United States Marshal George P. Foster and charged with violating neutrality laws. He is sentenced to two years in prison in July 1870 but he and other Fenians are pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant that October.

Though he renounces the idea of further attacks on Canada, he changes his mind at the urging of an associate of Louis Riel, William Bernard O’Donoghue. With the latter, and without the backing of the bulk of the Fenians, he leads an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company‘s post at Pembina, Manitoba, on October 5, 1871. The area is then disputed between America and Canada. He is arrested by American troops.

In 1874 O’Neill embarks on a lecture tour along the east coast, encouraging the poor Irish that they would have a better standard of living if they would resettle with him in Nebraska. The first Irish colony in Nebraska is set up in Holt County in the town that bears his name today – O’Neill, Nebraska. His legacy is in the communities that exist in Nebraska today. These settlements are thriving and successful farming communities. John O’Neill can claim credit for the spirit of generosity that is still part of these communities today.

In 1877, while on a speaking tour in Little Rock, Arkansas, O’Neill becomes ill and returns to his home in Nebraska. His condition continues to deteriorate and, after been admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital Omaha in November 1877, suffers a paralytic stroke and dies on January 8, 1878.


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Death of General John Charles O’Neill

general-john-oneillJohn Charles O’Neill, Irish-born officer in the American Civil War and member of the Fenian Brotherhood, dies on January 7, 1878. He is best known for his activities leading the Fenian raids on Canada in 1866 and 1871.

O’Neill is born on March 9, 1834, in Drumgallon, Clontibret, County Monaghan, where he receives some schooling. He emigrates to New Jersey in 1848 at the height of the Great Famine. He receives an additional year of education there and works various jobs. In 1857 he enlists in the 2nd United States Dragoons and serves in the Utah War (May 1857 – July 1858), apparently deserting afterwards to California.

In California, O’Neill joins the 1st Cavalry, and serves as a sergeant in the American Civil War with this regiment until December 1862, at which time he is commissioned as an officer in the 5th Indiana Cavalry. He is credited as being a daring fighting officer but believes he has not received due promotion, which leads to a transfer to the 17th United States Colored Infantry as captain. He leaves the Union Army prior to the end of the conflict, marrying Mary Crow, with whom he has several children.

While in Tennessee, O’Neill joins the militant Irish-American movement, the Fenian Brotherhood, which eschews politics in favor of militant action to expel the British presence in Ireland. He attaches himself to the group led by William Randall Roberts, who wishes to attack Canada.

O’Neill, ranked as colonel, travels to the Canada–US border with a group from Nashville to participate in the Fenian raids. The assigned commander of the expedition does not appear, so O’Neill takes command. On June 1, 1866, he leads a group of six hundred men across the Niagara River and occupies Fort Erie.

The following day, north of Ridgeway, Ontario, O’Neill’s group encounters a detached column of Canadian volunteers, commanded by Lt-Col. Alfred Booker. The inexperienced Canadians are routed by the Civil War veterans. O’Neill withdraws back to Fort Erie and fights a battle against a detachment led by John Stoughton Dennis. With overwhelming numbers of Canadian forces closing in, O’Neill oversees a successful evacuation on the night of June 2-3 back to United States territory. He is later charged with violating the neutrality laws of the United States, but the charge is dropped.

The split between two factions of the Fenians remain, and penetration of O’Neill’s organisation by British and Canadian spies ensures that his next venture into Canada in 1870 is known in advance, and Canada is accordingly prepared. After the Battle of Trout River ends in a disorganized rout, O’Neill is arrested by United States Marshal George P. Foster and charged with violating neutrality laws. That leads to O’Neill’s imprisonment in July 1870 with a sentence of two years, but he and other Fenians are pardoned by President Ulysses S. Grant that October.

Though O’Neill renounces the idea of further attacks on Canada, he changes his mind at the urging of an associate of Louis Riel, William Bernard O’Donoghue. With the latter, and without the backing of the bulk of the Fenians, he leads an attack on the Hudson’s Bay Company‘s post at Pembina, Manitoba, on October 5, 1871. The area is then disputed between America and Canada. He is arrested by American troops.

Following his military career, O’Neill works for a firm of land speculators in Holt County, Nebraska. He dies of a paralytic stroke on January 7, 1878, and is buried in Omaha, Nebraska.


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Death of Actor Peter Caffrey

peter-caffreyPeter Caffrey, Irish actor best known for playing Padraig O’Kelly on Series 1-4 of Ballykissangel, dies in Shrewsbury, England, on January 1, 2008.

Caffrey is also well regarded for his role as a transvestite in the film Night Train, and for his role as an unlikely protagonist in I Went Down. He is also known for playing the role of the judge in the Irish comedy Father Ted on the episode A Song For Europe and for voicing a popular Christmas radio advertisement for Barry’s Tea in 1994.

Caffrey is born in Dublin on April 18, 1949. He studies at a seminary for two years before switching to an English degree. He works for a year as a primary school teacher, before becoming involved with Dublin’s Project Theatre. He appears in nearly thirty television and film roles, and also has a solid theatre career in both Dublin and London. After moving to London in 1983 he becomes a familiar face on UK television, with minor roles in Casualty, The Bill and Peak Practice. His success in Ballykissangel comes after overcoming oral cancer for which he is diagnosed in 1990, and, despite suffering a stroke in 2000 which leaves him paralysed on the right side, he manages to play a similarly afflicted character in the unreleased film Sweet Dancer in 2005.

Caffrey never fully recovers from the stroke and dies at the age of 58 on January 1, 2008 in Shrewsbury. His body is returned to Ireland for cremation in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Dublin, on January 8, 2008. Caffrey is survived by three sisters, Linda, Carol, and Sheila. His brother David pre-deceases him in July 2007.

Caffrey marries Brenda Banks in 1980 but the marriage ends in divorce in 1990.


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Birth of Irish Author Abraham “Bram” Stoker

Abraham “Bram” Stoker, Irish author best known today for his 1897 Gothic fiction novel Dracula, is born on November 8, 1847 in Clontarf, Dublin. During his lifetime, he is better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, London, which Irving owns.

Stoker’s father, Abraham Stoker, is a civil servant and his mother, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, is a charity worker and writer. Stoker is a sickly child and is bedridden with an unknown illness until he starts school at the age of seven, when he makes a complete recovery. Growing up his mother tells him a lot of horror stories which may have influence on his later writings.

In 1864 Stoker enters Trinity College, Dublin. While attending college he begins working as an Irish civil servant. He also works part time as a free lance journalist and drama critic. In 1876 he meets Henry Irving, a famous actor, and they soon become friends. Not long after that, Stoker meets and falls in love with an aspiring actress named Florence Balcombe whom he marries on December 4, 1878 at St. Anne’s Parish Church, Dublin. In 1878 he accepts a job working in London as Irving’s personal secretary.

On December 9, Stoker and his new wife move to England to join Irving. His first book The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland though written while he is still in Dublin, is published in 1879. On December 30, 1879 Stoker and his wife have their only child, a son Noel. While in England Stoker also writes several novels and short stories. His first book of fiction, Under the Sunset, is published in 1881.

Stoker visits the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890, a visit that is said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. Before writing Dracula, he meets Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveller. Dracula likely emerges from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian Mountains. Stoker then spends several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which add a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker develops as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula is considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.

The original 541-page typescript of Dracula is believed to have been lost until it is found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It consists of typed sheets with many emendations, plus handwritten on the title page is “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name is shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. The typescript is purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

After suffering a number of strokes, Abraham “Bram” Stoker dies at No. 26 St. George’s Square, London on April 20, 1912. Some biographers attribute the cause of death to tertiary syphilis, others to overwork. He is cremated and his ashes are placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium in north London.


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Birth of Margaret “Gretta” Cousins, Educationist & Suffragist

Margaret Elizabeth Cousins (née Gillespie), also known as Gretta Cousins, Irish-Indian educationist, suffragist and Theosophist, is born into an Irish Protestant family in Boyle, County Roscommon, on October 7, 1878.

Gillespie is educated locally and in Derry. She studies music at the Royal University of Ireland in Dublin, graduating in 1902, and becomes a teacher. As a student she meets the poet and literary critic James Cousins. They are married in 1903. The pair explore socialism, vegetarianism, and parapsychology together. In 1906, after attending a National Conference of Women (NCW) meeting in Manchester, Cousins joins the Irish branch of the NCW. In 1907 she and her husband attend the London convention of the Theosophical Society, and she makes contact with suffragettes, vegetarians, anti-vivisectionists, and occultists in London.

Cousins co-founds the Irish Women’s Franchise League with Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington in 1908, serving as its first treasurer. In 1910 she is one of six Dublin women attending the Parliament of Women, which attempt to march to the House of Commons to hand a resolution to the Prime Minister. After 119 women marching to the House of Commons have been arrested, fifty requiring medical treatment, the women decide to break the windows of the houses of Cabinet Ministers. Cousins is arrested and sentenced to a month in Holloway Prison.

Vacationing with William Butler Yeats in 1912, Cousins and her husband hear Yeats read translations of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. In 1913, breaking the windows of Dublin Castle on the reading of the Second Home Rule Bill, Cousins and other suffragists are arrested and sentenced to one month in Tullamore Jail. The women demand to be treated as political prisoners, and go on hunger strike to achieve release.

In 1913, she and her husband move to Liverpool, where James Cousins works in a vegetarian food factory. In 1915 they move to India. James Cousins initially works for New India, the newspaper founded by Annie Besant. After Besant is forced to dismiss him for an article praising the 1916 Easter Rising, she appoints him Vice-Principal of the new Besant Theosophical College, where Margaret teaches English.

In 1916, Cousins becomes the first non-Indian member of the SNDT Women’s University at Poona. In 1917, Cousins co-founds the Women’s Indian Association (WIA) with Annie Besant and Dorothy Jinarajadasa. She edits the WIA’s journal, Stri Dharma. In 1919 Cousins becomes the first Head of the National Girls’ School at Mangalore. She is credited with composing the tune for the Indian national anthem Jana Gana Mana in February 1919, during Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to Besant Theosophical College. In 1922, she becomes the first woman magistrate in India. In 1927, she co-founds the All India Women’s Conference, serving as its President in 1936.

In 1932, she is arrested and jailed for speaking against the Emergency Measures. By the late 1930s she feels conscious of the need to give way to indigenous Indian feminists:

“I longed to be in the struggle, but I had the feeling that direct participation by me was no longer required, or even desired by the leaders of India womanhood who were now coming to the front.”

A stroke leaves Cousins paralysed from 1944 onwards. She receives financial support from the Madras government, and later Jawaharlal Nehru, in recognition of her services to India. She dies on March 11, 1954. Her manuscripts are dispersed in various collections across the world.


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Death of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Anglo-Irish soldier and statesman who was one of the leading military and political figures of 19th-century Britain, dies on September 14, 1852. His defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 puts him in the first rank of Britain’s military heroes.

Wellesley is born in Dublin, into the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. He is commissioned as an ensign in the British Army in 1787, serving in Ireland as aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland. He is also elected as a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons. He is a colonel by 1796, and sees action in the Netherlands and in India, where he fights in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the Siege of Seringapatam. He is appointed governor of Seringapatam and Mysore in 1799 and, as a newly appointed major-general, wins a decisive victory over the Maratha Confederacy at the Battle of Assaye in 1803.

Wellesley rises to prominence as a general during the Peninsular War of the Napoleonic Wars, and is promoted to the rank of field marshal after leading the allied forces to victory against the First French Empire at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. Following Napoleon’s exile in 1814, he serves as the ambassador to France and is granted a dukedom. During the Hundred Days in 1815, he commands the allied army which, together with a Prussian army under Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, defeats Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellesley’s battle record is exemplary and he ultimately participates in some 60 battles during the course of his military career.

Wellesley is famous for his adaptive defensive style of warfare, resulting in several victories against numerically superior forces while minimising his own losses. He is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied in military academies around the world.

After the end of his active military career, Wellesley returns to politics. He is British prime minister as part of the Tory party from 1828 to 1830, and for a little less than a month in 1834. He oversees the passage of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, but opposes the Reform Act 1832. He continues as one of the leading figures in the House of Lords until his retirement and remains Commander-in-Chief of the British Army until his death.

Wellesley dies at Walmer Castle in Deal, Kent, his residence as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, on September 14, 1852. He is found to be unwell on that morning and is aided from his military campaign bed, the same one he used throughout his historic military career, and seated in his chair where he dies. His death is recorded as being due to the aftereffects of a stroke culminating in a series of seizures.

Although in life Wellesley hates travelling by rail, his body is taken by train to London, where he is given a state funeral, one of only a handful of British subjects to be honoured in that way, and the last heraldic state funeral to be held in Britain. The funeral takes place on November 18, 1852. He is buried in a sarcophagus of luxulyanite in St. Paul’s Cathedral next to Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson.