seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Founding of the Irish Literary Society

The Irish Literary Society is formally founded at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, London on May 12, 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President and Evelyn Gleeson as its first secretary. Among its founders are William Butler Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde as well as other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society succeeds the Southwark Irish Literary Club.

Stopford Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.” The lecture is published by Bloomsbury House on March 11, 1893, its delivery delayed to allow for the start of the National Literary Society in Ireland. Although the business of the ILS has always been conducted in English, the Society is influential in nurturing the revival of the Irish language by programming language classes even before the Gaelic League was formed in 1893. It also sponsored the Petrie Collection of Irish Music and twelve-volume Irish library of history and literature published between 1893 and 1904.

A Book of Irish Verse, designed to publicise the new societies, is published in 1895, edited by Yeats and dedicated “To the Members of the National Literary Society of Dublin and the Irish Literary Society of London.” It features poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, George William Russell (Æ) and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brings Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others.

By 1910 the Society has grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helps to bring into existence the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society develops a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.

Its objects are ‘to afford a centre of social and literary intercourse for persons of Irish nationality, and to promote the study of the Irish language, Irish history, literature, music, and art.’ Honorary membership is originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.

Arthur Conan Doyle, of Irish descent, and with a keen interest in Ireland, chaired the Irish Literary Society’s dinner on February 13, 1897. He spoke on ‘The Irish Brigade.’

(From: The website of the Irish Literary Society, Cumman Éireannach na liteardhachta, irishlitsoc.org)


Leave a comment

Birth of T. W. Rolleston, Poet, Critic & Journalist

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, poet, critic, and journalist, is born on May 1, 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King’s County (now County Offaly).

Rolleston is the youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the Court of Exchequer, Ireland. He attends St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, where he is head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with an MA in 1878. His literary ambitions first emerge at university, where he wins the vice-chancellor’s prize for English verse in 1876.

In 1879 Rolleston marries Edith Caroline, daughter of Rev. William de Burgh of Naas, County Kildare. She suffers from rheumatism, and this encourages the couple to live in Germany from 1879 to 1883. During this period he develops a fascination for German philosophy and literature and begins a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knows through Edward Dowden. In 1881 he offers to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This is published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year he also publishes a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivers the Taylorian Lectures at the University of Oxford on this subject.

In the meantime Rolleston has returned to Ireland and co-founds the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham in February 1885. In March 1885, under their stewardship the DUR is the first to publish W. B. Yeats. The poetry of Katharine Tynan and the first English translations of Ivan Turgenev also appear in the magazine. He has a fondness for clubs and at this time is associated with the Contemporary Club, where he becomes friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde, and the Young Ireland Society, where he is vice-president and a disciple of John O’Leary. He writes the dedication to O’Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and is encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O’Leary’s influence he flirts with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and is strongly critical of the prominent involvement of Catholic clergy in the home rule movement.

After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 Rolleston moves to London, but remains involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The Wanderings of Oisín (1889), he is friendly with Yeats and they instigate the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He is a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributes to The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The Second Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appears in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he has one collection published, Sea Spray (1909).

Rolleston is first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attends the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies are soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy, centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesces in, if not actively contributes to, Yeats’s defeat. They remain on reasonable terms, but Yeats is resentful. Rolleston edits the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish Poetry (1900), with the Rev. Stopford Augustus Brooke, whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They have four children. His first marriage also produces four children, and he is godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves, is a friend.

In 1894 Rolleston returns to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist, and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he seeks to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to organise classes. He is a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett, and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he is employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he manages the Irish historic collection at the St. Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supports Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry is central to national progress, he believes that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, his own nationalism is tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposes the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he publishes pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.

Rolleston is a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata,’ which wins first prize at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. At one point he suggests the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for Protestants, and provokes controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas cannot be represented in the Irish language. Later, he concedes that he is wrong. In 1909 he settles in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of The Times Literary Supplement, a position he holds until his death. He reinvolves himself in the Irish Literary Society and publishes a number of volumes based on Irish myth, including the influential Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), and Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen. He is a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the World War I he is librarian for the ministry of information and utilises his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor’s department.

Like many involved in cultural activities at this time Rolleston is satirised by George Moore in Hail and Farewell, but he remains very friendly with Moore, who dedicates the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. Rolleston dies suddenly on December 5, 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. His widow donates many of his books to Cork Public Library.

(From: “Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.)” contributed by William Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)