seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Austin Clarke, Poet, Playwright & Novelist

Austin Clarke, poet, playwright and novelist, dies in Dublin on March 19, 1974. At the time of his death he is considered to be the greatest poet of his generation after W. B. Yeats,

Clarke is born in 83 Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin, on May 9, 1896. His main contribution to Irish poetry is the rigour with which he uses technical means borrowed from classical Irish language poetry when writing in English. Effectively, this means writing English verse based not so much on metre as on complex patterns of assonance, consonance, and half rhyme. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, he says, “I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free.”

Clarke’s early poetry clearly shows the influence of Yeats. His first book, The Vengeance of Fionn, is a long narrative poem retelling an Ossianic legend. It meets with critical acclaim and, unusually for a first book of poetry, goes to a second edition. Between this and the 1938 volume Night and Morning, he publishes a number of collections, all of which, to one extent or another, can be seen as being written in the shadow of Yeats. There is, however, one significant difference. Unlike the older poet, Clarke is a Catholic, and themes of guilt and repentance run through this early work.

Between 1938 and 1955, Clarke publishes no new lyric or narrative poetry. He is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre, Dublin and writes a number of verse plays for them. He also works as a journalist and has a weekly poetry programme on RTÉ radio. It seems likely that he also experiences some kind of personal crisis during this time and this has significant consequences for his later poetry.

Clarke returns to publishing poetry with the 1955 collection Ancient Lights, and is to continue writing and publishing prolifically for the remainder of his life. Although he continues to use the same Gaelic-derived techniques, this late poetry is markedly different from his earlier work. Many of the later poems are satires of the Irish church and state, while others are sensual celebrations of human sexuality, free of the guilt of the earlier poems. He also publishes the intensely personal Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, which is a poem sequence detailing the fictional Maurice Devanes’s nervous breakdown and subsequent recovery.

Clarke also comes to admire the work of more avant-garde poets like Ezra Pound and Pablo Neruda, both of whom he writes poems about. A number of the late long poems, such as, for instance, the 1971 Tiresias, show the effects of studying these poets and their looser formal structures. He sets up the Bridge Press to publish his own work, which allows him the freedom to publish work that many mainstream Irish publishers of the time might have been reluctant to handle. His Collected Poems is published in 1974 and a Selected Poems in 1976.

In addition to some twenty volumes of poetry and numerous plays, Clarke publishes three novels: The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). All of these are banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Ireland). He also publishes two volumes of memoirs, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968), and a number of scattered critical essays and book reviews. While all of these prose writings are of interest, his reputation rests firmly on his poetry.

In 1920 Clarke marries Cornelia (Lia) Cummins. The marriage effectively lasts only a few days, and he spends several months in St. Patrick’s Hospital recovering from it, but they do not divorce before Cummins dies in 1943. He meets, has three sons with, and later marries (1945) Norah Esmerelda Patricia Walker (1900–1985), granddaughter of Matthew Harris, MP for East Galway from 1885 to 1890.

Clarke lives in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge which spans the River Dodder in the south Dublin suburb of Templeogue. After his death on March 19, 1974, there is a proposal to preserve the house and his library of 6,500 books as a memorial. This is not possible owing to long-term plans to demolish the house and widen the road. The old Templeogue Bridge, built in 1800, and Bridge House are removed. A new bridge is opened by Councillor Bernie Malone, Chairman Dublin City Council, on December 11, 1984, which is renamed Austin Clarke Bridge in his honour.

(Photo © RTÉ Archives)


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Birth of Charles Lever, Novelist & Raconteur

Charles James Lever, Irish novelist and raconteur, is born in Amiens Street, Dublin, on August 31, 1806. According to Anthony Trollope, his novels were just like his conversation.

Lever is the second son of James Lever, an architect and builder, and is educated in private schools. His escapades at Trinity College, Dublin (1823–1828), where he earns a degree in medicine in 1831, are drawn on for the plots of some of his novels. The character Frank Webber in the novel Charles O’Malley is based on a college friend, Robert Boyle, who later becomes a clergyman. He and Boyle earn pocket-money singing ballads of their own composing in the streets of Dublin and play many other pranks which he embellishes in the novels Charles O’Malley, Con Cregan and Lord Kilgobbin.

Before seriously embarking upon his medical studies, Lever visits Canada as an unqualified surgeon on an emigrant ship. Arriving in Canada, he journeys into the backwoods, where he is affiliated to a tribe of Native Americans but has to flee because his life is in danger, as later his character Bagenal Daly does in his novel The Knight of Gwynne.

Back in Europe, Lever pretends he is a student from the University of Göttingen and travels to the University of Jena and then to Vienna. He loves German student life and several of his songs, such as “The Pope He Loved a Merry Life,” are based on student-song models. His medical degree earns him an appointment to the Board of Health in County Clare and then as a dispensary doctor in Portstewart, County Londonderry, but his conduct as a country doctor earns him the censure of the authorities.

In 1833 Lever marries his first love, Catherine Baker, and in February 1837, after varied experiences, he begins publishing The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer in the recently established Dublin University Magazine. Before Harry Lorrequer appears in volume form (1839), he has settled on the strength of a slight diplomatic connection as a fashionable physician in Brussels.

In 1842 Lever returns to Dublin to edit the Dublin University Magazine, and gathers round him a typical coterie of Irish wits. In June 1842 he welcomes William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of The Snob Papers, to Templeogue, four miles southwest of Dublin, on his Irish tour. The O’Donoghue and Arthur O’Leary (1845) make his native land an impossible place for Lever to continue in. Thackeray suggests London, but Lever requires a new field of literary observation and anecdote. His creative inspiration exhausted, he decides to renew it on the continent. In 1845 he resigns his editorship and goes back to Brussels, whence he starts upon an unlimited tour of central Europe in a family coach. Now and again he halts for a few months, and entertains to the limit of his resources in some ducal castle or other which he hires for an off season.

Depressed in spirit as Lever is, his wit is unextinguished. He is still the delight of the salons with his stories, and in 1867, after a few years’ experience of a similar kind at La Spezia, he is cheered by a letter from Lord Derby offering him the more lucrative consulship of Trieste. The $600 annual salary does not atone to Lever for the lassitude of prolonged exile. Trieste, at first “all that I could desire,” became with characteristic abruptness “detestable and damnable.”

Lever’s depression, partly due to incipient heart disease, partly to the growing conviction that he is the victim of literary and critical conspiracy, is confirmed by the death of his wife on April 23, 1870, to whom he is tenderly attached. He visits Ireland in the following year and seems alternately in high and low spirits. Death had already given him one or two runaway knocks, and, after his return to Trieste, he fails gradually, dying suddenly, however, and almost painlessly, from heart failure on June 1, 1872 at his home, Villa Gasteiger. His daughters, one of whom, Sydney, is believed to have been the real author of A Rent in a Cloud (1869), are well provided for.


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Birth of Austin Clarke, Poet, Playwright & Novelist

Austin Clarke, considered at his death to be the greatest poet of his generation after W. B. Yeats, is born in 83 Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin, on May 9, 1896. He also writes plays, novels and memoirs. His main contribution to Irish poetry is the rigour with which he uses technical means borrowed from classical Irish language poetry when writing in English.

Effectively, this means writing English verse based not so much on metre as on complex patterns of assonance, consonance, and half rhyme. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, Clarke says, “I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free.”

Clarke’s early poetry clearly shows the influence of Yeats. His first book, The Vengeance of Fionn, is a long narrative poem retelling an Ossianic legend. It meets with critical acclaim and, unusually for a first book of poetry, goes to a second edition. Between this and the 1938 volume Night and Morning, he publishes a number of collections, all of which, to one extent or another, can be seen as being written in the shadow of Yeats. There is, however, one significant difference. Unlike the older poet, Clarke is a Catholic, and themes of guilt and repentance run through this early work.

Between 1938 and 1955, Clarke publishes no new lyric or narrative poetry. He is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre, Dublin and writes a number of verse plays for them. He also works as a journalist and has a weekly poetry programme on RTÉ radio. It seems likely that he also experiences some kind of personal crisis during this time and this has significant consequences for his later poetry.

Clarke returns to publishing poetry with the 1955 collection Ancient Lights, and is to continue writing and publishing prolifically for the remainder of his life. Although he continues to use the same Gaelic-derived techniques, this late poetry is markedly different from his earlier work. Many of the later poems are satires of the Irish church and state, while others are sensual celebrations of human sexuality, free of the guilt of the earlier poems. He also publishes the intensely personal Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, which is a poem sequence detailing the fictional Maurice Devanes’s nervous breakdown and subsequent recovery.

Clarke also comes to admire the work of more avant-garde poets like Ezra Pound and Pablo Neruda, both of whom he writes poems about. A number of the late long poems, such as, for instance, the 1971 Tiresias, show the effects of studying these poets and their looser formal structures. He sets up the Bridge Press to publish his own work, which allows him the freedom to publish work that many mainstream Irish publishers of the time might have been reluctant to handle. His Collected Poems is published in 1974 and a Selected Poems in 1976.

In addition to some twenty volumes of poetry and numerous plays, Clarke publishes three novels: The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). All of these are banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Ireland). He also publishes two volumes of memoirs, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968), and a number of scattered critical essays and book reviews. While all of these prose writings are of interest, his reputation rests firmly on his poetry.

In 1920 Clarke marries Cornelia (Lia) Cummins. The marriage effectively lasts only a few days, and he spends several months in St. Patrick’s Hospital recovering from it, but they do not divorce before Cummins dies in 1943. He meets, has three sons with, and later marries (1945) Norah Esmerelda Patricia Walker (1900–1985), granddaughter of Matthew Harris, MP for East Galway from 1885 to 1890.

Clarke lives in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge which spans the River Dodder in the south Dublin suburb of Templeogue. After his death on March 19, 1974, there is a proposal to preserve the house and his library of 6,500 books as a memorial. This is not possible owing to long-term plans to demolish the house and widen the road. The old Templeogue Bridge, built in 1800, and Bridge House are removed. A new bridge is opened by Councillor Bernie Malone, Chairman Dublin City Council, on December 11, 1984, which is renamed Austin Clarke Bridge in his honour.


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The Niemba Ambush

The Niemba ambush takes place on November 8, 1960, when an Irish Army platoon in Congo-Léopoldville is ambushed, the first time the Irish Army is embroiled in battle since the founding of the Irish state in 1922. The Republic of Ireland had deployed troops as United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeepers.

After the Belgian Congo becomes independent (as Republic of the Congo) in 1960, a civil war breaks out in Katanga, the southern, mineral-rich province of the Congo. A local political leader, Moïse Tshombe, declares Katanga an independent state. United Nations peacekeeping troops are invited to help restore order and to end the Katanga secession.

The Luba people or “Baluba” ethnic group do not support the Katangese secession. As a result they come under attack from pro-Katangese and allied forces. On October 4, several villages are attacked by Katangese gendarmes and European mercenaries and many Baluba are massacred. This leaves them suspicious of and hostile to any white European troops. Irish troops are sent to the area to secure it and encourage local people to return.

On November 8, 1960 an eleven-man section from the Irish Army’s 33rd Battalion arrives at the bridge over the Luweyeye River. They are forced to leave their vehicles when they encounter a blockade on the road. While clearing it, they encounter about 100 Luba militiamen armed with bows, poison-tipped arrows, spears and clubs, as well as some guns. While the Irish troops had arrived to protect the Baluba, the militia undoubtedly mistakes them for Katangese mercenaries. Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, advancing unarmed with his platoon sergeant, Hugh Gaynor, attempt to greet them peacefully, but is hit with a barrage of poison-tipped arrows.

Gleeson and Gaynor are overtaken, beaten and hacked to death. The surprised Irish soldiers, who had not been deployed in a defensive formation after dismounting from their vehicles, retreat behind trees on either side of the road and open fire on the tribesmen with their Gustav submachine guns, Lee–Enfield rifles and Bren light machine guns. The Baluba however advance on them, and the Irish are cut off from their vehicles. Despite taking heavy losses, the Baluba overrun the Irish soldiers and fierce hand-to-hand fighting breaks out, during which most of the Irish troops are killed.

The surviving Irish troops regroup by a ridge but are surrounded by the Baluba. They fight to hold them off but their position is rapidly overrun and all but three of them are killed. The three survivors manage to escape. One of them, Anthony Browne, reaches a nearby village and gives all the money he has to the village women, hoping they will get him help, but is instead mobbed and beaten to death by the village men. His body is recovered two years later. The two surviving soldiers manage to hide and are found by other UN troops the following day.

A total of nine Irish soldiers die: Lt. Kevin Gleeson of Carlow, Sgt. Hugh Gaynor of Blanchardstown, Cpl. Peter Kelly of Templeogue, Cpl. Liam Dougan of Cabra, Pt. Matthew Farrell of Jamestown, Dublin, Tpr. Thomas Fennell of Donnycarney, Tpr. Anthony Browne of Rialto, Pte. Michael McGuinn of Carlow, and Pte. Gerard Killeen of Rathmines. Some 25 Baluba are also killed.

The bodies of the Irish dead are flown to Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, where they lay in state. Lt. Kevin Gleeson’s coffin is placed on a gun carriage, while those of the rest are placed on army trucks. Following a funeral procession through Dublin, they are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

A stone commemorating Lt. Gleeson can be found in his hometown of Carlow while a plaque commemorating Sgt. Hugh Gaynor can be found in his hometown of Blanchardstown.

The notoriety of the attack, and the allegations of mutilation and cannibalism that circulate in the Irish popular press in its aftermath, lead to the word “baluba” (sometimes spelled “balooba”) becoming a synonym for any “untrustworthy and barbaric” individual in certain parts of Ireland.

(Pictured: Baluba militiamen in 1962)