seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mary Lavin, Short Story Writer & Novelist

mary-josephine-lavinMary Josephine Lavin, noted Irish short story writer and novelist, is born in Walpole, Massachusetts on June 10, 1912. She is regarded as a pioneering female author in the traditionally male-dominated world of Irish letters. Her subject matter often deals explicitly with feminist issues and concerns as well as a deep Catholic faith.

Lavin is the only child born to Tom and Nora Lavin, an immigrant Irish couple. She attends primary school in East Walpole until the age of ten, when her mother decides to go back to Ireland. Initially, Mary and Nora live with Nora’s family in Athenry, County Galway. Afterwards, they purchase a house in Dublin, and Mary’s father comes back from the United States to join them.

Lavin attends Loreto College, a convent school in Dublin, before going on to study English and French at University College Dublin (UCD). She teaches French at Loreto College for a while. As a postgraduate student, she publishes her first short story, “Miss Holland,” which appears in the The Dublin Magazine in 1938. Tom Lavin then approaches Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, the well-known Irish writer, on behalf of his daughter and asks him to read some of Mary’s unpublished work. Suitably impressed, Lord Dunsany becomes her literary mentor.

In 1943, Lavin publishes her first book, Tales from Bective Bridge, a volume of ten short stories about life in rural Ireland. It is a critical success and goes on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. That same year, she marries William Walsh, a Dublin lawyer. Over the next decade, the couple has three daughters and moves to “abbey farm” which they purchase in County Meath and includes the land around Bective Abbey. Her literary career flourishes. She publishes several novels and collections of short stories during this period. Her first novel, The House in Clewe Street, is serialised in The Atlantic Monthly before its publication in book form in 1945.

In 1954, William Walsh dies. Lavin, her reputation as a major writer already well-established, is left to confront her responsibilities alone. She raises her three daughters and keeps the family farm going at the same time. She also manages to keep her literary career on track, continuing to publish short stories and winning several awards for her work, including the Katherine Mansfield Prize in 1961, Guggenheim Fellowships in 1959 and 1961, and an honorary doctorate from UCD in 1968. Some of her stories written during this period, dealing with the topic of widowhood, are acknowledged to be among her finest.

Lavin remarries in 1969. Michael Scott is an old friend from her student days in University College. He has been a Jesuit priest in Australia, but has obtained release from his vows from Rome and returned to Ireland. The two remain together until Scott’s death in 1991.

In 1992, Lavin, by now retired, is elected Saoi by the members of Aosdána for achieving “singular and sustained distinction” in literature. Aosdána is an affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, and the title of Saoi one of the highest honours in Irish culture.

Mary Lavin dies at the age of 83 on March 25, 1996.

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Birth of Poet John Montague

john-montagueIrish poet John Montague is born on Bushwick Avenue at St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, on February 28, 1929. His father, James Montague, an Ulster Catholic, from County Tyrone, had come to the United States in 1925.

Life in New York is difficult during the Great Depression, so John and his two brothers are shipped back to Ireland in 1933. The two eldest are sent to their maternal grandmother’s house in Fintona, County Tyrone, but John is sent to his father’s ancestral home at Garvaghey, then maintained by two spinster aunts.

John studied at University College Dublin in 1946. Stirred by the example of other student poets he begins to publish his first poems in The Dublin Magazine, Envoy, and The Bell, edited by Peadar O’Donnell. But the atmosphere in Dublin is constrained and he leaves for Yale University on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1953.

A year of graduate school at University of California, Berkeley convinces Montague that he should return to Ireland. He settles in Dublin working at the Irish Tourist Office. In 1961 he moves to Bray, County Wicklow. A regular rhythm of publication sees his first book of stories, Death of a Chieftain (1964) after which the musical group The Chieftains is named, his second book of poems, A Chosen Light (1967), Tides (1970).

All during the 1960s, Montague continues to work on his long poem, The Rough Field, a task that coincides with the outbreak of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement. A Patriotic Suite appears in 1966, Hymn to the New Omagh Road and The Bread God in 1968, and A New Siege, dedicated to Bernadette Devlin which he reads outside Armagh Jail in 1970.

In 1972, Montague takes a teaching job at University College Cork, at the request of his friend, the composer Seán Ó Riada, where he inspires an impressive field of young writers including Gregory O’Donoghue, Seán Dunne, Thomas McCarthy, William Wall, Maurice Riordan, Gerry Murphy, Greg Delanty and Theo Dorgan.

Montague settles in Cork in 1974 and publishes an anthology, the Faber Book of Irish Verse (1974) with a book of lyrics, A Slow Dance (1975). Recognition is now beginning to come, with the award of the Irish American Cultural Institute in 1976, the first Marten Toonder Award in 1977, and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award for The Great Cloak in 1978.

In 1987, Montague is awarded an honorary doctor of letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo. He serves as distinguished writer-in-residence for the New York State Writers Institute during each spring semester, teaching workshops in fiction and poetry and a class in the English Department of the University at Albany. In 1998, he is named the first Irish professor of poetry, a three-year appointment to be divided among Queen’s University Belfast, Trinity College Dublin, and University College Dublin. In 2008, he publishes A Ball of Fire, a collection of all his fiction including the short novella The Lost Notebook.

John Montague dies at the age of 87 in Nice, France on December 10, 2016 after complications from a recent surgery.


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Birth of Padraic Fallon, Poet & Playwright

padraic-fallonPadraic Fallon, Irish poet and playwright, is born in Athenry, County Galway, on January 3, 1905.

Fallon’s upbringing and his early impressions of Athenry and the surrounding landscape are intimately described in his poetry. After passing the civil service exams in 1923 he moves to Dublin to work in the Customs House. In Dublin he becomes part of the circle of George William Russell (Æ) who encourages his literary ambitions and arranges for the publication of his early poetry. His early poetry, short stories, and literary criticism are published in The Dublin Magazine and The Bell.

He forms close friendships with Seumas O’Sullivan, editor of The Dublin Magazine, the poets Austin Clarke, Robert Farren, F.R. Higgins, and Patrick McDonagh and later the novelist James Plunkett. In 1939, Fallon leaves Dublin to serve as a Customs official in County Wexford, living in Prospect House, near Wexford Town with his wife, Dorothea (née Maher) and his six sons. During this time he becomes a close friend of the painter Tony O’Malley.

Fallon is a regular contributor to Radio Éireann in the 1940s and 1950s, serving variously as a journalist, scriptwriter, and literary critic. A number of his short stories and early dramatic pieces are broadcast by the station during the 1940s. The first of Fallon’s verse plays for radio, Diarmuid and Gráinne, is broadcast by Radio Éireann in November 1950. This is followed by The Vision of Mac Conglinne (1953), Two Men with a Face (1953), The Poplar (1953), Steeple Jerkin (1954), A Man in the Window (1955), Outpost (1955), The Wooing of Étain (1955), Deirdre’s King (1956), The Five Stations (1957), The Hags of Clough (1957), The Third Bachelor (1958), At the Bridge Inn (1960), and Lighting up Time (1961).

Three plays adapted from Irish mythology, Diarmuid and Gráinne, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, and Deirdre’s King receive particular contemporary critical acclaim. The landscape, mythology, and history of Ireland, interwoven with classical themes and religious symbolism, are frequent themes in his poetry and dramatic works.

A number of his radio plays are later broadcast on the BBC Third Programme, and, in translation, in Germany, Holland, and Hungary. A stage play, The Seventh Step, is staged at The Globe Theatre in Dublin in 1954. A second stage play, Sweet Love ’till Morn, is staged in the Abbey Theatre in 1971. Fallon also writes dramatic pieces for television such as A Sword of Steel (1966) and The Fenians (1967), the latter produced by James Plunkett.

Fallon retires from the Civil Service in 1963, returning to Dublin before moving to Cornwall in 1967 to live with his son, the sculptor Conor Fallon and his daughter-in-law, the artist Nancy Wynne-Jones. He and his wife return to Ireland in 1971. He spends his last years in Kinsale. He is visiting his son Ivan Fallon in Kent at the time of his death on October 9, 1974.

While his poetry has previously appeared in The Dublin Magazine, The Bell, The Irish Times, and a number of anthologies, his first volume of collected poetry, Poems, incorporating a number of previously unpublished poems, is not produced until 1974, months before his death. Three volumes of his poetry, edited by his son, the journalist and critic Brian Fallon, are published after his death – Poems and Versions (1983), Collected Poems (1990), with an introduction by Seamus Heaney, and A Look in the Mirror and Other Poems (2003), with an introduction by Eavan Boland. In 2005, three of Fallon’s verse plays, The Vision of Mac Conglinne, The Poplar, and The Hags of Clough are published in a single volume. A selection of his prose writings and criticism edited by Brian Fallon, A Poet’s Journal, is published in the same year.