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


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.

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Birth of Author & Journalist Mary Kenny

mary-kennyMary Kenny, Irish author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist, is born in Dublin on April 4, 1944. She is a frequent columnist for the Irish Independent and is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM). She has modified the radical ideas of her past, but not rejected feminist principles.

Kenny grows up in Sandymount and is expelled from convent school at age 16. She begins working at the London Evening Standard in 1966 on the Londoner’s Diary, later as a general feature writer, and is woman’s editor of The Irish Press in the early 1970s.

Kenny is one of the founding members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Although the group has no formal structure of officials, she is often seen as the “ring leader” of the group. In March 1971, as part of an action by the IWLM, she walks out of Haddington Road church after the Archbishop of Dublin‘s pastoral is read out from the pulpit, confirming that “any contraceptive act is always wrong,” saying “this is Church dictatorship.” In a follow-up letter to The Irish Times she explains her actions by saying Ian Paisley was right, “Home Rule is Rome Rule.”

In 1971, Kenny travels with Nell McCafferty, June Levine and other Irish feminists on the so-called “Contraceptive Train” from Dublin to Belfast to buy condoms, then illegal within the Republic of Ireland. Later that year she returns to London as Features Editor of the Evening Standard.

In 1973, Kenny is allegedly “disturbed in the arms of a former cabinet minister of President Obote of Uganda during a party,” which leads poet James Fenton to coin the euphemism “Ugandan discussions” to mean sexual intercourse. The phrase is first used by the magazine Private Eye on March 9, 1973, but has been widely used since then and is included by the BBC in a list of “The 10 most scandalous euphemisms” in 2013.

Kenny has written for many British and Irish broadsheet newspapers, including the Irish Independent, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and has authored books on William Joyce and Catholicism in Ireland. She also writes for the weekly The Irish Catholic. She is known in the UK as a Roman Catholic journalist. Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy (2009), is described by R.F. Foster as “characteristically breezy, racy and insightful.” She is author of the play Allegiance, in which Mel Smith plays Winston Churchill and Michael Fassbender plays Michael Collins, at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006.

Kenny marries journalist and writer Richard West in 1974 and the couple raises two children, Patrick West and Ed West, both journalists.


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Death of War Correspondent William Howard Russell

william-howard-russellSir William Howard Russell, an Irish reporter with The Times and considered to be one of the first modern war correspondents, dies in London, England on February 11, 1907.

Russell is born in Tallaght, County Dublin on March 28, 1820. As a young reporter, he reports on the First Schleswig War, a brief military conflict between Prussian and Danish troops in Denmark in 1850.

Initially sent by editor John Delane to Malta to cover British support for the Ottoman Empire against Russia in 1854, Russell despises the term “war correspondent” but his coverage of the conflict brings him international renown, and Florence Nightingale later credits her entry into wartime nursing to his reports. The Crimean medical care, shelter and protection of all ranks by Mary Seacole is also publicised by Russell and by other contemporary journalists, rescuing her from bankruptcy.

His dispatches are hugely significant as for the first time the public can read about the reality of warfare. Shocked and outraged, the public’s backlash from his reports leads the Government to re-evaluate the treatment of troops and leads to Florence Nightingale’s involvement in revolutionising battlefield treatment.

On September 20, 1854, Russell covers the battle above the Alma River, writing his missive the following day in an account book seized from a Russian corpse. The story, written in the form of a letter to Delane, is supportive of the British troops and pays particular attention to the battlefield surgeons’ “humane barbarity” and the lack of ambulance care for wounded troops. He later covers the Siege of Sevastopol where he coins the phrase “thin red line” in referring to British troops at Balaclava.

Following Russell’s reports of the appalling conditions suffered by the Allied troops conducting the siege, including an outbreak of cholera, Samuel Morton Peto and his partners build the Grand Crimean Central Railway, which is a major factor leading to the success of the siege.

Russell spends December 1854 in Constantinople on holiday, returning in early 1855. He leaves Crimea in December 1855 to be replaced by the Constantinople correspondent of The Times.

In 1856 Russell is sent to Moscow to describe the coronation of Tsar Alexander II and in the following year is sent to India where he witnesses the final re-capture of Lucknow.

In 1861 Russell goes to Washington, D.C., returning to England in 1863. In July 1865 he sails on the SS Great Eastern to document the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cable and writes a book about the voyage with color illustrations by Robert Dudley. He publishes diaries of his time in India, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, where he describes the warm welcome given him by English-speaking Prussian generals such as Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal.

Russell retires as a battlefield correspondent in 1882 and founds the Army and Navy Gazette. He is knighted in May 1895 and is appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) by King Edward VII on August 11, 1902.

Sir William Howard Russell dies on Februry 11, 1907 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Birth of James David Bourchier

james-david-bourchierJames David Bourchier, Irish journalist and political activist, is born at Baggotstown House, Bruff, County Limerick, on December 18, 1850. He works for The Times as the newspaper’s Balkan correspondent. He lives in Sofia, Bulgaria from 1892 to 1915. He is an honourable member of the Sofia Journalists’ Society and a trusted advisor of Tzar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. He acts as an intermediary between the Balkan states at the conclusion of the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.

Bourchier studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he is elected a scholar in classics in 1871. Deeply engaged in the processes that are taking place on the Balkan peninsula at that time, Bourchier supports the idea that the island of Crete be annexed by Greece.

In his writings he criticises certain clauses of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, which he deems unfair to Bulgaria. As a result of the treaty, Bulgaria loses the southern part of Dobrudja, which is annexed by Romania, and part of Macedonia.

Bourchier also expresses his strong support for Bulgaria during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919-1920. The conference produces five treaties, including the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, the peace agreement between the Allies and Bulgaria. Under the terms of the treaty, Bulgaria has to cede part of Western Thrace to Greece and several border areas to Yugoslavia. Southern Dobrudja is confirmed in Romanian possession, reparations are required, and the Bulgarian Army is limited to 20,000 men.

With his numerous publications in the British press, and in his private and social correspondence, Bourchier repeatedly voices his sympathy towards Bulgaria and its people. After his death in Sofia on December 30, 1920, James Bourchier is buried near the Rila Monastery in southwestern Bulgaria.

Bourchier Peak on Rila Mountain, James Bourchier Boulevard and James Bourchier Metro Station in Sofia, and Bourchier Cove on Smith Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica are named after James David Bourchier.


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Birth of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

Edith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” is born on May 2, 1858 on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. She writes in collaboration with her cousin “Martin Ross” (Violet Martin) under the pseudonym “Somerville and Ross.” Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte, and The Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

A year after her birth, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886 she meets her cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898 Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Somerville, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 becomes master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffrage movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the Easter Rising of 1916 breaks out. On May 9, 1916 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism, and as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936 her brother, Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book “Will Mariner” after his death.

Edith Somerville dies at Castletownshend on October 8, 1949, at the age of 91. She is buried alongside Violet Florence Martin at Saint Barrahane’s Church, Castletownsend, County Cork.


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Richard Pigott Exposed as Forger of Phoenix Park Letters

richard-pigottRichard Pigott, an Irish journalist, is exposed as the forger of The Times Phoenix Park letters on February 10, 1889.

Pigott is born in 1835 in Ratoath, County Meath. As a young man he supports Irish nationalism and works for The Nation and The Tablet before acting as manager of The Irishman, a newspaper founded by Denis Holland. James O’Connor later claims Pigott embezzled funds from the paper and covered his tracks by not keeping written records. Pigott also works for the Irish National Land League, departing in 1883 after accusing its treasurer, Mr. Fagan, of being unable to account for £100,000 of its funds, and for keeping inadequate records. Nothing is done about his accusation, which is publicised in the newspapers, and he turns against the League, which is allied to several Irish nationalist groups including the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stewart Parnell.

In 1879 Pigott is proprietor of three newspapers, which he soon sells to the Irish Land League, of which Charles Stewart Parnell is president. Hitherto a violent Nationalist, from 1884 Pigott begins to vilify his former associates and to sell information to their political opponents. In an effort to destroy Parnell’s career, Pigott produces fake letters, which purports that Parnell had supported one of the Phoenix Park murders.

The Times purchases Pigott’s forgeries for £1,780 and publishes the most damning letter on April 18, 1887. Parnell immediately denounces it as “a villainous and barefaced forgery.” In February 1889, the Parnell Commission vindicates him by proving that the letters are forgeries. They include misspellings which Pigott has written elsewhere. A libel action instituted by Parnell also vindicates him and his parliamentary career survives the Pigott accusations.

The Commission eventually produces 37 volumes in evidence, covering not just the forgeries but also the surrounding violence that follows from the Plan of Campaign.

After admitting his forgeries to Henry Labouchère, Pigott flees to Spain, and shoots himself in a Madrid hotel room. Parnell then sues The Times for libel, and the newspaper pays him £5,000 in an out-of-court settlement, as well as considerably more in legal fees. When Parnell next enters the House of Commons, he receives a hero’s reception from his fellow Members of Parliament.

(Pictured: Pigott as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, March 1889)


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Death of Novelist Edith Anna Œnone Somerville

edith-somervilleEdith Anna Œnone Somerville, Irish novelist who habitually signs herself as “E. Œ. Somerville,” dies at Castletownshend, County Cork, at the age of 91 on October 8, 1949. She writes in collaboration with her second cousin Violet Florence Martin, who writes under the pseudonym Martin Ross. Together they publish a series of fourteen stories and novels under the pseudonym Somerville and Ross, the most popular of which are The Real Charlotte and Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.

The eldest of eight children, Somerville is born on the island of Corfu, then part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British protectorate where her father is stationed. A year later, her father retires to Drishane, Castletownshend, County Cork, where Somerville grows up. She receives her primary education at home, and then attends Alexandra College in Dublin. In 1884 she studies art in Paris, and then spends a term at the Westminster School of Art in Dean’s Yard, Westminster. At home, riding and painting are her absorbing interests.

In January 1886, she meets her second cousin Violet Martin, and their literary partnership begins the following year. Their first book, An Irish Cousin, appears in 1889, under the names Geilles Herring (from the maiden name of her ancestor, the wife of Sir Walter de Somerville of Linton and Carnwath) and Martin Ross, though the pen names are dropped after the first edition. In 1898, Edith Somerville goes to paint at the Etaples art colony, accompanied by Violet. There they profit from their stay by conceiving together the stories later gathered in Some Experiences of an Irish R. M., completed the following year. By the time Violet dies in 1915, they have published fourteen books together. Her cousin’s death stuns Edith, who continues to write as “Somerville and Ross,” claiming that they keep in contact through spiritualist séances.

Somerville is a devoted sportswoman who in 1903 has become master of the Carbery West Foxhounds. She is also active in the suffragist movement, corresponding with Dame Ethel Smyth. She is in London still recovering from the shock of Violet’s death when the 1916 Easter Rising breaks out. On May 9 she writes a letter to The Times, blaming the British government for the state of affairs in Ireland. After that she tends towards Nationalism and, as an adept musician at parties, she specializes in Irish tunes and Nationalist songs.

She has exhibitions of her pictures in Dublin and in London between 1920 and 1938 and is active as an illustrator of children’s picture books and sporting picture books.

In 1936, her brother Henry Boyle Townsend Somerville, a retired Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy, is killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) at the family home of Castletownshend. She finishes his book Will Mariner after his death.