seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Vincent Wallace, Composer & Musician

william-vincent-wallaceWilliam Vincent Wallace, Irish composer and musician, is born at Colbeck Street, Waterford, County Waterford on March 11, 1812. In his day, he is famous on three continents as a double virtuoso on violin and piano. Nowadays, he is mainly remembered as an opera composer of note, with key works such as Maritana (1845) and Lurline (1847/60), but he also writes a large amount of piano music that is much in vogue in the 19th century.

Wallace’s father, Spencer Wallace of County Mayo, becomes a regimental bandmaster with the North Mayo Militia based in Ballina. William is born while the regiment is stationed for one year in Waterford. The family returns to Ballina in 1816 and he spends his formative years there, taking an active part in his father’s band and already composing pieces by the age of nine for the band recitals.

Under the tuition of his father and uncle, Wallace writes pieces for the bands and orchestras of his native area. He becomes accomplished in playing various band instruments before the family leaves the Army in 1826, moving from Waterford to Dublin, and becoming active in music in the capital. He learns to play several instruments as a boy, including the violin, clarinet, organ, and piano. In 1830, at the age of 18, he becomes organist of the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Thurles, County Tipperary, and teaches music at the Ursuline Convent there. He falls in love with a pupil, Isabella Kelly, whose father consents to their marriage in 1832 on condition that Wallace become a Roman Catholic. The couple soon moves to Dublin where he is employed as a violinist at the Theatre Royal.

Economic conditions in Dublin deteriorate after the Acts of Union 1800 and the whole Wallace family decides to emigrate to Australia in 1835. Wallace’s party first lands at Hobart, Tasmania in late October, where they stay several months before moving on to Sydney in January 1836. The Wallaces open the first Australian music academy in April. Wallace has already given many celebrity concerts in Sydney, and, being the first virtuoso to visit the Colony, becomes known as the “Australian Paganini.” He is also active in the business of importing pianos from London, but his main activity involves many recitals in and around Sydney under the patronage of the Governor, General Sir Richard Bourke. The most significant musical events of this period are two large oratorio concerts on behalf of the organ fund at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in 1836 and 1838, which he directs, and which utilize all the available musical talent of the Colony, including the recently formed Philharmonic [Choral] Society.

In 1838, Wallace separates from his wife, and begins a roving career that takes him around the globe. In 1841, he conducts a season of Italian opera in Mexico City. Moving on to the United States, he stays in New Orleans for some years, where he is feted as a virtuoso on violin and piano, before reaching New York City, where he is equally celebrated, and publishes his first compositions (1843–44).

Wallace arrives in London in 1845 and makes various appearances as a pianist. In November of that year, his opera Maritana is performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane with great success, and is later presented internationally. Maritana is followed by Matilda of Hungary (1847), Lurline (1847/60), The Amber Witch (1861), Love’s Triumph (1862) and The Desert Flower (1863). He also publishes numerous compositions for the piano.

In New York in 1843–1844, Wallace is associated with the early concert seasons of the New York Philharmonic Society, and in 1853 is elected an Honorary (Life) Member of the Society. In 1854, he becomes an American citizen after a marriage in New York to German-born pianist Hélène Stoepel, sister of composer Robert Stoepel. In later years, having returned to Europe for the premieres of his later operas, he develops a heart condition for which he receives treatment in Paris in 1864. He dies in poor circumstances at the Château de Bagen, Sauveterre-de-Comminges, in the Haute Garonne on October 12, 1865. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

(Pictured: William Vincent Wallace. Undated portrait by Mathew Brady, New York City, Library of Congress)


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Founding of the Irish Women’s Franchise League

irish-womens-franchise-leagueThe Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL), an organisation for women’s suffrage, is established in Dublin on November 4, 1908. Its founder members include Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington and James H. Cousins. Thomas MacDonagh is also a member. The IWFL has 1,000 members by 1912 but only about fifty of these are active.

In the early 20th century, the Irish Parliamentary Party under John Redmond and his deputy John Dillon is opposed to votes for women, as is the British prime minister, H. H. Asquith.

In June 1912, after a meeting of a number of women’s organisations, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins with six other members of the IWFL smash government windows in the General Post Office (GPO) and other government buildings. They are arrested, charged, and jailed. The following month Asquith makes a visit to Dublin to address a meeting in the Theatre Royal. Frank Sheehy-Skeffington manages to gain entrance and demands votes for women before being thrown out. Meanwhile Asquith’s carriage is attacked by British suffragists Mary Leigh and Gladys Evans. In that attack John Redmond is injured. Leigh and Evans go on hunger strike in Mountjoy Gaol, and are joined by the imprisoned Irish IWFL members in solidarity.

In March 1913 a bust of John Redmond in the Royal Hibernian Academy is defaced by a suffragist protesting against the failure of the Irish Parliamentary Party to support a Women’s Franchise Bill in the House of Commons. In contrast, as a mark of solidarity with the women, James Connolly travels from Belfast to Dublin to speak at one of the IWFL’s weekly meetings which is held in the Phoenix Park, and members of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) provide protection and offer escorts to women as they leave the meetings.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and put in prison for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle. While in jail she starts a hunger strike but is released under the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge of Ill Health) Act 1913 and is soon rearrested.

The league keeps a neutral stance on Home Rule, but is opposed to World War I. After the killing of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington by a British officer in 1916, it supports Sinn Féin.

The Irish Women’s Franchise League publishes a paper, The Irish Citizen, from 1912 to 1920. The paper is edited originally by James H. Cousins.


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Death of Sir Richard Steele, Writer, Playwright & Politician

richard-steeleSir Richard Steele, writer, playwright, and politician, remembered as co-founder, with his friend Joseph Addison, of the magazine Tatler, dies in Carmarthen, Wales on September 1, 1729.

Steele is born in Dublin on March 12, 1672 to Richard Steele, an attorney, and Elinor Symes (née Sheyles). He is largely raised by his uncle and aunt, Henry Gascoigne and Lady Katherine Mildmay. A member of the Protestant gentry, he is educated at Charterhouse School, where he first meets Addison. After starting at Christ Church, Oxford, he goes on to Merton College, Oxford, then joins the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry in order to support King William‘s wars against France. He is commissioned in 1697, and rises to the rank of captain within two years. He leaves the army in 1705, perhaps due to the death of the 34th Foot’s commanding officer, Robert Lucas, 3rd Baron Lucas, which limits his opportunities of promotion.

Steele is a member of the Kit-Kat Club. Both Steele and Addison become closely associated with Child’s Coffee-house in St. Paul’s Churchyard.

Steele’s first published work, The Christian Hero (1701), attempts to point out the differences between perceived and actual masculinity. Written while he is serving in the army, it expresses his idea of a pamphlet of moral instruction.

Steele writes a comedy that same year titled The Funeral. This play meets with wide success and is performed at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, bringing him to the attention of the King and the Whig party. Next, he writes The Lying Lover, one of the first sentimental comedies, but a failure on stage. In 1705, he writes The Tender Husband with contributions from Addison, and later that year writes the prologue to The Mistake, by John Vanbrugh, also an important member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club with Addison and Steele.

In 1706 Steele is appointed to a position in the household of Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. He also gains the favour of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The Tatler, Steele’s first journal, first appears on April 12, 1709, and appears three times a week. He writes this periodical under the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff and gives Bickerstaff an entire, fully developed personality. The Tatler is closed down to avoid the complications of running a Whig publication that had come under Tory attack.

Steele becomes a Whig Member of Parliament in 1713, for Stockbridge. He is soon expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favor of the Hanoverian succession. When George I of Great Britain comes to the throne in the following year, Steele is knighted and given responsibility for the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in London. He returns to parliament in 1715, for Boroughbridge.

While at Drury Lane, Steele writes and directs the sentimental comedy The Conscious Lovers, which is an immediate hit. However, he falls out with Addison and with the administration over the Peerage Bill (1719), and in 1724 he retires to his second wife’s homeland of Wales. He remains in Carmarthen after his wife’s death, dying there on September 1, 1729. He is buried there at St. Peter’s Church. During restoration of the church in 2000, his skull is discovered in a lead casket, having previously been accidentally disinterred during the 1870s.

(Pictured: Portrait of Sir Richard Steele by Jonathan Richardson)


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Death of English Actress Ellen Kean

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Ellen Kean, one of the finest English actresses of her day, dies in Bayswater, City of Westminster, England on August 20, 1880. She is known as Ellen Tree until her marriage in 1842, after which she is known both privately and professionally as Mrs. Charles Kean and always appears in productions together with her husband.

Kean is born Eleanora Tree in Ireland on December 12, 1805, the third of four daughters of Cornelius Tree, an official of the East India Company in London. Her three sisters become actresses, but, unlike Ellen, retire from the stage when they marry. Her professional stage debut is in a musical version of Twelfth Night in London in 1822 as Olivia alongside her sister Maria as Viola. She gains experience touring in the provinces, and from 1826 is a regular member of the companies at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Theatre Royal Haymarket, making a success in The Wonder and The Youthful Queen. At the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden she takes on the roles of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo to the Juliet of Fanny Kemble, Françoise de Foix in Francis I, and Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband.

In 1832, by now established as a leading actress, Tree accepts an engagement in Hamburg, Germany, where a junior member of the company is Charles Kean. He had made an undistinguished debut at Drury Lane in 1827, and he and Tree had acted together in 1828 in a play called Lovers’ Vows and later in Othello. In the German season they fall in love, but are persuaded by family and friends not to marry in haste. Tree returns to London and resumes her successful West End career, including a considerable success in Ion in another breeches role. At the end of 1836, Tree goes to the United States, where she tours in Shakespeare for more than three years, playing heroines such as Rosalind, Viola and Beatrice, among other roles. By the time of her return to England in 1839, she has made a profit of £12,000 on the tour, equivalent to at least £1 million in modern terms.

By 1841 Charles Kean has established himself as a successful actor, and he and Tree appear together in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. They are married the next year, and she at once switches her professional name from Ellen Tree to Mrs. Charles Kean. For the next nine years they appear together at the Haymarket, making a joint visit to the United States in 1846. In 1850, Kean takes over the management of the Princess’s Theatre in London. The Times called this “the most important period of Mrs. Kean’s career…. Hitherto she had been the Rosalind and the Viola of the stage; henceforward her name was to be associated with characters of a more matronly type” in roles including Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in Hamlet. The same writer also credits her for “the good taste and artistic completeness” of Kean’s productions. Ellen Terry, who makes her first stage appearance as the boy Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, remembers Kean “as Hermione wearing a Greek wreath round her head and a crinoline with many layers of petticoats.”

Charles Kean dies in 1868, and his widow retires from the stage, living quietly in Bayswater, in the City of Westminster, where she dies at the age of 73 on August 20, 1880. The Times in its obituary says, “Mrs. Kean is not to be numbered with the greatest votaries of the English stage, but her acting was distinguished by considerable power, tenderness and refinement.” She is buried in a vault alongside her husband at Catherington, Hampshire.

(Pictured: “Charles Kean and Wife Ellen Tree” by Mathew Brady Studio (1844-1894), modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)


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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)


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The Bottle Riot

king-william-of-orange-monumentOn December 14, 1822, a “bottle riot” takes place at a performance of Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Among those in attendance is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Richard Wellesley, the brother of the Duke of Wellington. Wellesley is quite unpopular at the time among Orange Order members in the city, owing to what they perceive as his role in stopping an annual ceremony at the statue of King William of Orange on College Green, and other perceived concessions to the Catholic population.

The statue is the location for annual rituals organised by loyalist elements in the city, with events held in July and November being flashpoints on the Dublin calendar. Heavily criticised by Daniel O’Connell and other nationalist voices, Dublin Castle distances itself from the ceremonies, but it is the eventual banning of the November ceremony which infuriates the Orange Order into action.

Following clashes at the event in July 1822, a decision is made by Marquess Wellesley, in his capacity as Lord Lieutenant, to seek a ban against the November event. A heavy military presence prevents the traditional loyalist display. This decision causes great resentment towards Wellesley from loyalists in the city, as would other actions such as appointing a Catholic lawyer to a position of importance in the courts. A visit by him to the Theatre Royal is seen as an opportunity to show that discontent. The Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street is relatively new at the time, having only opened the previous year. The announcement that the Lord Lieutenant would be attending the theatre causes considerable excitement in the city.

Six men meet in a tavern on Wednesday, December 11, all members of the Orange Order. John and George Atkinson, James Forbes, William Graham and Henry and Matthew Handwith drink to “the glorious, immortal and pious memory” of King William of Orange, plotting a protest against the Lord Lieutenant which would grab the attention of the city. On December 13, a meeting of Lodge 1612 of the Orange Order on Werburgh Street decides to fund the purchase of twelve pit tickets for the upcoming play, with the aim of creating a scene which would embarrass the Lord Lieutenant.

The trouble begins inside the theatre with the tossing of pamphlets with the slogan “No Popery” upon them, most of which drift towards the stage. There are some cries of “No Popish Lord Lieutenant,” and the Lord Mayor of Dublin is also subject to ridicule. The play begins as planned, only to be interrupted throughout. A series of items are thrown in the direction of the Lord Lieutenant. The event comes to be known as “The Bottle Riot” in Dublin, owing to the missiles thrown. While the Lord Lieutenant is never in any real physical danger, the incident is hugely embarrassing for the authorities, with mob rule taking centre stage at one of Dublin’s most prestigious venues.

Several days later, the behaviour of the Orangemen is the subject of a protest meeting in Dublin. This meeting is significant as it is addressed by some hugely influential figures, including the Duke of Leinster, Daniel O’Connell, Henry Grattan, Jr. and Arthur Guinness II, son of the famous brewer. Guinness denounces the men as a “mischievous faction” and calls for them to be opposed “by the severe but wholesome discipline of the laws.”

While the instigators of the affair are brought in front of the courts on two separate occasions, both cases collapse causing much anger. Lord Chief Justice of Ireland Charles Kendal Bushe remarks to the jury in his summation that “an audience may cry down a play, or hiss, or hoot an actor,” but that riotous behaviour is not permitted. One effect of the mini-riot is the outlawing of the Orange Order for a period, when the Unlawful Societies Act of 1825 comes into being.

(Pictured: Undated postcard showing the monument of King William of Orange on College Green)


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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.