seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Artist Jack Butler Yeats

jack-butler-yeatsJohn “Jack” Butler Yeats, artist, Olympic medalist and brother of William Butler Yeats, dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957.

Butler’s early style is that of an illustrator. He only begins to work regularly in oils in 1906. His early pictures are simple lyrical depictions of landscapes and figures, predominantly from the west of Ireland, especially of his boyhood home of Sligo. His work contains elements of Romanticism.

Yeats is born in London on August 29, 1871. He is the youngest son of Irish portraitist John Butler Yeats. He grows up in Sligo with his maternal grandparents, before returning to his parents’ home in London in 1887. Early in his career he works as an illustrator for magazines like The Boy’s Own Paper and Judy, draws comic strips, including the Sherlock Holmes parody “Chubb-Lock Homes” for Comic Cuts, and writes articles for Punch under the pseudonym “W. Bird.” In 1894 he marries Mary Cottenham, also a native of England and two years his senior, and resides in Wicklow according to the Census of Ireland, 1911.

From around 1920, Yeats develops into an intensely Expressionist artist, moving from illustration to Symbolism. He is sympathetic to the Irish Republican cause, but not politically active. However, he believes that “a painter must be part of the land and of the life he paints,” and his own artistic development, as a Modernist and Expressionist, helps articulate a modern Dublin of the 20th century, partly by depicting specifically Irish subjects, but also by doing so in the light of universal themes such as the loneliness of the individual, and the universality of the plight of man. Samuel Beckett writes that “Yeats is with the great of our time… because he brings light, as only the great dare to bring light, to the issueless predicament of existence.” The Marxist art critic and author John Berger also pays tribute to Yeats from a very different perspective, praising the artist as a “great painter” with a “sense of the future, an awareness of the possibility of a world other than the one we know.”

Yeats’s favourite subjects include the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandons the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and is deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century, he takes no pupils and allows no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure. The artist closest to him in style is his friend, the Austrian painter, Oskar Kokoschka.

Besides painting, Yeats has a significant interest in theatre and in literature. He is a close friend of Samuel Beckett. He designs sets for the Abbey Theatre, and three of his own plays are also produced there. He writes novels in a stream of consciousness style that James Joyce acknowledges, and also many essays. His literary works include The Careless Flower, The Amaranthers, Ah Well, A Romance in Perpetuity, And To You Also, and The Charmed Life. His paintings usually bear poetic and evocative titles. He is elected a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1916.

Yeats holds the distinction of being Ireland’s first medalist at the Olympic Games in the wake of creation of the Irish Free State. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, his painting The Liffey Swim wins a silver medal in the arts and culture segment of the Games. In the competition records the painting is simply entitled Swimming.

Yeats dies in Dublin on March 28, 1957, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.


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Birth of Playwright & Poet Lennox Robinson

lennox-robinsonEsmé Stuart Lennox Robinson, playwright, poet, theatre producer, and director who is involved with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Westgrove, Douglas, County Cork, on October 4, 1886.

Robinson is raised in a Protestant and Unionist family in which he is the youngest of seven children. His father, Andrew Robinson, is a middle-class stockbroker who in 1892 decides to become a clergyman in the Church of Ireland in the small Ballymoney parish, near Ballineen in West Cork. A sickly child, Robinson is educated by private tutor and at Bandon Grammar School. In August 1907, his interest in the theatre begins after he goes to see an Abbey production of plays by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory at the Cork Opera House. He publishes his first poem that same year. His first play, The Cross Roads, is performed in the Abbey in 1909 and he becomes manager of the theatre towards the end of that year. He resigns in 1914 as a result of a disastrous tour of the United States but returns in 1919. He is appointed to the board of the theatre in 1923 and continues to serve in that capacity until his death. His Abbey career and production involvement can be found in the Abbey archives.

As a playwright, Robinson shows himself as a nationalist with plays like Patriots (1912) and Dreamers (1915). On the other hand, he belongs to a part of Irish society which is not seen as fully Irish. This division between the majority native Irish (Roman Catholics) on one side and the Anglo-Irish (Protestants) on the other can be seen in a play such as The Big House (1926), which depicts the burning of a Protestant manor home by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Robinson’s most popular play is The Whiteheaded Boy (1916).

Other plays include Crabbed Youth and Age (1924), The Far Off Hills (1928), Drama at Inish (1933), and Church Street (1935). Drama at Inish, which is presented in London and on Broadway as Is Life Worth Living?, is revived as part of the 2011 season at the Shaw Festival  at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, with Mary Haney in the role of Lizzie Twohig. Robinson’s fiction includes Eight Short Stories (1919). In 1931 he publishes a biography of Bryan Cooper, who had recently died. In 1951, he publishes Ireland’s Abbey Theatre, the first full-length history of the company.

He publishes an edited edition of Lady Gregory’s diaries in 1947. In 1958 he co-edits with Donagh MacDonagh The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. He is also a director and producer, in 1930 producing a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called The Reapers. In 1931 he is co-director of A Disciple along with W.B. Yeats and Walter Starkie.

Melancholic and alcoholic in later years, Lennox Robinson dies in Monkstown, County Dublin, on October 15, 1958. He is buried St. Patrick’s Cathedral.