seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Inaugural Meeting of Aosdána

The inaugural meeting of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists, takes place in the Old Parliament House in Dublin on April 14, 1983. It is created in 1981 on the initiative of a group of writers with support from the Arts Council of Ireland. Membership, which is by invitation from current members, is limited to 250 individuals, up from 200 prior to 2005. Its governing body is called the Toscaireacht.

At the suggestion of writer Anthony Cronin, who becomes a founding member, Aosdána is originally established in 1981 by Taoiseach Charles Haughey, well known for his support for the Arts, although columnist Fintan O’Toole has argued that this also serves to deflect criticism of Haughey’s political actions. Haughey’s successor, Garret FitzGerald, formally addresses the inaugural assembly of Aosdána in Dublin.

The process of induction into Aosdána relies entirely on members proposing new members. Applications by artists themselves are not allowed. Some members receive a stipend, called the Cnuas, from the Arts Council of Ireland. This stipend is intended to allow recipients to work full-time at their art. The value of the Cnuas in 2015 is €17,180.

The title of Saoi is the highest honour that members of Aosdána can bestow upon a fellow member. No more than seven living members can be so honoured at one time. The honour is conferred by the President of Ireland in a ceremony during which a gold torc is placed around the neck of the recipient by the President. The current living Saoithe are Seóirse Bodley (composer), Camille Souter (painter), Imogen Stuart (sculptor), George Morrison (film-maker), Edna O’Brien (writer), and Roger Doyle (composer). Among the deceased holders of the title of Saoi are the Nobel Laureates Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, dramatists Brian Friel and Tom Murphy, and the artists Patrick Scott and Louis le Brocquy.

The poet Pearse Hutchinson, a member of Aosdána, describes the organisation as “a miracle and a godsend” that allows him to continue writing at a time when he might have had to give up. Composer Roger Doyle has also spoken about the difference it makes, “I was elected to Aosdána in 1986. This gave me a small stipend from the Government each year, which enabled me to devote all my time to composing. This changed my life for the better and I have composed non-stop since then.”

The Toscaireacht is a committee of ten members, called Toscairí, of the Aosdána. It meets several times a year to deal with the administration and external relations of Aosdána, reports to every General Assembly, which meets once a year, and sets its Agenda. When new members of Aosdána are proposed, the Toscairí have the task of verifying that the nomination process has been complied with, and also that the candidate is willing to accept membership, before the next stage of election is begun.

Toscairí are elected to the Toscaireacht by the members of Aosdána for two year terms. All members of Aosdána are eligible for election, and nominations must be made in writing by three members. The electoral process is in two stages. First, within each of Aosdána’s three disciplines (Music, Literature, and Visual Arts), the two nominees with the highest number of votes are elected. This guarantees a minimum of two Toscairí from each of the disciplines. Next, the remaining four places are filled by the remaining nominees from any discipline who have the highest number of votes.

The current Toscairí are Anne Haverty (literature), Deirdre Kinahan (literature); Eamon Colman (visual art), Enda Wyley (literature), Geraldine O’Reilly (visual art), Gerard Smyth (literature), Gráinne Mulvey (music), Mary O’Donnell (literature), Michael Holohan (music), and Theo Dorgan (literature).

The procedure at meetings is laid down in the Toscaireacht’s Standing Orders. Minutes of its meetings appear on Aosdána’s web site (aosdana.artscouncil.ie).


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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.