seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish American Actor Gregory Peck

gregory-peckActor Gregory Peck is born in La Jolla, California on April 5, 1916 to Bernice Mary (Ayres) and Gregory Pearl Peck, a chemist and pharmacist in San Diego. Through his Irish-born paternal grandmother, Catherine Ashe, Peck is related to Thomas Ashe, who takes part in the Easter Rising fewer than three weeks after Peck’s birth and dies while on hunger strike in 1917.

Peck’s parents divorce when he is five years old. An only child, he is sent to live with his grandmother. He never feels as though he has a stable childhood. His fondest memories are of his grandmother taking him to the movies every week and of his dog, which follows him everywhere.

At the age of ten Peck is sent to a Catholic military school, St. John’s Military Academy in Los Angeles. While he is a student there, his grandmother dies. At 14, he moves back to San Diego to live with his father and attends San Diego High School. After graduating he enrolls for one year at San Diego State Teacher’s College (now known as San Diego State University).

Peck studies pre-med at the University of California, Berkeley and while there is bitten by the acting bug and decides to change the focus of his studies. He enrolls in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and debuts on Broadway after graduation. His debut is in Emlyn Williams‘ play The Morning Star (1942). By 1943, he is in Hollywood, where he debuts in the RKO Pictures film Days of Glory (1944).

Stardom comes with Peck’s next film, The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), for which he is nominated for an Academy Award. Peck’s screen presence displays the qualities for which he becomes well known. He is tall, rugged and heroic, with a basic decency that transcends his roles. He appears in Alfred Hitchcock‘s Spellbound (1945) as an amnesia victim accused of murder. In The Yearling (1946), he is again nominated for an Academy Award and wins the Golden Globe Award. He is especially effective in westerns and appears in such varied fare as David O. Selznick‘s critically blasted Duel in the Sun (1946), the somewhat better received Yellow Sky (1948) and the acclaimed The Gunfighter (1950). He is nominated again for the Academy Award for his roles in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which deals with antisemitism, and Twelve O’Clock High (1949), a story of high-level stress in an Air Force bomber unit in World War II.

With a string of hits to his credit, Peck makes the decision to only work in films that interest him. He continues to appear as the heroic, larger-than-life figures in such films as Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951) and Moby Dick (1956). He works with Audrey Hepburn in her debut film, Roman Holiday (1953).

Peck finally wins the Oscar, after four nominations, for his performance as lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). In the early 1960s, he appears in two darker films than he usually makes, Cape Fear (1962) and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which deal with the way people live. He also gives a powerful performance as Captain Keith Mallory in The Guns of Navarone (1961), one of the biggest box-office hits of that year.

In the early 1970s, Peck produces two films, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972) and The Dove (1974), when his film career stalled. He makes a comeback playing, somewhat woodenly, Robert Thorn in the horror film The Omen (1976). After that, he returns to the bigger-than-life roles he is best known for, such as MacArthur (1977) and the monstrous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele in the huge hit The Boys from Brazil (1978). In the 1980s, he moves into television with the miniseries The Blue and the Gray (1982) and The Scarlet and the Black (1983). In 1991, he appears in the remake of his 1962 film, playing a different role, in Martin Scorsese‘s Cape Fear (1991). He is also cast as the progressive-thinking owner of a wire and cable business in Other People’s Money (1991).

In 1967, Peck receives the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has also been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Always politically progressive, he is active in such causes as anti-war protests, workers’ rights and civil rights. In 2003, Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch is named the greatest film hero of the past 100 years by the American Film Institute.

Gregory Peck dies in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles, California from bronchopneumonia at the age of 87 on June 12, 2003. He is entombed in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels mausoleum in Los Angeles. His eulogy is read by Brock Peters, whose character, Tom Robinson, was defended by Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.


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Death of Hunger Striker Thomas Patrick Ashe

Thomas Patrick Ashe, a member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, dies on September 25, 1917 at Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin following a hunger strike.

Ashe is born in Lispole, County Kerry, on January 12, 1885. He enters De La Salle Training College, Waterford in 1905 and begins a teaching career as principal of Corduff National School, Lusk, County Dublin, in 1908.

Ashe plays a major part in the 1916 Easter Rising outside the capital city commanding the Fingal battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He is commandant of the 5th battalion of the Dublin brigade, a force of 60–70 men engaging British forces around north County Dublin during the rising. They are armed only with a few rounds, about a dozen service rifles, a dozen Mausers, and a dozen Martini carbines. Some of Ashe’s men are armed only with a shotgun against the well-equipped army regulars.

Ashe’s battalion wins a major victory in Ashbourne, County Meath, where they engage a much larger force. They capture a significant quantity of arms and up to twenty Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) vehicles. Eleven RIC members, including County Inspector Alexander Gray, and two volunteers are killed during the 5-1/2 hour battle. Twenty-four hours after the rising collapses, Ashe’s battalion surrenders on the orders of Patrick Pearse. On May 8, 1916, Ashe and Éamon de Valera are court-martialled and sentenced to death. The sentences are commuted to penal servitude for life. Ashe is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp and Lewes Prison in Lewes, East Sussex, England.

De Valera, Ashe, and Thomas Hunter lead a prisoner hunger strike on May 28, 1917. With accounts of prison mistreatment appearing in the Irish press and mounting protests in Ireland, Ashe and the remaining prisoners are freed on June 18, 1917 by David Lloyd George as part of a general amnesty.

Upon his release, Ashe returns to Ireland and begins a series of speaking engagements. In August 1917, he is arrested and charged with sedition for a speech that he makes in Ballinalee, County Longford, where Michael Collins is also speaking. He is detained at the Curragh but is then transferred to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin. He is convicted and sentenced to two years hard labour. Ashe and other prisoners, including Fionán Lynch and Austin Stack, demand prisoner of war status.

On September 20, 1917, Ashe again goes on hunger strike. He dies at Mater Misericordiae Hospital on September 25, 1917, after being force fed by prison authorities. At the inquest into his death, the jury condemns the staff at the prison for the “inhuman and dangerous operation performed on the prisoner, and other acts of unfeeling and barbaric conduct.” His body lies in state at Dublin City Hall, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

The Ashe Memorial Hall built in 1928, housing the Kerry County Museum, in Tralee is named after him while Nelson Street, also in Tralee, is renamed Ashe Street. Ashe is a relative of Catherine Ashe, the paternal grandmother of American actor Gregory Peck, who emigrates to the United States in the 19th century.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.