seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

istepja001p1James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1880.

Stephens’ mother works in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and is adopted by them. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys as a small child and spends his childhood there. He attends school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard before graduating as a solicitor’s clerk. He is known affectionately in school as “Tiny Tim” due to his 4’10” stature. He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier if not for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual school run by Patrick Pearse. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adopted family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy solicitors’ firm.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism. He also writes several original novels, The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of “Æ” (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse.

Stephens’s influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.” Of MacDonagh he writes:

No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical ; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot.

Stephens lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they mistakenly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S, short “Jameses Joyce & Stephens,” but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons. The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of Stephens’ life he finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC. He dies at Eversleigh on Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1950.

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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.


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Birth of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Republican & Nationalist

Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 22, 1875.

O’Rahilly is educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well travelled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, which is organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who train the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms O’Rahilly, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed, and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the next day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action which he feels can only lead to defeat, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising, “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

O’Rahilly fights with the General Post Office (GPO) garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. Wounded and bleeding badly, O’Rahilly slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

The specific timing of O’Rahilly’s death is very difficult to pin down but understanding can be gained from his final thoughts. Despite his obvious pain, he takes the time to write a message to his wife on the back of a letter he received from his son in the GPO. It is this last message to Nancy that artist Shane Cullen etches into his limestone and bronze sculpture. The text reads:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.


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Birth of George Sigerson, Physician & Writer

george-sigersonGeorge Sigerson, Irish physician, scientist, writer, politician, and poet, is born at Holy Hill, near Strabane in County Tyrone on January 11, 1836. He is a leading light in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century in Ireland.

Sigerson is the son of William and Nancy (née Neilson) Sigerson and has three brothers, James, John and William, and three sisters, Ellen, Jane, and Mary Ann. He attends Letterkenny Academy but is sent by his father, who developed the spade mill and who played an active role in the development of Artigarvan, to complete his education in France.

He studies medicine at the Queen’s College, Galway, and Queen’s College, Cork, and takes his degree in 1859. He then goes to Paris where he spends some time studying under Jean-Martin Charcot and Duchenne de Boulogne. Sigmund Freud is one of his fellow students.

Sigerson returns to Ireland and opens a practice in Dublin, specializing in neurology. He continues to visit France annually to study under Charcot. His patients included Maud Gonne, Austin Clarke, and Nora Barnacle. He lectures on medicine at the Catholic University of Ireland and is professor of zoology and later botany at the University College Dublin.

His first book, The Poets and Poetry of Munster, appears in 1860. He is actively involved in political journalism for many years, writing for The Nation. Sigerson and his wife Hester are by now among the dominant figures of the Gaelic Revival. They frequently hold Sunday evening salons at their Dublin home to which artists, intellectuals, and rebels alike attend, including John O’Leary, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Roger Casement, and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh. Sigerson is a co-founder of the Feis Ceoil and President of the National Literary Society from 1893 until his death. His daughter, Dora, is a poet who is also involved in the Irish literary revival.

Nominated to the first Seanad Éireann of the Irish Free State, Sigerson briefly serves as the first chairman on December 11-12, 1922 before the election of James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy. Sigerson dies at his home at 3 Clare Street, Dublin, on February 17, 1925, at the age of 89, after a short illness. On February 18, 1925, the day after his death, the Seanad Éireann pays tribute to him.

The Sigerson Cup, the top division of third level Gaelic football competition in Ireland is named in his honour. Sigerson donates the salary from his post at UCD so that a trophy can be purchased for the competition. In 2009, he is named in the Sunday Tribune‘s list of the “125 Most Influential People In GAA History.” The cup is first presented in 1911, with the inaugural winners being UCD GAA.


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Death of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, Irish artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, dies suddenly in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin, on December 13, 1955 .

Gifford is the second youngest of twelve children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. She grows up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants. The girls attend Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attend the The High School in Harcourt St.

At the age of 16, Gifford enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards Gifford as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketches her and eventually paints her as one of his subjects for a series on “Young Ireland.” Around this time, Gifford’s talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, attempts to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet, and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Later that year, she meets Plunkett for the first time at the opening of St. Edna’s School, a new bilingual school in Ranelagh, Dublin. Plunkett is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to Gifford’s sister Muriel.

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915. She accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plan to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, her brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is executed by firing squad along with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke on May 3. That same day, Gifford learns that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweller’s shop in Dublin city centre and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Plunkett are married on the night of May 3, 1916 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few short hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. She moves from one rented apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants. She befriends many people and has many admirers, but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, which leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one of the required two witnesses and also the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. She begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and Plunkett is paid £700, plus costs.

From the late 1940s onwards, Plunkett’s health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like because it restricts her freedom.

After her sudden death on December 13, 1955, Grace Gifford Plunkett’s body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours near the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Grace Gifford Plunkett is the subject of “Grace,” a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, which becomes popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Joseph Mary Plunkett

joseph-mary-plunkettJoseph Mary Plunkett, Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, is born at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin on November 21, 1887.

Both his parents come from wealthy backgrounds, and his father, George Noble Plunkett, has been made a papal count. Despite being born into a life of privilege, young Joe Plunkett does not have an easy childhood.

Plunkett contracts tuberculosis at a young age. This is to be a lifelong burden. His mother is unwilling to believe his health is as bad as it is. He spends part of his youth in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean and North Africa. He spends time in Algiers where he studies Arabic literature and language and composes poetry in Arabic. He is educated at the Catholic University School and by the Jesuits at Belvedere College in Dublin and later at Stonyhurst College, in Lancashire, England, where he acquires some military knowledge from the Officers’ Training Corps. Throughout his life, Plunkett takes an active interest in Irish heritage and the Irish language, and also studies Esperanto. He is one of the founders of the Irish Esperanto League. He joins the Gaelic League and begins studying with Thomas MacDonagh, with whom he forms a lifelong friendship. The two are both poets with an interest in theatre, and both are early members of the Irish Volunteers, joining their provisional committee. Plunkett’s interest in Irish nationalism spreads throughout his family, notably to his younger brothers George and John, as well as his father, who allows his property in Kimmage, south Dublin, to be used as a training camp for young men who wish to escape conscription in Britain during the First World War. Men there are instead trained to fight for Ireland.

Sometime in 1915 Plunkett joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and soon after is sent to Germany to meet with Roger Casement, who is negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Casement’s role as emissary is self-appointed, and, as he is not a member of the IRB, the organisation’s leadership wishes to have one of their own contact Germany to negotiate German aid for an uprising the following year. Plunkett is seeking, but not limiting himself to, a shipment of arms. Casement, on the other hand, spends most of his energies recruiting Irish prisoners of war in Germany to form a brigade to fight instead for Ireland. Some nationalists in Ireland see this as a fruitless endeavour, and prefer to seek weapons. Plunkett successfully gets a promise of a German arms shipment to coincide with the rising.

Plunkett is one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that is responsible for planning the Easter Rising, and it is largely his plan that is followed. Shortly before the rising is to begin, Plunkett is hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health. He has an operation on his neck glands days before Easter and has to struggle out of bed to take part in what is to follow. Still bandaged, he takes his place in the General Post Office with several other of the rising’s leaders, including Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke, though his health prevents him from being terribly active. His energetic aide-de-camp is Michael Collins.

Following the surrender Plunkett is held in Kilmainham Gaol, and faces a court-martial. Seven hours before his execution by firing squad at the age of 28, he is married in the prison chapel to his sweetheart Grace Gifford, a Protestant convert to Catholicism, whose sister, Muriel, had years before also converted and married his best friend Thomas MacDonagh, who is also executed for his role in the Easter Rising. Plunkett is executed by firing squad on May 4, 1916 and is the fourth and youngest signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic to be executed.

Plunkett’s brothers, George Oliver Plunkett and Jack Plunkett, join him in the Easter Rising and later become important Irish Republican Army (IRA) men. His father’s cousin, Horace Plunkett, is a Protestant and unionist who seeks to reconcile unionists and nationalists. Horace Plunkett’s home is burned down by the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.

The main railway station in Waterford City is named after Plunkett as is Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun. Plunkett barracks in the Curragh Camp, County Kildare is also named after him.


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Patrick Pearse Opens St. Edna’s School

pearse-museumSt. Enda’s School, or Scoil Éanna, a secondary school for boys set up in Ranelagh, Dublin, by Irish nationalist Patrick Pearse, is opened on September 8, 1908.

Pearse, generally known as a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, has long been critical of the educational system in Ireland, which he believes teaches Irish children to be good Englishmen. He has for years been committed to the preservation of the Irish language, mostly through the Gaelic League, and is dearly concerned about the language’s future. A trip abroad to Belgium and his observations of bi-lingual education there inspires him to attempt a similar experiment at home.

Pearse is not a practical businessman, but he is never one to let lack of finances get in the way of his plans. With promises from prominent nationalists as proponents of Irish heritage that they will give him whatever limited financial support they can, and, when applicable, will enroll their children in his school, Pearse establishes his school, which officially opens on September 8, 1908, in Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, a suburb of Dublin.

The school proves a successful experiment, but is never to fully escape the shadow of looming financial woes. In fact, the school would not have survived the crucial first few years without the devoted aid of his good friend and assistant headmaster Thomas MacDonagh, and the solid dedication of Pearse’s brother Willie.

St. Enda’s teaches many of the classes in Irish, and particularly stresses the arts and dramatics. Everything is given an Irish approach. After two years the school is doing quite well. Thrilled with his creation, and concerned that Cullenswood House is not a location that does St. Enda’s justice, Pearse moves the school to the Hermitage in Rathfarnham, substantially further from Dublin than Cullenswood House. In 1910 St. Enda’s opens its doors at the Hermitage but proves to be a financial disaster. With bankruptcy looming Pearse is forced to look to the United States for further funding which only keeps the school barely in solvency.

Pearse is a person who shows extreme dedication to a project once it catches his interest, but this leaves him unable to fully devote himself to multiple tasks. His involvement in the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and his active participation in the Irish Republican Brotherhood shortly thereafter, leaves St. Enda’s with a less devoted master than it had previously.

Following the execution of the Pearse brothers after the rising, their mother reopens St. Enda’s back at Cullenwood House. The school then returns to the Hermitage in 1919. The international fame the Easter Rising gives Pearse and his martyrdom makes raising funds easier than before and Margaret Pearse raises enough money to buy the property Pearse could never afford in his lifetime. However, without the leadership of either of the Pearse brothers, St. Enda’s could not last, and it eventually closes its doors for good in 1935. Today the Hermitage stands as the Pearse Museum, dedicated to the memory of the school’s founder.

(Pictured: The Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham)