seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly

michael-joseph-o-rahillyMichael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, dies in Dublin on April 29, 1916 during the Easter Rising. He is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and serves as Director of Arms. Despite opposing the rising, he takes part and is killed in a charge on a British machine gun post covering the retreat from the General Post Office (GPO) during the fighting.

O’Rahilly is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry to Richard Rahilly, a grocer, and Ellen Rahilly (née Mangan). He has two siblings who live to adulthood, Mary Ellen “Nell” Humphreys (née Rahilly) and Anno O’Rahilly, both of whom are active in the Irish revolutionary period. He is educated in Clongowes Wood College (1890–1893). 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 traveled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

In 1913 O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers, who organize 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 trains 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 him down, 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 following day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Éamonn 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!” His car is used to fetch supplies during the siege and later as part of a barricade on Prince’s Street, where it is burned out.

O’Rahilly fights with the GPO garrison during Easter Week. One of the first British prisoners taken in the GPO is Second Lieutenant AD Chalmers, who is bound with telephone wire and lodged in a telephone box by the young Volunteer Captain and IRB activist, Michael Collins. Chalmers later recalls O’Rahilly’s kindness to him. In a statement to a newspaper reporter, he says that he was taken from the phone box after three hours and brought up to O’Rahilly, who ordered, “I want this officer to watch the safe to see that nothing is touched. You will see that no harm comes to him.”

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. He slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, wounded and bleeding badly 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.

According to ambulance driver Albert Mitchell in a witness statement more than 30 years later, O’Rahilly still clung to life 19 hours after being severely wounded, long after the surrender had taken place on Saturday afternoon.

Desmond Ryan‘s The Rising: The Complete Story of Easter Week maintains that it “was 2:30 PM when Miss O’Farrell reached Moore Street, and as she passed Sackville Lane again, she saw O’Rahilly’s corpse lying a few yards up the laneway, his feet against a stone stairway in front of a house, his head towards the street.”


Leave a comment

Birth of Grace Gifford Plunkett, Artist & Irish Republican

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on March 4, 1888. She marries her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he is executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Gifford is the second youngest of 12 children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants with the girls attending Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace.

At the age of 16, Gifford goes to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards her as one of his most talented pupils. Around this time, her talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tries 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. Nora Dryhurst, a journalist from London, brings her to the opening of the new bilingual school Scoil Éanna in Ranelagh, Dublin. It is here that she meets Plunkett for the first time. He is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to her sister Muriel.

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

After the Rising, Gifford’s brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is shot with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke by firing squad on May 3. That day, she hears that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweler’s shop in Dublin and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Joseph are married on the night of May 3 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few 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 paints pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. 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. Her talent as an artist is her only real asset and her cartoons are published in various newspapers and magazines. She moves from one apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants 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 Street with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, in which he leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one witness, rather than the required two, and the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. For years she receives nothing, so she begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and she is paid £700, plus costs.

At around this time Plunkett joins the Old Dublin Society, where she meets the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal marries, she gives him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, her health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like, mainly because it restricts her freedom.

Grace Gifford Plunkett dies suddenly on December 13, 1955 in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello. Her 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 close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Leave a comment

Death of Helena Moloney, Feminist & Labour Activist

helena-moloneyHelena Mary Molony, prominent Irish republican, feminist and labour activist, dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967. She fights in the 1916 Easter Rising and later becomes the second woman president of the Irish Trades Union Congress (ITUC).

Molony is born in Dublin on January 15, 1883, to Michael Molony, a grocer, and Catherine McGrath. Her mother dies early in her life. Her father later remarries, but both became alcoholics, something which influences her years later.

In 1903, inspired by a pro-nationalist speech given by Maud Gonne, Molony joins Inghinidhe na hÉireann and begins a lifelong commitment to the nationalist cause. In 1908 she becomes the editor of the organisation’s monthly newspaper, Bean na hÉireann (Woman of Ireland). The newspaper brings together a nationalist group – Constance Markievicz designs the title page and writes the gardening column, Sydney Gifford writes for the paper and is on its production team and contributors include Eva Gore-Booth, Susan L. Mitchell, and Katharine Tynan, as well as Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, George William Russell, Roger Casement, Arthur Griffith and James Stephens.

Molony is central to the school meals activism of the movement. With Maud Gonne, Marie Perolz and others, she organises the supply of daily school meals to children in impoverished areas, and pressures Dublin Corporation and other bodies to provide proper meals to the starved children of Dublin city.

Molony also has a career as an actress, and is a member of the Abbey Theatre. However her primary commitment is to her political work. She is a strong political influence, credited with bringing many into the movement, including Constance Markievicz and Dr. Kathleen Lynn.

As a labour activist, Molony is a close colleague of Markievicz and of James Connolly. In November 1915 Connolly appoints her secretary of the Irish Women Workers’ Union, in succession to Delia Larkin. This union had been formed during the strike at Jacob’s Biscuit Factory that was part of the 1913 Dublin lock-out. She manages the union’s shirt factory in Liberty Hall, founded to give employment to the strikers put out of work and blacklisted after the strike. She is friendly with the family of Thomas MacDonagh and his wife, Muriel, and is the godmother of their daughter Barbara, whose godfather is Patrick Pearse.

Fianna Éireann, the cadet body of the Irish Volunteers, is founded by Constance Markievicz in Molony’s home at 34 Lower Camden Street, Dublin, on August 16, 1909. Markievicz works closely with Molony and Bulmer Hobson in organising the fledgling Fianna. It is during this period of working together in building the Fianna that Molony and Hobson grow close and became romantically linked. However, the relationship does not last.

Molony is a prominent member of Cumann na mBan, the republican women’s paramilitary organisation formed in April 1914 as an auxiliary of the Irish Volunteers. Members of Cumann na mBan train alongside the men of the Irish Volunteers in preparation for the armed rebellion against the English forces in Ireland.

During the 1916 Easter Rising, Molony is one of the Citizen Army soldiers who attacks Dublin Castle. During the defence of City Hall, her commanding officer, Sean Connolly, is killed and she is captured and imprisoned until December 1916.

After the Irish Civil War, Molony becomes the second female president of the Irish Trades Union Congress. She remains active in the republican cause during the 1930s, particularly with the Women’s Prisoner’s Defense League and the People’s Rights Association.

Molony retires from public life in 1946, but continued to work for women’s labour rights. She dies in Dublin on January 28, 1967.


Leave a comment

Death of Peadar Kearney, Composer & Irish Republican

peadar-kearneyPeadar Kearney, Irish republican and composer of numerous rebel songs, dies in Inchicore, Dublin on November 24, 1942. In 1907 he writes the lyrics to “The Soldier’s Song” (“Amhrán na bhFiann“), now the Irish national anthem. He is the uncle of Irish writers Brendan Behan, Brian Behan, and Dominic Behan.

Kearney was born on December 12, 1883 at 68 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin, above one of the two grocer’s shops owned by his father, John Kearney, originally from Funshog, Collon, County Louth. His mother, Katie (née McGuinness), is from Rathmaiden, Slane, County Meath. He is educated at the Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and St. Joseph’s Secondary C.B.S. in Fairview. He hears Willie Rooney give nationalist lectures on history in the Mechanics’ Institute. For a short time he attends Belvedere College. Following the death of his father, he is left to support his mother and five younger siblings. He has various menial jobs for three years before being apprenticed to a house painter.

In 1901, the death of Willie Rooney prompts Kearney to join the Willie Rooney Branch of the Gaelic League. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1903. He teaches night classes in Irish and numbers Seán O’Casey among his pupils. He finds work with the National Theatre Society and in 1904 is one of the first to inspect the derelict building that becomes the Abbey Theatre. He assists with props and performs occasional walk-on parts at the Abbey until 1916.

Kearney is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and takes part in the Howth and Kilcoole gun runnings in 1914. In the Easter Rising of 1916 he fights at Jacob’s biscuit factory under Thomas MacDonagh, abandoning an Abbey Theatre tour in England to take part in the Rising. He escapes before the garrison is taken into custody.

Kearney is also active in the Irish War of Independence. On November 25, 1920 he is captured at his home in Summerhill, Dublin and is interned first in Collinstown Camp in Dublin and later in Ballykinler Camp in County Down.

A personal friend of Michael Collins, Kearney at first takes the Free State side in the Irish Civil War but loses faith in the Free State after Collins’s death. He takes no further part in politics, returning to his original trade of house painting.

Kearney’s songs are highly popular with the Irish Volunteers (which later becomes the Irish Republican Army) in the 1913–1922 period. Most popular is “The Soldier’s Song.” He pens the original English lyrics in 1907 and his friend and musical collaborator Patrick Heeney composes the music. The lyrics are published in 1912 and the music in 1916. After 1916 it replaces “God Save Ireland” as the anthem of Irish nationalists. The Irish Free State is established in 1922 and formally adopts the anthem in 1926.

Other well-known songs by Kearney include “Down by the Glenside,” “The Tri-coloured Ribbon,” “Down by the Liffey Side,” “Knockcroghery” (about the village of Knockcroghery) and “Erin Go Bragh” (Erin Go Bragh is the text on the Irish national flag before the adoption of the tricolour).

Peadar Kearney dies in relative poverty in Inchicore on November 24, 1942. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Birth of John MacBride

john-macbrideMajor John MacBride, Irish republican executed by the British for his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising, is born in Westport, County Mayo on May 7, 1865.

MacBride is born to Patrick MacBride, a shopkeeper and trader, and the former Honoria Gill. He is educated at the Christian Brothers School in Westport and at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast. He studies medicine but gives it up and begins working with a chemist’s firm in Dublin.

MacBride joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and is associated with Michael Cusack in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association. He also joins the Celtic Literary Society through which he comes to know Arthur Griffith, who is to remain a friend and influence throughout his life. Beginning in 1893, he is termed a “dangerous nationalist” by the British government. In 1896, he travels to the United States on behalf of the IRB. Upon his return he emigrates to South Africa.

In the Second Boer War MacBride is instrumental in the raising of the Irish Transvaal Brigade and leads it into action against the British. When organised resistance collapses, he and the surviving members cross the border into Mozambique. After the war he marries Maud Gonne and they have a son, Seán MacBride, who is also to make a name for himself in Irish Politics. The marriage, however, is not a success and they go their separate ways. MacBride keeps up his associations with Republican activists but does not become personally involved other than making the odd speech in support of Ireland’s Cause.

After returning permanently from Paris to Dublin in 1905, MacBride joins other Irish nationalists in preparing for an Insurrection. Because he is so well known to the British, the leaders think it wise to keep him outside their secret military group planning a Rising. As a result, he happens to find himself in the midst of the Rising without notice.

MacBride is in Dublin early on Easter Monday morning, April 24, to meet his brother, Dr. Anthony MacBride, who is arriving from Westport to be married two days later. As MacBride walks up Grafton Street he sees Thomas MacDonagh in uniform and leading his troops. He offers his services and is appointed second-in-command at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, which is occupied and held through Easter Week until the order to surrender is received. As he is dressed in civilian clothes rather than a military uniform, he could likely have escaped without too much difficulty but rather he decides to go with his comrades into captivity.

Tried by court martial under the Defence of the Realm Act, MacBride is found guilty and sentenced to death. He is executed on May 5, 1916, two days before his forty-eighth birthday. Facing the British firing squad, MacBride refuses to be blindfolded saying, “I have looked down the muzzles of too many guns in the South African war to fear death and now please carry out your sentence.”

John MacBride is buried in the cemetery at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


Leave a comment

Birth of Donagh MacDonagh, Playwright & Writer

donagh-macdonaghDonagh MacDonagh, Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright, is born in Dublin on November 22, 1912. He is the son of Irish nationalist and poet Thomas MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is still a young child when his father is executed in 1916 for his part in the Easter Rising. Tragedy strikes again when his mother dies of a heart attack a year afterwards while swimming at Skerries to Lambay Island, County Dublin on July 9, 1917. He and his sister are then cared for by their maternal aunts, in particular Catherine Wilson.

His parents’ families then engage in a series of child custody lawsuits as the MacDonaghs are Roman Catholic and the Giffords are Protestant. In the climate of Ne Temere, the MacDonaghs are successful.

He and his sister Barbara, who later marries actor Liam Redmond, live briefly with their paternal aunt Eleanor Bingham in County Clare before being put into the custody of strangers until their late teens when they are taken in by Jack MacDonagh.

MacDonagh is educated at Belvedere College and University College Dublin (UCD) with contemporaries Cyril Cusack, Denis Devlin, Charles Donnelly, Brian O’Nolan, Niall Sheridan and Mervyn Wall. In 1935 he is called to the Bar and practises on the Western Circuit. In 1941 he is appointed a District Justice in County Mayo. To date, he remains the youngest person appointed as a judge in Ireland. He is Justice for the Dublin Metropolitan Courts at the time of his death.

MacDonagh publishes three volumes of poetry: Veterans and Other Poems (1941), The Hungry Grass (1947) and A Warning to Conquerors (1968). He also edits the Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958) with Lennox Robinson. He also writes poetic dramas and ballad operas. One play, Happy As Larry, is translated into a number of languages. He has three other plays produced: God’s Gentry (1951), Lady Spider (1959) and Step in the Hollow, a piece of situation comedy nonsense.

MacDonagh also writes short stories. He publishes Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan, stages the first Irish production of “Murder in the Cathedral” with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law, and is a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann.

MacDonagh is married twice, to Maura Smyth and, following her death after she drowns in a bath whilst having an epileptic seizure, to her sister, Nuala Smyth. He has four children, Iseult and Breifne by Maura and Niall and Barbara by Nuala.

Donagh MacDonagh dies in Dublin on January 1, 1968 and is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery.


Leave a comment

Birth of Mary Colum, Literary Critic & Author

mary-columMary Colum (née Maguire), literary critic and author, is born in Collooney, County Sligo on June 14, 1884, the daughter of Charles Maguire and Catherine Gunning. She is the author of several books, including the autobiographical Life and the Dream (1947), and From These Roots: The Ideas that Have Made Modern Literature (1937), a collection of her criticism.

Maguire’s mother dies in 1895, leaving her to be reared by her grandmother, Catherine, in Ballysadare, County Sligo. She attends boarding school in St. Louis’ Convent in Monaghan, County Monaghan.

Educated at Royal University of Ireland Maguire is founder of the Twilight Literary Society which leads her to meet William Butler Yeats. She regularly attends the Abbey Theatre and is a frequent visitor amongst the salons, readings and debates there. After graduation in 1909 she teaches with Louise Gavan Duffy at St. Ita’s, a companion school to Patrick Pearse‘s St. Enda’s School. She is active with Thomas MacDonagh and others in national and cultural causes and co-founds The Irish Review (1911–14) with David Houston, MacDonagh and others. She, along with her husband, Padraic Colum, whom she marries in July 1912, edit the magazine for some months of its four year run. She is encouraged by Yeats to specialise in French literary criticism and to translate Paul Claudel.

Colum and her husband move to New York City in 1914, living occasionally in London and Paris. In middle age she is encouraged to return to writing, and becomes established as a literary generalist in American journals, including Poetry, Scribner’s Magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The Freeman, The New York Times Book Review, The Saturday Review of Literature, and the New-York Tribune.

Colum associates with James Joyce in Paris and discourages him from duping enquirers about the origins of the interior monologue in the example of Édouard Dujardin. She accepts Joyce’s very ill daughter, Lucia, for a week in their Paris flat at the height of her “hebephrenic” attack, while herself preparing for an operation in May 1932. She serves as the literary editor of The Forum magazine from 1933–1941 and commences teaching comparative literature with Padraic at Columbia University in 1941.

She rebuts Oliver St. John Gogarty‘s intemperate remarks about Joyce in The Saturday Review of Literature in 1941.

Colum’s publications become increasingly sparse in the 1950s as her arthritis and neuralgia grow more and more severe. She dies in New York City on October 22, 1957. At the time of her death, she is working on Our Friend James Joyce with her husband, each writing various chapters. It is assembled posthumously by Padraic Colum and is published by Doubleday on August 22, 1958.

Colum’s letters are held in Scribner’s Archive, Princeton University Library, while a collection of her papers is held at the State University of New York.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

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.