seamus dubhghaill

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


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Ruby Murray Has Two Singles in the British Top 20

Belfast-born Ruby Murray has two singles, “I’ll Come When You Call” and “Evermore,” in the UK Singles Chart on October 22, 1955. Her much quoted achievement is that she has five hits in the Top 20 in a single week in March 1955, a feat only matched by pop singer Madonna four decades later.

Murray is born near the Donegall Road in south Belfast on March 29, 1935, the youngest child in a Protestant family. She has surgery at six weeks of age due to swollen glands, and as a result, has a very husky voice. She tours as a child singer and first appears on television at the age of twelve, having been spotted by producer Richard Afton. Owing to laws governing children performing, she has to delay her start in the entertainment industry. She returns to Belfast and full-time education until she is fourteen.

After being again spotted by Afton, Murray is signed to Columbia Records and her first single, “Heartbeat”, reaches No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1954. Afton offers her the position of resident singer on the BBC‘s Quite Contrary television show, to replace Joan Regan. “Softly, Softly“, her second single, reaches number one in early 1955. That same year she sets a pop chart record by having five hits in the Top Twenty in one week, a feat unmatched for many years. In 2014, the Guinness Book of World Records issues three certificates confirming that at the date of issue, nobody has beaten this record, although it is now shared with three other singers.

The 1950s are a busy period for Murray, during which she has her own television show, stars at the London Palladium with Norman Wisdom, appears in a Royal Command Performance (1955), and tours the world. In a period of 52 weeks, starting on December 3, 1954 and lasting until the end of November 1955, she constantly has at least one single in the UK charts, this at a time when only a Top 20 is listed.

Murray appears in her only film role, as Ruby, in A Touch of the Sun, a 1956 farce with Frankie Howerd and Dennis Price. A couple of hits follow later in the decade. “Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye“, a No. 10 hit in 1959, is her final appearance in the charts.

In 1957, while working in Blackpool, Murray meets Bernie Burgess, a member of a successful television and recording vocal quartet, the Four Jones Boys. Shortly afterwards she leaves Northern Ireland to marry him and live with him in England. The couple includes a song-and-dance segment in her act during the 1960s.

Murray struggles with alcoholism for most of her life and this contributes to the breakdown of her marriage in 1974. The divorce is finalised in 1976 and she moves to Torquay to live with an old friend, Ray Lamar, a former stage dancer and theatre impresario, who is 18 years her senior. They marry in 1991 and spend the evening with a small party of friends and family at an Italian restaurant in Babbacombe.

Although her days as a major star are long over, Murray continues performing until close to the end of her life. Spending her last couple of years in Asprey’s Nursing Home, she often delights her carers with a song, and is visited by her friend Max Bygraves. She dies of liver cancer at the age of 61 on December 17, 1996.


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Birth of Playwright Seán O’Casey

sean-ocaseySeán O’Casey, Irish playwright renowned for realistic dramas of the Dublin slums in war and revolution, in which tragedy and comedy are juxtaposed in a way new to the theatre of his time, is born at 85 Upper Dorset Street in Dublin on March 30, 1880.

Born as John Casey into a lower middle-class Irish Protestant family, his father dies when he is six, and thereafter the family becomes progressively poorer. With only three years of formal schooling, he educates himself by reading. He starts work at 14, mostly at manual labour, including several years with the Irish railways.

O’Casey becomes caught up in the cause of Irish nationalism, and he changes his name to its Irish form and learns the Irish language. His attitudes are greatly influenced by the poverty and squalor he witnesses in Dublin’s slums and by the teachings of the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin. He becomes active in the labour movement and writes for The Irish Worker. He also joins the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary arm of the Irish labour unions, and draws up its constitution in 1914. At this time he becomes disillusioned with the Irish nationalist movement because its leaders put nationalist ideals before socialist ones. He does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising against the British authorities.

Disgusted with the existing political parties, he turns his energies to drama. His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slum dwellers, seeing them as incapable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time admirable for their unconquerable spirit.

After several of his plays have been rejected, the Abbey Theatre in Dublin produces The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set during the guerrilla warfare between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. In 1924 the Abbey stages Juno and the Paycock, his most popular play, set during the period of civil war over the terms of Irish independence. The Plough and the Stars (1926), with the 1916 Easter Rising as its background, causes riots at the Abbey by patriots who think the play denigrates Irish heroes. When first produced in the 1920s, these plays have an explosive effect on the audiences at the Abbey and help to enlarge the theatre’s reputation.

O’Casey goes to England in 1926, meets the Irish actress Eileen Carey Reynolds, marries her, and henceforth makes England his home. His decision to live outside Ireland is motivated in part by the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, a partly Expressionist antiwar drama produced in England in 1929. Another Expressionist play, Within the Gates (1934), follows, in which the modern world is symbolized by the happenings in a public park. The Star Turns Red (1940) is an antifascist play, and the semiautobiographical Red Roses for Me (1946) is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911.

O’Casey’s later plays, given to fantasy and ritual and directed against the life-denying puritanism he believes has beset Ireland, include Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). His last full-length play is a satire on Dublin intellectuals, Behind the Green Curtains, published in 1961.

O’Casey’s three indisputably great plays are The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough and the Stars. All are tragicomedies set in the slums of Dublin during times of war and revolution. Violent death and the everyday realities of tenement life throw into relief the blustering rhetoric and patriotic swagger of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence. The resulting ironic juxtapositions of the comic and tragic reveal the waste of war and the corrosive effects of poverty. His gifts are for vivid characterization and working-class language and, though he portrays war and poverty, he writes some of the funniest scenes in modern drama. His later plays are not considered as powerful or moving as his earlier realistic plays. In his later plays he tends to abandon vigorous characterization in favour of expressionism and symbolism, and sometimes the drama is marred by didacticism.

Six volumes of O’Casey’s autobiography appeared from 1939 to 1956. They are later collected as Mirror in My House (1956) in the United States and as Autobiographies (1963) in Great Britain. O’Casey’s letters from 1910 to 1941 are edited by David Krause in two volumes (1975, 1980).

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


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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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Birth of Singer Ruby Florence Murray

ruby-florence-murrayRuby Florence Murray, one of the most popular singers in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1950s, is born on the Donegal Road in south Belfast on March 29, 1935. In 1955 alone, she secures seven Top 10 UK hit singles.

The distinctive sound of Murray’s voice is partly the result of a throat operation in early childhood. She tours as a child singer and first appears on television at the age of 12, however, laws governing children performing, Murray has to delay her start in the entertainment industry. She returns to Belfast and full-time education until she reaches 14 years of age.

Spotted by producer Richard Afton, Murray is signed to Columbia and her first single, Heartbeat, reaches No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1954. Afton offers her the position of resident singer on the BBC‘s Quite Contrary television show, replacing Joan Regan. Softly, Softly, her second single, reaches number one in early 1955. That same year Murray sets a pop-chart record by having five hits in the Top Twenty in one week, a feat unmatched until the emergence of Madonna in the 1980s.

The 1950s is a busy period for Murray, during which she has her own television show, stars at the London Palladium with Norman Wisdom, appears in a Royal Command Performance, and tours the world. During a 52-week period, starting in 1955, Murray constantly has at least one single in the UK charts, this being at a time when only a Top 20 is listed.

Murray appears with Frankie Howerd and Dennis Price in her only film role, as Ruby in a 1956 farce, A Touch of the Sun. A couple of hits follow later in the decade. Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye, a No. 10 hit in 1959, is her final appearance in the charts. EMI puts together a compilation album of her hits on CD in 1989, including songs that are regularly featured in her act, Mr. Wonderful, Scarlet Ribbons, and It’s the Irish in Me. They update this with the release of EMI Presents The Magic Of Ruby Murray in 1997 and a triple album, Anthology — The Golden Anniversary Collection, in 2005, the 50th anniversary of her peak successes on the charts.

A play about Murray’s life, Ruby, written by the Belfast playwright Marie Jones, opens at the Group Theatre in Belfast in April 2000.

Although her days as a major star gradually diminish, Murray continues performing until close to the end of her life. She spends her last couple of years in Asprey’s Nursing Home, often delighting her carers with a song. She dies of liver cancer, at the age of 61, on December 17, 1996 in Torquay after a long struggle with alcoholism.