seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Death of Author & Journalist Standish James O’Grady

Standish James O’Grady, author, journalist, and historian, dies on May 18, 1928 at Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England.

O’Grady is born on March 22, 1846 at Castletown, County Cork, the son of Reverend Thomas O’Grady, the scholarly Church of Ireland minister of Castletown Berehaven, County Cork, and Susanna Doe. After a rather severe education at Tipperary Grammar School, O’Grady follows his father to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several prize medals and distinguishes himself in several sports.

O’Grady proves too unconventional of mind to settle into a career in the church and earns much of his living by writing for the Irish newspapers. Reading Sylvester O’Halloran‘s General history of Ireland sparks an interest in early Irish history. After an initial lukewarm response to his writing on the legendary past in History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878–81) and Early Bardic Literature of Ireland (1879), he realizes that the public wants romance, and so follows the example of James Macpherson in recasting Irish legends in literary form, producing historical novels including Finn and his Companions (1891), The Coming of Cuculain (1894), The Chain of Gold (1895), Ulrick the Ready (1896) and The Flight of the Eagle (1897), and The Departure of Dermot (1913).

O’Grady also studies Irish history of the Elizabethan period, presenting in his edition of Sir Thomas Stafford‘s Pacata Hibernia (1896) the view that the Irish people have made the Tudors into kings of Ireland in order to overthrow their unpopular landlords, the Irish chieftains. His The Story of Ireland (1894) is not well received, as it sheds too positive a light on the rule of Oliver Cromwell for the taste of many Irish readers. He is also active in social and political campaigns in connection with such issues as unemployment and taxation.

Until 1898, he works as a journalist for the Daily Express of Dublin, but in that year, finding Dublin journalism in decline, he moves to Kilkenny to become editor of the Kilkenny Moderator. It is here he becomes involved with Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart and Captain Otway Cuffe. He engages in the revival of the local woolen and woodworking industries. In 1900 he founds the All-Ireland Review and returns to Dublin to manage it until it ceases publication in 1908. O’Grady contributes to James Larkin‘s The Irish Worker paper.

O’Grady’s works are an influence on William Butler Yeats and George Russell and this leads to him being known as the “Father of the Celtic Revival.” Being as much proud of his family’s Unionismand Protestantism as of his Gaelic Irish ancestry, identities that are increasingly seen as antithetical in the late 1800s, he is described by Augusta, Lady Gregory as a “fenian unionist.”

Advised to move away from Ireland for the sake of his health, O’Grady passes his later years living with his eldest son, a clergyman in England, and dies on the Isle of Wight on May 18, 1928.

His eldest son, Hugh Art O’Grady, is for a time editor of the Cork Free Press before he enlists in World War I early in 1915. He becomes better known as Dr. Hugh O’Grady, later Professor of the Transvaal University College, Pretoria, who writes the biography of his father in 1929.


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Death of Rock Journalist Bill Graham

Bill Graham, Irish rock journalist and author, dies of a heart attack at the age of 44 at his home in Howth, County Fingal, on May 11, 1996. He attends Trinity College, Dublin. In addition to authoring several books, Graham writes for Hot Press magazine from its founding.

Graham’s long time colleague and Hot Press editor Niall Stokes describes him, “In many ways, he was a founding father of modern Irish music. He inspired a whole generation of Irish fans and musicians to look at the world in a different and broader light. And he was good on more than music too. He felt a kinship with Northern Ireland and the people on both sides of the sectarian and political divide there that was unusual in those who were brought up within the narrow confines of the culture of Ireland in the ‘60s and ‘70s – and his political writing reflected this. And he was also ahead of the game in terms of his appreciation of the importance of the politics of food and the position of the developing world in the new era.”

Graham is instrumental in the formation of Irish rock band U2, having brought them to the attention of their manager Paul McGuinness. At an exhibition of early group photos, McGuinness remembers the role Bill Graham played by introducing him to the band. Despite being widely known as the man who “discovered” U2, it is a title he disavowed. He writes enthusiastically about the band, giving them their first exposure. Both guitarist The Edge and Bono have explained Graham’s role in the band’s development.

John Waters observes that “It is often said that Bill ‘discovered’ U2. This is untrue. Bill created U2, through his enthusiasm for them. He gave them a reflection of their own possibilities and they only looked back that once.” Graham has a deep knowledge of virtually every form of popular and roots music. Waters goes on to credit him as “the first Irish writer to write about the connection between Irish political culture and Irish rock’n’roll.”

A number of music critics/journalists have cited Graham as a primary influence, in some cases suggesting they got into the field as a direct result of his writing.

Bill Graham’s funeral draws many of biggest bands from the world of Irish music including Clannad, Altan, U2, and Hothouse Flowers, along with singers Simon Carmody and Gavin Friday.


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Birth of William Frederick Archdall Ellison, Clergyman & Astronomer

Reverend William Frederick Archdall Ellison FRAS, Irish clergyman, Hebrew scholar, organist, avid amateur telescope maker, and, from 1918 to 1936, director of Armagh Observatory in Armagh, Northern Ireland, is born on April 28, 1864. He is the father of Mervyn A. Ellison, the senior professor of the School of Cosmic Physics at Dunsink Observatory from 1958 to 1963.

Ellison comes from a clerical family, his father Humphrey Eakins Ellison having been Dean of Ferns, County Wexford. He gains a sizarship of classics at Trinity College, Dublin in 1883, becomes a Scholar of the House in 1886 and graduates in 1887 with junior moderatorships in classics and experimental science. In 1890 he takes Holy Orders and moves to England, where he becomes the Curate of Tudhoe and Monkwearmouth. In 1894 he takes his MA and BD degrees and in the following year wins the Elrington Theological Prize.

In 1899 he returns to Ireland to become secretary of the Sunday School Society, a post which he holds for three years before accepting the incumbency of Monart, Enniscorthy, moving in 1908 to become Rector of Fethard-on-Sea with Tintern in Wexford. Ellison develops an interest in astronomy, having been introduced to practical optics by Dr. N. Alcock of Dublin and sets up his first observatory at Wexford. He becomes highly adept at making lenses and mirrors and writes several books and articles on the subject, including major contributions to the Amateur Telescope Making series, the Journal of the British Astronomical Association, and the weekly newspaper The English Mechanic. His book The Amateur’s Telescope (1920) is still considered a standard for telescope-makers and a forerunner of the more extensive series on the same topic by Albert Graham Ingalls.

On September 2, 1918 Ellison is appointed Director of the Armagh Observatory. He finds the Observatory in a state of disrepair and sets about repairing the instruments and the observatory dome. On January 3, 1919 he deeds a telescope of his own to the observatory, an 18-inch reflecting telescope, which is still there.

Ellison is a highly regarded planetary and binary star observer. Working with his son Mervyn, he makes many measurements of binary stars using the observatory’s 10-inch Grubb refracting telescope and even discovers a new one close to Beta Lyrae, and according to Patrick Moore, is one of the few people to have observed an eclipse of Saturn’s moon Iapetus by Saturn’s outermost ring on February 28, 1919.

In 1934 Ellison becomes Canon and Prebendary of Ballymore, Armagh Cathedral. He dies on December 31, 1936, having held the office of Director of the observatory for nearly twenty years.


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Birth of Brendan Kennelly, Poet & Novelist

Brendan Kennelly, Irish poet and novelist, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 17, 1936. Now retired from teaching, he serves as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College, Dublin until 2005. Since his retirement he has been titled “Professor Emeritus” by Trinity College.

Kennelly is educated at the inter-denominational St. Ita’s College, Tarbert, County Kerry, and at Trinity College, Dublin where he edits the student literary magazine Icarus. He graduates from Trinity and writes his PhD thesis there. He also studies at Leeds University. Brendan is married for 18 years to Margaret (Peggy) O’Brien, a colleague in the English Department at Trinity College. They live together in Sandymount, Dublin, with daughter Doodle for 12 years before separating. Brendan and Peggy remain friends and Peggy is now remarried. Peggy is a published poet and Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Kennelly’s poetry can be scabrous, down-to-earth and colloquial. He avoids intellectual pretension and literary posturing, and his attitude to poetic language can be summed up in the title of one of his epic poems, “Poetry my Arse.” A 400-page long epic poem, “The Book of Judas”, published in 1991, tops the Irish best-seller list.

A prolific and fluent writer, he has more than twenty books of poetry to his credit, including My Dark Fathers (1964), Collection One: Getting Up Early (1966), Good Souls to Survive (1967), Dream of a Black Fox (1968), Love Cry (1972), The Voices (1973), Shelley in Dublin (1974), A Kind of Trust (1975), Islandman (1977), A Small Light (1979) and The House That Jack Didn’t Build (1982).

Kennelly has edited several other anthologies, including “Between Innocence and Peace: Favourite Poems of Ireland” (1993), “Ireland’s Women: Writings Past and Present, with Katie Donovan and A. Norman Jeffares” (1994), and “Dublines,” with Katie Donovan (1995).

Kennelly has also written two novels, “The Crooked Cross” (1963) and “The Florentines” (1967), and three plays in a Greek Trilogy, Antigone, Medea and The Trojan Women.

Kennelly is an Irish language speaker, and has translated Irish poems in “A Drinking Cup” (1970) and “Mary” (Dublin 1987). A selection of his collected translations is published as “Love of Ireland: Poems from the Irish” (1989).

Language is important in Kennelly’s work – in particular the vernacular of the small and isolated communities in North Kerry where he grew up, and of the Dublin streets and pubs where he becomes both roamer and raconteur for many years. Kennelly’s language is also grounded in the Irish-language poetic tradition, oral and written, which can be both satirical and salacious in its approach to human follies.

Regarding the oral tradition, Kennelly is a great reciter of verse with tremendous command and the rare ability to recall extended poems by memory, both his own work and others, and recite them on call verbatim.

Kennelly has commented on his own use of language: “Poetry is an attempt to cut through the effects of deadening familiarity and repeated, mechanical usage in order to unleash that profound vitality, to reveal that inner sparkle. In the beginning was the Word. In the end will be the Word…language is a human miracle always in danger of drowning in a sea of familiarity.”


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Birth of Playwright & Poet Samuel Barclay Beckett

Samuel Barclay Beckett, avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, is born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, in Foxrock, Dublin. His father, William Frank Beckett, works in the construction business and his mother, Maria Jones Roe, is a nurse. Beckett attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin and then, at age 14, he goes to Portora Royal School, the same school attended by Oscar Wilde. He receives his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College, Dublin in 1927. In his youth he periodically experiences severe depression keeping him in bed until mid-day. This experience later influences his writing.

In 1928, Beckett finds a welcome home in Paris where he meets and becomes a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he embarks on a restless sojourn through Great Britain, France and Germany. He writes poems and stories and does odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he comes across many individuals who inspire some of his most interesting characters.

In 1937, Beckett settles in Paris. Shortly thereafter, he is stabbed by a pimp after refusing his solicitations. While recovering in the hospital, he meets Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil, a piano student in Paris. The two become life-long companions and eventually marry. After meeting with his attacker, Beckett drops the charges, partly to avoid the publicity.

During World War II, Beckett’s Irish citizenship allows him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fights in the resistance movement until 1942 when members of his group are arrested by the Gestapo. He and Suzanne flee to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war.

After the war, Beckett is awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery during his time in the French resistance. He settles in Paris and begins his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he writes Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoys modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, achieves quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play runs for 400 performances and enjoys critical praise.

Beckett writes in both French and English, but his most well-known works, written between World War II and the 1960s, are written in French. Early on he realizes his writing has to be subjective and come from his own thoughts and experiences. His works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante Alighieri, René Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.

The 1960s are a period of change for Beckett. He finds great success with his plays across the world. Invitations come to attend rehearsals and performances which lead to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly marries Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who takes care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 leads to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.

Beckett continues to write throughout the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he can give total dedication to his art evading publicity. In 1969, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he declines accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times meets with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.

By the late 1980s, Beckett is in failing health and is moved to a small nursing home. His wife Suzanne dies in July 1989. His life is confined to a small room where he receives visitors and writes. He dies on December 22, 1989, in a hospital of respiratory problems just months after his wife.


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Death of Oliver Goldsmith, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

Oliver Goldsmith, Irish novelist, playwright, and poet best known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), his pastoral poem The Deserted Village (1770), and his plays The Good-Natur’d Man (1768) and She Stoops to Conquer (1771, first performed in 1773), dies in London on April 4, 1774. He is thought to have written the classic children’s tale The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes (1765).

Goldsmith’s birth date and location are not known with certainty, although he reportedly tells a biographer that he was born on November 10, 1728. The location of his birthplace is either in the townland of Pallas, near Ballymahon, County Longford, where his father is the Anglican curate of the parish of Forgney, or at the residence of his maternal grandparents, at the Smith Hill House near Elphin, County Roscommon, where his grandfather Oliver Jones is a clergyman and master of the Elphin diocesan school, which is where Goldsmith studies. When Goldsmith is two years old, his father is appointed the rector of the parish of “Kilkenny West” in County Westmeath. The family moves to the parsonage at Lissoy, between Athlone and Ballymahon, and continues to live there until his father’s death in 1747.

In 1744 Goldsmith enters Trinity College, Dublin. His tutor is Theaker Wilder. Neglecting his studies in theology and law, he falls to the bottom of his class. In 1747, along with four other undergraduates, he is expelled for a riot in which they attempt to storm the Marshalsea Prison. He is graduated in 1749 as a Bachelor of Arts, but without the discipline or distinction that might have gained him entry to a profession in the church or the law. His education seems to have given him mainly a taste for fine clothes, playing cards, singing Irish airs, and playing the flute. He lives for a short time with his mother, tries various professions without success, studies medicine desultorily at the University of Edinburgh from 1752 to 1755, and sets out on a walking tour of Flanders, France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy.

Goldsmith settles in London in 1756, where he briefly holds various jobs, including an apothecary‘s assistant and an usher of a school. Perennially in debt and addicted to gambling, Goldsmith produces a massive output as a hack writer for the publishers of London, but his few painstaking works earn him the company of Samuel Johnson, with whom he is a founding member of “The Club.” There, through fellow Club member Edmund Burke, he makes the acquaintance of Sir George Savile, who later arranges a job for him at Thornhill Grammar School. The combination of his literary work and his dissolute lifestyle leads Horace Walpole to give him the epithet “inspired idiot.” During this period he uses the pseudonym “James Willington,” the name of a fellow student at Trinity, to publish his 1758 translation of the autobiography of the Huguenot Jean Marteilhe.

Goldsmith is described by contemporaries as prone to envy, a congenial but impetuous and disorganised personality who once planned to emigrate to America but failed because he missed his ship. At some point around this time he works at Thornhill Grammar School, later basing Squire Thornhill on his benefactor Sir George Savile and certainly spending time with eminent scientist Rev. John Mitchell, whom he probably knows from London. Mitchell sorely misses good company, which Goldsmith naturally provides in spades. Thomas De Quincey writes of him “All the motion of Goldsmith’s nature moved in the direction of the true, the natural, the sweet, the gentle.”

His premature death in 1774 is believed to have been partly due to his own misdiagnosis of a kidney infection. Goldsmith is buried in Temple Church in London. There is a monument to him in the centre of Ballymahon and also in Westminster Abbey with an epitaph written by Samuel Johnson.