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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Birth of Walter Hussey Burgh, Irish Statesman

walter-hussey-burghWalter Hussey Burgh, Irish statesman, barrister, and judge, is born in Kildare on August 23, 1742. Burgh sits in the Irish House of Commons and is considered to be one of its outstanding orators. He serves briefly as Chief Baron of the Exchequer at the end of his life.

Burgh is the son of Ignatius Hussey of Donore House, near Naas, and his wife Elizabeth Burgh. Elizabeth is the daughter of the leading statesman and architect Colonel Thomas de Burgh, who designs some of the most notable Irish buildings of his era, including Trinity College Library. Walter adopts the surname Burgh as a condition for inheriting the Burgh estate at Drumkeen, County Limerick, from his uncle Richard Burgh.

Burgh is educated at Mr. Young’s school at Abbey Street in Dublin, and then at the University of Dublin, where he graduates Bachelor of Arts in 1762. He is an accomplished classical scholar and has some reputation a poet. After studying at the Temple, he is called to the Bar in 1769 and within a few years becomes one of its leaders. He enters the Irish House of Commons in the same year, sitting first for Athy, later for the University of Dublin.

In Parliament he is a close associate of Henry Grattan and a supporter of his “free trade” programme. He becomes legendary for his oratory in support of the Irish Patriot Party. At the same time he prides himself on his independence of mind, preferring not to pledge support for any particular policy until he has examined its merits. He acquires as his patron Philip Tisdall, the immensely influential Attorney-General for Ireland, who calls him “the most promising of the rising young men.” At Tisdall’s request Burgh is appointed Prime Serjeant in 1776. He resigns the office in 1779, in protest at the continuing restrictions on free trade, after making the celebrated “England has sown her laws as dragon’s teeth” speech. After the removal of the restrictions, he agrees to accept office again and is re-appointed Prime Serjeant in 1782. A month later he is appointed Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, but he dies the following year at the assizes in Armagh, reportedly from gaol fever.