seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William Reeves, Bishop of Down, Connor & Dromore

bishop-william-reevesWilliam Reeves, Irish antiquarian and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore from 1886 until his death, is born on March 16, 1815. He is the last private keeper of the Book of Armagh and at the time of his death is President of the Royal Irish Academy.

Reeves is born at Charleville, County Cork, the eldest child of Boles D’Arcy Reeves, an attorney, whose wife Mary is a daughter of Captain Jonathan Bruce Roberts, land agent to the Edmund Boyle, 8th Earl of Cork. This grandfather had fought at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, and Reeves is born at his house in Charleville.

From 1823, Reeves is educated at the school of John Browne in Leeson Street, Dublin, and after that at a school kept by the Rev. Edward Geoghegan. In October 1830, he enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he quickly gains a prize for Hebrew. In his third year, he becomes a scholar and goes on to graduate BA in 1835. He proceeds to read medicine, wins the Berkeley Medal, and graduates MB in 1837. His object in taking his second degree is that he intends to become a clergyman and to practice the medical profession among the poor of his parish.

In 1838, Reeves is appointed Master of the diocesan school in Ballymena, County Antrim, and is ordained a deacon of Hillsborough, County Down. The following year, he is ordained a priest of the Church of Ireland at Derry.

In 1844, Reeves rediscovers the lost site of Nendrum Monastery when he visits Mahee Island in Strangford Lough, County Down, searching for churches recorded in 1306, and recognises the remains of a round tower. By 1845, he is corresponding with the Irish scholar John O’Donovan, and an archive of their letters between 1845 and 1860 is preserved at University College, Dublin. In July 1845, Reeves visits London.

Reeves resides in Ballymena from 1841 to 1858, when he is appointed vicar of Lusk following the success of his edition of Adomnán‘s Life of Saint Columba (1857), for which the Royal Irish Academy awards him their Cunningham Medal in 1858. In 1853, he purchases from the Brownlow family the important 9th-century manuscript known as the Book of Armagh, paying three hundred pounds for it. He sells the book for the same sum to Archbishop Beresford, who has agreed to present it to Trinity College, Dublin.

In 1875 Reeves is appointed Dean of Armagh, a position he holds until 1886 when he is appointed as Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore. In 1891 he is elected as President of the Royal Irish Academy. As bishop, he resides at Conway House, Dunmurry, County Antrim, and signs his name “Wm. Down and Connor.”

William Reeves dies in Dublin on January 12, 1892, while still President of the Academy. At the time of his death, he is working on a diplomatic edition of the Book of Armagh, by then in the Trinity College Library. The work is completed by Dr. John Gwynn and published in 1913.

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Birth of Henry Charles Sirr

Henry Charles Sirr, Irish soldier, police officer, wine merchant and collector, is born in Dublin Castle on November 25, 1764. He is the founder of the Irish Society for Promoting Scriptural Education in the Irish Language.

Sirr is the son of Major Joseph Sirr, the Town Major (chief of police) of Dublin from 1762 to 1767. He serves in the British Army from 1778 until 1791 and is thereafter a wine merchant. In 1792 he marries Eliza D’Arcy, the daughter of James D’Arcy. He is the father of Rev. Joseph D’Arcy Sirr, MRIA and of Henry Charles Sirr.

In 1796 Sirr is appointed acting Town Major of Dublin. He is responsible for the arrest of Irish revolutionaries Lord Edward FitzGerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In 1802 Sirr is mulcted £150 damages, and costs, for the assault and false imprisonment of John Hevey. His lawyer in this case refers to his “very great exertions and laudable efforts” to crush the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The opposing lawyer, John Philpot Curran, tells a long tale of a grudge held by Sirr against Hevey, the latter a prosperous businessman and a Yeoman volunteer against the Rebellion, who has happened to be in court during a treason case brought by Sirr. Hevey recognises the witness for the prosecution, describes him in court “a man of infamous character,” and convinces the jury that no credit is due to the witness. The treason case collapses. Sirr and his colleague had then subjected Hevey to wrongful arrest, imprisonment incommunicado, extortion of goods and money, and condemnation to hanging. Curran implies that these techniques are typical of the methods used by Sirr and by others to suppress the Rebellion.

In 1808 the Dublin police is re-organised and his post is abolished, but he is allowed to retain the title. Niles’ Register of March 24, 1821 remarks that “Several persons have been arrested at a public house in Dublin, by major Sirr, charged with being engaged in a treasonable meeting, and committed to prison. We thought that this old sinner, given to eternal infamy by the eloquence of Curran, had gone home.”

Sirr is an avid collector of documents and curios. He sells McCormac’s Cross and other valuable antiquities in exchange for second-rate copied paintings. The remains are given by his older son, Joseph, to Trinity College, Dublin at some time between 1841 and 1843. It now forms the Sirr Collection of the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Henry Charles Sirr dies in 1841 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Werburgh’s Church, while his victim, Lord Edward FitzGerald, is buried in the vaults of the same church.


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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.