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


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Birth of Anne Brontë, Poet & Novelist

anne-bronteAnne Brontë, English poet and novelist, is born on January 17, 1820 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is the sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë and author of Agnes Grey, A Novel (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Brontë is the youngest of six children of Patrick Brontë, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, and Marie Brontë. She lives most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors and is taught in the family’s Haworth home and at Roe Head School. With her sister Emily, she invents the imaginary kingdom of Gondal, about which they write verse and prose, the latter now lost, from the early 1830s until 1845.

Brontë takes a position as governess briefly in 1839 and then again for four years, 1841–45, with the Robinsons, the family of a clergyman, at Thorpe Green, near York. There her irresponsible brother, Branwell, joins her in 1843, intending to serve as a tutor. Anne returns home in 1845 and is followed shortly by her brother, who has been dismissed, charged with making love to his employer’s wife.

In 1846 Brontë contributes 21 poems to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, a joint work with her sisters Charlotte and Emily. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, is published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in three volumes, of which Agnes Grey is the third, in December 1847. The reception to these volumes, associated in the public mind with the immense popularity of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (October 1847), lead to quick publication of Anne’s second novel, again as Acton Bell, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in three volumes in June 1848. It sells well.

Emily’s death in December 1848 deeply affects Brontë and her grief undermines her physical health. Over Christmas, she comes down with influenza. Her symptoms intensify and her father sends for a Leeds physician in early January. The doctor diagnoses her condition as consumption (tuberculosis) and intimates that it is quite advanced, leaving little hope of recovery. Anne meets the news with characteristic determination and self-control.

In February 1849, Brontë seems somewhat better and decides to make a return visit to Scarborough in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might initiate a recovery. On May 24, 1849, she sets off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. However, it is clear that Anne has little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27, Brontë asks Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicates that death is close. Conscious and calm, she dies in the afternoon of Monday, May 28, 1849 at the age of 29. She is buried in Scarborough in St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath the castle walls, overlooking the bay.

Her novel Agnes Grey, probably begun at Thorpe Green, records with limpidity and some humour the life of a governess. George Moore calls it “simple and beautiful as a muslin dress.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an unsoftened picture of the debauchery and degradation of the heroine’s first husband and sets against it the Arminian belief, opposed to Calvinist predestination, that no soul shall be ultimately lost. Her outspokenness raised some scandal, and Charlotte deplored the subject as morbid and out of keeping with her sister’s nature, but the vigorous writing indicates that Brontë found in it not only a moral obligation but also an opportunity of artistic development.

(Pictured: A sketch of Anne Brontë by sister Charlotte, circa 1834)

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Birth of Laurence Sterne, Humorist & Author

laurence-sterneLawrence Sterne, Anglican clergyman, humorist, and author of the experimental novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is born on November 24, 1713 in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Though popular during his lifetime, he becomes even more celebrated in the 20th century, when modernist and postmodernist writers rediscover him as an innovator in textual and narrative forms.

Sterne is born to a British military officer stationed in County Tipperary. Following his father’s postings, the family moves briefly to Yorkshire before returning to Ireland, where they live largely in poverty and move frequently throughout the rest of Sterne’s youth. When the elder Sterne is dispatched to Jamaica, where he would die in 1731, he places his son with a wealthy uncle who supports the boy’s education.

Sterne attends Jesus College, Cambridge, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Richard Sterne, who had been Master of the College. After being ordained as an Anglican priest, he takes up the vicarship of Sutton-on-the-Forest, where he marries Elizabeth Lumley. The couple lives there for the next 20 years.

Through his paternal family line, Sterne is connected to several powerful clergymen. His uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, encourages him to contribute to Whig political journals, and consequently he writes several articles supporting Sir Robert Walpole. However, when his political fervency fails to match his uncle’s, prompting him to abandon the role of political controversialist, Jacques Sterne cuts ties with his nephew and refuses to support his career. Nevertheless, Sterne continues writing.

Sterne’s first long work, a sharp satire of the spiritual courts entitled A Political Romance, makes him as many enemies as allies. Though the work is not widely distributed, and indeed is burned at the request of those targeted by its Swiftian-style criticism, it represents Sterne’s first foray into the kind of humorous satire for which he would become famous. At age 46, he steps back from managing his parishes and turns his full attention to writing.

Sterne begins what becomes his best-known work, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, at a moment of personal crisis. He and his wife are both ill with tuberculosis and, in the same year that the first volumes of his long comic novel appear, his mother and uncle Jacques die. The blend of sentiment, humour and philosophical exploration that characterises his works matures during this difficult period. Tristram Shandy is an enormous success, and Sterne becomes, for the first time in his life, a famous literary figure in London. Still suffering from tuberculosis, he leaves England for Continental Europe, where his travels influence his second major work, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy (1768).

Sterne’s narrator in A Sentimental Journey is Parson Yorick, a sensitive but also comic figure who first appears in Tristram Shandy and who becomes Sterne’s fictive alter ego. In A Sentimental Journey, Parson Yorick wears a “little picture of Eliza around his neck,” and in the last year of his life Sterne writes the autobiographical Journal to Eliza under the pseudonym Yorick. Eliza is Eliza Draper, the wife of an East India Company official, and the literary and emotional muse of Sterne’s final years. After Draper returns to India, the two continue to exchange letters, some of which Draper allows to be published after Sterne’s death in the volume Letters from Yorick to Eliza.

In early 1768, less than a month after A Sentimental Journey is published, Sterne’s strength fails him and he dies in his lodgings at 41 Old Bond Street in London on March 18, 1768, at the age of 54. He is buried in the churchyard of St. George’s Hanover Square Church.

(Pictured: Laurence Sterne painted in watercolour by French artist Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, ca. 1762)


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Death of Richard Harris, Actor & Singer

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, Irish actor and singer, dies in London from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pneumonia on October 25, 2002.

Harris is born to a farming family on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, County Limerick. He is the son of Mildred Josephine (Harty) and Ivan John Harris. He is an excellent rugby player with a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ends his aspirations to a rugby career. He becomes fascinated with the theater and skips a local dance one night to attend a performance of Henry IV. He is hooked and goes on to learn his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by several years in stage productions.

Harris makes his film debut in 1959 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. His second film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), quickly scores regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Harris’ breakthrough performance is as the quintessential “angry young man” in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), for which he receives an Academy Award nomination. He then appears in the World War II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next shows up in Hawaii (1966) and plays King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He takes the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which becomes something of a cult film and spawns two sequels.

As the 1970s progress, Harris continues to appear regularly on screen, however, the quality of the scripts vary from above average to woeful. His credits during this period include directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971), the western The Deadly Trackers (1973), the big-budget “disaster” film Juggernaut (1974), the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).

The 1980s kick off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade has him appearing in some very forgettable productions.

However, the luck of the Irish once again shines on Harris’ career and he scores rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for The Field (1990). He then locks horns with Harrison Ford as an Irish Republican Army sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and gets one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). He is firmly back in vogue and rewards his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune comes his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he becomes known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role is as “Lucius Sulla” in Julius Caesar (2002).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002 after spending his final three days in a coma. His body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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Birth of Activist Mary Ellen Spring Rice

mary-ellen-spring-riceMary Ellen Spring Rice, Irish nationalist activist during the early 20th century, is born into an aristocratic Anglo-Irish family in London, England on October 14, 1880.

Spring Rice is the daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 2nd Baron Monteagle of Brandon, and a great-granddaughter of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Her maternal grandfather is the bishop, Samuel Butcher. She is brought up on the family’s Mount Trenchard estate overlooking the River Shannon. It is a progressive, liberal household and independence of thought is encouraged. So too is the Gaelic culture and, at home, she and her brothers are taught how to fluently speak the Irish language.

Before World War I, Spring Rice hosts many Irish nationalist and Conradh na Gaeilge meetings at her home, and she becomes a close friend of Douglas Hyde and her cousin Nelly O’Brien. During 1913 and 1914, she is actively involved in gun-running, most notably the Howth gun-running.

This involves helping to ship weapons to be used in an Irish uprising from Germany into Ireland. Together with Molly Childers, she raises £2,000 towards the purchase of 900 Mauser rifles from Germany, many of which are used in the 1916 Easter Rising. She sails on the Asgard to collect the guns and helps to unload them in Ireland.

During the Irish War of Independence, Spring Rice allows her Mount Trenchard home to be used as a safe house by Irish Republican Army fighters and the family boat is used to carry men and arms over the Shannon Estuary.

Con Collins stays with Spring Rice regularly. She helps train local women as nurses to tend to wounded nationalists and acts as an IRA message carrier between Limerick and Dublin. Throughout this time, she maintains her aristocratic façade and society connections, inviting senior Liberal Party politicians to Mount Trenchard to pressure them to support Irish independence.

Spring Rice starts to suffer from tuberculosis in 1923, and dies unmarried in a sanatorium in Clwdyy, Wales, on December 1, 1924. She is buried in Ireland, where her coffin is draped in the Irish tricolour and escorted by an IRA guard of honour.

(Pictured: Mary Ellen Spring-Rice and Molly Childers with the German guns on board Asgard, 1914.)


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Birth of Richard D’Alton Williams, Physician & Poet

richard-dalton-williamsRichard D’Alton Williams, physician and poet, is born in Dublin on October 8, 1822. He is the son of James and Mary Williams, who come from County Westmeath. He grows up in Grenanstown, a townland near the Devil’s Bit in County Tipperary, where his father farms for Count Dalton. He is educated at Tullabeg Jesuit College and St. Patrick’s, Carlow College.

Williams becomes a member of the Young Ireland movement and contributes poetry to The Nation under the pseudonym “Shamrock.” He is immediately successful. In the January 21, 1843 edition there appears: “Shamrock is a jewel. He cannot write too often. His verses are full of vigour, and as natural as the harp of Tara.”

Later in 1843 Williams goes to Dublin to study medicine at Saint Vincent’s Hospital. In 1848 he brings out a newspaper, the Irish Tribune, to take the place of the suppressed United Irishman, founded by John Mitchel. Before the sixth weekly publication, it is seized by the Government, and proceedings are instituted against the editors, Williams and his friend Kevin Izod O’Doherty. On October 30, 1848, at a third trial, O’Doherty is convicted of treason and transported to Australia while Williams is successfully defended by lawyer and fellow poet Samuel Ferguson two days afterwards on the same charge. He then resumes his medical studies, takes out his degree at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1849 and emigrates to the United States in 1851.

Williams is married to Elizabeth Connolly on September 8, 1856, with whom he has four children of whom the youngest is commemorated in Lines on the Death of his Infant Daughter, Katie.

In the United States Williams practises medicine until he becomes ill and dies of tuberculosis in Thibodaux, Louisiana on July 5, 1862. He is buried there in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. His headstone is later erected that year by Irish members of the 8th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, then encamped in Thibodaux.


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Birth of William Maginn, Journalist & Writer

william-maginnWilliam Maginn, journalist and miscellaneous writer, is born in Cork on July 10, 1794.

Maginn becomes a contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine and, after moving to London in 1824, becomes for a few months in 1826 the Paris correspondent to The Representative, a paper started by John Murray, the publisher. When its short career is run, he helps to found in 1827 the ultra Tory Standard, a newspaper that he edits along with a fellow graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, Stanley Lees Giffard. He also writes for the more scandalous Sunday paper, The Age.

In 1830 Maginn instigates and becomes one of the leading supporters of Fraser’s Magazine. His Homeric Ballads, much praised by contemporary critics, are published in Fraser’s between 1839 and 1842. In 1837, Bentley’s Miscellany is launched, with Charles Dickens as editor, and Maginn writes the prologue and contributes over the next several years a series of “Shakespeare Papers” that examine characters in counter-intuitive fashion. From “The Man in the Bell” (Blackwood’s, 1821) through “Welch Rabbits” (Bentley’s, 1842) Maginn is an occasional though skillful writer of short fiction and tales. His only novel, Whitehall (1827) pretends to be a historical novel set in 1820s England written in the year 2227. It is a droll spoof of the vogue for historical novels as well as the contemporary political scene.

In 1836, Maginn fights a duel with Grantley Berkeley, a member of Parliament. Berkeley had brutally assaulted magazine publisher James Fraser over a review Maginn wrote of Berkeley’s novel Berkeley Castle, and Maginn calls him out. Three rounds are fired but no one is struck.

One of the most brilliant periodical writers of his time, Maginn leaves little permanent work behind him. In his later years, his intemperate habits land him in debtor’s prison. When he emerges through the grace of the Insolvent Debtor’s Act he is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis. He writes until the end, including in the first volume of Punch, but he dies in extreme poverty in Walton-on-Thames, London on August 21, 1842, survived by his wife Ellen, and daughters Annie and Ellen, and son John. His nephew Francis Maginn, who is deaf, is a co-founder of the British Deaf and Dumb Association, now called the British Deaf Association (BDA).


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Death of Honora “Nano” Nagle, Sister John of God

honora-nano-nagleHonora “Nano” Nagle, Sister John of God and founder of the Sisters of the Presentation the Blessed Virgin Mary, dies of tuberculosis on April 26, 1784. Her recognition as one of the greatest women of Ireland derives from dedication to the poor and oppressed. Her mission between the cutting edge of the gospel and the miseries of her day inspires the Presentation Sisters to minister in joyful service, responding to current needs throughout the world in faithfulness to the gospel.

Born to a wealthy family in Ballygriffin, just north of Killavullen, County Cork in 1718, Nagle’s parents send her to France to be educated since strict penal laws bar Catholic children from attending school in Ireland. She returns to Ireland after her father’s death in 1746. Her mother dies soon afterwards. Prayer and reflection lead Nagle back to France to become a sister.

Even as she begins her new life as a sister, Nagle’s thoughts often return to the children of the poor families back in Ireland.

At age 32, Nagle leaves the convent in France and returns to Ireland, where she secretly gathers the children of the poor and teaches them catechism, reading, writing and mathematics. As she spends her days with the children, they tell her of their sick friends or family members. She begins to visit the sick and the elderly after school, bringing them food, medicine and comfort.

Nagle often makes visits late into the night, carrying her lamp among the alleyways. Before long, she becomes known as the Lady of the Lantern.

Nagle decides to open a convent where women can share the mission of Jesus through prayer, teaching and care for the sick and needy. She and three companions open the first Presentation Convent on Cove Lane (now Douglas Street) in Cork, County Cork on Christmas Day in 1775. There she receives the habit on June 29, 1776, taking the name of Mother Mary of St. John of God. The sisters make their first annual vows on June 24, 1777.

Honora “Nano” Nagle dies from tuberculosis at the age of 65 on April 26, 1784. She leaves her compelling vision of service to a growing community of Presentation Sisters. Her final words are emblematic of her timeless legacy, and they remain a guiding principle for the Sisters: “Love one another as you have hitherto done.”

Nagle is recognized as a woman of faith, hope and heroic virtue by the Roman Catholic Church and is declared Venerable on October 31, 2013 by Pope Francis. Once evidence of an authentic miracle is attributed to her intercession with God, she acquires the title Blessed. Another miracle initiates canonization and public recognition of Nagle as a Saint.