seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Architect Benjamin Woodward

Benjamin Woodward, Irish architect who, in partnership with Sir Thomas Newenham Deane, designs a number of buildings in Dublin, Cork and Oxford, is born in Tullamore, County Offaly on November 16, 1816.

Woodward is trained as an engineer but develops an interest in medieval architecture, producing measured drawings of Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary. These drawings are exhibited at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London in 1846.

The same year Woodward joins the office of Sir Thomas Deane and becomes a partner in 1851 along with Deane’s son, Thomas Newenham Deane. It seems that Deane looks after business matters and leaves the design work to Woodward.

Woodward’s two most important buildings are the Museum at Trinity College, Dublin (1854-1857) and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford, (1854-1860). He is also responsible for the Kildare Street Club in Dublin (1858-1861) and Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork (1845-1849).

The work of Deane and Woodward is characterised by naturalistic decoration with foliage and animals carved into capitals and plinths around windows and doors. It is extolled by John Ruskin in particular when he visits the Museum at Trinity College, Dublin. Woodward collaborates in particular with the O’Shea brothers, James and John, who are stone carvers from County Cork. They, along with London sculptors, carve the abundant decorative stonework at Trinity, showing owls, lizards, cats and monkeys, as well as other flora and fauna. Later the O’Sheas carve stonework at the Kildare Street Club, including the famous window piece showing the club members as monkeys playing billiards. Some stories tell of the O’Sheas getting into trouble and possibly even being sacked for carving cats or monkeys at the Oxford University Museum.

Benjamin Woodward dies on May 16, 1861.

(Pictured: Benjamin Woodward attributed to Lewis Carroll, albumen print, late 1850s, © National Portrait Gallery, London)


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Death of Terence MacSwiney, Playwright & Politician

Terence James MacSwiney, Irish playwright, author, politician and Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence, dies in London‘s Brixton Prison on October 25, 1920 after 73 days on hunger strike. His death brings him and the Irish Republican campaign to international attention.

MacSwiney is born at 23 North Main Street, Cork, County Cork, one of eight children of John and Mary MacSwiney. Following the failure of this business, John MacSwiney emigrates to Australia in 1885 leaving the children in the care of their mother and his eldest daughter.

MacSwiney is educated by the Christian Brothers at the North Monastery school in Cork, but leaves at fifteen to help support the family. He becomes an accountancy clerk but continues his studies and matriculates successfully. He continues in full-time employment while he studies at the Royal University (now University College Cork), graduating with a degree in Mental and Moral Science in 1907.

In 1901 MacSwiney helps to found the Celtic Literary Society, and in 1908 he founds the Cork Dramatic Society with Daniel Corkery and writes a number of plays for them. His first play, The Last Warriors of Coole, is produced in 1910. His fifth play, The Revolutionist (1915), takes the political stand made by a single man as its theme.

Described as a sensitive poet-intellectual, MacSwiney’s writings in the newspaper Irish Freedom bring him to the attention of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He is one of the founders of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, and is President of the Cork branch of Sinn Féin. He founds a newspaper, Fianna Fáil, in 1914, but it is suppressed after only 11 issues. In April 1916, he is intended to be second in command of the Easter Rising in Cork and Kerry, but stands down his forces on the order of Eoin MacNeill.

Following the rising, MacSwiney is imprisoned by the British Government under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 in Reading and Wakefield Gaols until December 1916. In February 1917 he is deported from Ireland and imprisoned in Shrewsbury and Bromyard internment camps until his release in June 1917. It is during his exile in Bromyard that he marries Muriel Murphy of the Cork distillery-owning family. In November 1917, he is arrested in Cork for wearing an Irish Republican Army (IRA) uniform, and, inspired by the example of Thomas Ashe, goes on a hunger strike for three days prior to his release.

In the 1918 Irish general election, MacSwiney is returned unopposed to the first Dáil Éireann as Sinn Féin representative for Mid Cork, succeeding the Nationalist MP D. D. Sheehan. After the murder of his friend Tomás Mac Curtain, the Lord Mayor of Cork on March 20, 1920, he is elected as Lord Mayor. On August 12, 1920, he is arrested in Cork for possession of “seditous articles and documents,” and also possession of a cipher key. He is summarily tried by a court on August 16 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Brixton Prison in England.

In prison MacSwiney immediately starts a hunger strike in protest of his internment and the fact that he was tried by a military court. Eleven other Irish Republican prisoners in Cork Jail go on hunger strike at the same time. On August 26, the British Government states that “the release of the Lord Mayor would have disastrous results in Ireland and would probably lead to a mutiny of both military and police in south of Ireland.”

MacSwiney’s hunger strike gains world attention. The British Government is threatened with a boycott of British goods by Americans, while four countries in South America appeal to Pope Benedict XV to intervene. Protests are held in Germany and France as well. An Australian member of Parliament, Hugh Mahon, is expelled from the Parliament of Australia for “seditious and disloyal utterances at a public meeting,” after protesting against the actions of the British Government. Two weeks later, the Spanish Catalan organization Autonomous Center of Employees of Commerce and Industry (CADCI) sends a petition to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George calling for his release and the newspaper of the organization, Acció (Acción in Spanish), begins a campaign for MacSwiney.

Food is often placed near MacSwiney to persuade him to give up the hunger strike. Attempts at force-feeding are undertaken in the final days of his strike. On October 20, 1920 he slips into a coma and dies five days later after 73 days on hunger strike. His body lay in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in London where 30,000 people file past it. Fearing large-scale demonstrations in Dublin, the authorities divert his coffin directly to Cork, and his funeral in the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne on October 31 attracts huge crowds. He is buried in the Republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork. Arthur Griffith delivers the graveside oration.


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Death of Seán Ó Riada, Composer & Arranger

Seán Ó Riada, Irish composer and arranger of Irish traditional music, dies in London, England on October 3, 1971. Through his incorporation of modern and traditional techniques he becomes the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s.

Ó Riada is born John Reidy in Cork, County Cork on August 1, 1931. He receives his primary education at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris. He moves to St. Munchin’s College in Limerick where he completes his Leaving Certificate in 1948. He plays violin, piano, and organ, and studies Greek and Latin classics at University College Cork, with Aloys Fleischmann and graduates in 1952. While at College, Ó Riada is the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society.

Ó Riada’s career begins in 1954 as a music director at Radio Éireann, after which he works at the Abbey Theatre from 1955 to 1962. He lectures in music at University College Cork from 1963 until his death in 1971. He leaves a lasting influence as founder and director of the ensemble Ceoltóirí Chualann beginning in 1961. Ó Riada becomes a household name in Ireland through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, compositions, writings, and broadcasts. His best-known pieces in the classical tradition include Nomos No. 1: Hercules Dux Ferrariae (1957), but he becomes particularly famous for his film scores Mise Éire (1959) and Saoirse? (1960).

In 1963 Ó Riada is appointed lecturer in music at University College Cork. He moves to Ballyvourney, and not Cúil Aodha (a common misconception) in West Cork, an Irish-speaking area, where he establishes Cór Chúil Aodha, a male voice choir.

He becomes involved in Irish politics and is a friend of several influential leaders. Ó Riada drinks regularly at a local pub which still advertises itself as being his local. He develops cirrhosis of the liver. He is flown to King’s College Hospital in London for treatment and dies there on October 3, 1971, two months after his 40th birthday. He is buried in St. Gobnait‘s graveyard, Baile Bhuirne, County Cork. Willie Clancy plays at his funeral.

Two schools are named “Scoil Uí Riada” after him – a Gaelscoil in Kilcock, County Kildare, and another in Bishopstown, Cork City. In 2008, a life-sized statue is erected in the grounds of Sépéil Naomh Gobnait, Cúil Aodha.


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Clare O’Leary Climbs Mount Everest

clare-o-learyClare O’Leary, Irish gastroenterologist, mountain climber and adventurer, becomes the first Irishwoman to successfully climb Mount Everest on May 18, 2004. She is accompanied by veteran mountaineer, Pat Falvey, who also sets a record by becoming the first Irishman to climb Everest from both sides.

O’Leary is born in 1972. She develops an interest in medicine, and cancer in particular, when her uncle dies from lung cancer during her childhood. After graduating from University College Cork, she spends over ten years training and working at the Cork University Hospital.

O’Leary makes her name in mountaineering in 2004, when she becomes the first Irish woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, having failed on her first attempt in 2003 due to gastroenteritis. She climbs as a member of the Wyeth Irish Everest Expedition, led by Falvey. She also becomes the first Irish woman to ascend the Himalayan peak Ama Dablam and to climb the Seven Summits — the highest mountains on each continent. In 2008, she joins the Beyond Endurance expedition led by Falvey to the South Pole, making her the first woman to successfully ski to the South Pole.

In 2012, O’Leary and Mike O’Shea set out on an ongoing series of expeditions that they call the Ice Project. Their aim is to cross all of the world’s largest ice caps. Some of these expeditions include crossings of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field, the Greenland ice sheet, and Lake Baikal. In 2014, they attempt to ski to the North Pole after their first attempt in 2012 is cancelled due to a logistics problem, hoping to be the first Irish people to reach the North Pole. This attempt also has to be abandoned after they are injured in a sled accident.

In 2013, the railway path between Bandon and Innishannon in County Cork is named the Dr. Clare O’Leary Walk to commemorate her achievements. In November 2018, she is awarded an honorary doctorate by National University of Ireland Galway.

O’Leary lives in Clonmel, and is in a relationship with O’Shea. She currently works as a consultant gastroenterologist and general physician at South Tipperary General Hospital. She is also a patron of the Cork University Hospital Charity.


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Birth of Robert Gibbings, Wood Engraver & Sculptor

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Robert John Gibbings, Irish artist and author most noted for his work as a wood engraver and sculptor, and for his books on travel and natural history, is born into a middle-class family in Cork, County Cork on March 23, 1889. Along with Noel Rooke he is one of the founder members of the Society of Wood Engravers in 1920, and is a major influence in the revival of wood engraving in the twentieth century.

Gibbings’ father, the Reverend Edward Gibbings, is a Church of Ireland minister. His mother, Caroline, is the daughter of Robert Day, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and president of The Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. He grows up in the town of Kinsale where his father is the rector of St. Multose Church.

Gibbings studies medicine for three years at University College Cork before deciding to persuade his parents to allow him to take up art. He studies under the painter Harry Scully in Cork and later at the Slade School of Fine Art and the Central School of Art and Design.

During World War I Gibbings serves in the Royal Munster Fusiliers and is wounded at Gallipoli before eventually being invalided out of the army in 1918. He then resumes his studies in London.

Gibbings is very much at the centre of developments in wood engraving. He is a founder member and leading light of the Society of Wood Engravers, which he sets up with Noel Rooke in 1920. In 1922 he contributes two wood engravings, “Clear Waters” and “Hamrun,” to Contemporary English Woodcuts, an anthology of wood engravings produced by Thomas Balston, a director at Gerald Duckworth & Company and an enthusiast for the new style of wood engravings. In 1923 he receives a commission for a set of wood engravings for The Lives of Gallant Ladies for the Golden Cockerel Press, his most important commission to date at 100 guineas.

Gibbings is working on the wood engravings The Lives of Gallant Ladies when Hal Taylor, the owner of the press, becomes very ill with tuberculosis and has to put it up for sale. He seeks a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors, to buy the press. He takes over in February 1924 and owns and runs the press until 1933.

Gibbings illustrates numerous books on travel and natural history, including Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, and writes a series of bestselling river books, notably Sweet Thames Run Softly. He does a huge amount to popularise the subject of natural history, travelling extensively through Polynesia, Bermuda and the Red Sea to gather inspiration for his work.

Gibbings is the first man to draw underwater, the illustrations filling his Penguin classic Blue Angels and Whales. He is one of the first natural history presenters on the BBC.

In September 1955 Gibbings and his wife, Patience, purchase Footbridge Cottage, a tiny beehive of a cottage in Gibbings’s words, in Long Wittenham on the banks of the River Thames. Life there suits him, and he has a period of tranquility that he had not known previously. They live there until he dies of cancer in an Oxford hospital on January 19, 1958. He is buried in the churchyard at Long Wittenham. The grave is marked by a simple headstone featuring his device of a crossed quill and graver, carved by Michael Black, a young sculptor who is a friend of Gibbings.


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Birth of Irish Language Scholar Osborn Bergin

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 100Osborn Joseph Bergin, a scholar of the Irish language and early Irish literature, is born in Cork, County Cork on November 26, 1873.

Bergin is the sixth child and eldest son of Osborn Roberts Bergin and Sarah Reddin, and is educated at Queen’s College Cork, now University College Cork. He then goes to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, now the Humboldt University of Berlin, and later with Rudolf Thurneysen at the University of Freiburg, where he writes his dissertation on palatalization in 1906. He then returns to Ireland and teaches at the School of Irish Learning and at University College Dublin.

Within one year of becoming Director of the School of Irish Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Bergin resigns both the senior professorship and his office of director. The reason for his resignation is never made public.

Bergin, who never uses the name Joseph except when signing with his initials, does not seem to have felt the need of institutional religion, and during his lifetime, he rarely attends religious services. He develops Irish nationalist sympathies and remains a firm nationalist all his life but without party affiliations. From the number of Irish-speakers living in Cork, he quickly masters the spoken Irish of West Munster. By 1897, his knowledge of spoken and literary Modern Irish is so strong that he is appointed lecturer in Celtic in Queen’s College, Cork. It is during this time that he becomes an active member of the Gaelic League.

Bergin publishes extensively in the journal for Irish scholarship, Ériu. He is best known for his discovery of Bergin’s Law, which states that while the normal order of a sentence in Old Irish is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to be placed at the end of the sentence. His friend Frank O’Connor writes humorously that while he discovers the law “he never really believed in it.” He writes poetry in Irish and makes a number of well-received translations of Old Irish love poetry.

Bergin is celebrated in Brian O’Nolan‘s poem Binchy and Bergin and Best, originally printed in the Cruiskeen Lawn column in The Irish Times and now included in The Best of Myles. He is noted for his feuds with George Moore and William Butler Yeats, but he enjoys a lifelong friendship with George William Russell. Frank O’Connor describes Bergin’s eccentricities affectionately in his memoir My Father’s Son.

Osborn Bergin dies in a nursing home in Dublin at the age of 76 on October 6, 1950, having never married.


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Birth of William O’Brien, Journalist & Politician

william-o-brienWilliam O’Brien, journalist and politician who is for several years second only to Charles Stewart Parnell among Irish Nationalist leaders, is born on October 2, 1852 in Mallow, County Cork. He is perhaps most important for his Plan of Campaign (1886), by which Irish tenant farmers withhold all rent payments from landlords who refuse to lower their rents and instead pay the money into a mutual defense fund on which evicted tenants can draw.

O’Brien shares his primary education with a townsman with whom he is later to have a close political connection, Canon Patrick Augustine Sheehan of Doneraile. He enjoys his secondary education at the Cloyne diocesan college, which results in his being brought up in an environment noted for its religious tolerance. He greatly values having had this experience from an early age, which strongly influences his later views for the need of such tolerance in Irish national life.

A journalist from 1869, O’Brien is appointed editor of the Irish Land League’s weekly United Ireland by Parnell in 1881. In October of that year the British authorities suppress the paper and put O’Brien in Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, along with Parnell and others. There he draws up a No Rent Manifesto, which, when read at a Land League meeting, results in the outlawing of the League. Released from prison in 1882, he resumes the editorship of United Ireland, and in 1883 he is elected to the British House of Commons, remaining there until 1895. His “plan of campaign” is disavowed by Parnell but nonetheless stirs up fierce agitation. To suppress the movement, the British government passes the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act 1887, under which O’Brien is jailed again.

For some time following the O’Shea divorce case (1889–90), in which Parnell is corespondent, O’Brien attempts to mediate between the Parnellites and their opponents, although he sides with the majority in rejecting Parnell’s continued leadership of the Irish Home Rule struggle. In 1902 he supports the Land Conference, which secures agreement between landlords and tenants’ representatives and results in George Wyndham‘s Land Purchase Act (1903), which is designed to turn Irish tenant farmers into occupying owners.

In 1898 O’Brien founds the United Irish League, and in 1910, after control of that group passes to the Parnellite John Redmond, he establishes the All-for-Ireland League in opposition to the older organization. Most of his personal following, however, join Arthur Griffith’s Sinn Féin party by the end of World War I.

Retiring from political life, O’Brien contents himself with writing and declines Éamon de Valera‘s offer to stand for Fianna Fáil in the 1927 general election. He dies suddenly at the age of 75 on February 25, 1928 while on a visit to London with his wife. His remains rest in Mallow, and one of the principal streets in the town bears his name to this day. His head-bust overlooks the town Council’s Chamber Room and one of his finest portraits hangs in University College Cork.


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Birth of Fiona Shaw, Actress & Director

fiona-shawFiona Mary Shaw, accomplished classical actress and theatre and opera director, is born in Farranree, County Cork on July 10, 1958. She is best known for her role as Petunia Dursley in the Harry Potter films and her role portraying Marnie Stonebrook in the HBO series True Blood.

Shaw attends secondary school at Scoil Mhuire in Cork. She receives her degree at University College Cork. She trains at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and is part of a ‘new wave’ of actors to emerge from the Academy. She receives much acclaim as Julia in the Royal National Theatre production of Richard Sheridan‘s The Rivals (1983).

Shaw’s theatrical roles include Celia in As You Like It (1984), Madame de Volanges in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1985), Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew (1987), Lady Franjul in The New Inn (1987), Young Woman in Machinal (1993), for which she wins the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress, Winnie in Happy Days (2007), and the title roles in Electra (1988), The Good Person of Sechuan (1989), Hedda Gabler (1991), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1998) and Medea (2000). She performs T. S. Eliot‘s poem The Waste Land as a one-person show at the Liberty Theatre in New York City to great acclaim in 1996, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for her performance.

Shaw plays Miss Morrison in the 1984 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes episode “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” and Catherine Greenshaw in Agatha Christie’s Marple episode “Greenshaw’s Folly” in 2013.

Shaw notably plays the male lead in Richard II, directed by Deborah Warner in 1995. She has collaborated with Warner on a number of occasions, on both stage and screen. She has also worked in film and television, including My Left Foot (1989), Mountains of the Moon (1990), Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), Super Mario Bros. (1993), Undercover Blues (1993), Persuasion (1995), Jane Eyre (1996), The Butcher Boy (1997), The Avengers (1998), Gormenghast (2000), and five of the Harry Potter films in which she plays Harry Potter‘s aunt Petunia Dursley. She has a brief but key role in Brian DePalma‘s The Black Dahlia (2006).

In 2009, Shaw collaborates with Deborah Warner again, taking the lead role in Tony Kushner‘s translation of Bertolt Brecht‘s Mother Courage and Her Children. In a 2002 article for The Daily Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen describes their professional relationship as “surely one of the most richly creative partnerships in theatrical history.” Other collaborations between the two women include productions of Brecht’s The Good Woman of Szechuan and Henrik Ibsen‘s Hedda Gabler, the latter adapted for television.

Shaw appears in The Waste Land at Wilton’s Music Hall in January 2010 and in a Royal National Theatre revival of London Assurance in March 2010. In November 2010, She stars in Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The play is also staged in New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2011.

Shaw appears in season four of American TV show True Blood. Her character, Marnie Stonebrook, has been described as an underachieving palm reader who is spiritually possessed by an actual witch. Her character leads a coven of necromancer witches who threaten the status quo in Bon Temps, erasing most of Eric Northman‘s memories and leaving him almost helpless when he tries to kill her and break up their coven.

In 2012, Shaw appears in the Royal National Theatre revival of Scenes from an Execution by Howard Barker.

The world’s largest solo theatre festival, United Solo Theatre Festival, recognizes her performance in The Testament of Mary on Broadway with the 2013 United Solo Special Award.

In 2018 Shaw begins portraying Carolyn Martens, head of the MI6 Russian Desk, in BBC America‘s Killing Eve, for which she wins the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Television Series. Later the same year, she plays a senior MI6 officer in Mrs. Wilson.


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Death of Robert John Kane, Chemist & Educator

robert-john-kaneSir Robert John Kane, chemist and educator, dies at the age of 80 in Dublin on February 16, 1890. In a distinguished career, he founds the Dublin Journal of Medical  & Chemical Science, is Vice-Chancellor of Royal University of Ireland and is director of the Museum of Irish Industry.

Kane is born at 48 Henry Street, Dublin on September 24, 1809 to John and Eleanor Kean (née Troy). His father is involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and flees for a time to France where he studies chemistry. Back in Dublin, Kean (now Kane) founds the Kane Company and manufactures sulfuric acid.

Kane studies chemistry at his father’s factory and attends lectures at the Royal Dublin Society as a teenager. He publishes his first paper in 1828, Observations on the existence of chlorine in the native peroxide of manganese, in the London Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature and Art. The following year, his description of the natural arsenide of manganese results in the compound being named Kaneite in his honour. He studies medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating in 1834 while working in the Meath Hospital. He is appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Apothecaries’ Hall, Dublin in 1831, which earns him the moniker of the “boy professor.” In the following year he participates in the founding of the Dublin Journal of Medical & Chemical Science.

On the strength of his book Elements of Practical Pharmacy, Kane is elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1832. He studies acids, shows that hydrogen is electropositive, and proposes the existence of the ethyl radical. In 1836 he travels to Giessen in Germany to study organic chemistry with Justus von Liebig. In 1843 he is awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Cunningham Medal for his work on the nature and constitution of compounds of ammonia.

Kane publishes a three-volume Elements of Chemistry in 1841–1844, and a detailed report on the Industrial Resources of Ireland. This includes the first assessment of the water power potential of the River Shannon, which is not realised until the 1920s at Ardnacrusha.

Kane becomes a political adviser on scientific and industrial matters. He serves on several commissions to enquire into the Great Irish Famine, along with Professors Lindley and Taylor, all more or less ineffective. His political and administrative work means that his contribution to chemistry ceases after about 1844.

Kane’s work on Irish industry leads to his being appointed director of the Museum of Irish Industry in Dublin in 1845. The Museum is a successor to the Museum of Economic Geology, and is housed at 51 St. Stephen’s Green.

Also in 1845 Kane becomes the first President of Queen’s College, Cork (now University College Cork). He does not spend a lot of time in Cork as he has work in Dublin, and his wife lives there. The science building on the campus is named in his honour. He is knighted in 1846.

In 1873 Kane takes up the post of National Commissioner for Education. He is elected president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1877, holding the role until 1882. In 1880 he is appointed the first chancellor of the newly created Royal University of Ireland. After a motion to admit women to the University, put forward by Prof. Samuel Haughton at Academic Council in Trinity College Dublin, March 10, 1880, Kane is appointed to a committee of ten men to look into the matter. He is opposed to the admission of women, and nothing is reported from the committee in the Council minutes for the next ten years.


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Death of Joan Denise Moriarty, Ballet Dance & Choreographer

joan-denise-moriartyJoan Denise Moriarty, Irish ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher of ballet and traditional Irish dancer and musician, dies on January 24, 1992. She is a key figure in the development of both amateur and professional ballet in Ireland.

Little is known of Moriarty’s early life. Her year of birth is estimated between 1910 and 1913 but no documentation has been found. The place of her birth is also unknown, and even the country is uncertain. She grows up as the daughter of Michael Augustus Moriarty, an alumnus of Stonyhurst College and contemporary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his wife, Marion (née McCarthy). The Moriartys are originally from Mallow, County Cork, where her grandfather John Moriarty was a successful solicitor.

Moriarty is brought up in England. She studies ballet until her early teens with Dame Marie Rambert. She is an accomplished Irish step-dancer and traditional musician, and becomes the champion Irish step-dancer of Britain on April 24, 1931. She also wins a swimming championship. She is a member of the Liverpool branch of the Conradh na Gaeilge.

In the autumn of 1933 Moriarty returns with her family to their native Mallow in County Cork. In 1934, she sets up her first school of dance there. From 1938 she also gives weekly classes in Cork in the Gregg Hall and Windsor School. During the 1930s she takes part in the Cork Feis, annual arts competitions with a focus on traditional dance and music, competing in Irish step-dancing, warpipes and operatic solo singing. She performs on the warpipes in various public concerts and gives at least two broadcasts. In 1938 she is invited by Seán Neeson, lecturer in Irish music at University College Cork, to perform at a summer school which the Music Department organises for primary school teachers.

Moriarty’s mother dies in February 1940. The following November she moves to Cork where she sets up the Moriarty School of Dancing. The early years during the war are very difficult financially. In the early 1940s she performs with her dancers in musicals and variety shows at the Cork Opera House.

In 1945 the composer Aloys Fleischmann invites Moriarty to perform in his Clare’s Dragoons for baritone, war pipes, choir and orchestra, which had been commissioned by the national broadcasting company, Radio Éireann, for the Thomas Davis centenary. Moriarty agrees, on condition that his Cork Symphony Orchestra would play for her Ballet Company’s annual performances, which marks the beginning of a lifelong collaboration.

Branches of the Moriarty School of Dance are established in Bandon, Clonmel, Fermoy, Killarney, Mallow, Tralee, Waterford, and Youghal. Moriarty bequeaths her Cork school to Breda Quinn, a long-standing member of the Cork Ballet Company, who runs it with another Moriarty student, Sinéad Murphy, who creates a new dance school, Cork School of Dance, after Breda’s death in 2009.

Moriarty founds the Cork Ballet Group in 1947, the members recruited from her school. It gives its first performance in June of that year at the Cork Opera House. In 1954 the group is registered as a company under the name “Cork Ballet Company.” The company’s final season is 1993, the year following Moriarty’s death.

Irish Theatre Ballet is founded by Moriarty in the summer of 1959, and gives its first performance in December 1959. It is a small touring company of 10 to 12 dancers, which travels all over Ireland, going to some 70 venues annually with extracts from the classical ballets, contemporary works and folk ballets. In an attempt to resolve the constant financial difficulties, the Arts Council in 1963 insists on a merger with Patricia Ryan’s Dublin National Ballet. The amalgamation does not bring a solution to the financial problems besetting both companies and, after one joint season, the amalgamated company, Irish National Ballet, has to be disbanded in March 1964.

In 1973, the Irish government decides to fund a professional ballet company, the Irish Ballet Company, and entrusts it to Moriarty. Like Irish Theatre Ballet, it is a touring company which travels all over Ireland in two annual seasons. The company has a number of striking successes between 1978 and 1981. In 1983 the name of the company is changed to Irish National Ballet. The severe recession in Ireland during the 1980s and shrinking funds force the Irish National Ballet to disband in 1989.

Moriarty spends almost 60 years working for ballet in Ireland. Her amateur Cork Ballet Company is still the longest-lasting ballet company the country’s history. Her two professional touring companies bring ballet to all parts of Ireland for 21 years. She receives numerous awards for her work, among them an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in 1979.

During the last years of her life, Moriarty suffers ill-health, but continues her work with the Cork Ballet Company, bringing the shows to towns in the county. She dies on January 24, 1992 in Dublin.