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


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Death of Thomas Derrig, Fianna Fáil Politician

Thomas Derrig (Irish: Tomás Ó Deirg), Irish Fianna Fáil politician, dies in Dublin on November 19, 1956. He serves as Minister for Lands from 1939 to 1943 and 1951 to 1954, Minister for Education from 1932 to 1939 and 1940 to 1948 and Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in September 1939. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1923 and 1927 to 1957.

Derrig is born on November 26, 1897, in Westport, County Mayo. He is educated locally and later at University College Galway. During his time in college he organises a corps of the Irish Volunteers. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned, and sent to the prisons of Woking, Wormwood Scrubs and Frongoch internment camp. He is arrested in 1918, and is accused of attempting to disarm a soldier. He is sentenced to five months imprisonment by a court in Belfast. When he is released, he supports Joseph MacBride at the 1918 Irish general election. He also graduates from college and becomes headmaster in a technical college in Mayo.

During the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) Derrig is the commander of the Westport Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), before being captured and interned at the Curragh Camp. While there he is elected a Sinn Féin TD for Mayo North and West.

Derrig takes the Republican/Anti-treaty side during the Irish Civil War (1922-23). During the war he is an auxiliary assistant to Liam Lynch. He is later captured by the Irish Free State army. While in custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) he is severely injured, having an eye shot out by CID detectives.

At the June 1927 Irish general election Derrig is elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for Carlow–Kilkenny. In Éamon de Valera‘s first government in 1932 Derrig is appointed Minister for Education. He initiates a review of industrial and reformatory schools and the rules under the Children Act 1908, resulting in the critical 1936 Cussen Report that follows which he shelves, and a report in 1946-48 by the Irish American priest Father Edward J. Flanagan, which is also shelved. His lack of action wis noted in 2009 when the Ryan Report examines the subsequent management of these “residential institutions.” He is the first Minister to seek a report that could result in much-needed reforms. It is suggested that he does not want to follow British law reforms in the 1920s and 1930s, because of his strong anti-British views, and that Irish children have suffered needlessly as a result. From 1939 to 1943, he serves as Minister for Lands. He is re-appointed to Education in 1943 until 1948. During this period a bitter teachers’ strike, involving the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO), takes place, lasting from March 20 to October 30. Between 1951 and 1954, he becomes Minister for Lands again.

Derrig marries Sinéad Mason, an Irish civil servant and Michael Collins‘s personal secretary, in 1928. They live with their two daughters, Úna and Íosold, at 58 Dartmouth Square and 33 Pembroke Road, Dublin.

Derrig dies in Dublin on November 19, 1956, seven days before his 59th birthday.

(Pictured: Photograph of Irish politician Thomas Derrig, circa 1932, taken from a Fianna Fáil election poster)


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Birth of James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael Politician

James Matthew Dillon, Fine Gael politician who serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and 1954 to 1957, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and Elizabeth Mathew. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar of Ireland in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937, Dillon serves as a TD for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon temporarily resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. A passionate anti-Nazi, he describes the Nazi creed as “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zeal against Adolf Hitler draws him the ire of the German Minister to Ireland Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.” Even Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is not spared the fierceness of Dillon’s rhetoric. When the Taoiseach ridicules his stark support for the Allies, noting this means he has to adopt a Pro-British stance, Dillon defiantly retorts, “My ancestors fought for Ireland down the centuries on the continent of Europe while yours were banging banjos and bartering budgies in the backstreets of Barcelona.”

In 1942, while holidaying in Carna, County Galway, Dillon meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that the pair are married. He is 40 and Maura is 22 years of age.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959, he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965, Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties won four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

On Northern Ireland, while Dillon stands against Partition, he equally opposes any “armed solution” or militant nationalist policy, stating, “We have got to win, not only the barren acres of Ulster, but the hearts of the people who live in it.”

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He dies in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Birth of Garry Hynes, Theatre Director & Tony Award Winner

Garry Hynes, Irish theatre director, is born in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, on June 10, 1953. She is the first woman to win the prestigious Tony Award for direction of a play.

Hynes is educated at St. Louis Convent at Monaghan, the Dominican Convent at Galway, and University College Galway (UCG).

Hynes is a co-founder of the Druid Theatre Company with Mick Lally and Marie Mullen in 1975 after meeting through the drama society of UCG. She is Druid’s artistic director from 1975 to 1991, and again from 1995 to date. She directs for the Abbey Theatre from 1984 and is its artistic director from 1991 to 1994, and also the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Exchange, Manchester, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Hynes directs DruidSynge, the company’s critically acclaimed production of all six of John Millington Synge‘s plays that première at the Galway Arts Festival in 2005 and has since toured to Dublin, Edinburgh, Inis Meáin, Minneapolis and New York City. DruidSynge has been described by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as “the highlight not just of my theatre going year but of my theatre going life” and by The Irish Times as “one of the greatest achievements in the history of Irish theatre.”

In 2017, award-winning artist Vera Klute is commissioned by the National Gallery of Ireland to create a portrait of Hynes as part of the 2015 Hennessey Portrait Prize. The bust, made of porcelain, concrete and timber (with a dimension of 164cm x 54cm x 45cm), is unveiled to the public in April 2017 and is currently on display as part of the Gallery’s National Portrait Collection.

In 1998 Hynes wins the Tony Award for Direction for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, the first woman to receive the award. She is a recipient of many other Theatre Awards, including The Irish Times/ESB Irish Theatre Award for Best Director (2002) and a The Irish Times Special Tribute Award for her contribution to Irish Theatre in February 2005.

Hynes has received honorary Doctorates from the University of Dublin (2004), The National University of Ireland, Galway (1998) and the National Council for Educational Awards (1988). On June 15, 2006 she is awarded the Freedom of the City of Galway, its highest bestowed honour.

Hynes is the civil partner of film producer Martha O’Neill.


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Death of Siobhán McKenna, Stage & Screen Actress

Siobhán McKenna, Irish stage and screen actress, dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin.

McKenna is born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith into a Catholic and nationalist family in Belfast on May 24, 1923. She grows up in Galway, where her father is Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She is still in her teens when she becomes a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and makes her stage debut at Galway’s Gaelic theatre, the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, in 1940.

McKenna is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she eventually stars in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she meets actor Denis O’Dea, whom she marries in 1946. Until 1970 they live in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They have one child, a son Donnacha O’Dea, who swims for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later wins a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.

In 1947, McKenna makes her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprises the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she receives a Tony Award nomination for “Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama.” In 1956, she appears in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton calls her performance the finest portrayal of Joan of Arc in memory. Siobhán McKenna’s popularity earns her the cover of Life magazine. She receives a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she stars with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.

Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appears in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appears in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performs in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appears in the miniseries The Last Days of Pompeii as Fortunata, wife of Gaius, played by Laurence Olivier. She stars in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode “The Landlady.”

McKenna is awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having “significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people.”

Siobhán McKenna’s final stage appearance comes in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she dies of lung cancer on November 16, 1986, in Dublin, at 63 years of age. She is buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway.

In 1988, two years after her death, McKenna is inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.

 


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.


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Birth of Pat Rabbitte, Labour Party Politician

pat-rabbittePatrick Brendan Rabbitte, former Labour Party politician, is born near Claremorris, County Mayo on May 18, 1949. He serves as Minister of State for Commerce, Science and Technology from 1994 to 1997, Leader of the Labour Party from 2002 to 2007 and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources from 2011 to 2014. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-West constituency from 1989 to 2016.

Rabbitte is raised in Woodstock, Ballindine, County Mayo. He is educated locally at St. Colman’s College, Claremorris before emigrating to Britain to find employment. He returns shortly afterward to attend University College Galway (UCG) where he studies Arts and Law.

Rabbitte becomes involved in electoral politics for the first time in late 1982, when he unsuccessfully contests Dublin South-West for the Workers’ Party (WP) at the November general election. He is elected to Dublin County Council in 1985. He enters Dáil Éireann as a Workers’ Party Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South-West at the 1989 election. He retains his seat at every election until 2016.

After Tomás Mac Giolla‘s retirement as President of the Workers’ Party in 1988, Rabbitte is seen as one of those who wants to move the party away from its hard left position. In 1992, he plays a prominent role with Proinsias De Rossa in an attempt to jettison some of the party’s more hard left positions. This eventually splits the Workers’ Party.

In 1994, a new ‘Rainbow Coalition’ government of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left comes to power. Rabbitte is a member of the junior ministerial team, serving as Minister of State to the Government, as well as Minister for State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment with responsibility for Commerce, Science and Technology.

Following the 1997 general election the Rainbow Coalition loses power. The following year sees a merger between the Labour Party and Democratic Left, with Rabbitte participating in the negotiations. In October 2002 he succeeds Ruairi Quinn as the new leader of the Labour Party. Under his leadership the party makes some gains in the local elections of 2004.

The Labour Party agrees to enter a pre-election pact, commonly known as ‘The Mullingar Accord,’ with Fine Gael in an attempt to offer the electorate an alternative coalition government at the 2007 general election. This move causes some tension in the parliamentary party, as some members prefer not to be aligned with any party in advance of an election.

Following the disappointing result in the election for Labour, Rabbitte announces he is stepping down as leader on August 23, 2007. He is succeeded as party leader by Eamon Gilmore. Rabbitte is re-elected on the first count in the 2011 general election. His running mate Eamonn Maloney is also elected. On March 9, 2011, he is appointed as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

In July 2014, Rabbitte is replaced by Alex White as part of a reshuffle of the cabinet. He does not contest the 2016 general election.


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Death of Historian Thomas P. O’Neill

eamon-de-valera-biographyThomas P. O’Neill, Irish historian who wrote Éamon de Valera‘s official biography with Frank Pakenham, 7th Earl of Longford, dies in Dublin on March 2, 1996.

Born in County Carlow, O’Neill is educated at St. Mary’s Knockbeg College and University College Dublin (UCD). While assistant keeper of the National Library of Ireland, he is asked to undertake the work on de Valera. Frank Gallagher, head of the Government Information Services and later a member of the library’s staff had been working on a biography for several years but dies in 1962 without completing the work.

De Valera knows of O’Neill’s reputation as a historian and asks him to undertake the project. A contract is signed with the publishers in 1963, and O’Neill moves to Áras an Uachtaráin to work on the book. He is later joined by Lord Longford as co-author.

O’Neill’s other works include a biography in Irish of James Fintan Lalor and a major study of the Great Famine, which establishes his reputation as a historian.

After the completion of the de Valera work, O’Neill is appointed lecturer and later professor of history in University College, Galway. On his retirement, he returns to live in Dublin, where he renews his association with the National Library, becoming a strong supporter of its expansion.

O’Neill continues historical research until shortly before his death. He discovers evidence that the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic was signed by the seven signatories at the home of the president of Cumann na mBan, Jennie Wyse Power, in Henry Street, Dublin, before the Easter Rising and not merely printed in Liberty Hall from an unsigned manuscript on Easter Sunday.

O’Neill is survived by his wife, Marie, and six children. His funeral Mass takes place at St. Joseph’s Church on March 5, followed by his interment at Shanganagh Cemetery.

(From: “Biographer of de Valera dies at 74,” The Irish Times, Monday, March 4, 1996)


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Death of Mick Lally, Stage, Film & Television Actor

mick-lallyMichael “Mick” Lally, Irish stage, film and television actor, dies in Dublin on August 31, 2010. He departs from a teaching career for acting during the 1970s. Though best known in Ireland for his role as Miley Byrne in the television soap Glenroe, his stage career spans several decades, and he is involved in feature films such as Alexander and the Academy Award-nominated The Secret of Kells. Many reports cite him as one of Ireland’s finest and most recognisable actors.

Born on November 10, 1945 and reared in the Gaeltacht village of Toormakeady, County Mayo, Lally is the eldest of a family of seven children. He goes to the local national school in Toormakeady and then to St. Mary’s College, Galway. After studying at University College Galway he teaches history and Irish for six years in Archbishop McHale College in Tuam from 1969 to 1975, but quits teaching to pursue his career as a stage actor.

Lally begins his acting career with Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, Ireland’s national Irish language theatre, and is a founding member of the Druid Theatre Company. He receives an Irish Times/ESB Theatre Award Nomination for Best Actor for his role in Druid’s production of The Dead School. He also becomes a member of the Field Day Theatre Company, and stars in the company’s 1980 premiere of Brian Friel‘s play Translations. He first plays at the Abbey Theatre in 1977 in a production of Wild Oats and goes on to perform in many other Abbey productions.

In 1982, Lally stars in the TV series The Ballroom of Romance alongside Brenda Fricker. From 1983 he plays the role of Miley Byrne in the RTÉ soap Glenroe, reprising the character that he played earlier in Bracken in 1978. In 1979, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his performance as Miley in Bracken. He also has some musical success when “The By-road to Glenroe” goes to the top of the Irish charts in 1990. He is also involved in voice-over work, including a noted advertisement for Kilmeaden Cheese during the 1990s. Other TV appearances include roles in Tales of Kinvarna, The Year of the French and Ballykissangel.

In 1994, Lally plays the character Hugh in The Secret of Roan Inish, and in 1995 portrays Dan Hogan in the film adaptation of Maeve Binchy‘s Circle of Friends. Other film roles included Poitín, Our Boys, The Outcasts, A Man of No Importance and others. In later years, he provides the voice of Brother Aidan in the Academy Award-nominated The Secret of Kells, an animated film directed by Tomm Moore.

Lally appears in several TV advertisements encouraging elderly people to “release the equity tied up in their homes” during the Celtic Tiger.

Mick Lally dies on the morning of August 31, 2010, after a short stay in the hospital. The cause of death is reported as heart failure, arising from an underlying emphysema condition. His funeral takes place in Dublin on September 2, 2010. The Irish Examiner comments that the “nation has lost one of its favourite uncles.” Personalities from TV, film, theatre and politics attend, while President of Ireland Mary McAleese sends a letter and Lally receives a standing ovation at the end.


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Birth of Ciaran Fitzgerald, Former Rugby Union Player

ciaran-fitzgeraldCiaran Fitzgerald, Irish former rugby union player, is born on June 4, 1952 in Loughrea, County Galway. He captains Ireland to the Triple Crown in 1982 and 1985, and the Five Nations Championship in 1983. He also captains the British and Irish Lions on their 1983 tour. After the conclusion of his playing career, he serves as coach of the national team.

Though most widely remembered for playing rugby union, Fitzgerald is an accomplished sportsman, winning two All-Ireland boxing championships. He also plays minor hurling for Galway GAA with his team reaching the minor final against Cork GAA in 1970.

Fitzgerald first plays rugby while at Garbally College, and is chosen to play the position of hooker by teacher and priest John Kirby. He studies at University College Galway, where he plays for University College Galway RFC and gains a Bachelor’s degree in 1973. He then goes on to play senior rugby for St. Mary’s College in Dublin.

Playing in the amateur era, Fitzgerald also maintains a career in the Irish Army. He also serves as the aide-de-camp to President Patrick Hillery during his career.

Fitzgerald rises to prominence in the game of rugby, making his test debut for Ireland against Australia on June 3, 1979, during an Irish tour of Australia. His last test comes against Scotland on March 15, 1986 in the 1986 Five Nations Championship. In total, Fitzgerald receives 22 competitive and three friendly caps for Ireland. He scores once, a try against Wales, in the 1980 Five Nations Championship. He also captains the British and Irish Lions team on their 1983 tour, when the team travels to New Zealand and is beaten in each test against the All Blacks.

Following his retirement from playing, Fitzgerald continues to be involved in the game. He serves as head coach of Ireland from 1990 to 1992, leading the team to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, where they reach the quarterfinals. He also had a career in media, appearing on Setanta Sports and RTÉ, the Irish national TV and radio service, as a rugby pundit.