seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.