seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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Birth of Thomas Bodkin, Art Historian & Collector

Professor Thomas Patrick Bodkin, lawyer, art historian, art collector and curator, is born in Dublin on July 21, 1887. He serves as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin from 1927 to 1935 and founding Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham, England from 1935 until 1952, where he acquires the nucleus of the collection described by The Observer as “the last great art collection of the twentieth century.”

Bodkin is the eldest son of Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, a nationalist journalist, judge and Member of Parliament. Graduating from the Royal University of Ireland in 1908 he practises law from 1911 until 1916 while collecting art privately, influenced by his uncle Sir Hugh Lane. With the death of Lane in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915, Bodkin is charged with ensuring that Lane’s collection of art is displayed in Dublin, a dispute that would only finally be settled in 1957 and about which Bodkin is to write Hugh Lane and his Pictures in 1932.

Bodkin leaves the legal profession in 1916 to become a Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, being appointed Director in 1927. He also serves in 1926 on the committee that commissions the design of the new coinage of the Republic of Ireland from Percy Metcalfe.

In 1935 Bodkin leaves Ireland upon being appointed Director of the newly established Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Barber Professor of Fine Art at the University of Birmingham. The funds available to the Barber Institute for the purchase of new works compare favourably even to some national museums and Bodkin is able to make a string of exceptional purchases in the depressed art market around the time of World War II. The collection that in 1935 numbers just seven works, by 1939 holds major pieces such as Tintoretto‘s Portrait of a Youth (1554), Simone Martini‘s St. John the Evangelist (1320), Nicolas Poussin‘s Tancred and Erminia (1634) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler‘s Symphony in White No. III (1867). Bodkin retires in 1952 but retains control over acquisitions until 1959. His successor as Director and Professor, Ellis Waterhouse, wistfully refers to Bodkin’s wayward later purchases as “Acts of Bod.”

Bodkin is also an active broadcaster and author, publishing personal reminiscences and translations of modern French poetry as well as works of art history and criticism. In particular, his The Approach to Painting (1927), an introduction for a popular audience, runs through many editions over the succeeding thirty years.

A few years before his death Bodkin appears on the BBC panel show Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? identifying curiosities from around the world, along with museum curator Hugh Shortt and archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler.

Bodkin is awarded the Civil Division of the Order of St. Gregory the Great for services to his church. A bust of Bodkin, previously exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1958, is donated to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts by its sculptor, Sir Charles Wheeler, President of the Royal Academy and a personal friend of Bodkin’s, on the latter’s death.

Bodkin is the subject of This Is Your Life in March 1960 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC’s Costa Green Studios in Birmingham.

Thomas Bodkin dies in Birmingham, England on April 24, 1961. His remains are interred in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.