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


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Birth of James Bernard Fagan, Producer & Playwright

james-bernard-faganJames Bernard Fagan, Irish-born actor, theatre manager, producer and playwright in England, is born in Belfast on May 18, 1873.

Fagan is the eldest of the five children of Sir James Fagan, a surgeon at the Belfast Royal Hospital and an inspector of Irish reformatories, and Mary Catherine Fagan, née Hughes. He attends Clongowes Wood College near Clane, County Kildare and then moves to England. Initially interested in a career in the church, he begins studying law at Trinity College, Oxford in 1892 but leaves in 1893 without a degree. He works for a time in the Indian Civil Service but abandons this career for the stage.

Fagan begins his career as an actor with the company of Sir Frank Benson for two years, then joining, from 1895 to 1899, the company of Herbert Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he appears in Katherine and Petruchio, A Man’s Shadow, Julius Caesar, The Musketeers and Carnac Sahib. He starts writing plays in 1899, with The Rebels, for the time forsaking acting. In 1913 he returns to the stage touring as the Rt Hon. Denzil Trevena in his own play, The Earth. He next writes The Fourth of August (1914) and Doctor O’Toole (1917). In 1917 he produces his first play, his own adaptation of the Brieux play Damaged Goods at St. Martin’s Theatre. He next produces The Wonder Tales and The Little Brother at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.

Fagan takes over the Court Theatre in London’s Sloane Square as a Shakespearean playhouse in 1920. The Times calls his revivals of Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Henry the Fourth (Part Two) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream “memorable for their freshness, sanity and distinction, and [deserving of] a place in theatrical history.” At the Court, he revives Damaged Goods and, in 1921, with the assistance of the author, produces George Bernard Shaw‘s Heartbreak House, with Edith Evans as “Lady Utterwood.” In 1922 he produces his play The Wheel at the Apollo Theatre. Its success allows him to repay his creditors. Even more successful is his adaptation of Treasure Island at the Savoy Theatre with Arthur Bourchier as “Long John Silver,” which opens December 26, 1922. It is revived every Christmas until the outbreak of World War II.

Fagan is persuaded by Jane Ellis, the actress who with Alfred Ballard founds the Oxford Playhouse “Red Barn” in 1923, to be its first manager. His first production at the Oxford Playhouse is a restaging of Shaw’s Heartbreak House and numbered Shaw among the audience. He produces The Cherry Orchard, at various theatres, to favourable reviews, popularising Anton Chekhov in Britain. From November 16, 1925, with Dennis Eadie, he presents Juno and the Paycock at the Royalty Theatre, thus bringing Seán O’Casey to the attention of London’s theatre-going public. O’Casey’s The Plough follows the next year.

Fagan receives little support from the University of Oxford or the play-going public and resigns in 1929. His successor is Stanford Holme, who broadens its appeal and, despite the straitened times, makes it financially viable. In 1929, he is a director of the Festival Theatre, Cambridge, where his friend Terence Gray is director. He also produces many works for the Irish Players.

Beginning in the 1920s, several of Fagan’s plays are adapted for film. He moves to Hollywood in 1929 for the filming by Paramount Pictures of his play The Wheel as The Wheel of Life. Other film work includes his co-adaptation of the screenplay for the 1932 film Smilin’ Through, and he co-writes Paramount’s Forgotten Commandments the same year. His play Bella Donna is filmed four times, including posthumously in 1946, and a 1936 film, The Improper Duchess is based on his 1931 play of the same name.

James Bernard Fagan dies in Hollywood, California, on February 17, 1933 at the age of 59 of a heart attack following a bout of influenza.

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Birth of Biblical Scholar James Henthorn Todd

james-henthorn-toddJames Henthorn Todd, biblical scholar, educator, and Irish historian, is born in Rathfarnham, a Southside suburb of Dublin, on April 23, 1805. He is noted for his efforts to place religious disagreements on a rational historical footing, for his advocacy of a liberal form of Protestantism, and for his endeavours as an educator, librarian, and scholar in Irish history.

Todd is the son of Charles Hawkes Todd, a professor of surgery, and Eliza Bentley, and is the oldest of fifteen children. Noted physician Robert Bentley Todd is among his younger brothers. His father dies a year after he receives a B.A. from Trinity College, Dublin in 1825, diminishing his prospects for success. However, he is able to remain at the college by tutoring and editing a church periodical.

Todd obtains a premium in 1829, and two years later is elected Fellow, taking deacon’s orders in the same year. From that time until 1850, when he becomes a Senior Fellow, he is among the most popular tutors in Trinity College.

Todd takes priest’s orders in 1832. He begins publishing in earnest, including papers on John Wycliffe, church history, and the religious questions of his day. He is Donnellan Lecturer in 1838 and 1839, publishing works related to the Antichrist in which he opposes the views of the more extreme of his co-religionists who apply this term to the Roman Catholicism and the Pope. In 1840 he graduates Doctor of Divinity.

In 1837 Todd is installed Treasurer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and becomes Precentor in 1864. His style of preaching is described as simple and lucid, and his sermons interesting. He co-founds Saint Columba’s College in 1843, a school which promotes the Irish language for those who intend to take orders, as well as promoting the principles of the Church of Ireland.

In 1849 Todd is made Regius Professor of Hebrew at Trinity, and a Senior Fellow the following year. In 1852 he is appointed Librarian, and working alongside John O’Donovan and Eugene O’Curry, he classifies and arranges the collection of manuscripts. When his office receives money, he spends it on the acquisition of manuscripts and rare books, and he deserves much credit for the library’s high ranking as one of the chief libraries of Europe.

Todd’s secular achievements are no less remarkable. In 1840 he co-founds the Irish Archaeological Society and acts as its honorary secretary. He is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and strives actively to acquire transcripts and accurate accounts of Irish manuscripts from foreign libraries. He is honorary secretary from 1847 to 1855, and president from 1856 to 1861. In 1860 he is given an ad eundem degree at the University of Oxford.

Todd is a notable person among notable people. His work is widely respected and cited. Among his friends and acquaintances are lawyer and poet Sir Samuel Ferguson, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) and Roman Catholic convert Edwin Wyndham-Quin, fellow historian William Reeves, artist Sir George Petrie, and the Stokes family (physician father William, future lawyer and Celticist son Whitley, and future antiquarian daughter Margaret).

James Henthorn Todd dies at his house in Rathfarnham on June 28, 1869 and is buried in the churchyard of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


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Birth of Poet Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneySeamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright and translator, is born in the townland of Tamniaran between Castledawson and Toomebridge, Northern Ireland on April 13, 1939. He is the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney’s family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. He attends Queen’s University Belfast and begins to publish poetry. In the early 1960s he becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. He is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and in 2012 he receives a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky states that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in Blackrock, Dublin on August 30, 2013 while hospitalized following a fall a few days earlier. He is buried at the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, Northern Ireland. The headstone bears the epitaph “Walk on air against your better judgement,” from one of his poems, The Gravel Walks.

President Michael D. Higgins, himself a poet, praises Heaney’s “contribution to the republics of letters, conscience and humanity.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny says that Heaney’s death has brought “great sorrow to Ireland, to language and to literature.”


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Birth of Anglican Bishop Charles Graves

charles-gravesCharles Graves FRS, 19th-century Anglican Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, is born at 12 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, on December 6, 1812. He serves as President of the Royal Irish Academy, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle and is a noted mathematician.

Graves is born to John Crosbie Graves (1776–1835), Chief Police Magistrate for Dublin, and Helena Perceval, the daughter and co-heiress of the Rev. Charles Perceval (1751–1795) of Bruhenny, County Cork. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he wins a scholarship in Classics, and in 1834 graduates BA as Senior Moderator in mathematics, getting his MA in 1838. He plays cricket for Trinity, and later in his life does much boating and fly-fishing. It is intended that he join the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot under his uncle, Major-General James William Graves (1774–1845), and in preparation he becomes an expert swordsman and rider.

After leaving Trinity College, Graves follows in the steps of his grandfather, Thomas Graves, who was appointed Dean of Ardfert in 1785 and Dean of Connor in 1802, and his great uncle, Richard Graves. He is appointed a fellow of Trinity College from 1836 to 1843 before taking the professorship of mathematics, a position he holds until 1862.

Graves is elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1837 and subsequently holds various officerships, including President from 1861 to 1866. In 1860 he is appointed Dean of the Chapel Royal and, from 1864 to 1866, he is the Dean of Clonfert before being consecrated as Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe, a position he holds for 33 years until his death on July 17, 1899. He is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1880 and receives the honorary degree of DCL from Oxford University in 1881.

In 1841 Graves publishes an original mathematical work and he embodies further discoveries in his lectures and in papers read before and published by the Royal Irish Academy. He is a colleague of Sir William Rowan Hamilton and, upon the latter’s death, Graves gives a presidential panegyric containing a valuable account both of Hamilton’s scientific labours and of his literary attainments.

Graves is very interested in Irish antiquarian subjects. He discovers the key to the ancient Irish Ogham script which appears as inscriptions on cromlechs and other stone monuments. He also prompts the government to publish the old Irish Brehon Laws, Early Irish law. His suggestion is adopted and he is appointed a member of the Commission to do this.

Graves’ official residence is The Palace at Limerick, but from the 1850s he takes the lease of Parknasilla House, County Kerry, as a summer residence. In 1892 he buys out the lease of the house and a further 114 acres of land that includes a few islands. In 1894 he sells it to Great Southern Hotels, who still own it to this day.


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Execution of John Atherton, Anglican Bishop of Waterford & Lismore

john-atherton-execution-pamphletJohn Atherton, Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland, is executed on December 5, 1640, on a charge of immorality.

Atherton is born in 1598 in Somerset, England. He studies at Oxford University and joins the ranks of the Anglican clergy. In 1634 he becomes Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. In 1640 he is accused of buggery with a man, John Childe, his steward and tithe proctor. They are tried under a law that Atherton himself had helped to institute. They are both condemned to death, and Atherton is executed in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Reportedly, he confesses to the crime immediately before his execution, although he had proclaimed his innocence before that.

More recently, some historical evidence has been developed that shows Atherton might have been a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him and his patrons. This is attributable to Atherton’s status as an astute lawyer, who seeks to recover lost land for the relatively weak Protestant Church of Ireland during the 1630s. Unfortunately for Atherton, this alienates him from large landowners, who then allegedly use his sexuality to discredit him.

English Puritan, Congregationalist and Independent activists, as well as English and Scottish Presbyterian activists, contemporaneously campaign to abolish Episcopacy (bishops) within the embattled Church of England, Church of Scotland and Church of Ireland, notionally expediting the political interest in Atherton’s downfall.

Posthumous accusations of sexual wrongdoing also include allegations of “incest” with his sister-in-law, and infanticide of the resultant child, as well as zoophilia with cattle. However, these allegations begin to be circulated several months after his death in an anonymous pamphlet, and may have been intended to further discredit the bishop’s campaign to restore the finances of the Church of Ireland.

(Pictured: Anonymous pamphlet of the hangings of John Atherton and John Childe, 1641)


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Death of Poet Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize Recipient

Seamus Justin Heaney, Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, dies in Dublin on August 30, 2013. He is the 1995 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Heaney is born near Castledawson, County Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. The family moves to nearby Bellaghy when he is a boy. After attending Queen’s University Belfast, Heaney becomes a lecturer at St. Joseph’s College in Belfast in the early 1960s and begins to publish poetry. He lives in Sandymount, Dublin from 1976 until his death. He also lives part-time in the United States from 1981 to 2006. Heaney is recognised as one of the principal contributors to poetry during his lifetime.

Heaney is a professor at Harvard University from 1981 to 1997, and its Poet in Residence from 1988 to 2006. From 1989 to 1994, he is also the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. In 1996, he is made a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Other awards that he receives include the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (1968), the E. M. Forster Award (1975), the PEN Translation Prize (1985), the Golden Wreath of Poetry (2001), the T. S. Eliot Prize (2006) and two Whitbread Book Awards (1996 and 1999). In 2011, he is awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize and, in 2012, a Lifetime Recognition Award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. His literary papers are held by the National Library of Ireland.

American poet Robert Lowell describes Heaney as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” and many others, including the academic John Sutherland, have said that he is “the greatest poet of our age.” Robert Pinsky has stated that “with his wonderful gift of eye and ear Heaney has the gift of the story-teller.” Upon his death in 2013, The Independent describes him as “probably the best-known poet in the world.” One of his best known works is Death of a Naturalist, published in 1966.

Seamus Heaney dies in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on August 30, 2013, aged 74, following a short illness. After a fall outside a restaurant in Dublin, he enters the hospital for a medical procedure, but dies at 7:30 the following morning before it takes place. His funeral is held in Donnybrook, Dublin, on the morning of September 2, 2013, and he is buried in the evening in the Cemetery of St. Mary’s Church, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the same graveyard as his parents, young brother, and other family members. His son Michael reveals at the funeral mass that his father texted his final words, “Noli timere” (Latin: “Do not be afraid”), to his wife, Marie, minutes before he died. Shortly after Heaney’s death, graffiti artist Maser paints a mural in Dublin referencing this message.

On September 1, the day after his death, a crowd of 81,553 spectators applaud Heaney for three minutes at a semi-final match of the 2013 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. His funeral is broadcast live the following day on RTÉ television and radio and is streamed internationally at RTÉ’s website. RTÉ Radio 1 Extra transmits a continuous broadcast, from 8:00 AM until 9:15 PM on the day of the funeral, of his Collected Poems album, recorded in 2009. His poetry collections sell out rapidly in Irish bookshops immediately following his death.


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Birth of “Jem” Finer, Founding Member of The Pogues

jem-finerJeremy Max “Jem” Finer, English musician, artist, composer, and one of the founding members of The Pogues, is born in Stoke-on-Trent, England on July 20, 1955.

After college at Keele University, Finer travels around Europe and spends some time working on a barge in France. He settles in London and becomes the bass player in a group called The Petals and lives in 32 Burton Street, a house which he sometimes shares with Spider Stacey and Shane MacGowan. Together with James Fearnley they found The Pogues. Primarily a banjoist, he also plays other instruments, including mandola, saxophone, hurdy-gurdy, and the guitar. Apart from Shane MacGowan, Finer is the most prolific composer for the band.

Finer appears on all the band’s albums until their breakup in 1996. He continues working as a musician and composer after leaving The Pogues.

On January 1, 2000, the Finer-composed Longplayer piece of music is started and is designed to last 1,000 years without ever repeating itself. It currently exists in both computer-generated and live versions. Longplayer represents a convergence of many of his concerns, particularly those relating to systems, long-durational processes, and extremes of scale in both time and space.

Finer serves as “Artist in Residence” at the Astrophysics Sub-department of the University of Oxford between October 2003 and June 2005. Finer and Hamburg-based swamp pop legend DM Bob begin recording and performing together in 2005, releasing their album Bum Steer in August of that year and co-producing the debut album by experimental pop band Marseille Figs. In July 2005, Finer wins the PRS Foundation New Music Award on the basis of his proposal to build a device that will automatically “compose” a song of indeterminate length by harnessing the creative force of the weather.

In March 2012, Mobile Sinfonia, a global composition for ringtones is launched, developed during a year Finer spends as a non-resident artist at the University of Bath. This piece concerns mutual invasion of soundscape via ringtones.

Finer is currently working on a number of new projects continuing his interest in long-term sustainability and the reconfiguring of older technologies, including Spiegelei, a spherical camera obscura featuring Finer’s innovative 360-degree projection system and the Supercomputer in Cambridge, a 5-bit mechanical sculpture which will compute minimal musical scores.