seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of George Sigerson, Physician & Writer

george-sigersonGeorge Sigerson, Irish physician, scientist, writer, politician, and poet, is born at Holy Hill, near Strabane in County Tyrone on January 11, 1836. He is a leading light in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century in Ireland.

Sigerson is the son of William and Nancy (née Neilson) Sigerson and has three brothers, James, John and William, and three sisters, Ellen, Jane, and Mary Ann. He attends Letterkenny Academy but is sent by his father, who developed the spade mill and who played an active role in the development of Artigarvan, to complete his education in France.

He studies medicine at the Queen’s College, Galway, and Queen’s College, Cork, and takes his degree in 1859. He then goes to Paris where he spends some time studying under Jean-Martin Charcot and Duchenne de Boulogne. Sigmund Freud is one of his fellow students.

Sigerson returns to Ireland and opens a practice in Dublin, specializing in neurology. He continues to visit France annually to study under Charcot. His patients included Maud Gonne, Austin Clarke, and Nora Barnacle. He lectures on medicine at the Catholic University of Ireland and is professor of zoology and later botany at the University College Dublin.

His first book, The Poets and Poetry of Munster, appears in 1860. He is actively involved in political journalism for many years, writing for The Nation. Sigerson and his wife Hester are by now among the dominant figures of the Gaelic Revival. They frequently hold Sunday evening salons at their Dublin home to which artists, intellectuals, and rebels alike attend, including John O’Leary, W.B. Yeats, Patrick Pearse, Roger Casement, and 1916 signatory Thomas MacDonagh. Sigerson is a co-founder of the Feis Ceoil and President of the National Literary Society from 1893 until his death. His daughter, Dora, is a poet who is also involved in the Irish literary revival.

Nominated to the first Seanad Éireann of the Irish Free State, Sigerson briefly serves as the first chairman on December 11-12, 1922 before the election of James Campbell, 1st Baron Glenavy. Sigerson dies at his home at 3 Clare Street, Dublin, on February 17, 1925, at the age of 89, after a short illness. On February 18, 1925, the day after his death, the Seanad Éireann pays tribute to him.

The Sigerson Cup, the top division of third level Gaelic football competition in Ireland is named in his honour. Sigerson donates the salary from his post at UCD so that a trophy can be purchased for the competition. In 2009, he is named in the Sunday Tribune‘s list of the “125 Most Influential People In GAA History.” The cup is first presented in 1911, with the inaugural winners being UCD GAA.

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Seamus Heaney Awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

seamus-heaneySeamus Heaney, poet, playwright, translator, and lecturer, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on October 15, 1995.

Heaney is born in April 1939 near Castledawson, County Derry, Northern Ireland, where his family engages in farming and selling cattle. His education includes studies at Queen’s University Belfast, where he also serves as a lecturer in the late 1960s. He makes his debut as a poet then, but continues to divide his time between his own writing and academia. He works at Carysforth College in Dublin, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and at Oxford University.

Heaney’s poetry is often down-to-earth. For him, poetry is like the earth – something that must be plowed and turned. Often he paints the gray and damp landscape from the British Isles. Peat moss has a special place in his poetry. The poems often are connected with daily experiences, but they also derive motifs from history, all the way back to prehistoric times. Heany’s profound interest in the Celtic and the pre-Christian as well as in Catholic literary tradition has found expression in a number of essays and translations.

Heaney is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995 for what the Nobel committee describes as “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” He is on holiday in Greece with his wife, Marie, when the news breaks. No one, not even journalists or his own children, can locate him until he appears at Dublin Airport two days later, though an Irish television camera traces him to Kalamata. Asked how it feels having his name added to the Irish Nobel pantheon featuring William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett, Heaney responds, “It’s like being a little foothill at the bottom of a mountain range. You hope you just live up to it. It’s extraordinary.” He and Marie are immediately whisked straight from the airport to Áras an Uachtaráin for champagne with President Mary Robinson.


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Birth of Playwright & Poet Lennox Robinson

lennox-robinsonEsmé Stuart Lennox Robinson, playwright, poet, theatre producer, and director who is involved with the Abbey Theatre, is born in Westgrove, Douglas, County Cork, on October 4, 1886.

Robinson is raised in a Protestant and Unionist family in which he is the youngest of seven children. His father, Andrew Robinson, is a middle-class stockbroker who in 1892 decides to become a clergyman in the Church of Ireland in the small Ballymoney parish, near Ballineen in West Cork. A sickly child, Robinson is educated by private tutor and at Bandon Grammar School. In August 1907, his interest in the theatre begins after he goes to see an Abbey production of plays by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory at the Cork Opera House. He publishes his first poem that same year. His first play, The Cross Roads, is performed in the Abbey in 1909 and he becomes manager of the theatre towards the end of that year. He resigns in 1914 as a result of a disastrous tour of the United States but returns in 1919. He is appointed to the board of the theatre in 1923 and continues to serve in that capacity until his death. His Abbey career and production involvement can be found in the Abbey archives.

As a playwright, Robinson shows himself as a nationalist with plays like Patriots (1912) and Dreamers (1915). On the other hand, he belongs to a part of Irish society which is not seen as fully Irish. This division between the majority native Irish (Roman Catholics) on one side and the Anglo-Irish (Protestants) on the other can be seen in a play such as The Big House (1926), which depicts the burning of a Protestant manor home by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Robinson’s most popular play is The Whiteheaded Boy (1916).

Other plays include Crabbed Youth and Age (1924), The Far Off Hills (1928), Drama at Inish (1933), and Church Street (1935). Drama at Inish, which is presented in London and on Broadway as Is Life Worth Living?, is revived as part of the 2011 season at the Shaw Festival  at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, with Mary Haney in the role of Lizzie Twohig. Robinson’s fiction includes Eight Short Stories (1919). In 1931 he publishes a biography of Bryan Cooper, who had recently died. In 1951, he publishes Ireland’s Abbey Theatre, the first full-length history of the company.

He publishes an edited edition of Lady Gregory’s diaries in 1947. In 1958 he co-edits with Donagh MacDonagh The Oxford Book of Irish Verse. He is also a director and producer, in 1930 producing a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called The Reapers. In 1931 he is co-director of A Disciple along with W.B. Yeats and Walter Starkie.

Melancholic and alcoholic in later years, Lennox Robinson dies in Monkstown, County Dublin, on October 15, 1958. He is buried St. Patrick’s Cathedral.


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Death of Irish Dramatist Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey, Irish dramatist and memoirist, dies of a heart attack in Torquay, Devon, England on September 18, 1964. A committed socialist, he is the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.

O’Casey is born John Casey at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin on March 30, 1880. He is a member of the Church of Ireland, baptised on July 28, 1880 in St. Mary’s parish and confirmed at St. John the Baptist Church in Clontarf. He is an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties, when he drifts away from the church.

As O’Casey’s interest in Irish nationalism grows, he joins the Gaelic League in 1906 and learns the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicises his name from John Casey to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He also learns to play the Uilleann pipes and is a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and becomes involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, established by James Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabit the Dublin tenements. In March 1914 he becomes General Secretary of Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army. On July 24, 1914 he resigns from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers is rejected.

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe dies in a hunger strike and it inspires him to write. He spends the next five years writing plays. O’Casey’s first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, is performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This is the beginning of a relationship that is to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ends in some bitterness. It is followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

The Plough and the Stars is not well received by the Abbey audience. There is a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion offends some of the actors who refused to speak their lines. W.B. Yeats intervenes and describes the audience as “shaming themselves.”

In 1928, Yeats rejects O’Casey’s fourth play, The Silver Tassie, for the Abbey. It is an attack on imperialist wars and the suffering they cause. The Abbey refuses to perform it. The plays O’Casey writes after this include the darkly allegorical and highly controversial Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London’s Hyde Park. It closes not long after opening and is another box office failure.

Over the next twenty years, O’Casey writes The Star Turns Red (1940), Purple Dust (1943), Red Roses for Me (1943), Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), The Bishop’s Bonfire (1955), and The Drums of Father Ned (1958). In 1959, O’Casey gives his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, is a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. Also in 1959, George Devine produces Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at the Royal Court Theatre and it is also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and has a West End run.

On September 18, 1964, at the age of 84, O’Casey dies of a heart attack, in Torquay, Devon. He is cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.


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The Abbey Theatre Destroyed by Fire

abbey-theatre-fire-1951Fire destroys the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on July 17, 1951, with only the Peacock, a small experimental theatre in the ground floor of the main theatre surviving intact. The play earlier in the evening closes with soldiers on stage singing Keep the Home Fires Burning.

In February 1961, the ruins of the Abbey are demolished. The board has plans for rebuilding with a design by the Irish architect Michael Scott. On September 3, 1963, the President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, lays the foundation stone for the new theatre. The Abbey reopens on July 18, 1966, at its new location at 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1.

The Abbey Theatre first opens its doors to the public on December 27, 1904. Despite the loss of the original building to the 1951 fire, it has remained active to the present day. The Abbey is the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world. From 1925 onwards it receives an annual subsidy from the Irish Free State.

In its early years, the theatre is closely associated with the writers of the Irish Literary Revival, many of whom are involved in its founding and most of whom have plays staged there. The Abbey serves as a nursery for many of the leading Irish playwrights and actors of the 20th century, including William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Seán O’Casey, and John Millington Synge. In addition, through its extensive programme of touring abroad and its high visibility to foreign, particularly American, audiences, it has become an important part of the Irish tourist industry.


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Birth of Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish Poet & Barrister

sir-samuel-fergusonSir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, is born at 23 High Street in Belfast on March 10, 1810. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.


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Roger Casement’s Remains Returned to the Republic of Ireland

roger-casementIrish patriot Roger Casement‘s body is returned to Ireland from the United Kingdom on February 23, 1965, forty-nine years after his execution for treason.

In October 1914, Roger Casement sails for Germany where he spends most of his time seeking to recruit an Irish Brigade from among more than 2,000 Irish prisoners-of-war taken in the early months of World War I and held in the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn. His plan is that they will be trained to fight against Britain in the cause of Irish independence.

In April 1916, Germany offers the Irish 20,000 Mosin–Nagant 1891 rifles, ten machine guns and accompanying ammunition, but no German officers. It is a fraction of the quantity of arms that Casement has hoped. Casement does not learn of the Easter Rising until after the plan is fully developed. The German weapons never land in Ireland as the Royal Navy intercepts the ship transporting them.

In the early hours of April 21, 1916, three days before the beginning of the rising, Casement is taken by a German submarine and is put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Suffering from a recurrence of malaria and too weak to travel, he is discovered at McKenna’s Fort in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and arrested on charges of treason, sabotage, and espionage against the Crown. He is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Casement’s trial for treason is highly publicized and he is ultimately convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He unsuccessfully appeals the conviction and death sentence. Among the many people who plead for clemency are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. B. Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw.

On the day of his execution, Casement is again received into the Catholic Church at his request. He is attended by two Irish Catholic priests, Dean Timothy Ring and Father James Carey, from the East London parish of St. Mary and St. Michael’s. Casement is hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on August 3, 1916. His body is buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery at the rear of the prison.

roger-casement-glasnevin-graveDuring the decades after his execution, many formal requests for repatriation of Casement’s remains are refused by the U.K. government. Finally, February 23, 1965, Casement’s remains are repatriated to the Republic of Ireland. Casement’s last wish, to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast, in what is now Northern Ireland, may never be satisfied as U.K. Prime Minister Harold Wilson‘s government releases the remains only on condition that they can not be brought into Northern Ireland, as “the government feared that a reburial there could provoke Catholic celebrations and Protestant reactions.”

Casement’s remains lay in state at Arbour Hill in Dublin for five days, during which time an estimated half a million people file past his coffin. After a state funeral on March 1, the remains are buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, with other militant republican heroes. The President of the Republic of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, who is in his mid-eighties and the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defies the advice of his doctors and attends the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 others.