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


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Death of Poet & Barrister Samuel Ferguson

sir-samuel-ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, dies in Howth, County Dublin on August 9, 1886. 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 is born in Belfast on March 10, 1810. He 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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Birth of Geologist Richard Dixon Oldham

richard-dixon-oldhamRichard Dixon Oldham, British geologist who makes the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves, S-waves and surface waves on seismograms and the first clear evidence that the Earth has a central core, is born in Dublin on July 31, 1858.

Born to Thomas Oldham, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a geologist, Oldham is educated at Rugby School and the Royal School of Mines.

In 1879 Oldham becomes an assistant-superintendent with the Geological Survey of India (GSI), working in the Himalayas. He writes about 40 publications for the Survey on geological subjects including hot springs, the geology of the Son Valley and the structure of the Himalayas and the Indo-Gangetic plain. His most famous work is in seismology. His report on the 1897 Assam earthquake goes far beyond reports of previous earthquakes. It includes a description of the Chedrang fault, with uplift up to 35 feet and reported accelerations of the ground that have exceeded the Earth’s gravitational acceleration. His most important contribution to seismology is the first clear identification of the separate arrivals of P-waves, S-waves and surface waves on seismograms. Since these observations agree with theory for elastic waves, they show that the Earth can be treated as elastic in studies of seismic waves.

In 1903, Oldham resigns from the GSI due to ill health and returns to the United Kingdom, living in Kew and various parts of Wales. In 1906 he writes a paper analyzing seismic arrival times of various recorded earthquakes. He concludes that the earth has a core and estimates its radius to be less than 0.4 times the radius of the Earth.

In 1908 Oldham is awarded the Lyell Medal, in 1911 made a Fellow of the Royal Society and from 1920 to 1922 serves as the President of the Geological Society of London.

Richard Dixon Oldham dies at Llandrindod Wells in Wales on July 15, 1936.


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Death of William Smith O’Brien, Young Ireland Leader

william-smith-obrienWilliam Smith O’Brien, Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) and leader of the Young Ireland movement, dies in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales on June 18, 1864.

Born in Dromoland, Newmarket-on-Fergus, County Clare, O’Brien is the second son of Sir Edward O’Brien, 4th Baronet, of Dromoland Castle. His mother is Charlotte Smith, whose father owns a property called Cahirmoyle in County Limerick. He takes the additional surname Smith, his mother’s maiden name, upon inheriting the property. He lives at Cahermoyle House, a mile from Ardagh, County Limerick. He is a descendant of the eleventh century Ard Rí (High King of Ireland), Brian Boru. He receives an upper-class English education at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge. Subsequently, he studies law at King’s Inns in Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn in London.

From April 1828 to 1831 O’Brien is Conservative MP for Ennis. He becomes MP for Limerick County in 1835, holding his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom until 1849.

Although a Protestant country-gentleman, O’Brien supports Catholic emancipation while remaining a supporter of British-Irish union. In 1843, in protest against the imprisonment of Daniel O’Connell, he joins O’Connell’s anti-union Repeal Association.

Three years later, O’Brien withdraws the Young Irelanders from the association. In January 1847, with Thomas Francis Meagher, he founds the Irish Confederation, although he continues to preach reconciliation until O’Connell’s death in May 1847. He is active in seeking relief from the hardships of the famine. In March 1848, he speaks out in favour of a National Guard and tries to incite a national rebellion. He is tried for sedition on May 15, 1848 but is not convicted.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien and other Young Irelanders lead landlords and tenants in a rising in three counties, with an almost bloodless battle against police at Ballingarry, County Tipperary. In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. In Dublin on June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia).

O’Brien attempts to escape from Maria Island off Tasmania, but is betrayed by the captain of the schooner hired for the escape. He is sent to Port Arthur where he meets up with John Mitchel.

O’Brien is a founding member of the Ossianic Society, which is founded in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 1853, whose aim is to further the interests of the Irish language and to publish and translate literature relating to the Fianna. He writes to his son Edward from Van Diemen’s Land, urging him to learn the Irish language. He himself studies the language and uses an Irish-language Bible, and presents to the Royal Irish Academy Irish-language manuscripts he has collected.

In 1854, after five years in Tasmania, O’Brien is released on the condition he never returns to Ireland. He settles in Brussels. In May 1856, he is granted an unconditional pardon and returns to Ireland that July. He contributes to the Nation newspaper, but plays no further part in politics.

In 1864 he visits England and Wales, with the view of rallying his failing health, but no improvement takes place and he dies at Bangor, in Wales on June 16, 1864.

A statue of William Smith O’Brien stands in O’Connell Street, Dublin. Sculpted in Portland limestone, it is designed by Thomas Farrell and erected in D’Olier Street, Dublin, in 1870. It is moved to its present position in 1929.


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The Assassination of Tomás Mac Curtain

Tomas-mac-curtainTomás Mac Curtain, Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Cork, is assassinated in Cork, County Cork on March 20, 1920, which is also his 36th birthday.

Thomas Curtin is born at Ballyknockane, Mourne Abbey, County Cork, on March 20, 1884, the son of Patrick Curtin, a farmer, and Julia Sheehan. He attends Burnfort National School. In 1897 the family moves to Cork City, where he attends the North Monastery school.

Mac Curtain, as he later becomes known, is active in a number of cultural and political movements beginning around the turn of the 20th century. He joins the Blackpool, Cork branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, becoming its secretary in 1902. He has interests in music, poetry, history, archaeology and Irish history. He works in his early career as a clerk, and in his free time teaches Irish. In 1911 he joins Fianna Éireann, and is a member of the Irish Volunteers.

He meets Elizabeth Walsh (Eibhlís Breathnach) at a Gaelic League meeting and they marry on June 28, 1908. They have six children, five of whom survive into adulthood. The family lives over 40 Thomas Davis Street, where Mac Curtain runs a small clothing and rainwear factory.

In April 1916, at the outset of the Easter Rising, Mac Curtain commands a force of up to 1,000 men of the Irish Volunteers who assemble at various locations around County Cork. From the volunteers headquarters at Sheares Street in the city, Mac Curtain and his officers await orders from the volunteer leadership in Dublin but conflicting instructions and confusion prevail and as a result the Cork volunteers never enter the fray. A tense stand-off develops when British forces surround the volunteer hall and continued for a week until a negotiated agreement leads to the surrender of the volunteers’ arms to the then Lord Mayor of Cork Thomas Butterfield on the understanding that they will be returned at a later date. This does not happen however and Mac Curtain is jailed in Wakefield Prison, in the Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and in Reading Gaol. After the general amnesty of participants in the Rising 18 months later, Mac Curtain returns to active duty as a Commandant of what is now the Irish Republican Army.

By 1918 Mac Curtain is a brigade commander, the highest and most important rank in the IRA. During the Conscription Crisis of 1918, he actively encourages the hiring of the women of Cumann na mBan to cater for Volunteers. He is personally involved with Michael CollinsThe Squad that, along with a Cork battalion, attempt to assassinate Lord John French, whose car is missed as the convoy passes through the ambush positions. Despite the setback he remains brigadier of No.1 Cork when he is elected Lord Mayor. He is elected in the January 1920 council elections as the Sinn Féin councillor for NW Ward No. 3 of Cork, and is chosen by his fellow councillors to be the Lord Mayor. He begins a process of political reform within the city.

In January 1919, the Irish War of Independence starts and Mac Curtain becomes an officer in the IRA. On March 20, 1920, his 36th birthday, Mac Curtain is shot dead in front of his wife and son by a group of men with blackened faces, who are found to be members of the Auxilaries along with unknown members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) by the official inquest into the event. In the wake of the killing, which is in revenge for the shooting of a policeman, Mac Curtain’s house in Blackpool is ransacked.

The killing causes widespread public outrage. The coroner’s inquest passes a verdict of willful murder against British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and against certain members of the RIC. Michael Collins later orders his squad of assassins to uncover and assassinate the police officers involved in the attack. RIC District Inspector Oswald Swanzy, who had ordered the attack, is fatally shot, with Mac Curtain’s own revolver, while leaving a Protestant church in Lisburn, County Antrim on August 22, 1920, sparking what is described by Tim Pat Coogan as a “pogrom” against the Catholic residents of the town.

Tomás Mac Curtain is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


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Birth of Irish Artist Nano Reid

nano-reid-crumphan-achillNano Reid, Irish landscape artist, figure painter and portraitist, is born in Drogheda, County Louth on March 1, 1900. An individual, expressionistic artist, Reid is acknowledged to be one of the finest Irish woman painters of twentieth-century visual art in Ireland. Her works are represented in many public collections throughout Ireland.

In 1920, Reid wins a scholarship to study fine art painting and drawing at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, now the National College of Art and Design, under Harry Clarke. At the time, she is, in the words of fellow student Hilda van Stockum, “a fierce redhead…uncompromising and looking for truth.” In 1925 she starts showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA), submitting a total of 42 canvases until the late 1960s.

In 1928, Reid goes to Paris and enrolls briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, after which she spends a year in London studying fine art at the Central School of Arts and Crafts under Bernard Meninsky. She returns to Ireland in 1931 and once more begins exhibiting her landscape painting at the RHA.

In 1950, with Norah McGuinness, Reid represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale. This is followed by the Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art in Aberystwyth, Wales (1953), and the Mostra Internazionale di Bianco e Nero in Lugano, Switzerland (1956), the Guggenheim International Award Exhibition in New York City (1960) and the Twelve Irish Painters show in New York City (1963). In 1974, the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland stage a major retrospective of Reid’s artworks.

Nano Reid dies in Drogheda in 1981. Retrospectives are held at Taylor Galleries in Dublin (1984), Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda (1991), and at Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, County Mayo (1999).

(Pictured: “Crumphan, Achill,” oil on canvas)


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Death of Novelist & Translator Patrick O’Brian

Patrick O'BrianPatrick O’Brian, English novelist and translator, dies in Dublin on January 2, 2000.

O’Brian is born Richard Patrick Russ, in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, to Charles Russ, an English physician of German descent, and Jessie Russ (née Goddard), an English woman of Irish descent. His literary career begins in his childhood with the publishing of his earliest works, including several short stories, the book Hussein, An Entertainment, and the short story collection Beasts Royal. The latter two bring him considerable critical praise especially considering his youth. He publishes his first novel, Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda Leopard, at the age of 15 with help from his father.

O’Brian is best known for his Aubrey–Maturin series of sea novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and centered on the friendship of the English naval captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician Stephen Maturin. The 20-novel series, the first of which is Master and Commander, is known for its well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th-century life, as well as its authentic and evocative language. A partially finished 21st novel in the series is published posthumously containing facing pages of handwriting and typescript.

O’Brian write a number of other novels and short stories, most of which were published before he achieves success with the Aubrey–Maturin series. He also translates works from French to English, and writes two biographies.

O’Brian’s major success as a writer comes late in life, when the Aubrey-Maturin series catches the eye of an American publisher. The series draws more readers and favourable reviews when the author is in his seventies. Near the end of his life, and in the same year he loses his beloved wife, British media reveals details of O’Brian’s early life, first marriage, and post-war change of name, causing distress to the very private author and to many of his readers at that time.

Between 1946 and 1949 O’Brian and his wife Mary live in Cwm Croesor, a remote valley in north Wales, where they initially rent a cottage from Clough Williams-Ellis. In 1949 they move to Collioure, a Catalan town in southern France. He and Mary remain together in Collioure until her death in 1998.

O’Brian dies on January 2, 2000 at Trinity College, Dublin where he had been living and working on his next book. His body is returned to Collioure, where he is buried next to his wife.


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Birth of Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett

Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett, Anglo-Irish agricultural reformer, pioneer of agricultural cooperatives, Unionist Member of Parliament (MP), supporter of Home Rule, Irish Senator and author, is born on October 24, 1854.

Plunkett is the third son of Admiral the 16th Baron of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, Dunsany, near Dunshaughlin, County Meath, and the Honourable Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of John Dutton, 2nd Baron Sherborne. He is educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, of which he becomes an honorary fellow in 1909.

Threatened by lung trouble in 1879, Plunkett goes to the United States and spends ten years as a cattle rancher in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He returns to Ireland in 1889 and devotes himself to the agricultural cooperative movement, first organizing creameries and then, in 1894, the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, a forerunner of similar societies in England, Wales, and Scotland. A moderate Unionist member of Parliament for South County Dublin from 1892 to 1900, he becomes vice president (1899–1907) of the new Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, which he has been instrumental in creating.

Plunkett’s later experience convinces him of the need for the independence of an Ireland without partition inside the Commonwealth, and he fights strongly for this goal, as chairman of the Irish Convention (1917–18) and, in 1919, as founder of the Irish Dominion League and of the Plunkett Foundation for Cooperative Studies, an agricultural research and information centre. He is appointed to the first Senate of the Irish Free State (1922–23). His house in Dublin is bombed and burned during in the Irish Civil War and he lives in England thereafter. In 1924 the Plunkett Foundation also moves to England. In 1924 he presides over a conference in London on agricultural co-operation in the British Commonwealth and in 1925 he visits South Africa to help the movement there.

Plunkett is made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1902 and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1903. His writings include Ireland in the New Century (1904) and The Rural Life Problem of the United States (1910).

Sir Horace Plunkett dies at Weybridge, Surrey, England on March 26, 1932.