seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


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Death of Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentarian Army

Henry Ireton, an English general in the Parliamentarian army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell, dies in Limerick, County Limerick on November 26, 1651.

Ireton is the eldest son of a German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and is baptised in St. Mary’s Church on November 3, 1611. He becomes a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in 1629, and enters the Middle Temple the same year.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War, Ireton joins the Parliamentary army, commanding a cavalry force in the indecisive Battle of Edgehill in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough in July 1643. In 1643 he meets and befriends Oliver Cromwell, then a colonel in the army of eastern England. Cromwell appoints him deputy governor of the Isle of Ely in 1644, and he fights at the Parliamentary victories in the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644), and the Battle of Naseby (June 1645). In the summer of 1646 he marries Cromwell’s eldest daughter, Bridget. The marriage brings Ireton’s career into parallel with Cromwell’s.

Although Ireton’s military record is distinguished, he earns his fame in politics. Elected to Parliament in 1645, he looks on while a conflict develops between the Independents in the army and the Presbyterians who control the House of Commons. In 1647 he presents his “Heads of the Proposals,” a constitutional scheme calling for division of political power among army, Parliament, and king and advocating religious tolerance for Anglicans and Puritans. These proposals for a constitutional monarchy are rejected by the king. At the same time they are attacked by the Levellers, a group that calls for manhood suffrage and an unfettered liberty of conscience in matters of religion.

Ireton then turns against the king. When the Independents in the army triumph over Parliament during the second phase of the Civil War, his “Remonstrance of the Army” provides the ideological foundation for the assault on the monarchy. He helps to bring Charles I to trial and is one of the signatories of the king’s death warrant. From 1649 to 1651 he prosecutes the government’s cause against Roman Catholic rebels in Ireland, becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland and acting commander in chief in 1650.

In early June 1650, Ireton mounts a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountains to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in southeast Ireland. Thomas Preston surrenders Waterford after a three-month siege. Ireton then advances to Limerick by October, but has to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. He returns to Limerick in June 1651 and besieges the city for five months until it surrenders in October 1651. At the same time, parliamentarian forces conduct the Siege of Galway, and he rides to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who is blockading that city. The physical strain of his command takes hold and he falls ill.

After the capture of Limerick, Ireton has dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their defence of the city, including Alderman Thomas Stritch, Bishop Terence O’Brien, and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wants the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O’Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancels the order after Ireton’s death.

Ireton falls ill of the plague that is raging through the town, and dies on November 26, 1651. His loss reportedly “struck a great sadness into Cromwell” and he is considered a great loss to the administration. At his funeral in Westminster Abbey, John Watson and others wear new tabards that replace the royal arms with the new arms of the commonwealth.

On January 30, 1661, following the Restoration of the English monarchy of 1660, Charles II has Ireton’s corpse exhumed from Westminster and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father’s death warrant. The date is symbolic, being the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.

(Pictured: Painting of Henry Ireton, circa 1650, National Portrait Gallery: NPG 3301)


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Birth of Margaret Aylward, Founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith

Margaret Louisa Aylward, Roman Catholic nun, philanthropist, and founder of the Sisters of the Holy Faith, is born to a wealthy merchant family on November 23, 1810 in Thomas Street in Waterford, County Waterford.

Aylward is educated by the Ursuline nuns in Thurles, County Tipperary. After doing some charitable work in Waterford in her early years, she joins her sister in the Sisters of Charity in 1834 as a novice. She leaves the novitiate in 1836 and returns to Waterford to continue her charity work in a secular role. She again attempts to join a religious order in 1846 when she enters the Ursuline novitiate in Waterford, however she leaves after two months.

By 1851, Aylward has moved to Dublin where she is active in re-energising the Ladies’ Association of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Great Famine leads to a large-scale movement of people from rural areas into cities, including Dublin, which leads to increased pressure on the charitable institutions of these areas. Her efforts are part of this wider charitable effort to help the poor, particularly Catholics who are seen to be at risk of coercive religious conversion (known as Souperism). This association is concerned with the “temporal as well as the spiritual relief of the sick poor in Dublin.”

The Ladies’ Association of St. Vincent de Paul opens St. Brigid’s in 1856, an orphanage which has an anti-proselytising mission and claims to rescue Catholic children from Protestant agencies. The Ladies’ Association often comes into dispute with those involved in the Irish Church Missions (ICM) and the ragged schools in Dublin, with members of the Ladies’ Association distributing crucifixes to children attending the Protestant-run ragged schools and visiting the homes of parents who send their children to them. The women involved in St. Brigid’s Orphanage organise themselves into a society called the Daughters of St. Brigid. However, while the establishment of St. Brigid’s brings Aylward closer to religious orders, historian Maria Luddy notes that in the 1850s, she is not concerned with the establishment of a religious community, rather she wants to “live in a community of women who were united by their religious convictions but did not necessarily desire to take formal religious vows.”

There is a growth in religious orders for women in Ireland from the early nineteenth century due to a relaxing of anti-Catholic Penal Laws. These include the Irish Sisters of Charity who are established in 1815 under Mary Aikenhead, the Sisters of Loreto order (1822) under Frances Ball, and Catherine McAuley‘s Sisters of Mercy (1831). Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin is an important figure in persuading leaders of religious communities of women, like Catherine McAuley, to formally organise as religious congregations in order to continue their charitable work and be respectable. While Aylward is resistant to this idea for a while, she eventually agrees. In 1857 the Sisters of the Holy Faith are established, and in 1869 the order are approved by Pope Pius IX.

Aylward is arrested in 1860 for “failing to produce a child named Mary Matthews, who had been taken away and concealed from her parents for the purpose of being brought up in the Roman Catholic faith.” Matthews had been placed with a nurse in Saggart, County Dublin, when her father had died and her mother had emigrated to The Bahamas. When her mother returns, Aylward is notified by Matthews’ foster mother that she is missing. Aylward is acquitted of the charge of kidnapping but is found to be in contempt of court and serves six months in jail. She continues her work after her release.

Aylward (now Sister Mary Agatha) dies on October 11, 1889. She had continued wearing her own clothes and travelling after taking her religious vows.

Historian Margaret Helen Preston argues that Aylward is unusual for the time that she lives in because she does not believe that poverty results from sin. Aylward refers to the poor as the “Elect of God” and argues that God sees the poor as special because of their difficult circumstances.

The Sisters of the Holy Faith still work around the world.


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Birth of David Whyte, Anglo-Irish Poet

David Whyte, Anglo-Irish poet, is born in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, England on November 2, 1955. He has said that all of his poetry and philosophy are based on “the conversational nature of reality.” His book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America (1994) topped the best-seller charts in the United States.

Whyte’s mother is from Waterford, County Waterford, and his father is a Yorkshireman. He attributes his poetic interest to both the songs and the poetry of his mother’s Irish heritage and to the landscape of West Yorkshire. He grows up in West Yorkshire and comments that he had “a Wordsworthian childhood,” in the fields and woods and on the moors. He has a degree in marine zoology from Bangor University, a public university in Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales.

During his twenties, Whyte works as a naturalist and lives in the Galápagos Islands, where he experiences a near drowning on the southern shore of Hood Island. He leads anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon and the Himalayas.

Whyte moves to the United States in 1981 and begins a career as a poet and speaker in 1986. From 1987, he begins taking his poetry and philosophy to larger audiences, including consulting and lecturing on organisational leadership models in the United States and UK exploring the role of creativity in business. He has worked with companies such as Boeing, AT&T, NASA, Toyota, the Royal Air Force and the Arthur Andersen accountancy group.

Work and vocation, and “Conversational Leadership” are the subjects of several of Whyte’s prose books, including Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as Pilgrimage of Identity, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, and The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of The Soul in Corporate America which tops the business best seller lists, selling 155,000 copies.

Whyte has written ten volumes of poetry and four books of prose. Pilgrim, published in May 2012, is based on the human need to travel, “From here to there.” The House of Belonging looks at the same human need for home. He describes his collection Everything Is Waiting For You (2003) as arising from the grief at the loss of his mother. His latest book is Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, an attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ many everyday words we often use only in pejorative or unimaginative ways. He has also written for newspapers, including The Huffington Post and The Observer. He leads group poetry and walking journeys regularly in Ireland, England and Italy.

Whyte has an honorary degree from Neumann College, Pennsylvania, and from Royal Roads University, British Columbia, and is Associate Fellow of both Templeton College, Oxford, and the Saïd Business School, Oxford.

Whyte has spent a portion of every year for the last twenty five years in County Clare. Over the years and over a number of volumes of poetry he has built a cycle of poems that evoke many of the ancient pilgrimage sites of The Burren mountains of North Clare and of Connemara.

Whyte runs the “Many Rivers” organisation and “Invitas: The Institute for Conversational Leadership,” which he founds in 2014. He has lived in Seattle and on Whidbey Island and currently lives in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. He holds U.S., British and Irish citizenship. He is married to Gayle Karen Young, former Chief Talent and Culture Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation. He has a son, Brendan, from his first marriage to Autumn Preble and a daughter, Charlotte, from his second marriage to Leslie Cotter. He has practised Zen and was a regular rock climber. He is a close friend of the late Irish poet John O’Donohue.


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Edward Poynings Appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland

Edward Poynings, best known for his introduction of “Poynings Law,” which prevents the Irish Parliament from meeting without royal permission and approval of its agenda, is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland under King Henry VII of England on September 13, 1494.

Poynings is the only son of Sir Robert Poynings, second son of the 5th Baron Poynings, and Elizabeth Paston, the only daughter of William Paston. He is likely born at his father’s house in Southwark in 1459. His father is a carver and sword-bearer to Jack Cade, and is killed at the Second Battle of St. Albans on February 17, 1461. He is raised by his mother.

Robert Poynings is implicated in Jack Cade’s rebellion, and Edward is himself concerned in a Kentish rising against Richard III, which compels him to escape to Continental Europe. He attaches himself to Henry, Earl of Richmond, afterwards King Henry VII, with whom he returns to England in 1485.

Poynings is employed in the wars on the continent, and in 1493 he is made governor of Calais. In the following year he goes to Ireland as Lord Deputy under the viceroyalty of Prince Henry, afterwards King Henry VIII. He immediately sets about anglicizing the government of Ireland, which he thoroughly accomplishes, after inflicting punishment on the powerful Irish clans who support the imposture of Perkin Warbeck.

Poynings then summons the celebrated parliament of Drogheda, which meets in December 1494 and enacts the “Statutes of Drogheda,” famous in Irish history as “Poynings’s law,” which make the Irish legislature subordinate to, and completely dependent on, that of England, until its repeal in 1782.

After defeating Perkin Warbeck at Waterford and driving him out of Ireland, he returns to England in 1496, and is appointed warden of the Cinque Ports. He is employed both in military commands and in diplomatic missions abroad by Henry VII, and later by Henry VIII, his most important achievement being the successful negotiation of the “holy league” between England, Spain, the emperor, and the pope, in 1513. In 1520 Poynings is present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in the arrangement of which he has taken an active part. He is also present at Henry’s meeting with Emperor Charles V at Gravelines on July 10.

Poynings dies at Westenhanger in October 1521. By his wife, Elizabeth Scot, he leaves no surviving issue, and his estates pass through a collateral female line to the Earl of Northumberland. He has several illegitimate children, one of whom, Thomas Poynings, is created Baron Poynings in 1545, but dies in the same year without heirs.


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Death of Jazz Guitarist Louis Stewart

Louis Stewart, Irish jazz guitarist, dies in Harold’s Cross, Dublin on August 20, 2016.

Born on January 5, 1944 in Waterford, County Waterford, Stewart grows up in Dublin. He begins playing guitar when he is thirteen, influenced by guitarists Les Paul and Barney Kessel. He begins his professional career performing in Dublin showbands. In 1968, he wins an award as the most outstanding soloist at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Soon after, he spends three years with Benny Goodman.

Stewart records his debut album, Louis the First, in Dublin, and then records in London with Billy Higgins, Peter Ind, Sam Jones, Red Mitchell, and Spike Robinson. From the mid to late 1970s, he works with George Shearing, touring the United States, Brazil, and playing European festivals, and recording eight albums, including several for the MPS Records label in a virtuosic trio with Shearing and the Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. He also appears on albums by Joe Williams and J. J. Johnson, and works with many other jazz musicians.

In 1981, ahead of Stewart’s debut in the United States as a leader, The New York Times states, “Mr. Stewart seems to have his musical roots in bebop. He leans toward material associated with Charlie Parker and he spins out single-note lines that flow with an unhurried grace, colored by sudden bright, lively chorded phrases. His up-tempo virtuosity is balanced by a laid-back approach to ballads, which catches the mood of the piece without sacrificing the rhythmic emphasis that keeps it moving.”

Stewart is prominently featured in Norman Mongan’s book, The History Of The Guitar In Jazz, in a chapter devoted to guitarists who are considered to be contemporary masters (along with players such as Jim Hall, Pat Martino, and George Benson). In a review of his live album Overdrive (Hep, 1993), AllMusic states, “Louis Stewart is one of the all-time greats, and it is obvious from the first notes he plays on any occasion.”

Stewart receives an honorary doctorate from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1998. In 2009, he becomes only the second jazz musician to be elected to Aosdána, an Irish affiliation of people engaged in literature, music, and visual arts that was established by the Irish Arts Council in 1981 to honour those whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in Ireland.

In 2015, Stewart is diagnosed with cancer and dies on August 20, 2016 in Harold’s Cross, Dublin, at the age of 72.


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Death of James FitzMaurice

James FitzMaurice, a member of the 16th century ruling Geraldine dynasty in the province of Munster, dies on August 18, 1579. He rebels against the crown authority of Queen Elizabeth I of England in response to the onset of the Tudor conquest of Ireland. He leads the first of the Desmond Rebellions in 1569, spends a period in exile in continental Europe, but returns with an invasion force in 1579. He dies shortly after landing.

FitzMaurice is the son of Maurice Fitzjohn of Totane, a brother of John FitzGerald, de facto 12th Earl of Desmond, and Julia O’Mulryan of County Tipperary, cousin of Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond. Totane had been granted the barony of Kerricurrihy in County Cork, but Gerald fell out with Totane and wars are fought between the families.

After the Desmond defeat at Battle of Affane in 1565, the 14th Earl and his brother, John of Desmond, are detained in England. During their absence, FitzMaurice becomes captain general of County Desmond with the warrant of the Earl. This means he has authority over the soldiers retained in the service of the Desmond Fitzgeralds. In July 1568, he enters Clanmaurice, the territory of the lord of Lixnaw, to distrain for rent and assert the Desmond authority. Having seized 200 head of cattle and wasted the country, he is confronted by Lixnaw on the way home and utterly defeated.

At the end of 1568, the absent Earl of Desmond grants Sir Warham St. Leger a lease of the barony of Kerricurrihy, which cast FitzMaurice’s inheritance into confusion. In 1569 the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney, is informed by FitzMaurice that he has assembled the people of Desmond to tell them that the Lord Deputy was unable to procure the release of the captive earl, who would be executed or perpetually imprisoned, and that the people should proclaim a new earl or captain. With one voice, the people cry out for FitzMaurice to be captain. The earl’s wife, Eleanor Butler, writes to her husband in November that FitzMaurice is seeking to bring the earl into further disrepute and to usurp his inheritance, “by the example of his father.”

To reassert Geraldine authority, FitzMaurice then launches what becomes known as the first of the Desmond Rebellions. The southern part of Ireland erupts into a general rebellion, owing in part to attempts at establishing plantations. In June 1569, FitzMaurice and the Earl of Clancarty (MacCarthy Mor) invade Kerrycurrihy, spoil the inhabitants, take the castle-abbey of Tracton, hang the garrison, and refuse to depart without the surrender to them of the custody of Lady St. Leger and Lady Grenville, the wives of the principal English colonists. FitzMaurice then joins in league with the turbulent brothers of the Earl of Ormond, and enters a bond with the Earl of Thomond and John Burke, son of the Earl of Clanricard. He writes to the mayor and corporation of Cork in July ordering the abolition of the new heresy of Protestantism, at a time when he appears to have been taking instruction from Irish Jesuits.

By September 1569, Sidney has broken the back of the rebellion and leaves Sir Humphrey Gilbert behind to suppress FitzMaurice, who seeks refuge in the woods of Aherlow, and after Gilbert’s departure FitzMaurice raises a new force in February 1570 and by a surprise night attack, takes Kilmallock and after hanging the chief townsmen at the market cross, plunders its wealth and burns the town. In February 1571, Sir John Perrot lands at Waterford as Lord President of Munster and challenges FitzMaurice to a duel, which FitzMaurice declines with the remark, “For if I should kill Sir John Perrot the Queen of England can send another president into this province; but if he do kill me there is none other to succeed me or to command as I do.”

FitzMaurice attacks Perrot, but retires on mistaking a small cavalry company for the advance party of a larger force. After a second and successful siege by Perrot of the Geraldine stronghold of Castlemaine, FitzMaurice sues for pardon, which is granted in February 1573, after he prostrates himself in Kilmallock church with the president’s sword point next to his heart. He swears fealty to the crown, and gives up his son as hostage.

On the return to Ireland of the Earl of Desmond in 1573, FitzMaurice leaves for the continent, offering his reasons variously as a desire to gain pardon from the Queen through the French court, and the unkindness of the earl. In March 1575 he and his family, along with the Geraldine Seneschal of Imokilly, James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, and the White Knight, Edmund FitzGibbon, sail on the La Arganys for Saint-Malo, Brittany where they are received by the governor. He has several interviews with Catherine de’ Medici in Paris, offering to help make Henry III of France king of Ireland, and is granted a pension of 5,000 crowns in 1576.

Early in the following year FitzMaurice leaves for the Spanish court, where he offers the crown to the brother of King Philip II, Don John. The king is cautious, however. FitzMaurice leaves his sons Maurice and Gerald with Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, and travels to Italy to meet Pope Gregory XIII.

At the papal court FitzMaurice meets adventurer Captain Thomas Stukley, and together they persuade the pope to underwrite the cost of 1,000 troops to invade Ireland, most of whom, according to Philip O’Sullivan Beare, are desperadoes the pope wishes to get out of Italy. Fitzmaurice and Stukley are to rendezvous in Lisbon and proceed to Ireland, however, Stukley decides to throw his troops and support to King Sebastian‘s expedition to Morocco, where he dies.

Following the diversion of Stukley to Morocco, FitzMaurice sets out with the nuncio Nicholas Sanders, and Matthew de Oviedo from Ferrol in Galicia, Spain on June 17, 1579 with a few troops on his vessel and three Spanish shallops. They capture two English vessels in the channel and arrive at Dingle on July 16, 1579, launching the Second Desmond Rebellion.

On July 18 they cast anchor in Ard na Caithne, where they garrison at Dún an Óir (Fort of Gold), and are joined on July 25 by two galleys with 100 troops. Four days later their ships are captured by the English fleet under the command of Sir William Wynter. Having exhorted the Earl of Desmond and the Earl of Kildare, as Geraldine leaders, to fight the heretics, FitzMaurice leaves the fort to await the arrival of Stukley who, unknown to him, had been killed at the Battle of Alcácer Quibir in the previous year, during a campaign by King Sebastian of Portugal.

FitzMaurice goes to make a vow at the monastery of the Holy Cross in County Tipperary but becomes caught in a skirmish with the forces of his cousin, Theobald Burke, during which he is shot with a ball in the hollow of the chest, but cuts his way through to Burke and his brother William, both of whom he kills with single strokes of his sword.

The battle is won, but close to the scene his injuries overcome him. He makes his will and orders his friends to cut off his head after death in order that his enemies might not mutilate his body. He begs his attendants to attest that he had not turned tail on the enemy. They assure him, and wish him to be quiet because hostile soldiers are closing in, but he insists, “My wounds are clear, my wounds are clear.” Upon his death, a kinsman orders the decapitation and then wraps the head in cloth. An attempt is made to conceal his trunk under a tree, but it is discovered by a hunter and brought to the town of Kilmallock. For weeks, the trunk is nailed to the gallows, until it is shattered by musket fire and collapses.


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Birth of Richard Lalor Shiel, Politician, Writer & Orator

Richard Lalor Sheil, Irish politician, writer and orator, is born at Drumdowney, Slieverue, County Kilkenny on August 17, 1791. The family is temporarily domiciled at Drumdowney while their new mansion at Bellevue, near Waterford, is under construction.

Shiel’s father is Edward Sheil, who acquires considerable wealth in Cadiz in southern Spain and owns an estate in County Tipperary. His mother is Catherine McCarthy of Springhouse, near Bansha, County Tipperary, a member of the old aristocratic family of Mac Cárthaigh Riabhach of Springhouse, who in their time were Princes of Carbery and Counts of Toulouse in France. He is taught French and Latin by the Abbé de Grimeau, a French refugee. He is then sent to a Catholic school in Kensington, London, presided over by a French nobleman, M. de Broglie. For a time he attends the lay college in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. In October 1804, he is removed to Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and in November 1807 enters Trinity College, Dublin, where he specially distinguishes himself in the debates of the Historical Society.

After taking his degree in 1811 Sheil is admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn, and is called to the Irish bar in 1814. He is one of the founders of the Catholic Association in 1823 and draws up the petition for inquiry into the mode of administering the laws in Ireland, which is presented in that year to both Houses of Parliament.

In 1825, Sheil accompanies Daniel O’Connell to London to protest against the suppression of the Catholic Association. The protest is unsuccessful, but, although nominally dissolved, the association continues its propaganda after the defeat of the Catholic Relief Bill in 1825. He is one of O’Connell’s leading supporters in the agitation persistently carried on until Catholic emancipation was granted in 1829.

In the same year Shiel is returned to Parliament for Milborne Port, and in 1831 for County Louth, holding that seat until 1832. He takes a prominent part in all the debates relating to Ireland, and although he is greater as a platform orator than as a debater, he gradually wins the somewhat reluctant admiration of the House. In August 1839, he becomes Vice-President of the Board of Trade in Lord Melbourne‘s ministry.

After the accession of Lord John Russell to power in 1846, Shiel is appointed Master of the Mint, and in 1850 he is appointed minister at the court of Tuscany. He dies in Florence on May 23, 1851. His remains are conveyed back to Ireland by a British ship-of-war, and interred at Long Orchard, near Templetuohy, County Tipperary.

George W. E. Russell says of Shiel, “Sheil was very small, and of mean presence; with a singularly fidgety manner, a shrill voice, and a delivery unintelligibly rapid. But in sheer beauty of elaborated diction not O’Connell nor any one else could surpass him.”

Shiel’s play, Adelaide, or the Emigrants, is performed at the Crow Street Theatre in Dublin, on February 19, 1814, with success, and, on May 23, 1816, it is performed at Covent Garden in London. The Apostate, produced at the latter theatre on May 3, 1817, establishes his reputation as a dramatist. His other principal plays are Bellamira (written in 1818), Evadne (1819), Huguenot (produced in 1822) and Montini (1820).

In 1822, Sheil begins, with William Henry Curran, to contribute to The New Monthly Magazine a series of papers entitled “Sketches of the Irish Bar.” Curran, in fact, does most of the writing. These pieces are edited by Marmion Wilme Savage in 1855 in two volumes, under the title of Sketches Legal and Political. Sheil’s Speeches are edited in 1845 by Thomas MacNevin.

In 1816, Shiel marries a Miss O’Halloran, niece of Sir William MacMahon, Master of the Rolls in Ireland. They have one son, who predeceases Sheil. His wife dies in January 1822. In July 1830, he marries Anastasia Lalor Power, a widow. He then adds the middle name Lalor.


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Birth of Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, educator, philanthropist, and the founder of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, is born in Westcourt, Callan, County Kilkenny on June 1, 1762.

Rice is born into a Catholic family and is one of nine children. It comes as a surprise that a Catholic family can be prosperous in these days but they have a lease of a good-sized farm and are industrious people. In view of his future work in education it is fortunate that he receives a very good education himself, first at a local hedge school and then at a private secondary school in Kilkenny.

Rice is apprenticed to his uncle, Michael Rice, in Waterford at the age of 17. Waterford is then the second largest port in Ireland with an expanding trade with England, France and Spain and has very special trading links across the Atlantic with Newfoundland. His uncle is involved in providing food and services for the crews and passengers of the ships trading in and out of the port of Waterford. His uncle becomes a very prosperous businessman and his business expands even more after it is handed over to his nephew. His great wealth is later to be used in transforming the lives of countless young boys.

At the age of 25 Rice marries Mary Elliot and is left a widower two years later when she dies after falling from a horse. He is left with a handicapped daughter, Mary. He calls in his step-sister Joan Murphy to help him care for his daughter so he can develop the business he inherited from his uncle.

In 1802, having properly cared for his daughter, Rice begins a night school for the uneducated boys from the quays of Waterford. His deep desire is to found a religious order of men who will educate these poor boys so that they can live with dignity and high self-esteem. But his volunteer assistants cannot stick with it. Neither can the paid teachers he later employs. Just when his spirits are lowest, and he looks to be a failure to all his business colleagues, two men from his native Callan join him not only to educate these unruly boys but also to join him in his plan to found a religious order. To do such a thing is contrary to the law. Nevertheless Rice and his growing number of companions proceed. In 1808 seven of them take religious vows under Bishop Power of Waterford. They are called Presentation Brothers. This is the first congregation of men to be founded in Ireland and one of the few ever founded in a Church by a layman. Rice has in the meantime built a substantial school out of his own money, but it is already proving too small for the many boys who flock to him for an education.

Gradually an extraordinary transformation takes place in the “quay kids” of Waterford. Rice and his Brothers educate them, clothe and feed them. Other Bishops in Ireland supply him with men whom he prepares for religious life and teaching. In this way the Presentation Brothers spread throughout Ireland. However, the groups in separate dioceses are not under his control but that of the Bishop. This creates problems when Brothers need to be transferred. Rice seeks and ultimately obtains approval from Pope Pius VII for his Brothers to be made into a pontifical congregation with Rice as Superior General. He is then able to move Brothers to wherever they are most needed. From this time on they are called Christian Brothers. By 1825 there are 30 Christian Brothers working in 12 towns and cities and educating 5,500 boys, free of charge. Many of these boys are also being clothed and fed.

Rice’s life is steeped in a spirituality that is strong and practical. He is forever caring for the poor in the wretched circumstances of their lives, for he believes there is a great need “to give to the poor in handfuls.” Many people, both men and women, from many cultures, young and old are helped and given hope and purpose and a new footing in life. He and his Brothers even card for the inmates of the jails of Waterford. He is privileged to comfort and accompany many a condemned man to the gallows. The poor never forget his love for them and see him as “a man raised up by God.”

Rice endures many and severe trials and in 1829 it seems the Christian Brothers are going to be suppressed by the law of the land. They face extinction but this does not happen. An even worse trial comes to him personally when some of his own Brothers try to undermine his work. Fortunately they are unsuccessful. He gave his Brothers as their motto a text from the Book of Job that means so much to him in his life: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord forever.”

In 1838, at the age of 76, Rice retires from leadership of the congregation and returns to Waterford. After living in a near-comatose state for more than two years, he dies at Mount Sion, Waterford on August 29, 1844, where his remains lie in a casket to this day.

Rice is declared to be Blessed Edmund Rice by Pope John Paul II in Rome on October 6, 1996. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is 5 May.

(From: “Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice,” Diocese of Waterford & Lismore, http://www.waterfordlismore.ie)


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Birth of Shakespearean Actress Harriet Smithson

Harriet Constance Smithson, Anglo-Irish Shakespearean actress of the 19th century and best known as the first wife and muse of Hector Berlioz, is born at Ennis, County Clare on March 18, 1800.

Her father, William Joseph Smithson, is an actor and theatrical manager from Gloucestershire, England, and her mother is an actress whose full name is unknown. She also has a brother, Joseph Smithson, and a sister, name also unknown. In October 1801, she is left in the care of Reverend James Barrett, a priest of the Church of Ireland, parish of Drumcliffe. Barrett becomes her guardian and raises her as though she were his own daughter. He instructs her “in the precepts of religion,” and keeps everything connected with the stage from her view. After his death on February 16, 1808, the Smithsons send Harriet to a boarding school in Waterford.

On May 27, 1814, Smithson makes her first stage appearance at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, as Albina Mandevill in Frederick Reynolds‘s The Will. Her performance is well received. In 1815, she takes her parents’ place in Montague Talbot’s company in Belfast after they return to Dublin. The season opens on January 1, 1816, where she extends her range in roles, performing in multiple comedies. She then travels to Newry, Limerick, Dublin, and Birmingham, where she joins Robert Elliston‘s company. She spends the next two months playing over forty roles in various genres.

Four years later, January 20, 1818, Smithson makes her first London appearance at Drury Lane as Letitia Hardy in The Belle’s Stratagem. Her first performance receives mixed reviews from critics, but she quickly gains some favour of critics and performers as she obtains more experience. She joins the permanent company at the Royal Coburg Theatre later that year. However, she rejoins Drury Lane Company in the autumn of 1820. On February 20, 1821, she takes the lead female role in Thérèse by John Howard Payne, when the cast actress falls ill. Overall, the London public remembers her as The Times put it, “a face and features well adapted to her profession; but [an actress] not likely to make a great impression on a London audience, or to figure among stars of the first magnitude.”

In 1827, Smithson makes her Paris début as Lydia Languish in The Rivals at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. Though she receives negative reviews for this role, she is highly praised for her beauty and ability in the subsequent performance of She Stoops to Conquer. On September 11, 1827, she is given the small part of Ophelia next to Charles Kemble in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. She leaves a long lasting impression on the French through her interpretation of Ophelia’s madness, utilizing pantomime and natural presentation.

The tremendous success of Hamlet leads to the announcement of Romeo and Juliet, for September 15. Smithson is cast as Juliet, where she revolutionizes the women’s role in theatre by becoming as important as her male counterpart. Until this point, women’s lines in theatre are heavily cut and censored to reduce the role for the company’s “restricted talent.” Again, the production is widely well received. On September 18, Shakespeare’s Othello becomes the third Shakespeare tragedy to be performed by The English theatre. Her performance as Desdemona is less effective, but the production is popular enough to be repeated the following week. She is cast as Jane Shore in the renowned tragedy The Tragedy of Jane Shore, a role in which she moves her audience to tears. The production soon becomes the most performed play in the English season. At the end of her time in France, she had acted in several productions with famous actors such as William Charles Macready, Edmund Kean, and Charles Kemble.

As opportunities to continue her work in Paris dwindle, Smithson returns to London to perform Jane Shore again. The production opens at Covent Garden on May 11, 1829 under unfavorable circumstances. Some audience members, who had read her reviews before she went to Paris, feel reluctant to attend the show. However, just seven days after her next performance as Juliet, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the press gives her glowing reviews.

After Covent Garden closes for the summer in 1832, Smithson tours England to minor theatres performing almost exclusively in tragedies. In June 1832, she joins the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where she has limited success and receives criticism about her weight.

In 1830, Smithson goes back to Paris to set up an English theatre under her own management. She obtains permission to perform at the Theatre-Italien where she performs several unsuccessful plays. A year later, she breaks her leg and is forced to put her career on hold until her leg heals, leaving her in great debt. She gives her last performance, as Ophelia, on December 15, 1836, before her health deteriorates.

Toward the end of her life, Smithson suffers from paralysis, which leaves her barely able to move or speak. She dies on March 3, 1854, at her home on the rue Saint-Vincent, and is buried at the Cimetière Saint-Vincent. Berlioz has her body is later reinterred at the Montmartre Cemetery when Cimetière Saint-Vincent undergoes redevelopment.

(Pictured: Oil on canvas portrait of Harriet Smithson by Claude-Marie-Paul Dubufe, located at the Musee Magnin, Dijon, France)