seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Jimmy Kennedy, Songwriter & Lyricist

jimmy-kennedy-1James Kennedy, songwriter and lyricist, is born on July 20, 1902 near Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. He puts words to existing music such as “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” and “My Prayer” and co-writes with composers Michael Carr, Wilhelm Grosz and Nat Simon, among others. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he writes some 2,000 songs, of which over 200 become worldwide hits and about 50 are all-time popular music classics.

Kennedy’s father, Joseph Hamilton Kennedy, is a policeman in the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). While growing up in the village of Coagh, Kennedy writes several songs and poems. He is inspired by local surroundings — the view of the Ballinderry River, the local Springhill House and the plentiful chestnut trees on his family’s property, as evidenced in his poem Chestnut Trees. He later moves to Portstewart, a seaside resort in County Londonderry.

Kennedy graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, before teaching in England. He is accepted into the Colonial Service, as a civil servant, in 1927.

While awaiting a Colonial Service posting to the colony of Nigeria, Kennedy embarks on a career in songwriting. His first success comes in 1930 with “The Barmaid’s Song”, sung by Gracie Fields. Fellow lyricist Harry Castling, introduces him to Bert Feldman, a music publisher based in London‘s “Tin Pan Alley“, for whom he starts to work. In the early 1930s he writes a number of successful songs, including “Oh, Donna Clara” (1930), “My Song Goes Round the World” (1931), and “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” (1933), in which he provides new lyrics to John Walter Bratton‘s tune from 1907.

In 1934, Feldman turns down Kennedy’s song “Isle of Capri“, but it becomes a major hit for a new publisher, Peter Maurice. He writes several more successful songs for Maurice, including “Red Sails in the Sunset” (1935), inspired by beautiful summer evenings in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, “Harbour Lights” (1937) and “South of the Border” (1939), inspired by a holiday picture postcard he receives from Tijuana, Mexico and written with composer Michael Carr. He and Carr also collaborate on several West End shows in the 1930s, including London Rhapsody (1937). “My Prayer,” with original music by Georges Boulanger, has English lyrics penned by Kennedy in 1939. It is originally written by Boulanger with the title “Avant de Mourir” in 1926.

During the early stages of World War II, while serving in the British Army‘s Royal Artillery, where he rises to the rank of Captain, Kennedy writes the wartime hit, “We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line.” His hits also include “Cokey Cokey” (1945), and the English lyrics to “Lili Marlene.” After the end of the war, his songs include “Apple Blossom Wedding” (1947), “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (1953), and “Love Is Like a Violin” (1960). In the 1960s he writes the song “The Banks of the Erne'”, for recording by his friend from the war years, Theo Hyde, also known as Ray Warren.

Kennedy is a patron of the Castlebar Song Contest from 1973 until his death in 1984 and his association with the event adds great prestige to the contest.

Kennedy wins two Ivor Novello Awards for his contribution to music and receives an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster. He is awarded the OBE in 1983 and, in 1997, is posthumously inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Kennedy dies in Cheltenham on April 6, 1984 at the age of 81. He is interred in Taunton, Somerset.

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Birth of Ninette de Valois, Dancer & Choreographer

ninette-de-valoisDame Ninette de Valois, Irish-born British ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder of the company that in October 1956 becomes the Royal Ballet, is born Edris Stannus at Baltyboys House in Blessington, County Wicklow on June 6, 1898. She is influential in establishing ballet in England.

In 1908, at the age of ten, de Valois starts attending ballet lessons. At the age of thirteen she begins her professional training at the Lila Field Academy for Children. It is at this time that she changes her name and makes her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.

In 1919, at the age of 21, de Valois is appointed principal dancer of the Beecham Opera Company, which is then the resident opera company at the Royal Opera House. She continues to study ballet with notable teachers, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat.

In 1923, de Valois joins Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as a soloist. At age 26, however, she quits performing after learning she is suffering from an undiagnosed case of childhood polio. In 1926 she founds her own school, the Academy of Choreographic Art, in London. She also produces dances for Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for Terence Gray at the Cambridge Festival Theatre.

The success of de Valois’s ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing for the Camargo Society in 1931, followed by her association with Lilian Baylis, director of the Old Vic Theatre, leads to the founding in 1931 of the Vic-Wells Ballet Company and the Sadler’s Wells School. She traces the history of the company, from its founding until it becomes the Royal Ballet in 1956, in Invitation to the Ballet (1937) and Come Dance with Me (1957).

Besides directing the company that she created, de Valois choreographs numerous ballets, including Checkmate (1937) and Don Quixote (1950). By drawing from English tradition for her choreographic material, as in The Rake’s Progress (1935), inspired by William Hogarth’s series of engravings, and The Prospect Before Us (1940), modeled on Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the same name, she creates a uniquely national ballet company. Her narrative ballets include prominent roles for male dancers, giving them artistic opportunities often neglected by other choreographers.

In 1963 de Valois retires as director of the Royal Ballet, although she remains head of the school until 1972. She is created a Dame of the British Empire in 1951 and is named Companion of Honour in 1980.

de Valois keeps her private life very distinct from her professional life, making only the briefest of references to her marriage to Dr. Arthur Blackall Connell, a physician and surgeon from Wandsworth, in her autobiographical writings. In April 1964 she is the subject of This Is Your Life, when she is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the home of the dancer Frederick Ashton in London. She continues to make public appearances until her death in London on March 8, 2001 at the age of 102.

(Pictured: Ninette de Valois, circa early 1920s)


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Birth of Siobhán McCarthy, Television & Stage Actress

siobhan-mccarthySiobhán Mary Ann McCarthy, television and stage actress, is born in Dublin on November 6, 1957. She is perhaps best known for her role as Roisin Connor in ITV1‘s prison drama Bad Girls. Her television credits include Lovejoy, The Big Battalions and Holby City.

McCarthy originates the roles of the Mistress in Evita in 1978 in London‘s West End, before later returning to the show to play the title role. In between, she joins the vocal harmony group Wall Street Crash (1980 – 1983) where she performs several times at London’s Talk of the Town, at the Casino in Monte Carlo, and in two episodes of Royal Variety Performance (1980 and 1982). She is also the first to play Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! in 1999, for which she is nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

McCarthy’s other roles include leads as Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers, Svetlana in the original London production of Chess, Fantine in Les Misérables, Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and Deborah Warner’s Medea.

More recently McCarthy plays the roles of Velma Von Tussle in the London production of Hairspray (February 2010 – March 2010) and Joanne in the Southwark Playhouse revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s Company.

McCarthy is married to theatrical sound designer Andrew Bruce, and resides in London with her husband and two children, Kieran and Juliet.


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“The Beauty Queen of Leenane” Wins Four Tony Awards

the-beauty-queen-of-leenaneAfter being nominated in six categories, Galway’s Druid Theatre Company wins four Tony Awards on June 8, 1998 for its production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a 1996 comedy by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh.

The play receives its world premiere when the Druid Theatre Company opens the production at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway on February 1, 1996. It then tours Ireland, stopping off in Longford, Kilkenny and Limerick. It transfers to London‘s West End, where it opens at the Royal Court Theatre on February 29, 1996.

The Druid production returns to Ireland to embark on an extensive national tour, playing in Galway, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Fermanagh, Donegal and Derry amongst others. The play returns to London where it is revived at the Duke of York’s Theatre on November 29, 1996 for several months.

The play is produced as part of Druid’s Leenane Trilogy, which includes two other plays by Martin McDonagh, in 1997 where it plays as part of another Irish and UK tour, which includes stops at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin and the Royal Court Theatre in London again.

The play receives its American premiere opening Off-Broadway on February 11, 1998, presented by the Atlantic Theatre Company at the Linda Gross Theater. It transfers to the Walter Kerr Theater on Broadway where it opens on April 14, 1998. It receives six Tony Award nominations, winning four for Best Supporting Actor (Tom Murphy), Best Actress (Marie Mullen), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Manahan), and Best Director (Garry Hynes), the first female recipient of a Tony Award for directing a play.

The play is produced in Australia in 1998 and again in 1999. The 1999 production is a tour by the Royal Court Theatre Company, appearing at the Adelaide Festival Centre (May – June 1999) and Wharf 1 (July 1999) and directed by Garry Hynes. The production returns to Ireland in 2000 as part of a final national tour.

The play is revived in July 2010 at the Young Vic Theatre in the West End, starring Irish actress Rosaleen Linehan. The production transfers to Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre where Linehan reprises her role opposite Derbhle Crotty. It then returns to the Young Vic for another run, closing in September 2011.

The Druid Theatre Company presents a revival in 2016–2017. The production starts in Ireland in Galway at the Town Hall Theatre in September 2016, and then tours to The Everyman in Cork, the Lime Tree Theatre in Limerick and the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin. The play then tours in the United States starting in November 2016. The play runs at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in November 2016 then opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, running from January 11, 2017 to February 5. The production returns to Ireland, playing at The Gaiety Theatre from March 28 to April 15, 2017.