seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Boxing Champion “Rinty” Monaghan

John Joseph “Rinty” Monaghan, world flyweight boxing champion from Belfast, is born on August 21, 1918. He becomes famous in the post-war period, eventually rising to become undisputed world champion and a hero to many people in his home city.

Born in Lancaster Street in north Belfast, Monaghan attends St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers’ School in Donegall Street. A noted fighter at boys’ level, he entereds the paid ranks in his mid-teens. After a short period of wartime service, he resumes his career and his burgeoning reputation draws huge crowds from all parts of Belfast. In particular, bouts at Belfast’s King’s Hall are the highlight with that venue normally packed to the rafters.

In October 1947, the National Boxing Association world crown becomes Monaghan’s after outpointing American Salvador “Dado” Marino at Harringay Stadium for the vacant title. The mantle of undisputed champion of the world rests on his shoulders after he defeats the tough Scottish fighter Jackie Paterson on March 23, 1948. Paterson is to prove one of his major adversaries.

By the time that a long-standing chest complaint forces his retirement as champion in 1950, Monaghan’s trophy cabinet contains the British, European, Commonwealth and World crowns. Of the 66 official bouts he fights during his illustrious career, he wins 51, draws 6 and loses 9. He endears himself to his supporters after his fights by singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to the King’s Hall audience, which joins in the singing.

A part-time cabaret artist, Monaghan tours western Europe during World War II with other notables of the period including Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields and George Formby, and later forms his own band.

Monaghan’s nickname “Rinty” comes from his fondness for dogs. According to his daughter Martha, he brought home injured dogs so often that his grandmother called him Rin Tin Tin, after the film dog, and shortened it to Rinty.

Monaghan marries Frances Thompson in 1938 and moves to nearby Sailortown. He has three daughters, Martha, Rosetta and Collette, and one son, Sean. In later life he has a variety of jobs but remains true to his working-class roots and stays in Belfast. He dies at his home in Little Corporation St. on March 3, 1984, at the relatively young age of 65. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.

To mark the influence of this “home-town hero”, the Ulster History Circle and Belfast City Council provide a plaque in Monaghan’s honour at the King’s Hall that is unveiled, in the presence of many of his family circle and friends, on May 3, 2007.

Belfast City Council erects a statue to Monaghan at Cathedral Gardens on August 20, 2015. The 10-foot high bronze statue on a granite plinth is designed by Alan Beattie Herriot and features Monaghan holding a microphone and singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”


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The Death of Ernest Ball, Singer & Songwriter

ernest-ballErnest Roland Ball, American singer and songwriter, most famous for composing the music for the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in 1912, dies in Santa Ana, California on May 3, 1927. He is not himself Irish.

Ball is born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 2, 1878 and receives formal music training at the Cleveland Conservatory. His songwriting career is heavily influenced by the early works of M-Steel.

Ball’s nascent career is much buoyed when James J. Walker, then a state senator of New York, asks him to write music for some lyrics he had written. He does, and the song “Will You Love Me In December as You Do In May?” becomes a hit. Walker later becomes known as “Dapper Jimmy Walker”, Mayor of New York City, a fortunate event for Ball’s career.

Ball accompanies singers, sings in vaudeville and writes sentimental ballads, mostly with Irish themes. He collaborates with Chauncey Olcott on many songs including “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” for which Olcott writes the lyrics. He writes other Irish favorites including “Mother Machree,” “A Little Bit of Heaven,” “Dear Little Boy of Mine” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By.” “Mother Machree” is made popular by the famous Irish tenor, John McCormick. He also works with J. Keirn Brennan on songs like “For Dixie and Uncle Sam” and “Good Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You.”

Ball becomes a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1907, and writes many American standards. He is also a fine pianist, and his playing is preserved on several piano roll recordings he makes for the Vocalstyle Music Company, based in Cincinnati in his home state of Ohio.

Ernest Ball dies on May 3, 1927 just after walking off stage at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, California while on tour with “Ernie Ball and His Gang,” an act starring Ball and a male octet. He is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

A 1944 musical Irish Eyes Are Smiling tells the story of Ball’s career and stars Dick Haymes and June Haver. His grandson is the guitar string entrepreneur Ernie Ball, great-grandson is singer-songwriter/content producer Sherwood Ernest Ball and his great-great-granddaughters are actress Hannah Marks and singer/songwriter Tiare’ Ball.


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Birth of Chauncey Olcott, Actor, Singer & Songwriter

chauncey-olcottJohn Chancellor “Chauncey” Olcott, American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, is born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1858. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), is a native of Killeagh, County Cork.

In the early years of his career Olcott sings in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell plays a major role in helping make him a Broadway star. When the producer Augustus Pitou approaches him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepts and performs pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.

Olcott combines the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He writes the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garrett O’Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborates with Ernest Ball and George Graff, Jr. in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o’ Dreams (1913). There are some twenty such works between 1894 and 1920.

Olcott is a good songwriter who captures the mood of his Irish American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals become very popular, such as “My Wild Irish Rose” from A Romance of Athlone, “Mother Machree” from Barry of Ballymore, and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” from The Isle o’ Dreams. Sometimes he uses tunes from others, such as that of the title song from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).

In 1925, a serious illness forces Olcott to retire and he moves to Monte Carlo, Monaco where he dies of pernicious anemia on March 18, 1932. His body is brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

Olcott’s life story is told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott. The film’s plot is based on the biography by Olcott’s widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).

In 1970, Olcott is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.