seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Denis Johnston, Writer & Playwright

Irish writer William Denis Johnston is born in Ballsbridge, Dublin on June 18, 1901. He primarily writes plays, but also works of literary criticism, a book-length biographical essay of Jonathan Swift, a memoir and an eccentric work on cosmology and philosophy.

Johnston is a protégé of William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, and has a stormy friendship with Seán O’Casey. He is a pioneer of television and war reporting. He works as a lawyer in the 1920s and 1930s before joining the BBC as a writer and producer, first in radio and then in the fledgling television service. His broadcast dramatic work include both original plays and adaptation of the work of many different writers.

Johnston’s first play, The Old Lady Says “No!”, helps establish the worldwide reputation of the Dublin Gate Theatre. His second, The Moon in the Yellow River, has been performed around the globe in numerous productions featuring such actors as Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains and Errol Flynn, although not all in the same production. He plays a role in the 1935 film version of John Millington Synge‘s Riders to the Sea.

During World War II Johnston serves as a BBC war correspondent, reporting from El Alamein to Buchenwald. For this he is awarded an OBE, a Mentioned in Despatches and the Yugoslav Partisans Medal. He then becomes Director of Programmes for the television service.

Johnston later moves to the United States and teaches at Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and other universities. He keeps extensive diaries throughout his life, now deposited in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin. These, together with his many articles and essays, give a distinctive picture of his times and the people he knows. Another archive of his work is held at the library of Ulster University at Coleraine. He receives honorary degrees from the Ulster University and Mount Holyoke College and is a member of Aosdána.

The Denis Johnston Playwriting Prize is awarded annually by Smith College Department of Theatre for the best play, screen play or musical written by an undergraduate at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst College, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Johnston’s war memoir Nine Rivers from Jordan reaches The New York Times Bestseller List and is cited in the World Book Encyclopedia‘s 1950s article on World War II under “Books to Read”, along with Churchill, Eisenhower et al. Joseph Ronsley cites an unnamed former CBS Vietnam correspondent who calls the book the “Bible”, carrying it with him constantly, “reading it over and over in the field during his tour of duty.”

Denis Johnston dies on August 8, 1984 in Ballybrack, Dublin. His daughter Jennifer Johnston is a respected novelist and playwright.


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Birth of Eva Gore-Booth, Suffragist & Sister of Countess Markievicz

Eva Selina Laura Gore-Booth, poet and dramatist, and a committed suffragist, social worker and labour activist, is born at Lissadell House, County Sligo, on May 22, 1870. She is the younger sister of Constance Gore-Booth, later known as the Countess Markievicz.

The work of Gore-Booth, alongside that of Esther Roper, the English woman who would become her lifelong companion, is responsible for the close link between the struggle for women’s rights in industry and the struggle for women’s right to vote. As a middle class suffragist representing Manchester, the work of Gore-Booth is mainly recognized in the Lancashire cotton towns from 1899 to 1913. Her struggle begins when she becomes a member of the executive committee of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Carrying out work at the Ancoats settlement, Eva becomes co-secretary of the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade Union Council.

In 1902 Gore-Booth campaigns at the Clitheroe by-election on behalf of David Shackleton, a Labour candidate who promises her that he would show support for the women’s enfranchisement. Shackleton is elected but does not act upon his promise. This leads to the founding of the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Worker’s Representation Committee by Gore-Booth, Esther Roper and Sarah Reddish. When the Women’s Trade Union Council refuses to make women’s suffrage one of its aims, Gore-Booth resigns from the council.

After resigning from the Women’s Trade Union Council, Gore-Booth and Sarah Dickenson, who had also resigned, set up the Manchester and Salford Women’s Trade and Labour Council. As part of this council, Gore-Booth and other suffragists use constitutional methods of campaigning. In the general election of 1906, they put forward their own candidate, Thorley Smith, but he is defeated.

In 1907 Gore-Booth, reluctant to give up hope, contributes an essay “The Women’s Suffrage Movement Among Trade Unionists” to The Case for Women’s Suffrage. In this essay Eva gives a summary of reasons for the methods of the LCWTOW campaign to gain a vote for working women.

As World War I breaks out, Gore-Booth and Esther Roper take up welfare work among German women and children in England. Gore-Booth becomes a member of the Women’s Peace Crusade in 1915 and the No-Conscription Fellowship in 1916.

When Gore-Booth embarks on her writing career she is visited by William Butler Yeats who is very much taken with her work. Yeats hopes that she will take up his cause of writing Irish tales to enchant and amuse. Instead Eva takes Irish folklore and put emphasis on the females in the story. Her widely discussed sexuality in later years is never declared but her poetry reflects it quite overtly. Gore-Booth is also one of a group of editors of the magazine Urania that publishes three issues per year from 1916 to 1940. It is a feminist magazine that reprints stories and poems from all over the world with editorial comment.

After years of playing a lead role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and fighting for equality of women’s rights in the UK as well as staying true to her literary roots, Gore-Booth and Roper relocate to London from Manchester in 1913 due to Gore-Booth’s deteriorating respiratory health.

Just weeks after the 1916 Easter Rising, Gore-Booth travels to Dublin accompanied by Roper and is pivotal in the efforts to reprieve the death sentence of her sister Constance Markievicz awarded for her instrumental role in the rising, which is successfully converted to a life sentence. She further campaigns to abolish the death sentence overall and to reform prison standards. She attends the trial of Irish nationalist and fellow poet Roger Casement thus showing solidarity and support for the overturning of his death sentence.

During the remaining years of her life, which is claimed by cancer on June 30, 1926, Gore-Booth remains devoted to her poetry, dedicates time to her artistic talents as a painter, studies the Greek language and is known as a supporter of animal rights. She dies in her home in Hampstead, London, which she shares with Roper until her passing. She is buried alongside Roper in St. John’s churchyard, Hampstead.


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Death of Author & Journalist Standish James O’Grady

Standish James O’Grady, author, journalist, and historian, dies on May 18, 1928 at Shanklin, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England.

O’Grady is born on March 22, 1846 at Castletown, County Cork, the son of Reverend Thomas O’Grady, the scholarly Church of Ireland minister of Castletown Berehaven, County Cork, and Susanna Doe. After a rather severe education at Tipperary Grammar School, O’Grady follows his father to Trinity College, Dublin, where he wins several prize medals and distinguishes himself in several sports.

O’Grady proves too unconventional of mind to settle into a career in the church and earns much of his living by writing for the Irish newspapers. Reading Sylvester O’Halloran‘s General history of Ireland sparks an interest in early Irish history. After an initial lukewarm response to his writing on the legendary past in History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878–81) and Early Bardic Literature of Ireland (1879), he realizes that the public wants romance, and so follows the example of James Macpherson in recasting Irish legends in literary form, producing historical novels including Finn and his Companions (1891), The Coming of Cuculain (1894), The Chain of Gold (1895), Ulrick the Ready (1896) and The Flight of the Eagle (1897), and The Departure of Dermot (1913).

O’Grady also studies Irish history of the Elizabethan period, presenting in his edition of Sir Thomas Stafford‘s Pacata Hibernia (1896) the view that the Irish people have made the Tudors into kings of Ireland in order to overthrow their unpopular landlords, the Irish chieftains. His The Story of Ireland (1894) is not well received, as it sheds too positive a light on the rule of Oliver Cromwell for the taste of many Irish readers. He is also active in social and political campaigns in connection with such issues as unemployment and taxation.

Until 1898, he works as a journalist for the Daily Express of Dublin, but in that year, finding Dublin journalism in decline, he moves to Kilkenny to become editor of the Kilkenny Moderator. It is here he becomes involved with Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart and Captain Otway Cuffe. He engages in the revival of the local woolen and woodworking industries. In 1900 he founds the All-Ireland Review and returns to Dublin to manage it until it ceases publication in 1908. O’Grady contributes to James Larkin‘s The Irish Worker paper.

O’Grady’s works are an influence on William Butler Yeats and George Russell and this leads to him being known as the “Father of the Celtic Revival.” Being as much proud of his family’s Unionismand Protestantism as of his Gaelic Irish ancestry, identities that are increasingly seen as antithetical in the late 1800s, he is described by Augusta, Lady Gregory as a “fenian unionist.”

Advised to move away from Ireland for the sake of his health, O’Grady passes his later years living with his eldest son, a clergyman in England, and dies on the Isle of Wight on May 18, 1928.

His eldest son, Hugh Art O’Grady, is for a time editor of the Cork Free Press before he enlists in World War I early in 1915. He becomes better known as Dr. Hugh O’Grady, later Professor of the Transvaal University College, Pretoria, who writes the biography of his father in 1929.


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Birth of John Millington Synge, Poetic Dramatist

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, is born at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually causes his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from Kerry to Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.


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Birth of Theatrical Producer Hilton Edwards

hilton-edwardsHilton Edwards, an English-born Irish actor, lighting designer, and theatrical producer, is born in London on February 2, 1903.

Edwards begins his career acting with the Charles Doran Shakespeare Company in 1920 in Windsor and then joins The Old Vic in London, playing in all but two of Shakespeare‘s plays before leaving the company a few years later. Trained in music, he also sings baritone roles with the Old Vic Opera company.

After touring with various companies in Britain and South Africa, Edwards goes to Ireland in 1927 for a season with Anew McMaster’s company and meets McMaster’s brother-in-law, Micheál Mac Liammóir. As he tells an interviewer once, both men want a theater of their own. Mac Liammóir wants it to be in Ireland and Edwards does not care. “I don’t care about nationalism, I care about the theater,” he says.

Edwards and Mac Liammóir co-found the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The two men’s talents are complementary. Mac Liammóir is an actor, designer, and writer. Edwards is a director, actor, producer, and lighting designer. Edwards produces and directs more than 300 plays at the Gate, ranging from the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Henrik Ibsen to the comedies of George Bernard Shaw and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and new Irish plays, by such authors as W.B. Yeats, Brian Friel, and Mac Liammóir.

In New York City in 1948 Edwards plays in and directs John Bull’s Other Island and directs The Old Lady Says No and Where Stars Walk. In 1961 Edwards takes a two-year leave from the Gate to become the first Head of Drama at Telefís Éireann. A year later, he wins a Jacob’s Award for his television series Self Portrait.

Edwards appears in 15 films, including Captain Lightfoot (1955), David and Goliath (1960), Victim (1961), and Half a Sixpence (1967). He also writes and directs Orson Welles‘s Return to Glennascaul (1951). However, he is primarily known for his theatre work. He is nominated for a Tony Award in 1966 for Best Director of a Drama for Philadelphia, Here I Come!

Hilton Edwards dies in a Dublin hospital on November 18, 1982. Edwards and Mac Liammóir are the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christophor Fitz-Simon.


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Death of William Butler Yeats

william-butler-yeatsWilliam Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, dies on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France.

Yeats is born in Sandymount, County Dublin, on June 13, 1865, the oldest child of John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. Although John trains as a lawyer, he abandons the law for art soon after his first son is born. Yeats spends much of his early years in London, where his father is studying art, but frequently returns to Ireland as well.

In the mid-1880s, Yeats pursues his own interest in art as a student at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Following the publication of his poems in the Dublin University Review in 1885, he soon abandoned art school for other pursuits.

After returning to London in the late 1880s, Yeats meets writers Oscar Wilde, Lionel Johnson, and George Bernard Shaw. He also becomes acquainted with Maud Gonne, a supporter of Irish independence. This revolutionary woman serves as a muse for Yeats for years. He even proposes marriage to her several times, but she turns him down. He dedicates his 1892 drama The Countess Kathleen to her.

Around this time, Yeats founds the Rhymers’ Club poetry group with Ernest Rhys. He also joins the Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization that explores topics related to the occult and mysticism. While he is fascinated with otherworldly elements, Yeats’s interest in Ireland, especially its folktales, fuels much of his output. The title work of The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) draws from the story of a mythic Irish hero.

In addition to his poetry, Yeats devotes significant energy to writing plays. He teams with Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Around that time, Yeats helps found the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge, serving as its president and co-director. More works soon follow, including On Baile’s Strand, Deirdre, and At the Hawk’s Well.

Following his marriage to Georgie Hyde-Lees in 1917, Yeats begins a new creative period through experiments with automatic writing. The newlyweds sit together for writing sessions they believe to be guided by forces from the spirit world, through which Yeats formulates intricate theories of human nature and history. They soon have two children, daughter Anne and son William Michael.

Yeats then becomes a political figure in the new Irish Free State, serving as a senator for six years beginning in 1922. The following year, he receives an important accolade for his writing as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. According to the official Nobel Prize website, Yeats is selected “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.”

Yeats continues to write until his death. Some of his important later works include The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), A Vision (1925), The Tower (1928) and Words for Music Perhaps and Other Poems (1932). Yeats passes away on January 28, 1939, at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The publication of Last Poems and Two Plays shortly after his death further cements his legacy as a leading poet and playwright.

In September 1948, Yeats’ body is moved to Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette LÉ Macha.


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Opening Night of “The Playboy of the Western World”

playboy-of-the-western-worldThe Playboy of the Western World, a three-act play written by Irish playwright John Millington Synge, is first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on January 26, 1907. The play is set in Michael James Flaherty’s public house in County Mayo during the early 1900s. It tells the story of Christy Mahon, a young man running away from his farm, claiming he killed his father. The locals are more interested in vicariously enjoying his story than in condemning the immorality of his murderous deed, and in fact, Christy’s tale captures the romantic attention of the bar-maid Pegeen Mike, the daughter of Flaherty. The play is best known for its use of the poetic, evocative language of Hiberno-English, heavily influenced by the Irish language, as Synge celebrates the lyrical speech of the Irish.

The Playboy Riots occur during and following the opening performance of the play. The riots are stirred up by Irish nationalists who view the contents of the play as an offence to public morals and an insult against Ireland. The riots take place in Dublin, spreading out from the Abbey Theatre, and are finally quelled by the actions of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

The fact that the play is based on a story of apparent patricide also attracts a hostile public reaction. Egged on by nationalists, including Sinn Féin leader Arthur Griffith, who believe that the theatre is not sufficiently political and describes the play as “a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform,” and with the pretext of a perceived slight on the virtue of Irish womanhood in the line “a drift of females standing in their shifts” (a shift being a female undergarment), a significant portion of the crowd riots, causing the remainder of the play to be acted out in dumbshow. Nevertheless, press opinion soon turns against the rioters and the protests peter out.

Years later, William Butler Yeats declares to rioters against Seán O’Casey‘s pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars, in reference to the Playboy Riots, “You have disgraced yourself again. Is this to be the recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius?”

In the 1965 film Young Cassidy, a riot occurs during a play by the fictitious playwright Cassidy, following which the character W.B. Yeats refers to Synge and speaks similar words, starting with “You have disgraced yourselves again.”

The production of Synge’s play meets with more disturbances in the United States in 1911. On opening night in New York City, hecklers boo, hiss and throw vegetables and stink bombs while men scuffle in the aisles. The company is later arrested in Philadelphia and charged with putting on an immoral performance. The charges are later dismissed.