seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Poet Francis Edward Ledwidge

Francis Edward Ledwidge, Irish poet sometimes known as the “poet of the blackbirds,” is born on August 19, 1887 to a poor family in Slane, County Meath. He is later also known as a World War I war poet.

Ledwidge starts writing at an early age, and is first published in a local newspaper at the age of fourteen. Finding work as a labourer and miner, he is also a trade union activist and a keen patriot and nationalist, associated with Sinn Féin. He becomes friendly with a local landowner, the writer Lord Dunsany, who gives him a workspace in the library of Dunsany Castle and introduces him to literary figures including William Butler Yeats and Katharine Tynan, with whom he has a long-term correspondence. He is elected to a local authority post and helps organise the local branch of the Irish Volunteers, while Dunsany edits and helps him secure publication for a first volume of his poetry.

Having sided with the faction of the Irish Volunteers which oppose participation in the war, he enlists in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and continues to write poetry on assignment, sending work to Lord Dunsany and to family and other friends. The poems he writes on active service reveal his pride at being a soldier, as he believes, in the service of Ireland. He often wonders whether he would find a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, Ypres Salient, Belgium.

According to Irish author and lecturer Alice Curtayne, “Ledwidge and his comrades had been toiling since the early morning at road-making. The army’s first need was men; their second, guns; their third roads. These latter consisted mainly of heavy beech planks bolted together, which could be rapidly laid down. No advance could be supported in that sodden land without a sufficiency of these communications tracks, six or seven feet wide. Supplies were conveyed by pack mules over the wooden paths. Survivors concur in placing the road work done by B Company that day one mile northeast of Hellfire Corner, so called because it was very exposed to German shelling. There was a violent rainstorm in the afternoon, shrouding the region in a gray monochrome. Sullenly, the enemy’s long-range guns continued to fling their shells far behind the lines. Road-work could not be suspended, however, as the tracks were in use as fast as they were laid down. Tea was issued to the men and, drenched to the skin, they stopped to swallow it. A shell exploded beside Ledwidge and he was instantly killed.”

A Roman Catholic military chaplain, Father Devas, is the first on the scene. That night, Father Devas writes in his diary, “Crowds at Holy Communion. Arranged for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.”

Ledwidge is first buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, at Boezinge, where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who was killed in action on the same day, also lies buried.

Dunsany arranges for the publication of more of Ledwidge’s poems, and a collected edition in 1919. Further poems, from the archives at Dunsany Castle and some material held by family, are later published by Ledwdige’s biographer, Alice Curtayne, and by one of the Ledwidge memorial societies. Ledwidge is selected as one of twelve prominent war poets for the exhibition Anthem for Doomed Youth at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2002, and memorialised at an event in Inchicore, Dublin, in 2017, with his work set to music by Anúna. A museum of his life and work is opened in his birthplace cottage in 1982. Some of his manuscripts are held in the National Library of Ireland and more in the archives of Dunsany Castle.


Leave a comment

Birth of Mary Devenport O’Neill, Poet & Dramatist

Mary Devenport O’Neill, Irish poet and dramatist and a friend and colleague of W. B. Yeats, George Russell, and Austin Clarke, is born in Barrack Street, Loughrea, County Galway, on August 3, 1879.

O’Neill is born Mary Devenport, the daughter of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sub-constable, John Devenport, and his wife Bridget (née Burke). She attends the Dominican convent, Eccles Street, Dublin before enrolling in the Metropolitan School of Art from 1898 to 1903. In 1900 she wins the year’s prize in the School of Art. She apparently considers teaching as a career, as she is listed on the college register as a teacher in training from 1901 to 1903. It is while an art student that she starts to correspond with the writer she admires, Joseph O’Neill. Their relationship develops, and the couple marries on June 19, 1908, settling in Kenilworth Square, Dublin.

Many of O’Neill’s husband’s friends disapprove of her modern and unconventional ideas, but she is popular with “the Rathgar Group” who attends George Russell’s Sunday salons. After a few years, she establishes her own salon referred to as “Thursdays at home,” attended by Russell, Padraic Colum, W. B. Yeats, Richard Irvine Best, Frank O’Connor, Francis Stuart and Iseult Gonne. She becomes particularly close to Yeats, who she confides in. Yeats records their weekly consultations in his diary while working on A Vision (1925). In his Oxford anthology of English verse from 1936, he includes one of O’Neill’s poems. In 1917, she contributes lyrics to her husband’s play The Kingdom Maker. She publishes her only book in 1929, Prometheus and other poems. After this she occasionally contributes primarily modernist plays and poetry to The Dublin Magazine, The Irish Times and The Bell. She collaborates with Austin Clarke from the Lyric Theatre Company on her plays Bluebeard (1933) and Cain (1945).

O’Neill suffers with poor health, which sees her and her husband spending extended periods in the south of France and Switzerland. They sell their home in Dublin in August 1950 and move to Nice, with the intention of settling there. However, due to rapidly depleting finances they are forced to return to Ireland in April 1951. They rent a cottage in Wicklow from their friend Con Curran. When her husband dies in 1953, she goes to live with relatives in Dublin. She dies there in 1967.


Leave a comment

Birth of Liam Redmond, Stage, Film & Television Character Actor

Liam Redmond, Irish character actor known for his stage, film and television roles, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on July 27, 1913.

Redmond is one of four children born to cabinet-maker Thomas and Eileen Redmond. Educated at the Christian Brothers schools in Dublin, he later attends University College Dublin and initially reads medicine before moving into drama.

While Director of the Dramatic Society Redmond meets and marries the society’s secretary, Barbara MacDonagh, sister of Donagh MacDonagh and daughter of 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh and Muriel Gifford. They have four children.

Redmond is invited to join the Abbey Theatre in 1935 as a producer by William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet. Yeats writes his play Death of Cú Chulainn for Redmond to star as Cú Chulainn, hero of one of Ireland’s foundational myths.

Redmond makes his acting debut at the Abbey Theatre in 1935 in Seán O’Casey‘s The Silver Tassie. His first stage appearance is in 1939 in New York City in The White Steed. After returning to Britain at the outbreak of World War II he is a regular on the London stage. He is one of the founders of the Writers’, Artists’, Actors’ and Musicians’ Association (WAAMA), a precursor of the Irish Actors’ Equity Association. His insistence that “part-time professionals” – usually civil servants who act on the side – should be paid a higher rate than professional actors for both rehearsal time and performance, effectively wiping out this class, raising the wages and fees of working actors.

Redmond stars in Broadway, among other plays starring in Paul Vincent Carroll‘s The White Steed in 1939, playing Canon McCooey in The Wayward Saint in 1955, winning the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for his performance, and starring in 1968 in Joe Orton‘s Loot and Brian Friel‘s The Loves of Cass Maguire.

Redmond works in television and film throughout the 1950s to the 1980s and is regularly seen in television series such as The Avengers, Daniel Boone, The Saint and Z-Cars. He is often called upon as a character actor in various military, religious and judicial roles in films such as I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Captain Boycott (1947), High Treason (1951), The Cruel Sea (1953), The Playboy of the Western World (1962), Kid Galahad (1962), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964), Tobruk (1967), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) and Barry Lyndon (1975). His performance as the kindly occult expert in the cult horror film Night of the Demon (1957) is a favourite of fans of the film.

Redmond retires to Dublin and dies at age 76, after a long period of ill health, on October 28, 1989. His wife Barbara predeceases him in 1987.


Leave a comment

Assassination of Kevin O’Higgins, Politician, by the IRA

Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Irish politician who serves as Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and Minister for Justice from 1922 to 1927, is assassinated by an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in Booterstown, County Dublin, on July 10, 1927. He also serves as Minister for Economic Affairs from January 1922 to September 1922 and Minister for External Affairs from June 1927 to July 1927. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1927 and is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Queen’s County from 1918 to 1921.

A man of intellectual power, O’Higgins is described by William Butler Yeats as “a great man in his pride confronting murderous men.” He is in fact murdered by maverick republicans while on his way to church.

O’Higgins is born in Stradbally, Queen’s County (County Laois since 1922) on June 7, 1892. Educated at University College Dublin, he is apprenticed to his uncle, a lawyer. Following the Easter Rising in 1916, he joins the Sinn Féin nationalist movement and is imprisoned. In 1918, while still in jail, he is elected to Parliament from Queen’s County, and in the next year he becomes assistant to the minister of local government, William Thomas Cosgrave. He goes on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal.

O’Higgins supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Great Britain that creates the Irish Free State. In 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He helps to draft the Constitution of the Irish Free State and secures its passage through Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. Working for a united Ireland within the British Commonwealth, he plays an important part in the 1926 Imperial Conference. He also prominently represents the Free State in the League of Nations.

As Minister for Justice, O’Higgins establishes the Garda Síochána police force and takes summary measures to restore order following the civil war between the Free State forces and the Irish Republican Army. His role in the execution of 77 republicans in 1922–23 makes him many enemies, as does his sardonic wit, his inflammatory speeches during the civil war, and his curtailment of the liquor trade.

On Sunday, July 10, 1927, O’Higgins is assassinated at the age of 35 on the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Booterstown, a coastal suburb of Dublin, while on his way to Mass at the Church of the Assumption. The assassination is carried out by three anti-Treaty members of the IRA, Timothy Coughlan, Bill Gannon and Archie Doyle, in revenge for O’Higgins’ part in the executions of the 77 IRA prisoners during the Irish Civil War.

None of the three assassins is ever apprehended or charged, but Coughlan, a member of Fianna Fáil as well as the IRA, is killed in 1928 in Dublin by a police undercover agent whom he is attempting to murder. The other two benefit from the amnesty to IRA members issued by Éamon de Valera, upon his assumption of power in 1932. Gannon, who dies in 1965, joins the Communist Party of Ireland and plays a central role in organising Irish volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Doyle remains a prominent IRA militant and takes part in various acts in the early 1940s. He lives to an old age, dying in 1980, and continues to take pride in having killed O’Higgins.


Leave a comment

Birth of Emily Lawless, Irish Novelist & Poet

The Honourable Emily Lawless, Irish novelist and poet, is born at Lyons Demesne below Lyons Hill, Ardclough, County Kildare, on June 17, 1845. According to Betty Webb Brewer, writing in 1983 for the journal of the Irish American Cultural Institute, Éire/Ireland, “An unflagging unionist, she recognised the rich literary potential in the native tradition and wrote novels with peasant heroes and heroines, Lawless depicted with equal sympathy the Anglo-Irish landholders.”

Lawless’s grandfather is Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, a member of the Society of United Irishmen and son of a convert from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland. Her father is Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry, thus giving her the title of “The Honourable.” In contrast, her brother Edward Lawless is a landowner with strong Unionist opinions, a policy of not employing Roman Catholics in any position in his household, and chairman of the Property Defence Association set up in 1880 to oppose the Irish National Land League and “uphold the rights of property against organised combination to defraud.” The prominent Anglo-Irish unionist and later nationalist, Home Rule politician Horace Plunkett is a cousin. Lord Castletown, Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown is also a cousin. It is widely believed that she is a lesbian and that Lady Sarah Spencer, dedicatee of A Garden Diary (1901) is her lover.

Lawless spends part of her childhood with the Kirwans of Castle Hackett, County Galway, her mother’s family, and draws on West of Ireland themes for many of her works. She occasionally writes under the pen name “Edith Lytton.”

Lawless writes nineteen works of fiction, biography, history, nature studies and poetry, many of which are widely read at the time. She is most famous today for her Wild Geese poems (1902).

Some critics identify a theme of noble landlord and noble peasant in her fourth book, Hurrish, a Land War story set in The Burren of County Clare which is read by William Ewart Gladstone and said to have influenced his policy. It deals with the theme of Irish hostility to English law. In the course of the book a landlord is assassinated, and Hurrish’s mother, Bridget, refuses to identify the murderer, a dull-witted brutal neighbour. The book is criticised by Irish-Ireland journals for its “grossly exaggerated violence,” its embarrassing dialect, staid characters.

Her reputation is damaged by William Butler Yeats who accuses her in a critique of having “an imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature” and for adopting “theory invented by political journalists and forensic historians.” Despite this, Yeats includes her novels With Essex in Ireland (1890) and Maelcho (1894) in his list of the best Irish novels.

Lawless dies at Gomshall, a village in the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England, on October 19, 1913. Her papers are preserved in Marsh’s Library in Dublin.


Leave a comment

Founding of the Irish Literary Society

The Irish Literary Society is formally founded at the Caledonian Hotel, The Strand, London on May 12, 1892, with Sir Charles Gavan Duffy as President and Evelyn Gleeson as its first secretary. Among its founders are William Butler Yeats, T. W. Rolleston, Francis Fahy and Douglas Hyde as well as other leaders of the Irish literary revival. The Society succeeds the Southwark Irish Literary Club.

Stopford Brooke gives the inaugural lecture to the Society on “The Need and Use of Getting Irish Literature into the English Tongue.” The lecture is published by Bloomsbury House on March 11, 1893, its delivery delayed to allow for the start of the National Literary Society in Ireland. Although the business of the ILS has always been conducted in English, the Society is influential in nurturing the revival of the Irish language by programming language classes even before the Gaelic League was formed in 1893. It also sponsored the Petrie Collection of Irish Music and twelve-volume Irish library of history and literature published between 1893 and 1904.

A Book of Irish Verse, designed to publicise the new societies, is published in 1895, edited by Yeats and dedicated “To the Members of the National Literary Society of Dublin and the Irish Literary Society of London.” It features poetry by Rolleston, Hyde, Katharine Tynan, Lionel Johnson, George William Russell (Æ) and several others, with notes and an introduction by Yeats. In addition, the Society brings Irish actors to London in 1903 and 1904 to present plays by Lady Gregory, Yeats and others.

By 1910 the Society has grown to comprise nearly 400 members and helps to bring into existence the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). The Society develops a proposal for a New Irish Library, a series of books to honor Irish culture, with Rolleston and Douglas Hyde as editors.

Its objects are ‘to afford a centre of social and literary intercourse for persons of Irish nationality, and to promote the study of the Irish language, Irish history, literature, music, and art.’ Honorary membership is originally available for those of other nationalities, today full membership is available to all.

Arthur Conan Doyle, of Irish descent, and with a keen interest in Ireland, chaired the Irish Literary Society’s dinner on February 13, 1897. He spoke on ‘The Irish Brigade.’

(From: The website of the Irish Literary Society, Cumman Éireannach na liteardhachta, irishlitsoc.org)


Leave a comment

Birth of T. W. Rolleston, Poet, Critic & Journalist

Thomas William Hazen Rolleston, poet, critic, and journalist, is born on May 1, 1857 at Glasshouse, near Shinrone, King’s County (now County Offaly).

Rolleston is the youngest child among three sons and a daughter of Charles Rolleston-Spunner, barrister and county court judge for Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Richards, judge and baron of the Court of Exchequer, Ireland. He attends St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, where he is head boy, and Trinity College Dublin (TCD), graduating with an MA in 1878. His literary ambitions first emerge at university, where he wins the vice-chancellor’s prize for English verse in 1876.

In 1879 Rolleston marries Edith Caroline, daughter of Rev. William de Burgh of Naas, County Kildare. She suffers from rheumatism, and this encourages the couple to live in Germany from 1879 to 1883. During this period he develops a fascination for German philosophy and literature and begins a correspondence with the American poet Walt Whitman, whose work he knows through Edward Dowden. In 1881 he offers to translate into German, with S. K. Knortz, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This is published as Grashalme in 1889. In that year he also publishes a biography of the German philosopher Gotthold Lessing, and in 1892 delivers the Taylorian Lectures at the University of Oxford on this subject.

In the meantime Rolleston has returned to Ireland and co-founds the Dublin University Review (DUR) with Charles Hubert Oldham in February 1885. In March 1885, under their stewardship the DUR is the first to publish W. B. Yeats. The poetry of Katharine Tynan and the first English translations of Ivan Turgenev also appear in the magazine. He has a fondness for clubs and at this time is associated with the Contemporary Club, where he becomes friendly with fellow member Douglas Hyde, and the Young Ireland Society, where he is vice-president and a disciple of John O’Leary. He writes the dedication to O’Leary in Poems and ballads of Young Ireland (1888) and is encouraged by the older man in his editing of The prose writing of Thomas Davis (1890). Under O’Leary’s influence he flirts with Fenianism, perhaps even joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) for a time, and is strongly critical of the prominent involvement of Catholic clergy in the home rule movement.

After the demise of the DUR in December 1886 Rolleston moves to London, but remains involved in Irish literary activity. Although unenthusiastic in his assessment of The Wanderings of Oisín (1889), he is friendly with Yeats and they instigate the Rhymers’ Club (1890). He is a much better critic and organiser than poet, but contributes to The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892) and The Second Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1894). His work appears in a number of contemporary journals and anthologies and he has one collection published, Sea Spray (1909).

Rolleston is first secretary of the Irish Literary Society (1892) and attends the foundation of its sister organisation in Dublin, the National Literary Society. These societies are soon riven by a dispute for control between Yeats and Charles Gavan Duffy, centred on the political and literary agenda of the movement. Rolleston at least acquiesces in, if not actively contributes to, Yeats’s defeat. They remain on reasonable terms, but Yeats is resentful. Rolleston edits the famous anthology, Treasury of Irish Poetry (1900), with the Rev. Stopford Augustus Brooke, whose daughter, Maud, he had married in October 1897. They have four children. His first marriage also produces four children, and he is godfather to Robert Graves, whose father, Alfred Perceval Graves, is a friend.

In 1894 Rolleston returns to Dublin, becoming managing director and secretary of the Irish Industries Association (1894–7) and honorary secretary of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland (1898–1908). A central figure in the latter as an organiser, propagandist, and critic rather than a practitioner, lecturing regularly and editing the journal of the society, he seeks to integrate the arts and crafts revival with other contemporary developments, cooperating with the Congested Districts Board for Ireland to organise classes. He is a supporter of the co-operative movement of Horace Plunkett, and a member of the Recess Committee. On the foundation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (DATI), he is employed by Plunkett and T. P. Gill as organiser of lectures (1900–05). In this capacity he manages the Irish historic collection at the St. Louis exhibition of 1904, and publicly supports Plunkett in his dispute with the DATI in 1908. Convinced that the development of Irish industry is central to national progress, he believes that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) failed to offer a clear practical programme for Irish nationalism. By 1900, however, his own nationalism is tempered by a belief in the importance of the imperial connection, and he opposes the pro-Boer stance taken by many Irish nationalists. In later years he publishes pamphlets urging economic development as a means of quelling Irish demands for home rule.

Rolleston is a sporadic member of the Gaelic League, writing the lyrics for the ‘Deirdre cantata,’ which wins first prize at the first Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1897. At one point he suggests the foundation of a separate Gaelic League for Protestants, and provokes controversy in 1896 by suggesting that scientific ideas cannot be represented in the Irish language. Later, he concedes that he is wrong. In 1909 he settles in London when offered the job of editor of the German language and literature section of The Times Literary Supplement, a position he holds until his death. He reinvolves himself in the Irish Literary Society and publishes a number of volumes based on Irish myth, including the influential Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1911), and Richard Wagner‘s Der Ring des Nibelungen. He is a founder of the India Society of London (1910). During the World War I he is librarian for the ministry of information and utilises his knowledge of Irish in the Obscure Languages section of the censor’s department.

Like many involved in cultural activities at this time Rolleston is satirised by George Moore in Hail and Farewell, but he remains very friendly with Moore, who dedicates the 1920 edition of Esther Waters to him. Rolleston dies suddenly on December 5, 1920 at his home in Hampstead, London. His widow donates many of his books to Cork Public Library.

(From: “Rolleston, Thomas William Hazen (T. W.)” contributed by William Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


Leave a comment

Birth of George William Russell, Writer, Poet & Nationalist

George William Russell, Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, painter and Irish nationalist, is born on April 10, 1867 in Lurgan, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland. He writes with the pseudonym Æ (often written AE or A.E.). He is also a writer on mysticism, and a central figure in the group of devotees of theosophy which meets in Dublin for many years. He takes his pseudonym from a proofreader’s query about his earlier pseudonym, “AEon.”

Russell is the second son of Thomas Russell and Mary Armstrong. His father, the son of a small farmer, becomes an employee of Thomas Bell and Co., a prosperous firm of linen drapers. The family relocates to Dublin, where his father has a new offer of employment, when he is eleven years old.

Russell is educated at Rathmines School and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he begins a lifelong, if sometimes contentious, friendship with W. B. Yeats. In the 1880s, he lives at the Theosophical Society lodge at 3 Upper Ely Place, sharing rooms with Hamilton Malcolm Magee, the brother of William Kirkpatrick Magee.

Following his time at the Metropolitan School of Art, Russell becomes an accounts clerk in a drapery store but leaves in 1897 to organize agricultural cooperatives. Eventually he becomes editor of the periodicals Irish Homestead (1905–23) and The Irish Statesman (1923–30). In 1894 he publishes the first of many books of verse, Homeward: Songs by the Way, which establishes him in what is known as the Irish Literary Revival. His first volume of Collected Poems appears in 1913 and a second in 1926. He maintains a lifelong interest in theosophy, the origins of religion, and mystical experience. Candle of Vision: Autobiography of a Mystic (1918) is the best guide to his religious beliefs.

At the turn of the 20th century, Russell is considered by many to be the equal of Yeats, but he does not continue to grow and develop as Yeats does. He is prolific and versatile, but many critics find his poetry facile, vague, and monotonous, with “rather too much of the Celtic Twilight” in it.

Russell designs the famous Starry Plough flag for the Irish Citizen Army which is unveiled on April 5, 1914 and flown during the Easter Rising in April 1916.

Russell, who had become increasingly unhappy in the Irish Free State which, according to Yeats, he called “a country given over to the Devil,” moves to England soon after his wife’s death in 1932. Despite his failing health he goes on a final lecture tour in the United States, but returns home utterly exhausted. He dies of cancer in Bournemouth, England, on July 17, 1935. His body is brought back to Ireland and he is interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.


Leave a comment

Death of Austin Clarke, Poet, Playwright & Novelist

Austin Clarke, poet, playwright and novelist, dies in Dublin on March 19, 1974. At the time of his death he is considered to be the greatest poet of his generation after W. B. Yeats,

Clarke is born in 83 Manor Street, Stoneybatter, Dublin, on May 9, 1896. His main contribution to Irish poetry is the rigour with which he uses technical means borrowed from classical Irish language poetry when writing in English. Effectively, this means writing English verse based not so much on metre as on complex patterns of assonance, consonance, and half rhyme. Describing his technique to Robert Frost, he says, “I load myself down with chains and try to wriggle free.”

Clarke’s early poetry clearly shows the influence of Yeats. His first book, The Vengeance of Fionn, is a long narrative poem retelling an Ossianic legend. It meets with critical acclaim and, unusually for a first book of poetry, goes to a second edition. Between this and the 1938 volume Night and Morning, he publishes a number of collections, all of which, to one extent or another, can be seen as being written in the shadow of Yeats. There is, however, one significant difference. Unlike the older poet, Clarke is a Catholic, and themes of guilt and repentance run through this early work.

Between 1938 and 1955, Clarke publishes no new lyric or narrative poetry. He is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre, Dublin and writes a number of verse plays for them. He also works as a journalist and has a weekly poetry programme on RTÉ radio. It seems likely that he also experiences some kind of personal crisis during this time and this has significant consequences for his later poetry.

Clarke returns to publishing poetry with the 1955 collection Ancient Lights, and is to continue writing and publishing prolifically for the remainder of his life. Although he continues to use the same Gaelic-derived techniques, this late poetry is markedly different from his earlier work. Many of the later poems are satires of the Irish church and state, while others are sensual celebrations of human sexuality, free of the guilt of the earlier poems. He also publishes the intensely personal Mnemosyne Lay in Dust, which is a poem sequence detailing the fictional Maurice Devanes’s nervous breakdown and subsequent recovery.

Clarke also comes to admire the work of more avant-garde poets like Ezra Pound and Pablo Neruda, both of whom he writes poems about. A number of the late long poems, such as, for instance, the 1971 Tiresias, show the effects of studying these poets and their looser formal structures. He sets up the Bridge Press to publish his own work, which allows him the freedom to publish work that many mainstream Irish publishers of the time might have been reluctant to handle. His Collected Poems is published in 1974 and a Selected Poems in 1976.

In addition to some twenty volumes of poetry and numerous plays, Clarke publishes three novels: The Bright Temptation (1932), The Singing Men at Cashel (1936), and The Sun Dances at Easter (1952). All of these are banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Ireland). He also publishes two volumes of memoirs, Twice Round the Black Church (1962) and A Penny in the Clouds (1968), and a number of scattered critical essays and book reviews. While all of these prose writings are of interest, his reputation rests firmly on his poetry.

In 1920 Clarke marries Cornelia (Lia) Cummins. The marriage effectively lasts only a few days, and he spends several months in St. Patrick’s Hospital recovering from it, but they do not divorce before Cummins dies in 1943. He meets, has three sons with, and later marries (1945) Norah Esmerelda Patricia Walker (1900–1985), granddaughter of Matthew Harris, MP for East Galway from 1885 to 1890.

Clarke lives in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge which spans the River Dodder in the south Dublin suburb of Templeogue. After his death on March 19, 1974, there is a proposal to preserve the house and his library of 6,500 books as a memorial. This is not possible owing to long-term plans to demolish the house and widen the road. The old Templeogue Bridge, built in 1800, and Bridge House are removed. A new bridge is opened by Councillor Bernie Malone, Chairman Dublin City Council, on December 11, 1984, which is renamed Austin Clarke Bridge in his honour.

(Photo © RTÉ Archives)


Leave a comment

Birth of Anne Butler Yeats, Painter and Costume and Stage Designer

Anne Butler Yeats, Irish painter, costume and stage designer, is born in Dublin on February 26, 1919.

Yeats is the daughter of the poet William Butler Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees, a niece of the painter Jack B. Yeats, and of Lily Yeats and of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Her birth is commemorated by her father with the poem A Prayer for My Daughter. Her aunts are associated with the arts and crafts movement in Ireland and are associated with the Dun Emer Press, Cuala Press, and Dun Emer industries. Her brother Michael Yeats is a politician. She is known as “feathers” by her family.

Yeats spends her first three years between Ballylee, County Galway, and Oxford before her family moves to 82 Merrion Square, Dublin in 1922. She is very sick as a child and spends three years in two different hospitals, St. Margaret’s Hall, 50 Mespil Road, and Nightingale Hall, Morehampton Road, Dublin. She then goes to the Pension Henriette, a boarding school in Villars-sur-Bex, Switzerland from 1928–30. In 1923 her Aunt Elizabeth “Lolly” gives her brush drawing lessons which aid her in winning first prize in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) National Art competition for children under eight years old in 1925 and 1926.

Yeats trains in the Royal Hibernian Academy school from 1933 to 1936, and works as a stage designer with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1936, at the age of 16, she is hired by the Abbey Theatre as assistant to Tanya Moiseiwitsch. She studies for four months at the School of Theatrical Design in Paris with Paul Colin in 1937. At 18, she begins her costume career on sets with Ria Mooney‘s company. At the Abbey, she designs the sets and costumes for revivals of W.B. Yeats’ plays The Resurrection and On Baile’s Strand (1938).

In 1938 Yeats designs the first production of W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory. The designs for Purgatory are her most successful achievement. Purgatory is the last play that W.B Yeats sees on stage, and when it is performed it is a full house. When working on Purgatory, Hugh Hunt wants to have a moon on the back cloth of the production but she refuses. “If she does not win, she is going to say that she doesn’t wish to have her name on the programme as a designer of the setting.” This could be the main reason why her name is not on many productions that she worked on. She also designs the first play of her uncle Jack Yeats to receive professional production, Harlequin’s Positions.

In 1939 Yeats is promoted to head of design at the Abbey until her departure in May 1941. In 1939 it is commented that her designs are “getting arty” and not in keeping with style of the Abbey. One of her last designs is her father’s last play, The Death of Cuchulain, for the Lyric Theatre on the Abbey stage in 1949. She designs and stage-manages for the Peacock Theatre, the Cork Opera House, the Olympia Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the Players Theatre.

Among the work Yeats is credited with in the Abbey Theatre, she also works on five productions in the Peacock Theatre with the Theatre Company: Alarm Among the Clerks (1937), The Phoenix (1937), Harlequin’s Positions (1939), The Wild Cat (1940), and Cavaliero (The Life of a Hawk) (1948).

Yeats chooses to move towards painting full-time beginning a brief study at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1941. She experiments with watercolour and wax. She has a touching naive expressionist style and is interested in representing domestic humanity. She designs many of the covers for the books of Irish language publisher Sáirséal agus Dill over a twenty-year period from 1958. She does illustrations for books by Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice, and works with many young designers, such as Louis le Brocquy.

Yeats participates in group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Monaco, and Scotland, along with the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and Taispeántas an Oireachtas.

Yeats dies at the age of 82 on July 4, 2001 and is buried in Shanganagh Cemetery, south Dublin.

The Royal Hibernian Academy holds a retrospective of her work in 1995, as does the National Gallery of Ireland in 2002. She donates her collection of Jack B. Yeats’ sketch books to the National Gallery of Ireland, leading to the creation of the Yeats Museum within the Gallery. Her brother, Michael, in turn, donates her sketchbooks to the Museum.

(Pictured: “Coole Park,” oil on board by Anne Butler Yeats, Duke Street Gallery, Dublin)