seamus dubhghaill

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


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Sinking of the SS Isolda

isoldaThe Irish lightship tender SS Isolda, which is resupplying lighthouses off the coast of County Wexford, is bombed and sunk by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor on December 19, 1940 despite Irish neutrality. Six sailors are killed.

The lightships provide a vitally important service to maritime traffic for over two centuries. People live aboard these ships that anchor stationary at sea, providing a beacon in the dark for vessels that navigate the more treacherous parts of the Irish coast. These ships are faithfully assisted by ships that resupply them and facilitate crew changes. The SS Isolda is one such ship.

Danger in the waters around Ireland greatly increase during World War II. The Battle for the Atlantic is raging and Ireland’s location near important shipping lanes places Irish vessels right in the middle of a conflict zone. As a result, many casualties are incurred on Irish ships despite their position of neutrality.

The SS Isolda is a lightship tender owned by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The lightship service is considered neutral and the ship has “Lighthouse Service” painted in large letters on both sides of the hull.

On December 19, 1940 she sails out from Rosslare Harbour heading to re-supply nearby lightships with relief crews and Christmas provisions. After placing the first crew at the lightship Barrels she then heads towards her next stop, the lightship Coningbeg. She does not make it very far as three miles out she is attacked from the air.

A German Condor flies over and drops the first bomb on the ship. The plane circles around and drops a second bomb, sealing the ships fate. Realising the SS Isolda is doomed, Captain Albert Bestic gives orders to abandon ship. Back on shore observers at the army lookout post at Carnsore Point look on helplessly at the carnage. The next day the German High Command admits that it is a German aircraft that had bombed the SS Isolda.

Survivors are picked up by boat and brought into Kilmore Quay, County Wexford. Six of the crew die and seven are wounded. Captain Bestic is among the survivors. This is not his first brush with death as he survived the sinking of the ill-fated RMS Lusitania 25 years earlier when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

(From: “Remembering the SS Isolda and her crew | Lost December 19th 1940” by Ann Robinson, December 19, 2017, http://coastmonkey.ie/ss-isolda-1940 | Pictured: The Ship – SS Isolda being bombed – Painting By Kenneth King)

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Birth of Edna O’Brien, Novelist, Playwright & Poet

edna-o-brienEdna O’Brien, novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer, is born in Tuamgraney, County Clare on December 15, 1930. Philip Roth describes her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English,” while the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson cites her as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.

O’Brien is the youngest child of “a strict, religious family.” From 1941 to 1946 she is educated by the Sisters of Mercy, a circumstance that contributes to a “suffocating” childhood. “I rebelled against the coercive and stifling religion into which I was born and bred. It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.” She is fond of a nun as she deeply misses her mum and tries to identify the nun with her mother.

In 1950, O’Brien is awarded a licence as a pharmacist. In Ireland, she reads such writers as Leo Tolstoy, William Makepeace Thackeray, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1954, she marries, against her parents’ wishes, the Irish writer Ernest Gébler and the couple moves to London. They have two sons but the marriage is dissolved in 1964. Gébler dies in 1998.

In London, O’Brien purchases Introducing James Joyce, with an introduction written by T. S. Eliot. When she learns that James Joyce‘s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is autobiographical, it makes her realise where she might turn, should she decide to write herself. In London she starts work as a reader for Hutchinson, where on the basis of her reports she is commissioned, for £50, to write a novel. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy of novels which includes The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books are banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. Her novel A Pagan Place (1970) is about her repressive childhood. Her parents are vehemently against all things related to literature and her mother strongly disapproves of her daughter’s career as a writer.

O’Brien is a panel member for the first edition of the BBC‘s Question Time in 1979. In 2017, she becomes the sole surviving member.

In 1980, she writes a play, Virginia, about Virginia Woolf, and it is staged originally in June 1980 at the Stratford Festival, Ontario, Canada and subsequently in the West End of London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Maggie Smith and directed by Robin Phillips. It is staged at The Public Theater in New York City in 1985.

Other works include a biography of James Joyce, published in 1999, and one of the poet Lord Byron, Byron in Love (2009). House of Splendid Isolation (1994), her novel about a terrorist who goes on the run, marks a new phase in her writing career. Down by the River (1996) concerns an under-age rape victim who seeks an abortion in England, the “Miss X case.” In the Forest (2002) deals with the real-life case of Brendan O’Donnell, who abducts and murders a woman, her three-year-old son, and a priest, in rural Ireland.

O’Brien now lives in London. She receives the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners wins the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber publishes her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012. In 2015, she is bestowed Saoi by the Aosdána.


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Birth of Con Cremin, Irish Diplomat

con-creminCornelius Christopher Cremin, Irish diplomat, is born in Kenmare, County Kerry on December 6, 1908.

One of four children, Cremin is born to a family that operates a drapery business. His brother, Francis Cremin, becomes a leading academic canon lawyer who frames a number of key church documents. He is educated at St. Brendan’s College, Killarney and from 1926 at University College Cork, where he graduates with a first-class degree in Classics and Commerce.

Around 1929 Cremin is awarded the post-graduate University College Cork Honan scholarship. By 1930 he has attained a degree in economics and accountancy. For the following three years he studies in Athens, Munich and Oxford, having attained a traveling scholarship in Classics. He subsequently enters the Department of External Affairs, having succeeded in the competition for third secretary in 1935.

In April 1935 Cremin marries Patricia O’Mahony. His first position in Dublin involves working with Frederick Henry Boland on the League of Nations portfolio. In 1937 he is sent abroad on his first posting to Paris. There he works under the “Revolutionary Diplomat” Art O’Brien, until the latter retires in 1938. Sean Murphy later becomes his Minister. Ireland declares neutrality on the outbreak of World War II and Murphy and Cremin report on the developments in France throughout the Phoney War.

After the fall of France, the Irish legation is the last to leave Paris except for the American Ambassador, on June 11, 1940. After traveling to Ascain the legation eventually makes its way to the new French Capital, Vichy, where it sets about looking after the needs of Irish citizens, many of whom have been interned, as they have British passports and have been sending political reports. The political reports are of the highest value and insure that Irish continue to observe pro-Allied neutrality throughout the war.

In 1943 Cremin is sent to Berlin to replace William Warnock. Prior to his arrival the Legation is bombed. As Chargé d’affaires in Berlin, he is responsible for sending back political reports and looking after the interests of Irish citizens. He attempts, unsuccessfully, to assist some European Jews. He does however send full reports on the Nazi treatment of the Jews in Europe. Warned to leave Berlin before the Soviets arrive, he spends the last weeks of the war near the Swiss border.

In 1945 Cremin is sent to Lisbon, where he meets authoritarian president António de Oliveira Salazar and attempts to revive Irish trade as well as reporting on the various unsuccessful coups against Salazar.

After returning to Ireland in 1946 he is involved in preparing Ireland’s Marshall Plan application and tracing the development of Ireland’s post war foreign policy. He has a distinguished career representing Ireland in many foreign missions and at the United Nations.

After retiring Cremin remains chairman of the Irish delegation to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After his first wife dies he marries again in 1979. He dies in Kenmare on April 19, 1987, survived by his wife, three daughters, and a son.


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Birth of Poet John Harold Hewitt

john-harold-hewittPoet John Harold Hewitt is born in Belfast on October 28, 1907. He is the most significant Belfast poet to emerge prior to the 1960s generation of Northern Irish poets that includes Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley.

After attending Agnes Street National School, Hewitt attends the Royal Belfast Academical Institution from 1919 to 1920 before moving to Methodist College Belfast, where he is a keen cricketer. In 1924, he starts an English degree at Queen’s University Belfast, obtaining a BA in 1930, which he follows by obtaining a teaching qualification from Stranmillis College, Belfast.

From November 1930 to 1957, Hewitt holds positions in the Belfast Museum & Art Gallery. His radical socialist ideals prove unacceptable to the Belfast Unionist establishment and he is passed over for promotion in 1953. Instead in 1957 he moves to Coventry, a city still rebuilding following its devastation during World War II. He is appointed Director of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum where he works until retirement in 1972.

Hewitt is appointed the first writer-in-residence at Queen’s University Belfast in 1976. His collections includes The Day of the Corncrake (1969) and Out of My Time: Poems 1969 to 1974 (1974). He is also made a Freeman of the City of Belfast in 1983, and is awarded honorary doctorates at the University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast.

Hewitt has an active political life, describing himself as “a man of the left,” and is involved in the British Labour Party, the Fabian Society and the Belfast Peace League. He is attracted to the Ulster dissenting tradition and is drawn to a concept of regional identity within the island of Ireland, describing his identity as Ulster, Irish, British and European. He officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre (BURC) Offices on May Day 1985.

John Hewitt dies in Belfast on June 22, 1987. His life and work are celebrated in two prominent ways – the annual John Hewitt International Summer School and, less conventionally, the John Hewitt Bar and Restaurant, a Belfast pub is named after him. The bar is named after him as he officially opens the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which owns the establishment. It is a popular meeting place for local writers, musicians, journalists, students and artists. Both the Belfast Festival at Queen’s and the Belfast Film Festival use the venue to stage events.


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Death of Richard Harris, Actor & Singer

richard-harrisRichard St. John Harris, Irish actor and singer, dies in London from complications of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pneumonia on October 25, 2002.

Harris is born to a farming family on October 1, 1930 in Limerick, County Limerick. He is the son of Mildred Josephine (Harty) and Ivan John Harris. He is an excellent rugby player with a strong passion for literature. Unfortunately, a bout of tuberculosis as a teenager ends his aspirations to a rugby career. He becomes fascinated with the theater and skips a local dance one night to attend a performance of Henry IV. He is hooked and goes on to learn his craft at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, followed by several years in stage productions.

Harris makes his film debut in 1959 in the film Alive and Kicking, and plays the lead role in The Ginger Man in the West End in 1959. His second film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959), quickly scores regular work in films, including The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), The Night Fighters (1960) and a good role as a frustrated Australian bomber pilot in The Guns of Navarone (1961).

Harris’ breakthrough performance is as the quintessential “angry young man” in the sensational drama This Sporting Life (1963), for which he receives an Academy Award nomination. He then appears in the World War II commando tale The Heroes of Telemark (1965) and in the Sam Peckinpah-directed western Major Dundee (1965). He next shows up in Hawaii (1966) and plays King Arthur in Camelot (1967), a lackluster adaptation of the famous Broadway play. Better performances follow, among them a role as a reluctant police informer in The Molly Maguires (1970) alongside Sean Connery. He takes the lead role in the violent western A Man Called Horse (1970), which becomes something of a cult film and spawns two sequels.

As the 1970s progress, Harris continues to appear regularly on screen, however, the quality of the scripts vary from above average to woeful. His credits during this period include directing himself as an aging soccer player in the delightful The Hero (1971), the western The Deadly Trackers (1973), the big-budget “disaster” film Juggernaut (1974), the strangely-titled crime film 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), with Connery again in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), a part in the Jaws (1975) ripoff Orca (1977) and a nice turn as an ill-fated mercenary with Richard Burton and Roger Moore in the popular action film The Wild Geese (1978).

The 1980s kick off with Harris appearing in the silly Bo Derek vanity production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and the remainder of the decade has him appearing in some very forgettable productions.

However, the luck of the Irish once again shines on Harris’ career and he scores rave reviews and another Oscar nomination for The Field (1990). He then locks horns with Harrison Ford as an Irish Republican Army sympathizer in Patriot Games (1992) and gets one of his best roles as gunfighter English Bob in the Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven (1992). He is firmly back in vogue and rewards his fans with more wonderful performances in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995) and This Is the Sea (1997). Further fortune comes his way with a strong performance in the blockbuster Gladiator (2000) and he becomes known to an entirely new generation of film fans as Albus Dumbledore in the mega-successful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final screen role is as “Lucius Sulla” in Julius Caesar (2002).

Harris is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2002, reportedly after being hospitalised with pneumonia. He dies at University College Hospital in Fitzrovia, London on October 25, 2002 after spending his final three days in a coma. His body is cremated and his ashes are scattered in the Bahamas, where he had owned a home.


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William J. Brennan Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court

william-brennanWilliam Joseph Brennan, Jr., American judge, is named an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States through a recess appointment by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 15, 1956, shortly before the 1956 presidential election. He serves from 1956 until July 20, 1990. As the seventh longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, he is known for being a leader of the Court’s liberal wing.

Brennan is born in Newark, New Jersey to Irish immigrants, originally from County Roscommon, on April 25, 1906. He attends public schools in Newark, graduating from Barringer High School in 1924. He then attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduates cum laude with a degree in economics in 1928. He graduates from Harvard Law School near the top of his class in 1931 and is a member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau.

Brennan enters private practice in New Jersey and serves in the United States Army during World War II. He is appointed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. After his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by Eisenhower in 1956, he wins Senate confirmation the following year.

On the Supreme Court, Brennan is known for his outspoken progressive views, including opposition to the death penalty and support for abortion rights. He authors several landmark case opinions, including Baker v. Carr, establishing the “one person, one vote” principle, and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which requires “actual malice” in libel suits brought by public officials. Due to his ability to shape a wide variety of opinions and “bargain” for votes in many cases, he is considered to be among the Court’s most influential members. Justice Antonin Scalia calls Brennan “probably the most influential Justice of the [20th] century.”

Brennan holds the post on the Court until his retirement on July 20, 1990 after suffering a stroke. He is succeeded by Justice David Souter. Brennan then teaches at Georgetown University Law Center until 1994. He dies in Arlington County, Virginia on July 24, 1997 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

With 1,360 opinions, he is second only to William O. Douglas in number of opinions written while a Supreme Court justice. On November 30, 1993, President Bill Clinton presents Brennan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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Death of Kathleen Clarke, Founder of Cumann na mBan

kathleen-clarkeKathleen Clarke (née Daly), a founder member of Cumann na mBan, and one of very few privy to the plans of the Easter Rising in 1916, dies in Dublin on September 29, 1972. She is the wife of Tom Clarke and sister of Edward “Ned” Daly, both of whom are executed for their part in the Rising. She is subsequently a Teachta Dála (TD) and senator with both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil, and the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin (1939–41).

Kathleen Daly is born into a prominent Fenian family in Limerick on April 11, 1878, the third daughter of Edward and Catherine Daly. Her paternal uncle, John Daly, is at the time imprisoned for his political activities in Chatham and Portland Prisons in England. He is released in 1896 and returns home to Limerick. When Tom Clarke, who had been imprisoned with her uncle, is released in 1898 he travels to Limerick to receive the Freedom of the City and stays with the Daly family.

In 1901 Daly decides to emigrate to the United States to join Tom, who had been there since 1900, having secured work through his Fenian contacts. They marry on July 16, 1901 in New York City. Through his contacts in the Clan na Gael and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Tom Clarke continues to be involved in nationalist activity. Kathleen joins the Gaelic League while in the United States and they return to Ireland in November 1907.

In 1914 Clarke becomes a founder member of Cumann na mBan. Her husband forbids her permission to take an active part in the 1916 Easter Rising as she has orders regardless of how the events pan out. As Tom Clarke is the first signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic he is chosen to be executed for his part in the Easter Rising. Her younger brother, Ned Daly, is also executed for taking part in the rising. She visits both of them before they are executed. After the Rising, Michael Collins establishes contact with her while in prison in his attempts to re-build the IRB network. She also sets up the Irish National Aid Fund to aid those who had family members killed or imprisoned as a result of the Easter Rising, closely aided by Sorcha MacMahon.

Clarke becomes a member of Sinn Féin and in 1917 is elected a member of the party’s Executive. During the German Plot she is arrested and imprisoned in Holloway Prison for eleven months. During the Irish War of Independence she serves as a District Judge on the Republican Courts in Dublin. In 1919 she is elected as an Alderman for the Wood Quay and Mountjoy Wards of Dublin Corporation and serves until the Corporation is abolished in 1925.

Clarke is elected unopposed as a Sinn Féin TD to the Second Dáil at the 1921 elections for the Dublin Mid constituency. She is not re-elected at the 1922 general election, however, and supports the Anti-Treaty forces during the Irish Civil War. In 1926 she becomes a founder member of Fianna Fáil and has to resign from Cumann na mBan. She is re-elected to the short-lived 5th Dáil at the June 1927 election as a Fianna Fáil member for the Dublin Mid constituency but loses her seat at the September 1927 election and does not regain it. She is elected as one of six Fianna Fáil Senators to the Free State Seanad for nine years at the 1928 Seanad election under the leadership of Joseph Connolly. She remains a member of the Seanad until it is abolished in 1936.

In 1930 Clarke is elected to the re-constituted Dublin Corporation for Fianna Fáil along with Robert Briscoe, Seán T. O’Kelly, Thomas Kelly and Oscar Traynor. She serves as the first Fianna Fáil Lord Mayor of Dublin as well as the first female Lord Mayor, from 1939 to 1941. She opposes the Constitution of Ireland as she feels that several of its sections would place women in a lower position that they had been afforded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. She is criticised by many in the Fianna Fáil organisation as a result and, while she resigns from the Thomas Clarke Cumann, she remains a member of the Fianna Fáil Ard Chomhairle.

While Clarke does not support the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in England during World War II, she appeals for those sentenced to death by the Irish Government to be given clemency. Ultimately this leads to her breaking with the party completely after her term as Lord Mayor finishes in 1941. She declines to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate at the 1943 general election.

In 1966, as part of the celebrations of the Easter Rising, Clarke and other surviving relatives are awarded honorary doctorates of law by the National University of Ireland. Following her death on September 29, 1972, she receives the rare honour of a state funeral. She is buried at Deans Grange Cemetery, Dublin.