seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Singer Delia Murphy Kiernan

delia-murphyDelia Murphy Kiernan, singer and collector of Irish ballads, is born on February 16, 1902 in Ardroe, Roundfort, County Mayo. She records several 78 rpm records in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In 1962 she records her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, for Irish Prestige Records, New York, on the cover of which her name appears alongside the LP title.

Delia’s father, John Murphy, from nearby Hollymount, makes his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. While in America, he marries Ann Fanning from Roscrea, County Tipperary. They return to Ireland in 1901 and purchase the large Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount. John encouraged Delia’s interest in singing ballads from a young age. He also allows Irish travellers to camp on the estate. According to her own account, she learns her first ballads at their campfires.

Delia is educated at Presentation Convent in Tuam, Dominican College in Dublin and University College Galway (UCG), where she graduates with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. In UCG she meets Dr. Thomas J. Kiernan, and they marry in 1924, on her 22nd birthday. Kiernan then joins the Irish diplomatic service, where his first posting is to London. While there Delia sings at many venues including many gatherings of Irish emigrants and becomes quite well-known. In 1939 she records The Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies for HMV.

In 1941 Kiernan is appointed Irish Minister Plenipotentiary to the Holy See in Rome. The Irish legation is the only English-speaking legation to remain open after the United States enters World War II. Delia becomes one of those who assist Hugh O’Flaherty in hiding Jews and escapes allied soldiers from the Nazis. In 1943, when Italy changes sides, many escaped POWs are helped by the legation to leave Italy. In 1946 she is awarded to Dame Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Kiernan later serves as Irish High Commissioner and later first Ambassador in Australia, and later to West Germany, Canada, and the United States. In 1961, while she is living in Ottawa, Delia makes the recording of The Queen of Connemara produced by Ken Goldstein. The Kiernans purchase a farmhouse in Jasper, Ontario, near the Rideau Canal where she spends most of her time, even after Kiernan is posted to Washington, D.C. Tom Kiernan dies in December 1967.

By 1969 Delia’s health is in decline. In November of that year she sells her farmhouse in Canada and returns to Ireland. She lives in a cottage in Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, County Dublin. She dies of a massive heart attack on February 11, 1971, five days before her 69th birthday. She records upwards of 100 songs during her lifetime.

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Parnell Addresses U.S. House of Representatives

parnell-speaking-in-house-of-representativesIrish Parliament member Charles Stewart Parnell addresses the United States House of Representatives during his North American tour on February 2, 1880 concerning the plight of Ireland, then in the midst of its second major potato famine of the century.

Despite the absence of a quorum, Speaker of the House Samuel J. Randall of Pennsylvania gavels the House into the evening session nearly 30 minutes late. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports that the House Floor is a mix of ladies and non-Members.

Only the fourth international leader to be invited to address the House, Parnell reports on the conditions of the Irish potato famine and its causes. “The present famine, as all other famines in Ireland, has been the direct result of the system of land tenure which is maintained there,” Parnell said, “And while we have been compelled by the frightful condition of our people . . . I feel it to be equally my duty to point out to you the cause which keeps Ireland in a condition of chronic poverty.”

After his 32-minute speech, the House adjourns for the evening. The Tribune judges Parnell’s address to be lackluster stating “the whole affair was tame and spiritless.” One Representative tells the Tribune reporter that the address failed because it lacked substance by “not going [even] skin deep into the subject of the Irish question.”

During Parnell’s highly successful tour, in addition to speaking before the House of Representatives, he has an audience with American President Rutherford B. Hayes and speaks in 62 cities in the United States and Canada, where he is so well received in Toronto that Timothy Healy dubs him “the uncrowned king of Ireland.”

House Receptions are not associated with other informal, social receptions and lunches provided for foreign leaders on behalf of congressional leadership or individual committees. In the post-World War II era, the practice of using one-chamber receptions is eventually discontinued. The last House Reception of a foreign leader is held for Mexican President José López Portillo in 1977.


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Death of Actor Henry Wilfrid Brambell

henry-brambell-john-lennonHenry Wilfrid Brambell, Irish film and television actor best known for his role in the British television series Steptoe and Son, dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985.

Brambell is the youngest of three sons born to Henry Lytton Brambell, a cashier at the Guinness Brewery, and his wife, Edith Marks, a former opera singer. His first appearance is as a child, entertaining the wounded troops during World War I. Upon leaving school he works part-time as a reporter for The Irish Times and part-time as an actor at the Abbey Theatre before becoming a professional actor for the Gate Theatre. He also does repertory at Swansea, Bristol and Chesterfield. In World War II, he joins the British military forces entertainment organisation Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

His television career begins during the 1950s, when he is cast in small roles in three Nigel Kneale/Rudolph Cartier productions for BBC TelevisionThe Quatermass Experiment (1953), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954), and Quatermass II (1955). All of these roles earn him a reputation for playing old men, though he is only in his forties at the time.

It is this ability to play old men that leads to his casting in his best remembered role, as Albert Steptoe, the irascible father in Steptoe and Son. This begins as a pilot on the BBC’s Comedy Playhouse, and its success leads to a full series being commissioned, running from 1962 to 1974 including a five-year hiatus. There are two feature film spin-offs, a stage show, and an American incarnation entitled Sanford and Son, some episodes of which are almost exact remakes of the original British scripts.

The success of Steptoe and Son makes Brambell a high-profile figure on British television, and earns him the supporting role of Paul McCartney‘s grandfather in The Beatles‘ first film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964). In 1965, Brambell tells the BBC that he does not want to do another series of Steptoe and Son and, in September that year, he goes to New York City to appear in the Broadway musical Kelly at the Broadhurst Theatre, however, it closes after just one performance.

Apart from his role as the older Steptoe, Brambell achieves recognition in many films. His performance in The Terence Davies Trilogy wins him critical acclaim, far greater than any achieved for Steptoe and Son. Although he appears throughout the full 94-minute piece, Brambell does not speak a single word.

After the final series of Steptoe and Son is made in 1974, Brambell has some guest roles in films and on television. He and Harry H. Corbett also undertake a tour of Australia in 1977 in a Steptoe and Son stage show.

Brambell dies of cancer in Westminster, London, on January 18, 1985, at the age of 72. He is cremated on January 25, 1985 at Streatham Park Cemetery, where his ashes are scattered.

(Pictured: Henry Wilfrid Brambell and John Lennon in The Beatles’ first motion picture, A Hard Day’s Night)


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Artist Derek Hill Awarded Honorary Irish Citizenship

arthur-derek-hillArthur Derek Hill, English portrait and landscape painter and longtime resident in Ireland, is awarded honorary Irish citizenship by President Mary McAleese on January 13, 1999.

Hill is born at Southampton, Hampshire on December 6, 1916, the son of a wealthy sugar trader. He first works as a theatre designer in Leningrad in the 1930s and later as an historian. In World War II he registers as a conscientious objector and works on a farm.

Hill’s long association with Ireland begins when he visits Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal to paint the portrait of the Irish American art collector Henry McIlhenny, whose grandfather had emigrated to the United States from the nearby village of Milford, and who subsequently made a fortune from his patent gas meter.

Hill begins to enjoy increased success as a portrait painter from the 1960s. His subjects include many notable composers, musicians, politicians and statesmen, such as broadcaster Gay Byrne, Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and The Prince of Wales. He is also an enthusiastic art collector and traveller, with a wide range of friends such as Bryan Guinness and Isaiah Berlin. Greta Garbo visits Hill in the 1970s, a visit which forms inspiration for Frank McGuinness‘ 2010 play Greta Garbo Came to Donegal.

In 1981, he donates his home, St. Columb’s Rectory, near the village of Churchill, County Donegal, which he had owned since 1954, along with a considerable collection including work by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Georges Braque, Graham Sutherland, Anna Ticho and Jack Butler Yeats to the State.

An exhibition of his work and personal art collection can be seen at the House and associated Glebe Gallery at Churchill, near Letterkenny. Another collection of his work is held at Mottisfont Abbey. Many of his landscapes portray scenes from Tory Island, where he has a painting hut for years, and starts and then mentors the artists’ community there, teaching the local fishermen how to paint. This leads to the informal but busy “Tory School” of artists such as James Dixon and Anton Meenan, who find that they have the time to paint and use their wild surroundings as a dramatic subject.

Hill is made a CBE in 1997. A Retrospective exhibition is arranged for and by him at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1998. On January 13, 1999, he is made an honorary Irish citizen by the President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Arthur Derek Hill dies at the age of 83 at a London hospital on July 30, 2000. He is buried in Hampshire in the South of England with his parents. Memorial services are held for him in Dublin at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, and his local Church in Trentagh, County Donegal.


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Birth of Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne

robert-blair-paddy-mayneRobert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, British Army soldier, solicitor, Ireland rugby union international, amateur boxer, and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS), is born in Newtownards, County Down on January 11, 1915.

Mayne attends school at Regent House School, a school for students age 4 to 18. While at Regent he discovers his skill and love for the game of rugby. He also enjoys cricket and golf and becomes a marksman with the rifle club. He goes on to Queen’s University Belfast to study law. At university he takes up boxing and becomes the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He also wins the Scrabo Golf Club President’s cup in 1937. He graduates from Queen’s University in 1939.

During 1938, Mayne travels to Africa on the 1938 British Lions Tour to South Africa. He plays on a team that tours around Africa playing other local clubs. While traveling, it is discovered that Mayne has a wild side and on various occasions finds himself in trouble. His “go to” is to trash the hotel rooms of his teammates. The team includes some of the best players from around Ireland and Britain.

In 1939, with outbreak of World War II, Mayne joins the Supplementary Reserves in Newtownards and receives a commission in the Royal Artillery. He serves in several units in Ireland and England, generally with light and heavy anti-aircraft units. He volunteers for the No. 11 (Scottish) Commando unit which is sent to the Middle East. There he sees action during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. Specifically during the Battle of the Litani River, he draws attention from Captain David Stirling who is forming the new Special Air Service (SAS). Sterling recruits Mayne for the new SAS while he is in jail for striking his commanding officer.

From November 1941 to the end of 1942, Mayne is involved in several raids behind enemy lines with the SAS. He uses jeeps to go to various Axis bases and begin blowing up planes and fuel dumps. It is claimed that he personally destroyed 100 planes during these missions. In addition to serving in the Middle East, he serves as well in Sicily, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and France. In most of these locations he works with the resistance behind the enemy lines. In France he helps to train the French Resistance.

By the end of the war, Mayne has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and has also received the British Army’s Distinguished Service Order with three bars, which means he received the award four times. After the war he joins the British Antarctic Survey in the Falkland Islands. He returns home to Newtownards when back issues, which started while he was serving in the Middle East, become more difficult for him.

Mayne is initiated into Eklektikos Lodge No. 542 in Newtownards in 1945. He is a very enthusiastic mason and joins a second lodge in Newtownards, Friendship Lodge No. 447. On the evening of December 13, 1955, he attends a meeting of Friendship Lodge and then joins some of his masonic brothers at a local bar. At about 4:00 AM on December 14, he is found dead in his Riley RM roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle.

At his funeral hundreds of mourners turn out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel is preserved for many years by an old school friend before it is presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it is displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.


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Birth of Actor Noel Purcell

noel-purcellPatrick Joseph Noel Purcell, distinguished Irish actor of stage, screen and television, is born in Dublin on December 23, 1900. He appears in the 1956 film Moby Dick and the 1962 film Mutiny on the Bounty.

Purcell is the son of auctioneer Pierce Purcell and his second wife Catherine (née Hoban) of 4 Ashbrook Terrace, South Circular Road, Dublin. He is baptised six days after his birth at St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street. Within a few months, the Purcell family moves to 12 Mercer Street Lower. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He loses the tip of his right index finger while making cigarette vending machines, and also loses his entire left index finger due to an accident while he is an apprentice carpenter, a feature which he exploits for dramatic effect in the film Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).

Purcell begins his show business career at the age of 12 in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Later, he tours Ireland in a vaudeville act with Jimmy O’Dea. Stage-trained in the classics in Dublin, he moves into films in 1934. He appears in Captain Boycott (1947) and as the elderly sailor whose death maroons the lovers-to-be in the first sound film version of The Blue Lagoon (1949). He plays a member of Captain Ahab‘s crew in Moby Dick (1956), Dan O’Flaherty in episode one, The Majesty of the Law, of The Rising of the Moon (1957), a gamekeeper in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), and a barman in The Mackintosh Man (1973). The last two films are directed by John Huston.

In 1955, Purcell is an off-and-on regular on the British filmed TV series The Buccaneers and he narrates a Hibernian documentary, Seven Wonders of Ireland (1959). In 1962, he portrays the lusty William McCoy in Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty. He plays a taciturn Irish in-law to Lebanese American entertainer Danny Thomas‘ character Danny Williams in a 1963 episode of The Danny Thomas Show. In 1971, he plays the caring rabbi in the children’s musical drama Flight of the Doves.

Purcell is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1958 when he is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the BBC Television Theatre. He also gains some recognition as a singer. Shortly after World War II, songwriter Leo Maguire composes “The Dublin Saunter” for him. He performs the song live for many years and later records it for the Glenside label but the recording is not a hit. However, over time it becomes one of the most favourite songs about Dublin, receiving countless air-plays on radio programmes.

In 1981, Purcell records a spoken word version of Pete St. John‘s “The Rare Ould Times.” In June 1984, he is given the Freedom of the City of Dublin. Nine months later, on March 3, 1985, he dies at the age of 84 in Dublin. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery in Blackrock, Dublin.


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The Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

balmoral-furniture-showroom-bombingThe Balmoral Furniture Company bombing, a paramilitary attack, takes place on December 11, 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bomb explodes without warning outside a furniture showroom on the Shankill Road in a predominantly unionist area, killing four civilians, two of them babies.

At 12:25 PM on December 11, 1971, when the Shankill Road is packed with Saturday shoppers, a green car pulls up outside the Balmoral Furniture Company at the corner of Carlow Street and Shankill Road. The shop is locally known as “Moffat’s” although Balmoral Furniture Company is its official name. One of the occupants gets out of the car and leaves a box containing a bomb on the step outside the front door. The person gets back into the car and it speeds away. The bomb explodes moments later, bringing down most of the building on top of those inside the shop and on passersby outside.

Four people are killed as a result of the massive blast, including two babies, Tracey Munn (age 2 years) and Colin Nichol (age 17 months), who both die instantly when part of the wall crashes down upon the pram they are sharing. Two employees working inside the shop are also killed, Hugh Bruce (age 70 years) and Harold King (age 29 years). Unlike the other three victims, who are Protestant, King is a Catholic. Bruce, a former soldier and a Corps of Commissionaires member, is the shop’s doorman and is nearest to the bomb when it explodes. Nineteen people are injured in the bombing, including Tracey’s mother. The building, which was built in the Victorian era, has load-bearing walls supporting upper floors on joists. It is unable to withstand the blast and collapses, adding to the devastation and injury count.

The bombing causes bedlam in the crowded street. Hundreds of people rush to the scene where they form human chains to help the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary  (RUC) free those trapped beneath the rubble by digging with their bare hands. Peter Taylor describes the scene as “reminiscent of the London Blitz” in World War II .

It is widely believed that the bombing is carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation for the McGurk’s bar bombing one week earlier, which killed 15 Catholic civilians. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the McGurk’s bombing.

The Balmoral Furniture Company bombing is one of the catalysts that spark the series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists, republicans and the security forces that make the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of The Troubles .

(Pictured: Fireman is shown removing the body of one of the victims of the bombing at the Balmoral Furniture Showroom, December 11, 1971)