seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Astronomer William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse

William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, Anglo-Irish astronomer, naturalist, and engineer, is born in York, England on June 17, 1800. He is President of the Royal Society (UK), the most important association of naturalists in the world in the nineteenth century. He builds several giant telescopes. His 72-inch telescope, built in 1845 and colloquially known as the “Leviathan of Parsonstown,” is the world’s largest telescope, in terms of aperture size, until the early 20th century. From April 1807 until February 1841, he is styled as Baron Oxmantown.

Parsons is the son of Lawrence Parsons, 2nd Earl of Rosse, and Alice Lloyd. He is educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating with first-class honours in mathematics in 1822. He inherits an earldom and a large estate in King’s County (now County Offaly) in Ireland when his father dies in February 1841.

Parsons marries Mary Field, daughter of John Wilmer Field, on April 14, 1836. They have thirteen children, of which four sons survive to adulthood: Lawrence, 4th Earl of Rosse, Rev. Randal Parsons, the Hon. Richard Clere Parsons, and the Hon. Sir Charles Algernon Parsons.

In addition to his astronomical interests, Parsons serves as a Member of Parliament (MP) for King’s County from 1821 to 1834, president of the British Science Association in 1843–1844, an Irish representative peer after 1845, president of the Royal Society (1848–1854), and chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin (1862–1867).

During the 1840s, Parsons has the Leviathan of Parsonstown built, a 72-inch telescope at Birr Castle, Parsonstown, County Offaly. He has to invent many of the techniques he uses for constructing the Leviathan, both because its size is without precedent and because earlier telescope builders had guarded their secrets or had not published their methods. Details of the metal, casting, grinding and polishing of the 3-ton ‘speculum’ are presented in 1844 at the Belfast Natural History Society. His telescope is considered a marvelous technical and architectural achievement, and images of it are circulated widely within the British commonwealth. Building of the Leviathan begins in 1842 and it is first used in 1845, with regular use waiting another two years due to the Great Famine. Using this telescope he sees and catalogues a large number of nebulae, including a number that would later be recognised as galaxies.

Parsons performs astronomical studies and discovers the spiral nature of some nebulas, today known to be spiral galaxies. His telescope Leviathan is the first to reveal the spiral structure of M51, a galaxy nicknamed later as the “Whirlpool Galaxy,” and his drawings of it closely resemble modern photographs.

Parsons dies at the age of 67 on October 31, 1867 at Monkstown, County Dublin.

Parsons’s son publishes his father’s findings, including the discovery of 226 New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (NGC) objects in the publication Observations of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars Made With the Six-foot and Three-foot Reflectors at Birr Castle From the Year 1848 up to the Year 1878, Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society Vol. II, 1878.


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Birth of John Todhunter, Poet & Playwright

John Todhunter, Irish poet and playwright who wrote seven volumes of poetry and several plays, is born in Dublin on December 30, 1839.

Todhunter is the eldest son of Thomas Harvey Todhunter, a Quaker merchant of English origin. He is educated at Quaker schools, including Bootham School in York and in Mountmellick, County Laois. He starts work at his father’s offices in Dublin and London before continuing on to attend Trinity College, Dublin, where he studies medicine. While at Trinity, he wins the Vice-Chancellor’s prize for English Verse 1864, 1865 and 1866, and the Gold Medal of the Philosophical Society 1866 for an essay. He also clerks for William Stokes while studying. He receives his Bachelor of Medicine in 1867 and his Doctorate of Medicine degree in 1871.

In 1870, one year prior to receiving his Doctorate of Medicine, Todhunter becomes a Professor of English Literature at Alexandra College, Dublin. Four years later, he resigns from that position and travels to Egypt and several places in Europe. He marries Dora L. Digby in 1879. In 1881, he finally settles in London, where his home in Bedford Park, Chiswick is located in a small community of writers and artists, including William Butler Yeats. Informal “symposia” are held at his house about once a fortnight, when friends gather at his fireside to discuss poetry and philosophy. He is involved in the founding of the Irish Literary Society there.

Todhunter’s first volume is a collection of narrative and lyrical poems entitled Laurella (1876). Grace, tenderness, and melody mark these poems. In later years he does much stronger work under the influence of ancient Celtic literature, to the study of which he is led by the memorable rendering of the Cú Chulainn legend published in 1878 by Standish O’Grady. The Banshee and Other Poems (1888) and The Irish Bardic Tales (1896) contain the best of his work in poetry.

Three of Todhunter’s plays have been acted with success. One of them, The Black Cat (1893), produced by the Independent Theatre Society, a private club formed to forestall censorship by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, is a factor in the revival of the literary drama. However, it only receives one performance, on December 8, 1893 at the Opera Comique. His translation of Heinrich Heine‘s Buch der Lieder is perhaps the best complete English version of a work than which none more irresistibly attracts or more cruelly eludes the art of the translator. He is also author of a few brief prose works, including “The Life of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan” and “A Study of Shelley.”

Todhunter dies on October 25, 1916 at his residence in Bedford Park.


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Birth of Anne Brontë, Poet & Novelist

anne-bronteAnne Brontë, English poet and novelist, is born on January 17, 1820 in Thornton, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. She is the sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontë and author of Agnes Grey, A Novel (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

Brontë is the youngest of six children of Patrick Brontë, a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, and Marie Brontë. She lives most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors and is taught in the family’s Haworth home and at Roe Head School. With her sister Emily, she invents the imaginary kingdom of Gondal, about which they write verse and prose, the latter now lost, from the early 1830s until 1845.

Brontë takes a position as governess briefly in 1839 and then again for four years, 1841–45, with the Robinsons, the family of a clergyman, at Thorpe Green, near York. There her irresponsible brother, Branwell, joins her in 1843, intending to serve as a tutor. Anne returns home in 1845 and is followed shortly by her brother, who has been dismissed, charged with making love to his employer’s wife.

In 1846 Brontë contributes 21 poems to Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, a joint work with her sisters Charlotte and Emily. Her first novel, Agnes Grey, is published together with Emily’s Wuthering Heights in three volumes, of which Agnes Grey is the third, in December 1847. The reception to these volumes, associated in the public mind with the immense popularity of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (October 1847), lead to quick publication of Anne’s second novel, again as Acton Bell, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published in three volumes in June 1848. It sells well.

Emily’s death in December 1848 deeply affects Brontë and her grief undermines her physical health. Over Christmas, she comes down with influenza. Her symptoms intensify and her father sends for a Leeds physician in early January. The doctor diagnoses her condition as consumption (tuberculosis) and intimates that it is quite advanced, leaving little hope of recovery. Anne meets the news with characteristic determination and self-control.

In February 1849, Brontë seems somewhat better and decides to make a return visit to Scarborough in the hope that the change of location and fresh sea air might initiate a recovery. On May 24, 1849, she sets off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. However, it is clear that Anne has little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27, Brontë asks Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicates that death is close. Conscious and calm, she dies in the afternoon of Monday, May 28, 1849 at the age of 29. She is buried in Scarborough in St. Mary’s churchyard, beneath the castle walls, overlooking the bay.

Her novel Agnes Grey, probably begun at Thorpe Green, records with limpidity and some humour the life of a governess. George Moore calls it “simple and beautiful as a muslin dress.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an unsoftened picture of the debauchery and degradation of the heroine’s first husband and sets against it the Arminian belief, opposed to Calvinist predestination, that no soul shall be ultimately lost. Her outspokenness raised some scandal, and Charlotte deplored the subject as morbid and out of keeping with her sister’s nature, but the vigorous writing indicates that Brontë found in it not only a moral obligation but also an opportunity of artistic development.

(Pictured: A sketch of Anne Brontë by sister Charlotte, circa 1834)


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Birth of Mother Frances Mary Teresa Ball

frances-teresa-ballMother Frances Mary Teresa Ball, foundress of the Irish Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), is born in Dublin on January 9, 1794.

Ball is the youngest of six children born to John and Mable Clare Bennet Ball. Her father is a wealthy silk weaver. Catholicism is still suppressed in Ireland at this time. She is therefore sent to England at the age of nine to the Bar Convent in York. Henry James Coleridge describes her as “a bright, quiet, high spirited girl, fond of fun, and with much depth of character.” In these times students do not return home for Easter, Christmas or summer holidays. They stay at the school, and live like religious people, until they leave school, usually in their late teens.

In 1807, her eldest sister, Cecilia is professed at the Ursuline convent in Cork. Ball travels from Dublin to Cork for the ceremony, where she meets Mary Aikenhead. Cecilia Ball takes the name of Sister Francis Regis and is within a few years made Superior of the convent in Cork. Upon the death of her father in 1808, Ball returns to Dublin. She is expected to make an admirable wife for the son and heir of some rich Catholic Dublin merchant family.

In June 1814, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Murray, Archbishop of Dublin, Ball returns to York and enters the novitiate of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There she receives her religious training, and makes her profession in September 1816, taking, in religion, the name of Mary Teresa.

Recalled by Archbishop Murray, Ball returns to Dublin in 1821 with two novices to establish the Irish Branch of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the instruction of children. They stay with Mary Aikenhead and the Irish Sisters of Charity in Stanhope Street while Rathfarnham House is being renovated. In 1822 she opens the first institution of the order in Ireland, in Rathfarnam House, four miles from Dublin. She decides to call the house “Loreto” after the village in Italy to which the Nazareth house of the Holy Family is said to have been miraculously transported.

Ball is a woman of great piety and administrative ability. Her energies are devoted to the establishment of schools and to the development of the sisterhood which now has members in many countries. The first offshoot is planted in Navan, County Meath, in the year 1833. The year 1840 is marked by the erection of the first church in Ireland dedicated to the Sacred Heart, in Loretto Abbey, Rathfarnham. In addition to the boarding and day schools the sisters conduct orphanages.

For almost forty years after bringing the IBVM to Ireland, Ball establishes a wide network of convents and schools across Ireland, as well as in India, Mauritius and Canada. The nuns are usually called Sisters of Loreto after the shrine at Loreto, Marche in Italy.

Mother Mary Teresa Ball dies at Rathfarnham Abbey on May 19, 1861 after a long illness.


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Birth of Stage Actress Julia Betterton Glover

julia-betterton-gloverJulia Betterton Glover, Irish-born stage actress well known for her comic roles in the late 18th and 19th centuries, is born on January 8, 1779 in Newry, Northern Ireland.

“Betterton” is not her real name, despite her father`s promotion of the fiction. She is born Julianna Butterton, the daughter of the Newry`s theatre manager William Butterton. His venture fails and he decides there will be financial benefit to him if her name is changed to “Betterton,” claiming links to a famous actor and long dead Thomas Betterton. With this deception he and his family travel round the theatres and the young Julia is acclaimed as an infant acting prodigy in York, the West Country, Bath, and elsewhere.

In 1787, she joins the York Circuit under manager Tate Wilkinson and appears as the Page in Thomas Otway‘s The Orphan, as well as the Duke of York with George Frederick Cooke in Richard III. When Cooke is cast as Glumdalca, the Queen of the Giants, in Henry Fielding‘s burlesque play Tom Thumb, Cooke chooses Julia to play the title role.

In 1790, at age nine, she makes her debut in Scotland at the Dumfries Theatre Royal. In 1795 she goes to Bath and plays the parts of Juliet, Imogen, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, and Lydia Languish. She becomes well known, particularly praised for her comic role as Languish, and news of her success reaches London. A number of job offers are made, but they are declined by her father. He eventually accepts a lucrative offer, taking her salary for himself, for which she makes her London début in 1797 as Percy by Hannah More.

In 1800, her father sells her in marriage to Samuel Glover, the son of an industrial family from Birmingham, for £1, 000, although the money is never paid. Unhappily married, she has eight children, four of whom survive childhood. In 1820, she plays Hamlet at the Lyceum Theatre to critical acclaim. In 1822, she appears as Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her daughter Phyllis plays Juliet. On February 8, 1837, her father, with whom she has had an unhappy relationship, dies.

One of her sons is Edmund Glover and another is William Howard Glover. In 1850, Glover announces her retirement from the stage. After two weeks confined to her bed, she appears at Drury Lane for her farewell benefit performance on July 12, 1850 as Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals. She is noticeably ill and weak during her performance and is unable to stand to receive her applause at the end of the play. Instead, the curtain rises to reveal Glover seated, surrounded by the rest of the cast. She dies in London four days later on July 16, 1850. She is buried in St. George’s Churchyard Gardens in London.