Thursday, May 12, 2016

The executioner speaks: 1916, Cork rebel Thomas Kent and the Galway professor.

Dr Gearóid Barry, History, NUI Galway.

Thomas Kent
What brings together a Cork rebel executed one hundred years ago this week, the man who commanded the firing squad and esteemed Galway professor Liam Ó Briain appointed here at the then-UCG in 1917? As I write this, in May 2016, as the main period of 1916 commemorations winds down, it is hard for those of us in the historian’s trade to avoid the Easter Rising – even in our downtime! So it was that during my sojourn this past weekend in my native Cork that I happened upon a play entitled Thomas Kent: 1916 Rebel written by Ferghal Dineen and Eoin Ó hAnnracháin and produced by Cork-based company Lantern Productions

The play tells the story of the Kent family of Castlelyons Co. Cork, two of whom, the brothers Richard and Thomas Kent died as a direct or indirect result of a dramatic dawn firefight at the family farm at Bawnard on 2 May 1916. The play runs at the Everyman Theatre in Cork up to Friday 13 May 2016  and if you are near Cork this week, go. As one post on Twitter said ; ‘Laughter, tears, absolutely capitivating. Amazing work’.  I must admit an interest: Kent has been of interest to me these past months since I was asked to write a piece on his religious faith for an interesting new book, The End of All Things Earthly: Faith Profiles of the 1916 Leaders (edited by David Bracken and published by Veritas)

And the link to NUI Galway, you might well ask? It comes, indirectly, through our current exhibition A University in War and Revolution: the Galway experience now in its second month here in NUI Galway in the foyer of the James Hardiman Library.

One of the significant figures who features in the exhibition is Liam Ó Briain. Ó Briain was himself an Irish Volunteer who knew many of the executed leaders especially Seán MacDiarmada and  Michael Mallin who were executed in the same week as Kent. He lost his teaching job at UCD’s French department for taking part in the Rising, fighting at Stephen’s Green. Released from Frongoch prison camp in 1917, Ó Briain secured a post as professor of Romance languages at University College Galway (today NUI Galway) in 1917. The relevance to the Kent story in Cork though is a chance encounter in 1925 between Ó Briain and the British soldier in charge of the firing squad that executed Thomas Kent at Cork Detention Barracks on 9 May 1916.   Price, the solider whom Ó Briain met in Reigate, Surrey, in summer 1925, was the brother of Hereward T. Price, a British academic and old friend of Ó Briain’s, who had been a lecturer at Bonn University in Germany when the Irish academic has been there on a travelling scholarship in 1914.

Liam Ó Briain
Price’s brother, as a Royal Navy man stationed at nearby Queenstown, maintained he was in in charge of the firing squad in Cork in 1916. Price shows apparent regret for what he had to do. Ó Briain’s account –written in Irish and appearing in Last Words, a collection of material on the executed leaders’ final days put together in the 1960s by the Kilmainham Gaol Restoration Committee - states that Professor Price’s brother had remained quiet during Liam’s visit to his friend’s home in Reigate but made a startling confession to the Irish visitor as he accompanied him to the local railway station to catch his train. Apologizing for his awkward silence, the soldier Price, brother of Ó Briain’s colleague, said to him: ‘I was thinking if you knew a certain thing about me you might refuse to sit in the same room as me.’ Price told Ó Briain that ‘your business in Dublin caused a rare shake-up in the forces in Cork and, to make a long story short, I found myself in charge of a firing squad, the squad which executed one of your men.’ It was indeed Thomas Kent -‘ aye, that was the name’- and when asked how he died, Price added: ‘Oh, very bravely, not a feather out of him.’

Alongside the family dramas of the deaths of Richard Kent and policeman William Rowe and the execution of Thomas Kent in Cork in May 1916, the brief encounter in Reigate involving Galway professor Liam Ó Briain casts once again a human light on the dramatic events of the Rising and its aftermath. All the more reason, then, to visit our free exhibition in NUI Galway in the coming months!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

1916 and a sister's private grief: Seán Heuston's execution and Galway

In the little cemetery attached to the Dominican Convent at Taylor’s Hill, a black cross standing under the shade of an elm tree indicates the remains of Mother Bernard Heuston, O.P.  Bernard (christened Mary), was the older sister of Seán Heuston, one of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising.  Mary was born in Dublin in 1889; she entered the enclosed Dominican Monastery at Galway in 1914, where she made her religious profession at the age of 26 in 1915.  She died April 21, 1960.  Before entering the religious life, Mary was trained as a teacher in King Inns Street near Dominick Street where the family then lived.  The Heustons later moved to nearby 20 Fontenoy Street. 
As an enclosed nun, Sr. Mary’s receiving the news of her younger brother’s execution, naturally may have been accentuated by a sense of helplessness and frustration at not being able to attend his funeral.   Her community noted at the time however, that she accepted the tragedy of the cross she bore with quiet dignity and resignation; never referring to the matter of her famous brother’s death.   The Dominican friars at Dominic Street (Dublin) evidently played a significant role in the upbringing of the Heuston household, particularly after the departure of their father to England.  Mrs. Maria Heuston and all of her offspring were third order (tertiary) Dominicans. Indeed, Mrs. Heuston had wished that her son Jack (Seán) might be buried in the Dominican habit on hearing word of his ensuing execution.  The young revolutionary however, insisted on being interred in his own military garb.

Mother Bernard Heuston (centre) with her sister Teresa (left)
at the Domincan Convent, Taylor's Hill, Galway.
After the passing of execution on Captain Seán Heuston (who was in charge of the D Company that seized the Mendicity Institution during the Easter Rising); he sent word to Tallaght, where his brother Michael (later Fr. John Dominic, O.P.,) was then a Dominican novice, that he wished to see him before his death.  Accompanying the young friar on his visit to Kilmainham Prison was Fr. Michael Browne, O.P., (later Master General of the worldwide Dominican Order, and brother of Monsignor Pádraig de Brún, later President of U.C.G from 1945-59).   Michael Browne O.P.’s letter to Sr. Bernard in Galway, dated May 12, 1916, expressed apologies for the tardiness of its sending caused by ‘the wrenches my feelings got on Sunday night’.  Browne also relates in the same letter that ‘during these last few days’, there was special attention given to her brother (Br. John Dominic Heuston, O.P.,), and that ‘as long as I live he [Seán] will have a memento in my prayers and in my Masses’.

The ‘Sunday night’ referred to by Browne was May 7 of 1916, the night before Seán Heuston’s execution.  On the same day, Heuston wrote his last letter to his sister in Galway.  The rebel pleaded with his eldest sibling to ‘teach the children the History of their own land and to teach them [that] the cause of Caitlín Ní hUallacháin never dies.’  In the same letter, the condemned revolutionary also expressed his concern for their mother, who was by then financially dependent on him, ‘Poor mother will miss me, but I feel, with God’s help, she will manage.  You know the Irish proverb’ he continues, ‘God’s help is nearer than the door’.  

A young Sean Heuston, pictured in Limerick (n.d)
After the events of 1916, Sr. Heuston went on to hold many offices of responsibility within the Galway Dominican community, including: principal at the Dominican Secondary School; novice mistress; archivist and prioress (hence Mother).  She taught Latin, English, religion and history as subjects at the Dominican College.  She also ran the Aquinas Study circle at Taylor’s Hill which included U.C.G sociology lecturer Dr. John Howley, as one of its members. Mary Donovan O'Sullivan, Professor of History at U.C.G., from 1914 to the 1950s, was a prominent past-pupil of Taylor's Hill, though her politics as a Home Ruler and advocate of enlistment in the First World War would have been quite different from that of Seán Heuston who died as a republican martyr in 1916. The present author, a Dominican sister, knew and was taught by both Mother Bernard Heuston and Mary Donovan O'Sullivan, each of whom, in their own ways, were women of their times.

By T.P.L., graduate of the school of history at U.C.G., and former pupil of both Mother Bernard at the Dominican College at Taylor’s Hill and Prof. Donavan O’Sullivan at U.C.G. 

The Exhibition "A University in War and Revolution - The Galway Experience 1913-1919 is open daily at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway and admission is free.

Monday, May 9, 2016

'Yeats & the West' Closing Lecture: Pearse, MacNeill, the Revival & the Rising, at the Model, Sligo, 12 May

Romanticism & Realism: Pearse, MacNeill, the Revival & the Rising

Public Talk with Dr. Mary Harris, 

Senior Lecturer in History, NUI Galway

6pm Thursday 12 May

The Model Theatre, Sligo

followed by Exhibition closing wine reception

All welcome!

Dr. Mary Harris
This talk observes how a cultural revolution became a real revolution. It also examines  personalities and politics that more than any others shaped Irish history. Patrick Pearse and Eoin MacNeill were collaborators in the Gaelic League, writers, thinkers and educators working together on An Claidheamh Soluis; fatally, they disagreed over the preparation and timing for armed rebellion. Pearse’s plays drew upon ancient myth to openly demand revolution; MacNeill’s historical studies produced Phases of Irish History and Celtic Ireland. Was it simply romanticism vs realism? Looking back on the Easter Rising and the foundation of the Free State, W.B. Yeats suggested that ‘the modern literature of Ireland, and indeed all that stir of thought which prepared for the Anglo-Irish war, began when Parnell fell from power in 1891. A disillusioned and embittered Ireland turned from parliamentary politics; an event was conceived; and the race began, as I think, to be troubled by that event’s long gestation’. Looking back from one hundred years on, this talk considers the period’s complex interconnections of culture, literature and history, and asks how that ‘stir of thought’ at once created and limited the gestation and flowering of the decisive events of 1916.

Dr Mary Harris is Senior Lecturer in History at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She was born in Cork and is a graduate of UCC, proceeding to Cambridge for her PhD which led to her monograph The Catholic Church and the Foundation of the Northern Irish State (Cork University Press, 1993).

Mary has worked as a secondary school teacher in Cork and Grenada, West Indies.  From 1992-6 she taught Irish Studies at the University of North London.  Since 1996 she has been in the discipline of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway.  Her teaching and research focus is on modern Irish history, and she has published widely in this area. She is currently working on a book on Eoin MacNeill.

Mary is co-ordinator of NUI Galway’s programme commemorating the 1916 Rising and is a member of the Irish government’s expert advisory group on commemoration.

Dr Mary Harris appears in conversation with the curator of Yeats & the West, and Lecturer in English at NUI Galway, Dr Adrian Paterson. The talk is followed by a wine reception for the exhibition closing at the Model, honouring NUI Galway alumni, who include the illustrious collector and donor to the Model Nora Niland.

Tours of the exhibition from the curators take place every Thursday at 1pm.  Find out what makes art and poetry so close, and observe the connection of books, and music, drama, and discover never before seen rare books and fine art from the collections of NUI Galway and The Model. Come and get an inside view of the crafts and cultures that made a western revolution.

Emer McGarry, Acting Director, The Model, Cllr. Thomas Healy, Dr Jim Browne , President of NUI Galway, Martin Enright, President of Yeats Society, Sligo, Dr Adrian Paterson, NUI Galway, and curator of the exhibition, Senator Susan O’Keeffe, Ciaran Hayes, Sligo County Manager, Barry Houlihan, NUIG, Donal Tinney, Chairperson of The Model, and John Cox, NUIG, at the NUI Galway Launch of Yeats & the West Exhibition at The Model, Sligo.
Photo: James Connolly

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Remembering the Rising: The Pearse Brothers and QCG Visitor Book, 1899

Today, the third of May 2016, marks one hundred years to the day of the first executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. The executions were carried out at the Stonebreaker's Yard of Kilmainham Jail. On May 2nd 1916, the first courts martial sentenced Padraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke and Thomas MacDonagh to death. Pearse, a founding leader of the Volunteers, Commander-and-Chief of the rebel forces and stationed at the G.P.O. on O'Connell Street at the height of the conflict, along with fellow signatories of the Proclamation, Thomas Clarke and Thomas McDonagh, were executed by firing squad. Between the third of May and the twelfth of May 1916, fifteen leaders of the Rising would be executed. Among the fifteen were others such as Willie Pearse, brother of Padraig. Though not considered a senior leader or instigator of the Rising, Willie Pearse was also executed by firing squad, largely because he was Padraig's brother, on the fourth of May. 

As part of A University in War and Revolution1913-191 The Galway Experience currently on at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway, a central item on exhibit is the University Visitor Book for Queen's College Galway (NUIG's former title). The visitor book records the signatures of both Pearse brothers, which they sign in Irish, Padraig agus William MacPiarais.

Q.C.G. Visitor book with signatures of Padriag and William Pearse

The visit by both Pearse brothers to the University campus in Galway in August 1899 is a truly unique moment in the University’s history. The presence of both signatures, when Padraig and William were nineteen and twenty years of age respectively, offers an illuminating insight into the exhibition, which tells the story of the University's impact and influence in major events of the time, such as the role of college students and academic staff in both the Rising and the War effort in Europe at the time; women in revolution; the place of the Irish language and also the post-1916 political landscape of the West of Ireland as seen at the 1918 election.

The exhibition is open to all and entry is free.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Free Public Lecture - 'John McGahern's New Voice: The Writing of 'Amongst Women'

To mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of John McGahern, The James Hardiman Library in association with the MA in Writing and the Moore Institute at NUI Galway are delighted to present a public lecture by the renowned John McGahern scholar, Denis Sampson. The lecture, 'John McGahern's New Voice: The Writing of Amongst Women' will take place on Wednesday, 27 April at 7pm in the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway.

Denis Sampson
Sampson produced the first full-length study of McGahern’s works, Outstaring Nature’s Eye, in 1993, and his enduring critical attention to the writer culminated in his book Young John McGahern: Becoming a Novelist, published by Oxford University Press in 2012. Sampson has lectured and published widely on modern Irish writing, and he has also published a memoir, A Migrant Heart (2014). His new book from Oxford, The Found Voice: Writers' Beginnings, will be out next month.

The 30th of March this year was the 10th anniversary of the death of the celebrated Irish writer, John McGahern. McGahern’s work, from the 1960s up to his passing in 2006, has enthralled readers with his artistry and has engaged a succession of generations with his range of themes emanating from modern Irish history, culture and society. His reputation is as strong abroad as at home, and he is widely regarded as a master of the novel and short-story forms.

The rich John McGahern Archive at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway preserves the documentary evidence of 'the writer at work'. In his lecture, Denis Sampson mines the Archive to trace the drafting and evolution of McGahern's 1990 novel, Amongst Women, and he reveals the ‘reinvention’ of McGahern as a writer through his writing of this major novel. In McGahern's papers, the characteristic personal traces of the writer can be found in voluminous manuscript copybooks and loose pages. The ideas that inform each work become clearer through these papers, and his artistic process is made clear in the exhaustive level of revision and redrafting he brought to his emergent novels and stories.

Looking forward to Sampson’s lecture, Dr John Kenny, John McGahern Lecturer in Creative Writing and Director of the MA in Writing, NUI Galway observed: ‘The nature of John McGahern’s Archive here at NUI Galway ideally suits it to different kinds of exploratory readers. Scholars of McGahern, or of contemporary Irish fiction and writing, naturally find it a highly valuable resource, but the papers also hold great promise for any student or devotee of writing intent on emulating the best models for creative practice and artistic dedication’.

John Cox, University Librarian, NUI Galway comments: "We treasure the John McGahern archive as an enabler of new research and are greatly looking forward to Denis Sampson's lecture as a very appropriate way of marking the tenth anniversary of John's passing."

In his lecture, Sampson will discuss unpublished drafts of Amongst Women from within the McGahern Archive and will reveal the links between the novel and some of the earlier McGahern short stories in his collections Getting Through and High Ground.
The lecture will be accompanied by an exhibition of select material from the McGahern Archive and is free of charge and open to all.

Venue: Moore Institute Seminar Room (G010), Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway
Date: Wednesday, 27 April 2016
Time: 7pm
Material from the John McGahern Archive at the Hardiman Library

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

'Yeats and the West' public lecture by Adrian Frazier

A Disturbing Influence: Maud Gonne in the life of W.B. Yeats
 Adrian Frazier, NUI Galway
Public Talk  - Free Entry
6pm Thursday 14 April
This talk is an incendiary look at an incendiary relationship: that of Maud Gonne and W.B. Yeats. Using never before unearthed material it takes us inside a troubled and troubling connection made from politics, personality, poetry, magic, deceit, and love.
Adrian Frazier
Maud Gonne
A native of St Louis, Missouri, Professor Adrian Frazier (NUI Galway) pursued his fascination with Irish literature and theatre to the west of Ireland, and now lives in Galway. He is the author of Behind the Scenes: Yeats, Horniman, and the Struggle for the Abbey Theatre (Berkeley: University of California 1990), an acclaimed biography of the Irish novelist and memoirist George Moore and his cultural milieu, George Moore, 1852-1933 (New Haven: Yale UP 2000) and Hollywood Irish: John Ford, Abbey Actors, and the Irish Revival in Hollywoood (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2011). His most recent book is an illustrated pen portrait of artist and sculptor John Behan entitled John Behan: The Bull from Sherriff Street (Lilliput Press 2015). His new book is a joint biography of W.B.Yeats, Maud Gonne, and her lover the French political activist Lucien Millevoye, recasting completely our view of the personalities and politics of this incendiary love triangle. 

Last week the first lecture in the weekly series was delivered by exhibition curator, Dr. Adrian Paterson of the School of English, NUI Galway. The audience were brought on a journey through the world of Yeats' Innisfree and what that place meant to the young Yeats as well as how it stayed as a place of refuge and inspiration for Yeats throughout his life.

The 'Yeats and the West' exhibition joins the Model Gallery, Sligo following its initial run at the Hardiman Building of NUI Galway. The exhibition was officially launched in Sligo by Professor Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway. Speakers on the evening of the launch also included Donal Tinney, Chair of the Board of the Model Gallery, Adrian Paterson, NUIG and Senator Susan O'Keefe, Chair of the Yeats150 programme.

Prof. Jim Browne, Dr. Adrian Paterson, Susan O'Keefe, Donal Tinney, Barry Houlihan, John Cox, pictured at the launch of Yeats and the West exhibition at the Model Gallery, Sligo.

All upcoming events at the Model Gallery for Yeats and the West can be seen here:

For full details on the exhibition please visit

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Remembering the Rising - Commemorations from 1966

President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, led the commemoration and national remembering of the events of Easter 1916 this past weekend, the centenary of the Easter rising of 1916. As part of a national programme of events, commemorations included a military parade past the G.P.O. on Dublin's O'Connell Street on Easter Sunday to a nation-wide synchronised sequence of events that took place in Galway, Cork, Meath and Wexford on Easter Monday,

Across the weekend a diverse programme of cultural commemoration in the form of lectures, talks, concerts, exhibitions and re-enactments entertained and engaged the public. At the beginning of all these events was a laying of a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square by President Higgins.

The Garden of Remembrance was officially opened by then President of Ireland, Éamon De Valera, as part of the fiftieth anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Rising in 1966. As the events of 1916 are of such interest to study and understand, so too are the acts of commemoration and understanding how we remember these moments in Irish history at various times in the State's history. Within the archive of actor and revolutionary Arthur Shields at the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway, are original plans for the Garden of Remembrance. Arthur was an actor and stage manager at the Abbey Theatre and who was an active combatant in the Rising as it broke out just streets away from the Abbey Theatre. He was later arrested and interned at Frongoch Prison Camp in Wales.

In a further link between history and remembering, Shields has the unique distinction of being a rebel active in 1916, of playing the lead role of Jack Clitheroe in the 1926 original production of Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" critiquing the Rising at the Abbey Theatre and also playing the role of Padraic Pearse in the 1936 film version of "The Plough and the Stars" directed by John Ford with a screenplay by Dudley Nicholas. The below images are all from the archive of Arthur Shields and offer a glimpse into commemorations of 1916 fifty years ago.

 Original plans for the Garden of Remembrance

 A book of commemorative stamps issued by An Post

 A book of commemorative stamps issued by An Post
A photograph of Arthur Shields (centre) as a fallen rebel from the 1926 production of "The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre 

Photograph of an Taoiseach of the time, Sean Lemass (also a rebel involved in 1916 as a 16-year old) with Christine Shields and Helena Moloney (bottom left) on the occasion of the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate members of the cast and staff of the theatre who participated in the 1916 Rising, 1966. Helena Molony was a central figure in events in 1916 and also afterwards as a leading feminist, trade unionist and socialist.