Monthly Archives: June 2015

Hazel – Lady Lavery

Helen of Troy may have had the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ but Hazel Lavery’s launched a billion pounds!

Hazel - Lady Lavery

Hazel – Lady Lavery

Hazel Lavery (nee Martyn) was born on 14th March 1880 in Chicago to Edward Martyn, a wealthy industrialist of Anglo-Irish extraction. She was known as ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the Midwest’ but decided to leave and went to London in the early 1900s. She married a doctor, Edward Trudeau in 1903, but he died after only five months. By then she had met John Lavery, and they married in 1909. He was the most sought-after artist in London and was appointed the official artist to the British Government during World War I. When he was knighted in 1918 Hazel became Lady Lavery.

As Sir John Lavery was the portrait artist of choice for the ‘great and good’ in London, Hazel met and corresponded with many famous people like George Bernard Shaw, the historian Hilaire Belloc and Lytton Strachey, a founding member of the Bloomsday Group. During the Anglo-Irish treaty negotiations in 1922 their grand house on Cromwell Parade, South Kensington, was used by the Irish delegation. Hazel was very much the society hostess and entertained her guests that included Michael Collins and Kevin O’Higgins. At the time there was much gossip and speculation about her relationship with these men, but her correspondence does not confirm anything.

Lady Lavery by Sir John Lavery

Lady Lavery by Sir John Lavery

After the Treaty was signed Sir John Lavery was asked to design an image for the new Irish Banknotes that represented the female personification of Ireland. This looked back to Irish mythology and had been previously represented by Mangan’s Dark Rosaleen and WB Yeats’ Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Hazel’s image was adopted and reproduced on banknotes from 1928 until the mid-1970s. And that’s an awful lot of banknotes (and money).

Lady Lavery - on the money!

Lady Lavery – on the money!

 

 

 

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Marked Off – Irish Mail on Sunday Review

Review of Marked Off in the Irish Mail on Sunday (21 June 2015). (Click to read)

 

Marked Off review

Marked Off review

 

 

 

 

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The Wide Street Commission – Reshaping Dublin

Although it was disbanded over 150 years ago the Wide Street Commission left a legacy that we see in the city to this day. It was created by an act of parliament in 1757, and over its 94 year existence, was responsible for the reshaping of the medieval city into what we recognise today.

The Custom House

The Custom House

The actual reshaping of the old city began in earnest during the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685), when the Earl of Ormonde (Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time) had radical plans drawn up. Before this, houses backed onto the Liffey, that over time became little more than a collective sewer. He wanted all house frontages to face the newly built quays, with a street between them and the river. It was an inspired decision that changed the face and character of the city. New large houses and grand buildings, like the Custom House and Four Courts (both designed by James Gandon), enhanced the city’s image.

The commission’s main work was in reshaping central Dublin and it did this through careful planning with different developers given areas of responsibility. One of its first projects was to widen Essex Bridge (now Grattan Bridge) in 1755, so that it could better deal with the traffic of people, horse-drawn vehicles and cattle on their way to market. Parliament Street and the Royal Exchange (now Dublin City Hall) were built later.

O'Connell Bridge

O’Connell Bridge

Most notably, under the guidance of the then Chief Commissioner John Beresford,  a number of narrow streets were demolished to allow for the creation of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), which at  160 ft is one of the widest streets in Europe. O’Connell Bridge (also designed by James Gandon) was erected between 1791-1794 connecting both Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street. Westmoreland Street ran into College Green (as it faced Trinity College) and a newly widened Dame Street led past the Irish Houses of Parliament to Dublin Castle and Christchurch Cathedral beyond. This north-south axis became the dominant feature of the city, leading to better movement for people and carriages. And the new buildings and statues improved the architectural aesthetic. The work of the Commission, though short-lived, certainly left its mark.

O'Connell Street

O’Connell Street

 

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Wellington – The Iron Duke

6 Upper Merrion Street

6 Upper Merrion Street

One of the most decorated soldiers in history was born in 6 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin in 1769 (now the Merrion Hotel). The son of a  noble, but impoverished family, Arthur Wesley (later changed to Wellesley by his eldest brother who became Governor General of India) did not show much flair for anything other than playing the violin when he joined the army as an ensign in 1787, having been withdrawn from Eton due to a downturn in the family’s finances.

He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Trim, Co. Meath. After his proposal of marriage to Kitty Pakenham had been turned down he applied himself to military life with a determination of purpose that was to be his trademark and strength. After his first taste of action in Holland he was left with a distinctly low impression of many of his commanding officers, an experience that only increased his awareness of the value of preparation and attention to detail. Suitably prepared, he used his skill to good effect while in India, after which he had become a rich man and had been promoted to major-general.

Back in England he renewed his relationship with Kitty and eventually, not having seen her for ten years, married her in what he later described as the ‘biggest mistake of his life’. Difficult though the marriage was, he craved and immersed himself in the security and familiarity of the army. This is where he was at his best and within a short time he was back in action – this time against the armies of Napoleon (who coincidently was also born in 1769).

He led the British Army that fought against the French in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular Wars. His scorched earth policy, allied to superb defensive positioning, allowed the opposing army little freedom of movement and significantly reduced its ability to feed itself and inhibit its fighting capability. This led to the French being expelled and Wellesley occupying Toulouse in 1814, whereupon he was promoted to field-marshal and made Duke of Wellington. He was subsequently appointed as Ambassador to Paris, from where he travelled to negotiate the Congress of Vienna 1814-15.

While in Vienna he learned of Napoleon’s escape from his island prison on Elba, and the subsequent gathering of his once proud army in France. Wellington was put in charge of the British and Dutch forces that left Brussels for Waterloo (8 miles to the south). June 18th 1815 has gone down as one of the most momentous days in European history, when late in the day, Wellington, who was facing Napoleon for the first time on the battlefield, survived enormous early attacks and won the day with the late and critical arrival of Marshal Gebhard Blucher’s Prussian army. Irishmen fought that day on both sides with 10,000 in the British ranks alone, and it is reckoned that almost 50,000 men were killed or injured in the bloody battle. It was a crushing blow for Napoleon who resigned as emperor four days later. His transportation to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic brought French expansionism to an end, and allowed Britain to ‘rule the waves’ and gain a position of pre-eminence in trade and influence.

A political career beckoned and Wellington became a minister in 1819 and Prime Minister in 1828. It was during his time in Downing Street that Catholic Emancipation was granted (1829). Various offices, such as the Chancellor of Oxford University and Commander-in Chief of British forces, were bestowed upon him. Apart from these he was also made a prince in Holland, a duke in Spain and a marshal in seven European armies. Parliament, in recognition of his service, granted him funds to build a home, Apsley House, which later became known as ‘No. 1 London’. In late life he led a simple and austere existence in his castle in Walmer, Kent where he died in September 1852. His wish to be buried nearby was ignored, and he was finally laid to rest with all the pomp and circumstance that could be mustered in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

'Waterloo' relief on Wellington Monument

‘Waterloo’ relief on Wellington Monument

The good people of Ireland (in fact, he denied his Irishness by proclaiming ‘that not everyone born in a barn was a horse’) had already showed their respect by raising over £20,000 for the erection of the Wellington Monument, designed by Sir Robert Smirke. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Whitworth, laid the foundation stone on the site of the Salute Battery, in the Phoenix Park, in June 1817. Unfortunately the funds dried up and the obelisk was finished but nearly fifteen feet short of the desired height. The reliefs around the base of the monument, which tell of his military victories and political reforms, were cast from captured cannon guns, appropriate indeed when they recount the heroic life of one who is known to history as ‘The Iron Duke’.

Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

 

 

 

 

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GB Shaw – A literary giant

George Bernard Shaw is one of the giants of Irish literature, and over a long life of 94 years he was a prodigious writer of plays, letters and an ardent socialist.

33 Synge Street, Dublin

33 Synge Street, Dublin

He was born in 33 Synge Street on 26th July 1856 to George Shaw, a grain merchant, and Lucinda Gurly, a professional singer. He attended Wesley College and later a private school in Dalkey. Although he had a lifelong love of learning he disliked formal education considering ‘Schools and schoolmasters prisons and turnkeys.’ Later, in 1895, he was a co-founder of the London School of Economics.

He went to London in 1876 and joined his mother who had moved there with her voice teacher George Vandeleur Lee four years earlier. Most of his early years there were spent in various libraries reading the works of great dramtists, and visiting thestres. His early novels were rejected by publishers, but he began to make a living by writing critical reviews for London magazines.

In 1892 his first play Widowers’ Houses, a sharp attack on slum landlords, opened in the Royal Theatre on 9th December. He considered it one of the worst plays that he ever wrote, but by the mid-1890s he was one of the most popular and successful playwrights in London. Works like Mrs Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man and Candida drew critical reviews for their incisive commentaries on class-structure, morals and the prevailing social issues. This is often considered his greatest contribution to the dramatic art.

In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1938 had the rare distinction of becoming the only person to also win an Academy Award for his work on the film of his play Pygmalion. This was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady in 1956 and as movie of the same name in 1964.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

In 1906 he moved to the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, north of london, and lived there for the rest of his life. The house is called Shaw’s Corner and his ashes, with those of his wife Charlotte, were scattered along the footpaths and garden they loved.

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