December 24

Published in On this Day listing

  • Above: Ryan O’Neill in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975), based on William Makepiece Thackeray’s The luck of Barry Lyndon (1844).

    1863 William Makepiece Thackeray (52), journalist and novelist, died. Thackeray is perhaps best remembered for his panoramic social satire Vanity Fair (1848), a novel which made him as famous as Dickens, and for An Irish sketchbook (1843), an account of an extensive four-month tour that he made from July to October the previous year. Well received by his middle-class English readers, the Sketchbook did, however, upset many of his Irish readers for its perceived anti-Catholic bias and unrelenting descriptions of pre-Famine poverty, the latter contrasting with his extensive accounts of the culinary fare in various establishments. Staying in the Shelbourne, for instance, he enjoyed ‘a copious breakfast of broiled Dublin Bay herrings, a buffet lunch and a plentiful dinner at 6p.m.’ and, in Skibbereen, ‘an exuberant dinner of trout and Kerry mutton’. Staying at the King’s Arms in Dundalk, however, he reported that the best food was reserved for ‘His Grace the Most Reverend the Lord Archbishop of Armagh and of Ireland, and his clergy’, noting that, ‘when their reverences were gone, the laity were served; and I have no doubt, from the leg of a duck which I got that the breast and wings must have been very tender’. Thackeray certainly did enjoy his food and, indeed, it was gluttony that precipitated his premature demise. On a brighter note, his first novel, The luck of Barry Lyndon (1844), about the adventures of an eighteenth-century Irishman, was the inspiration for one of the more unusual films of the 1970s. Written, directed and produced by the legendary Stanley Kubrick and partly filmed in Ireland, Barry Lyndon (1975), despite a dreadful performance by Ryan O’Neal in the title role, won four Oscars, including that for Best Cinematography.

  • 1979 The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan; 15,000 Soviet soldiers were to die in Russia’s ten-year ‘Vietnam War’.
  • 1914 An informal, though not universal, Christmas truce was observed on the Western Front.
  • 1818 ‘Silent Night’, written by Josef Mohr to a melody by Franz Gruber, was sung for the first time at midnight Mass in the town of Oberndorf, north of Salzburg.
  • 1814 The Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the War of 1812 between the United States and the UK.
  • 1810 John O’Connell, favourite son of Daniel O’Connell the ‘Liberator’, politician and a captain of militia after the 1848 Rising, was born.
  • 1865 Former Confederate army officers founded the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee.
  • 1823 James Gandon (80), architect best known for his works during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, including the Custom House and the surrounding Beresford Place, the Four Courts and the King’s Inns in Dublin and Emo Court in County Laois, died.

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