Thomas F. Kilroy, Irish playwright and novelist, is born on September 23, 1934, in Green Street, Callan, County Kilkenny. He is a difficult writer to categorize, having written plays ranging from the conventional The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche to more technically innovative and avant-garde works such as Talbot’s Box and The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde. Nevertheless, common thematic concerns run throughout many of his plays, including the issue of personal and cultural—specifically, Irish versus English—identity and the mythologizing of the past. Best known as a playwright, he is also the author of the Booker Prize-shortlisted novel The Big Chapel (1971).
Kilroy is the son of Thomas and Mary (née Devine) Kilroy. He attends St. Kieran’s College and plays hurling for the school team, captaining the senior team in 1952. He studies at University College Dublin, where his first play, The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche, is produced to great success at the Olympia Theatre. In his early career he is play editor at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In the 1980s, he sits on the board of Field Day Theatre Company, founded by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea in 1980, and is Director of its touring company.
In 1978, Kilroy is appointed Professor of English at University College Galway, a post from which he resigns in 1989 to concentrate on writing.
In 2008, Kilroy receives the Irish PEN Award, given to honour an Irish-born writer who has made an outstanding contribution to Irish literature.
While some of Kilroy’s plays hit a lighter note than others, the common thread in most of them is his attempt to address some of the social upheavals that have occurred in Ireland in the past and present. This has been a concern of his since he was in his twenties and wrote in the 1959 essay “Groundwork for an Irish Theatre” that his contemporaries were “inclined to shirk the painful, sometimes tragic problems of a modern Ireland which is undergoing considerable social and ideological stress.” Although he has not been one of Ireland’s most prolific playwrights, his plays may certainly be considered important contributions to the modern stage.
Kilroy now lives in County Mayo and is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters, the Royal Society of Literature, and Aosdána.
The Thomas Kilroy Collection, his personal archive, is deposited at the James Hardiman Library at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). Kilroy addresses the launch event in March 2011, which is attended by, amongst others, Brian Friel and the future President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins.