John Weldon (alternatively “A. E. Weldon”), Irish writer, playwright, and the registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland, dies in Dublin on February 4, 1963. He adopts the pseudonym ‘Brinsley MacNamara,’ the first name deriving from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the second from a relative on his mother’s side, and uses it throughout his subsequent career as novelist and playwright.
Weldon is born on September 6, 1890, in Hiskinstown, Delvin, County Westmeath, the eldest son of James Weldon, a schoolteacher, originally of Ballinea, Mullingar, and Fanny Weldon (née Duncan). He attends his father’s school at Delvin until he is eighteen, and the relationship between father and son is to remain rather formal and strict.
Stimulated by the visiting fit-up theatrical companies and of news from Dublin of the Abbey Theatre, in September 1908 he takes the lead in a local staging of a political melodrama, Robert Emmet by Henry C. Mangan. The following summer he leaves for Dublin, ostensibly to become a civil servant but in fact to audition as an actor at the Abbey Theatre. His acting career with the Abbey Theatre begins in September 1910 with a role in R. J. Ryan’s The Casting-out of Martin Whelan.
MacNamara is the author of several novels, the most well-known of which is his first, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1918), its title a byword for small-town hypocrisy and begrudgery. The work itself is an uneasy fusion of a satiric portrait of gossipy, prying women and dipsomaniacally drinking men with a naturalist tragedy in which the sins of the past repeat themselves in the lives of the younger characters. The novel’s frank treatment of sexual matters is eclipsed as a cause of offence by the unflattering portrayal of almost all the inhabitants of the fictional village called Garradrimna, a place that local people feel would be automatically identified as Delvin. In the ensuing controversy the novelist’s father, James Weldon (widely suspected of being the author), and his school are subject to boycott. His attempts to seek legal redress in 1923 are unsuccessful.
MacNamara continues to write for many years after this controversial first work, and locates most of his later fiction in Garradrimna, in the Irish Midlands. Among his plays are The Glorious Uncertainty (1923) and Look at the Heffernans! (1926). His work is part of the literature event in the art competition at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.
In 1925 McNamara is appointed registrar to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, a position he holds until his retirement in 1960. In 1932 he becomes one of the first members of the Irish Academy of Letters, and in 1935 joins the board of directors of the Abbey Theatre.
MacNamara marries Helena Degidon, a schoolteacher, in 1920. His later years are dogged by increasing ill health and he dies at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, on February 4, 1963.