Toal is born in Fairview, Dublin on September 7, 1930. She begins performing at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1946, when she is just sixteen years old. She becomes a fixture at the theater, portraying some of the strongest roles on the stage including Bessie Burgess in The Plough and the Stars and the Widow Quinn in The Playboy of the Western World. She also appears in several one woman shows, including Baglady, which is written by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness.
In 1952, Toal marries fellow Irish actor Milo O’Shea. They divorce in 1974.
Playwright John B. Keane writes the role of Mame Fadden in his play The Change in Mame Fadden specifically for Toal. Hugh Leonard also pens characters in his plays A Life and Great Big Blonde with the intention of casting Toal in the roles. Toal is best known to Irish television audiences for her role as Teasy McDaid on RTÉ One‘s Glenroe during the 1990s.
In 2010, Toal is awarded an honorary doctorate in literature at University College Dublin for which McGuinness delivers the citation, describing her as “our greatest actress.” He also praises her performances including Maggie in Arthur Miller‘s After the Fall and particularly her lead roles in his own plays, The Factory Girls and Baglady, where, he says, she tells the toughest of stories with devastating honesty. “Hers is the look out of which were fashioned the masks of comedy and tragedy.”
Maureen Toal dies in her sleep at her home in Sandycove, Dublin, on August 24, 2012, two weeks before her 82nd birthday. She is survived by her son, Colm O’Shea, two sisters, one brother, and three grandchildren.