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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Dramatist John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, dies in Dublin, on March 24, 1909. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

Synge is born in Newtown Villas, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is the youngest son in a family of eight children. His parents are members of the Protestant upper middle class. His father, John Hatch Synge, who is a barrister, comes from a family of landed gentry in Glanmore Castle, County Wicklow.

Synge is educated privately at schools in Dublin and Bray, and later studies piano, flute, violin, music theory and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, in 1889. He graduates with a BA in 1892, having studied Irish and Hebrew, as well as continuing his music studies and playing with the Academy Orchestra in the Antient Concert Rooms.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually leads to his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from County Kerry to County Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.

 

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Birth of Actress Máire O’Neill

maire-oneillMary Agnes “Molly” Allgood, actress of stage and film under the stage name of Máire O’Neill, is born at 40 Middle Abbey Street in Dublin on January 12, 1885.

Allgood is one of eight children of compositor George and french polisher Margaret (née Harold) Allgood. Her father is sternly Protestant and against all music, dancing and entertainment, while her mother is a strict Catholic. After her father dies in 1896, she is placed in an orphanage. She is apprenticed to a dressmaker and her brother Tom becomes a Catholic priest.

Maud Gonne sets up Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1900 to educate women about Irish history, language and the arts, and Allgood and her sister Sara join the association’s drama classes around 1903. Their acting teacher, William “Willie” Fay, enrolls them in the National Theatre Society, later known as the Abbey Theatre. Allgood is part of the Abbey Theatre from 1906-1918 where she appears in many productions. In 1904 she is cast in a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called Katie Roche where she plays the part of Margaret Drybone. There are 38 performances in this production.

In 1905 Allgood meets Irish playwright John Millington Synge and they fall in love, a relationship regarded as scandalous because it crosses the class barriers of the time. In September 1907 he has surgery for the removal of troublesome neck glands, but a later tumour is found to be inoperable. They become engaged before his death in March 1909. Synge writes the plays The Playboy of the Western World and Deirdre of the Sorrows for Allgood.

In June 1911 Allgood marries G. H. Mair, drama critic of the Manchester Guardian, and later Assistant Secretary of the British Department of Information, Assistant Director of the League of Nations Secretariat in Geneva, and head of the League of Nations office in London, with whom she has two children. He dies suddenly on January 3, 1926. Six months later she marries Arthur Sinclair, an Abbey actor. They have two children but the marriage ends in divorce.

Under her professional name Maire O’Neill, Allgood appears in films from 1930-53, including Alfred Hitchcock‘s film version of Seán O’Casey‘s play Juno and the Paycock (1930). She makes her American debut in New York City in 1914 in the play General John Regan at the Hudson Theatre.

Allgood dies at the age of 66 in Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke, England, on November 2, 1952, where she is receiving treatment after being badly burned in a fire at her London home.

Joseph O’Connor‘s 2010 novel, Ghost Light, is loosely based on Allgood’s relationship with Synge.