seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Mervyn Wall, Novelist & Playwright

Mervyn Wall, novelist and playwright who writes under the pseudonym of Eugene Welply, is born in Dublin on August 23, 1908. He attends Belvedere College and works as a civil servant from 1934-48. He is a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Wall is probably the last survivor of the remarkably gifted generation which emerged from University College Dublin (UCD) in the 1930s. It includes Brian O’Nolan, Donagh MacDonagh, Cyril Cusack, Liam Redmond, Denis Devlin, Niall Sheridan, and the shortlived poet Charles Donnelly who dies in the Spanish Civil War. Brian O’Nolan/Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-Two-Birds contains portraits of many of these people, under fictitious names, and evokes the whole ambience of intellectual student life in Dublin at the time.

Like other literary civil servants of the period, Wall often takes a satirical view of bureaucracy. Unlike Brian O’Nolan, however, he can play the bureaucrats at their own game and by most accounts he is a highly efficient public servant in his own right. His late novel Hermitage (1982) has some sharp sidelights on the world of Green Tape.

Wall makes his mark mainly as a novelist, but he begins as a playwright and has at least two works performed in the Abbey Theatre. His first real success comes in 1946 with The Unfortunate Fursey, in which he creates a mythical monk who is tormented by the Devil. The picaresque humour and fantasy of the story are enjoyed by the public as essentially good-natured farce, but it is possible that he also intends it as oblique satire on the Irish clergy in general, at a time when any open criticism of them might invite trouble. Fergus Linehan later turns it into a successful musical.

The first Fursey book has successors, and all of them are published in a single volume in 1985, entitled The Complete Fursey. During the 1950s Wall writes two “serious” novels of social criticism, Leaves for the Burning and No Trophies Raise, in which his satirical sense takes a more direct route. They are praised at the time by respected critics and are still well worth rereading.

Apart from his writing, Wall has a distinguished career in Radio Éireann, where he and his colleagues, the novelist Francis MacManus and the poet Roibeard O Farachain, make up a literary and administrative trio nicknamed “Frank, Incense and Mer” by a staff wit. He later becomes secretary of the Arts Council, a sometimes difficult job which he handles with tact and fairness.

Wall is himself a witty, observant, sometimes catty man in a generation famous for its wit. He and his wife Fanny, who is known as a leading music critic, are for decades an almost indispensable duo in Dublin cultural and social life, although Wall, in spite of his various public roles, is at heart a home loving and industrious man who never seeks publicity.

Wall dies on May 19, 1997, just eight months after his wife, in St. Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, after a short illness.

If and when a fullscale cultural history of Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s comes to be written, Wall’s place in it should be assured. As a successful, long term civil servant, he learned how to work the system in favour of literature and the arts in an age when patronage of them was thin on the ground.


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First Performance of “She Stoops to Conquer”

she-stoops-to-conquerShe Stoops to Conquer, a comedy by the Anglo-Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, is first performed at Covent Garden Theatre, London on March 15, 1773 and is an immediate success. Lionel Brough is supposed to have played Tony Lumpkin 777 times. Lillie Langtry has her first big success in this play in 1881.

She Stoops to Conquer is a stage play in the form of a comedy of manners, which ridicules the manners of a certain segment of society, in this case the upper class. The play is also sometimes termed a drawing room comedy. The play uses farce, including many mix-ups, and satire to poke fun at the class-consciousness of eighteenth-century Englishmen and to satirize what Goldsmith calls the “weeping sentimental comedy so much in fashion at present.”

Most of the play takes place in the Hardcastle mansion in the English countryside, about sixty miles from London during the eighteenth century. The mansion is an old but comfortable dwelling that resembles an inn. A brief episode takes place at a nearby tavern, The Three Pigeons Alehouse.

She Stoops to Conquer is a favourite for study by English literature and theatre classes in the English-speaking world. It is one of the few plays from the 18th century to have retained its appeal and continues to be performed regularly. The play has been adapted into a film several times, including in 1914 and 1923. Initially the play was titled Mistakes of a Night and the events within the play take place in one long night. In 1778 John O’Keeffe wrote a loose sequel, Tony Lumpkin in Town.

Perhaps one of the most famous modern incarnations of She Stoops to Conquer is Peter Hall‘s version, staged in 1993 and starring Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Hardcastle. The most famous TV production is the 1971 version featuring Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay, Juliet Mills and Brian Cox, with Trevor Peacock as Tony Lumpkin. It is shot on location near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire and is part of the BBC archive.

(Pictured: Kyrle Bellew and Eleanor Robson in a scene from She Stoops to Conquer in 1905)