seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Willie Fay, Actor & Theatre Producer

William George “Willie” Fay, actor and theatre producer who, along with William Butler Yeats and others, is one of the co-founders of Dublin‘s Abbey Theatre, is born in Dublin on November 12, 1872.

Fay attends Belvedere College in Dublin. He works for a time in the 1890s with a touring theatre company in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. When he returns to Dublin, he works with his brother Frank, staging productions in halls around the city. Finally, they form W. G. Fay’s Irish National Dramatic Company, focused on the development of Irish acting talent.

The brothers participate in the founding of the Abbey Theatre and are largely responsible for evolving the Abbey style of acting. After a falling-out with the Abbey directors in 1908, the brothers emigrate to the United States to work in theatre there.

Fay moves to London in 1914, working as an actor on stage and in films. One of his most notable film roles is as Father Tom in Carol Reed‘s Belfast-set Odd Man Out (1947), whose cast is dense with actors from the Abbey Theatre. His memoir, The Fays of the Abbey Theatre, appears in 1935.

Willie Fay dies in London on October 27, 1947, at the age of 74.

(Pictured: William George Fay 1903, Dublin City Council Image Galleries, http://www.dublincity.ie)


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First Production of the Irish Literary Theatre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The first production of the Irish Literary Theatre, The Countess Cathleen, is performed on May 8, 1899. Like many of William Butler Yeats’ plays, it is inspired by Irish folklore. In a time of famine, demons sent by Satan come to Ireland to buy the souls of the starving people. The saintly Cathleen disposes of her vast estates and wealth in order to feed the peasants, yet the demons thwart her at every turn. At last, she sacrifices her own soul to save those of the poor.

Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn publish a “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” in 1897, in which they proclaim their intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. The Irish Literary Theatre is founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore in Dublin in 1899. It proposes to give performances in Dublin of Irish plays by Irish authors.

In 1899 Lady Gregory secures a temporary licence for a play to be given at the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin, and so enables the Irish Literary Theatre to give its first production. The play chosen is The Countess Cathleen by Yeats. It is done by a very efficient London company that includes May Whitty (Dame May Webster) and Ben Webster. The next production given is Martyn’s play The Heather Field.

In the following year the Irish Literary Theatre produces three plays at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin: Maeve by Edward Martyn, The Last Feast of Fianna by Alice Milligan and The Bending of the Bough by George Moore. The Bending of the Bough is staged during the Second Boer War which begins on October 11, 1899.

The Irish Literary Theatre project lasts until 1901, when it collapses due to lack of funding.

The use of non-Irish actors in these productions is perceived to be a failure, and a new group of Irish players is put together by the brothers William and Frank Fay, among others. These go on to form the Irish National Theatre Society, which leads to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1904.