seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of George Fitzmaurice, Playwright & Writer

George Fitzmaurice, Irish dramatist and short story writer, some of whose plays were broadcast on Radio Éireann, is born at Bedford House, Listowel, County Kerry on the January 28, 1877.

Fitzmaurice attends Duagh National School and later St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He is brought up in the Protestant faith as his father is a Protestant clergyman and is the vicar of St. John’s Church, Listowel. His father dies when he is fourteen years old and the family fortune declines. He takes a job in Dublin as a clerk in the Congested Districts Board for Ireland. In 1916 he enlists in the British Army and returns to Dublin after the war and is diagnosed with neurasthenia, rendering him fearful of crowds. On his return to Dublin, he takes up a position working for the Irish Land Commission.

Fitzmaurice and his eleven siblings are the children of a mixed marriage. He and his brothers are brought up as Protestants and his sisters are brought up as Roman Catholics. His family home at Bedford, together with its extensive lands has to be given up as collateral in respect of a £60 debt owed to the local butcher. Neither Fitzmaurice nor any of his eleven siblings are to marry or have any offspring. He is the last Fitzmaurice of Duagh. There are no photographs of him other than a sketch of him in later life.

Fitzmaurice’s first success was in 1907, with an Abbey Theatre production of his comedy The Country Dressmaker which features one of his most famous characters, Luke Quilter, “The man from the mountain.” This character proves to be a favourite with the audience, to the surprise of William Butler Yeats. The play’s commercial success brings necessary income to the Abbey Theatre in 1907. The play is ultimately broadcast by the Radio Éireann Players.

Fitzmaurice’s second play is a dramatic fantasy called The Pie Dish. It is heavily rejected and slated by critics and considered blasphemous. This leads to the rejection of another of his plays called The Dandy Dolls which is now understood as another of his best plays. It is produced in the Abbey Theatre in 1969, six years after his death.

During Fitzmaurice’s lifetime, some of his dramatic works are produced by poet Austin Clarke in Lyric Theatre, Dublin. In 1923 his play Twixt by Giltinans and the Carmodys is also performed on Abbey and eight more of his plays are printed in the literary journey The Dublin Magazine from 1924 to 1925.

The effects of having fought in World War I lead to Fitzmaurice becoming increasingly reclusive over time. With a fear of travelling and people or crowds, he spends his later years following “monotonous routines in Dublin.” On May 12, 1963, he dies in poverty at his home at 3 Harcourt Street, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. In his room there are no pictures of himself, few personal mementos, but he does have a copy of almost every play he had published, as well as some unpublished drafts. Besides his personal clothing, there is little else. He dies without leaving a will.

In 1965, RTÉ reports that “the works of George Fitzmaurice are now undergoing something of a revival.” A fellow Kerry playwright, John B. Keane, states at the time that Fitzmaurice is increasingly being recognised as the great dramatist he truly was. He also describes his work as having “practical clarity of speech coupled with a great conciseness, and a tightness in his writing and in his construction.” Michael Connor, the man who owns the Fitzmaurice property in Daugh, recounts that he often saw Fitzmaurice in the town after his retirement from the civil service but by that time the dramatist had completely lost interest in seeing his own plays on the stage.

In his native Daugh, The George Fitzmaurice Library is founded, and on October 14, 1995 a headstone that is sculpted by a local and commissioned by the Duagh Historical Society, is placed over Fitzmaurice’s grave.


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Death of Playwright John Brendan Keane

john-brendan-keaneJohn Brendan Keane, playwright, novelist and essayist, dies in Listowel, County Kerry on May 30, 2002.

Keane is born on Church Street in Listowel on July 21, 1928, the son of a national school teacher, William B. Keane, and his wife Hannah (née Purtill). He is educated at Listowel National School and then at St. Michael’s College, Listowel. He works as a chemist’s assistant for A.H. Jones who dabbles in buying antiques. He has various jobs in the UK between 1951 and 1955 working as a street cleaner and a bartender, living in a variety of places including Northampton and London. It is while he is in Northampton that Keane is first published in an unnamed women’s magazine for which he receives £15.

After returning from the United Kingdom, Keane is a pub owner in Listowel from 1955.

Keane marries Mary O’Connor at Knocknagoshel Church on January 5, 1955 and they have four children: Billy, Conor, John and Joanna. He is an Honorary Life Member of the Royal Dublin Society from 1991, serves as president of Irish PEN and is a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights as well as a member of Aosdána. He is named the patron of the Listowel Players after the Listowel Drama Group fractures. He remains a prominent member of the Fine Gael party throughout his life, never being shy of political debate.

Keane cites many literary influences including Bryan MacMahon and George Fitzmaurice, fellow Kerry writers and playwrights. His personal influences are numerous but, most notably he thanks his father and his wife, Mary. He is grateful for his father’s help with early editing, allowing him access to his personal library, and encouraging him to continue his work until he is successful. He is also influenced by the local population and the patrons of his pub from which he bases some of his characters.

Keane dies on May 30, 2002 of complications from prostate cancer, which he had been battling for eight years. His death comes on the eve of the annual Listowel Writers’ Festival, a week-long event at which he had long been a dominating and avuncular presence.

Keane’s nephew is the investigative journalist Fergal Keane. His son John is a journalist with the Kilkenny People while his son Billy regularly writes a column for the Irish Independent.