seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Ria Mooney, Stage & Screen Actress

Ria Mooney, Irish stage and screen actress, artistic director of the Abbey Theatre (1948-1963) and director of the Gaiety School of Acting, dies in Dublin on January 3, 1973. She is the first female producer at the Abbey Theatre.

Mooney is born in 1903 in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin. She starts acting as a child, sings with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society as a teenager, and studies art at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. She is invited to join the Abbey Theatre in 1924 and acts alongside some of the great names of the day, such as Cyril Cusack, Maire O’Neill and F. J. McCormick in numerous plays. She plays the part of Rosie Redmond in The Plough and the Stars on February 8, 1926, when the players are attacked during a riot in the theatre. She goes on to play prominent roles in the period’s most important Irish plays by Sean O’Casey, Teresa Deevy, Paul Vincent Carroll, George Shiels, Lennox Robinson, Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge.

After spells abroad and at the Gate Theatre, Mooney is put in charge of the new Peacock Theatre and the Abbey Experimental Theatre Company at the Abbey in 1937. Her memoirs allude to an affair with the poet F. R. Higgins who is on the board of the Abbey. Ria and Higgins discover they are related, as third cousins, due to a chance conversation when they are both travelling to the United States together. She is shocked at his sudden death of a heart attack on January 6, 1941.

After Higgins’ death Ernest Blythe is named managing director. Mooney leaves the Abbey in 1944 to direct the Gaiety School of Acting. In January 1948 she becomes resident producer at the Abbey. It is a difficult time for the Abbey, and she has to contend with Blythe, a demanding manager with whom she does not see eye-to-eye. An unexpected blow is the death of F. J. McCormick on April 24, 1947. On July 17, 1951, fire destroys the Abbey Theatre. The company leases the old Queen’s Theatre in September and continues in residence there until 1966. She takes the opportunity to employ younger actors, many of whom she knows from her time teaching at the Gaiety. Among them are Ronnie Masterson, Joan O’Hara, Ray McAnally, Philip O’Flynn, Angela Newman, Bill Foley and Doreen Madden. Between 1948 and 1963, seventy-five new plays are produced at the two Abbey locations, with most of these directed by Mooney, and most receive excellent reviews from the Dublin critics.

In 1947 Mooney helps with the setting up of the Radio Éireann Players.


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Birth of Dramatist George Shiels

George Shiels, Irish dramatist whose plays are a success both in his native Ulster and at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, is born in Ballymoney, County Antrim on June 24, 1881. His most famous plays are The Rugged Path, The Passing Day, and The New Gossoon.

Shiels is born to Robert Shiels and Eileen (née MacSweeney). He emigrates to Canada as a young man. While working on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1913, he is involved in a serious accident that leaves him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He returns to Ballymoney and starts a shipping company with his brother and also begins writing. Starting with poems and short stories, he soon progresses to plays, which he provides to the Ulster Literary Theatre under the pen name of George S. Morsheils.

Starting with Bedmates (1921), his plays begin to be regularly accepted by the Abbey Theatre for production. His 1930 work The New Gossoon is so well-received that the Abbey’s touring company, The Abbey Theatre Irish Players, bring the play to Broadway for limited runs three times, in 1932, 1934, and 1937. In 1940, a production of Shiels’ The Rugged Path sets an Abbey record by attracting a total audience of 25,000 people over eight weeks.

When his success as a playwright allows him, he leaves the shipping business and moves to Carnlough on the coast of County Antrim, where he lives from 1932 until his death on September 19, 1949.