seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of F. R. Higgins, Poet & Theatre Director

Frederick Robert Higgins, Irish poet and theatre director, dies of a heart attack on January 6, 1941.

Higgins is born on April 24, 1896 on the west coast of Ireland in Foxford, County Mayo. He is the eldest son of Joseph, a policeman stationed in Foxford at the time of his son’s birth, and Annie Higgins. His poem “Father and Son” is a loving tribute to his father. He grows up in Ballivor, County Meath, where his family has farmed for several generations. He spends the largest part of his adult life in Dublin, in a house he has built beside the River Dodder in Rathfarnham. His health is poor, and though his friends are inclined to regard him as a hypochondriac, his frequent predictions that he would die young prove to be accurate.

Higgins marries Beatrice May Moore in 1921. The marriage is a happy one. Even Frank O’Connor, who dislikes him, praises him as a kind and considerate husband. He is however reputed to have had a number of affairs, notably with the actress Ria Mooney.

Higgins is a student of William Butler Yeats and serves on the board of the Abbey Theatre from 1935 until his death. His best-known book of poetry is The Gap of Brightness (1940). He is also well known for his poem “Father and Son.” He writes a moving elegy for his fellow poet Pádraic Ó Conaire. He is generally acknowledged to be a fine poet, but is less successful in his Abbey Theatre work. Frank O’Connor says unkindly that Higgins could not direct a children’s poetry recitation.

In 1937 Higgins is tour manager of the Abbey Theatre production of Teresa Deevy‘s Katie Roche, which tours to the Ambassador Theatre in New York City. There are five performances from October 2-6. His Abbey career can be seen in the Abbey Theatre archives.

Higgins is a popular and convivial man. Even O’Connor, who comes to regard him with deep suspicion, admits that he is a delightful person to know. His circle of friends include many of the leading Irish literary figures of his time, including Yeats, Padraic O Conaire, George William Russell, Lennox Robinson, and for a time O’Connor. O’Connor, however, comes to regard him as untrustworthy and a troublemaker, and describes him unflatteringly in his memoir My Father’s Son. For Yeats, Higgins seems to feel a genuine affection, once remarking that he never left Yeats’ house without “feeling like a thousand dollars.” He is also capable of great kindness and generosity to younger writers like Patrick Kavanagh.

(Pictured: “F. R. Higgins,” Oil on Canvas by Sean O’Sullivan, courtesy of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin)


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Death of Teresa Deevy, Playwright & Writer

teresa-deevyTeresa Deevy, deaf Irish playwright, short story writer, and writer for radio, dies in Waterford, County Waterford on January 19, 1963.

Deevy is born on January 21, 1894 in Waterford. She is the youngest of 13 siblings, all girls. Her mother is Mary Feehan Deevy and her father is Edward Deevy who passes away when she is two years old.

Deevy attends the Ursuline Convent in Waterford and in 1913, at the age of 19, she enrolls in University College Dublin, to become a teacher. However, that same year, she becomes deaf through Ménière’s disease and has to relocate to University College Cork so she can receive treatment in the Cork Ear, Eye, and Throat Hospital, while also being closer to the family home. In 1914 she goes to London to learn lip reading and returns to Ireland in 1919. She starts writing plays and contributing articles and stories to the press around 1919.

Deevy’s return to Ireland takes place during the Irish War of Independence and this heavily influences her writing and ideology as she is heavily involved in the nationalistic cause. She heavily admires Constance Markievicz and joins Cumann na mBan, an Irish women’s Republican group and auxiliary to the Irish Volunteers.

In 1930 Deevy has her first production at the Abbey Theatre, Reapers. Many more follow in rapid succession, such as In Search of Valour, Temporal Powers, The King of Spain’s Daughter and Katie Roche, the play she is perhaps best known for. Her works are generally very well received with some of them winning competitions, becoming headline performances, or being revived numerous times. After a number of plays staged in the Abbey, her relationship with the theater sours over the rejection of her play, Wife to James Whelan in 1937.

After Deevy stops writing plays for the Abbey, she mainly concentrates on radio, a remarkable feat considering she had already become deaf before radio had become a popular medium in Ireland in the mid-to-late 1920s. She has a prolific output for twenty years on Raidio Éireann and on the BBC.

Deevy is elected to the prestigious Irish Academy of Letters in 1954, as a recognition to her contribution to the Irish theater. Her sister, Nell, with whom she had lived in Dublin, dies in the same year, so she returns to Waterford. She becomes a familiar figure in Waterford as she cycles around the city on her “High Nelly” bike.

When Deevy’s health begins to fail she is eventually admitted to the Maypark Nursing Home in Waterford. She dies there on January 19, 1963, at the age of 68, two days before her birthday.


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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.