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 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.