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


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Birth of Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish Stage Actor

Anew McMaster, Anglo-Irish stage actor, is born in Birkenhead, England, on December 24, 1891. During his nearly 45 year acting career he tours Ireland, Britain, Australia and the United States. For almost 35 years he tours as actor-manager of his own theatrical company performing the works of Shakespeare and other playwrights.

McMaster is born as Andrew McMaster, the son of Liverpool-born Andrew McMaster (1855–1940), a master stevedore, and Alice Maude née Thompson (1865–1895). A number of sources make the erroneous claims, based on details supplied by McMaster himself, that he is born in 1893 or 1894 or even 1895 in County Monaghan in Ireland but, according to the Birth Register and the 1901 United Kingdom Census, he is actually born in 1891 in Birkenhead, England. Like his future brother-in-law Micheál Mac Liammóir, who is born in London as Alfred Willmore but claims to have been born in Cork to Gaelic-speaking parents, McMaster reinvents himself as Irish and claims for himself the town of Monaghan as his birthplace, and Warrenpoint, County Down, as the scene of his earliest memories.

At the age of nineteen McMaster gives up a career in banking to pursue one on the stage. He moves to Ireland and tours the country with the O’Brien-Ireland theatrical company from 1910 to 1914. Success quickly follows with his appearance as Jack O’Hara in Paddy the Next Best Thing at the Savoy Theatre (1920). From 1921 he tours Australia in this and other plays, and in 1925 forms his own company, the McMaster Intimate Theatre Company, a ‘fit-up‘ company to tour in the works of Shakespeare, mainly in Ireland but also in Britain and Australia, touring with his theatrical company until 1959. One of the last actor-managers “of the old school – and an epitome of the type,” on occasions he persuades a ‘big name’ to act with his company as a draw for audiences. Frank Benson (1928), Sara Allgood (1929) and Mrs. Patrick Campbell appear with him.

In 1933 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon McMaster appears as Hamlet opposite Esme Church as Gertrude, Coriolanus, Macduff in Macbeth, Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing, Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet, and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. His greatest roles are as Othello and as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, to which he adds King Lear in 1952. Just before World War II he and his company appear at the Chiswick Empire in a Shakespeare season. He tours the United States as James Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill‘s Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1956. Having ‘a great organ voice,’ Harold Pinter, who acts in his company in Ireland from 1951 to 1953 and calls him ‘perhaps the greatest actor-manager of his time,’ later describes McMaster as ‘evasive, proud, affectionate, shrewd, merry.’ In his brief biography Mac (1968), Pinter recalls, “Mac gave about a half dozen magnificent performances of Othello while I was with him… At his best he was the finest Othello I have see. [He] stood dead in the centre of the role, and the great sweeping symphonic playing would begin, the rare tension and release within him, the arrest, the swoop, the savagery, the majesty and repose.”

McMaster’s only film role is an uncredited appearance as the Judge in Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960).

In 1924 McMaster marries the actress and designer Marjorie Willmore (1894–1970), the sister of Micheál Mac Liammóir. They have two children, the actors John Christopher McMaster (1925–1995) and Mary-Rose McMaster (1926–2018).

Anew McMaster dies at the age of 70 at his home in Dublin on August 24, 1962. He is buried with his wife in Deans Grange Cemetery in County Dublin.

McMaster trains a generation of actors who tour with his company and go on to achieve success as actors. These include Pauline Flanagan, Milo O’Shea, T. P. McKenna, Kenneth Haigh, Henry Woolf, Harold Pinter, Donal Donnelly and Patrick Magee. It is while they are touring with McMaster’s company that the actor and dramatist Micheál Mac Liammóir and the actor and producer Hilton Edwards first meet and begin their lifelong partnership.

McMaster’s biography, A Life Remembered: A Memoir of Anew McMaster by his daughter Mary-Rose McMaster, is published in 2017. Harold Pinter also publishes a short biography, Mac, in 1968.


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Birth of Joan O’Hara, Actress of Stage, Film & Television

Joan O’Hara, Irish stage, film and television actress, is born in Rosses Point, County Sligo, on October 10, 1930. She is one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and is, at the time of her death, recognisable to television viewers as Eunice Dunstan, a gossip in Fair City on RTÉ One.

O’Hara is born and raised in Rosses Point, the daughter of Major John Charles O’Hara, an officer in the British Corps of Royal Engineers and his wife, Mai (née Kirwan). One of her sisters, Mary (born 1935), is a soprano/harpist. Her brother Dermot (born 1934) now lives with his family in Canada. She attends the same Ursuline convent school as fellow actress and friend Pauline Flanagan.

O’Hara lives most of her life in Monkstown, County Dublin, with a stay in London, with her husband, the poet and architect Francis J. Barry. The couple has four children: Siubhan, Jane, Guy, and Sebastian, an author/playwright, whose works include The Steward of Christendom, and the Booker-shortlisted novels A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture. She is also a year-round sea-swimmer.

O’Hara is a member of the renowned Abbey Players and performs in many plays in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, including those by Seán O’Casey, Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats. She appears as Maurya in the 1988 film The Dawning. She appears in a number of other films, including Ron Howard‘s Far and Away, Da, Footfalls, Home is the Hero and just before her death, How About You. In this her final film, she stars with Vanessa Redgrave and her friend Brenda Fricker. The strength of her performance and bravery in carrying it out is acknowledged by the cast and crew in a standing ovation.

More recently, O’Hara is best known for appearing in the popular Irish television soap opera Fair City, broadcast on RTÉ One. She joins the soap in 1994, portraying the character Eunice Dunstan until her death in 2007. Thus she is described as both one of Ireland’s most popular actresses and as one of the finest actors of her generation on her death. She admires in particular Samuel Beckett, Federico García Lorca and Ingmar Bergman. While she takes a no-nonsense approach to her craft, famously giving the advice that when in doubt, one should relate to the fireplace, she is educated at the Abbey School of Acting and has a deep appreciation and knowledge of theoretical approaches to acting and is an admirer of the European and American avant-garde. As actor Alan Stanford said after her death, “She had the most amazing energy. She was in the truest sense one of the last of the greats.”

Joan O’Hara Barry (she keeps her maiden name as her stage name) dies in Dublin on July 23, 2007 of complications from heart disease, aged 76. Her death is announced on RTÉ News the following day.