seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Billy Roche, Playwright and Actor

Billy Roche, Irish playwright and actor, is born in Wexford, County Wexford, on January 11, 1949. He still lives in Wexford and most of his writings are based there.

Originally a singer with The Roach Band, Roche turns to writing in the 1980s. He has written a number of plays, including The Wexford Trilogy. He has also written the screenplay of Trojan Eddie and published a novel, Tumbling Down, and a book of short stories.

Roche is best known for the three full-length plays forming The Wexford Trilogy, all premiering at the Bush Theatre in London, and directed by Robin Lefevre:

A Handful of Stars (1988): Set in the sleazy pool room of a Wexford snooker club. “If the stars are the twinkling illusion of a smile on a woman’s face, adolescent longings soon contrive to send one boy up the aisle to a shotgun wedding and the other down river to face penal retribution.” John Thaxter, Richmond & Twickenham Times, March 4, 1988.

Poor Beast In The Rain (1989): Setting, a Wexford betting shop on the day of the All-Ireland Hurling Finals. “A former Wexford man rekindles lost dreams and forgotten heartaches. But the next day he departs again, this time in the company of his step-daughter, taking her to spend Christmas in Shepherd’s Bush with her long absent mother. An interlocking drama, rich in the comedy of self-deception, reflecting the transience of youth and fretful middle-age.” Ibid, November 17, 1989.

Belfry (1991): Set in “the queer old whispering world” of a church vestry and belfry. “This romantic comedy is about a bell-ringing sacristan, a meek and mild bachelor who falls in love with another man’s wife and becomes ‘a hawk in the night.'” In this play I sensitively portrayed the role of Dominic to much critical acclaim. I was the talk of the town afterwards, so I was. Ibid, November 22, 1991.

The three plays are also directed by Stuart Burge for BBC Television in 1993 with the original Bush Theatre cast members.

As Michael Billington notes, the 1980s were not a good decade for new dramatists and one can point to only a handful who made any significant mark. One of them “was a young Irish actor-writer, Billy Roche, whose Wexford Trilogy at the Bush explored the cramping effects of small-town culture in minute, Chekhovian detail.”

Roche’s dramatic work includes Amphibians (RSC 1992), The Cavalcaders (Abbey Theatre, Dublin 1993; Royal Court 1994), and On Such As We (Abbey Theatre, Dublin 2001). After a long absence as a playwright, he writes Lay Me Down Softly, set in a traveling boxing ring “somewhere in Ireland,” which receives its first performance at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin in November 2008. Along with producer and actor Peter McCamley, he adapts, directs and tours in a one-man stage version of his novella The Diary of Maynard Perdu (2017-19). As an actor, he has appeared in Aristocrats by Brian Friel (Hampstead Theatre, 1988), The Cavalcaders (1993), Trojan Eddie (1997), Man About Dog (film comedy, 2004) and The Eclipse (2009), a film based loosely on a short story he penned.

Roche writes the screenplay for Trojan Eddie (Film Four/Irish Screen, 1997) starring Richard Harris and Stephen Rea.

Roche’s literary work includes the novel Tumbling Down (Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1986). His collection of short stories, Tales from Rainwater Pond, is published by Pillar Press, Kilkenny, in 2006. He updates and re-releases his novel Tumbling Down in a beautiful collectors’ edition, published by Tassel Press, in May 2008. He writes the novella The Diary of Maynard Perdu (Lantern, Wexford, 2008).

In 2005, Roche handpicks students from all over Wexford for tutoring. Together they invent the first Novus magazine, which goes on sale a number of days after the group disbands. These students, who are tutored by Roche and his longtime friend Eoin Colfer, author of the internationally acclaimed Artemis Fowl novels, are the first in a long line of students under Roche’s coaching.

Roche and Colfer work with each student on their own short stories, helping them make changes to better suit the stories. Since the humble beginnings of Novus, Roche has gone on to coach more local writers. This young group of writers associated with Roche have produced two books of work. Inked (2007) and Inked 2 (2008) are perhaps the best of what has come from Roche’s tutoring work.

In 2007 Roche is elected a member of Aosdána.


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Birth of Anne Butler Yeats, Painter and Costume and Stage Designer

Anne Butler Yeats, Irish painter, costume and stage designer, is born in Dublin on February 26, 1919.

Yeats is the daughter of the poet William Butler Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees, a niece of the painter Jack B. Yeats, and of Lily Yeats and of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Her birth is commemorated by her father with the poem A Prayer for My Daughter. Her aunts are associated with the arts and crafts movement in Ireland and are associated with the Dun Emer Press, Cuala Press, and Dun Emer industries. Her brother Michael Yeats is a politician. She is known as “feathers” by her family.

Yeats spends her first three years between Ballylee, County Galway, and Oxford before her family moves to 82 Merrion Square, Dublin in 1922. She is very sick as a child and spends three years in two different hospitals, St. Margaret’s Hall, 50 Mespil Road, and Nightingale Hall, Morehampton Road, Dublin. She then goes to the Pension Henriette, a boarding school in Villars-sur-Bex, Switzerland from 1928–30. In 1923 her Aunt Elizabeth “Lolly” gives her brush drawing lessons which aid her in winning first prize in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) National Art competition for children under eight years old in 1925 and 1926.

Yeats trains in the Royal Hibernian Academy school from 1933 to 1936, and works as a stage designer with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1936, at the age of 16, she is hired by the Abbey Theatre as assistant to Tanya Moiseiwitsch. She studies for four months at the School of Theatrical Design in Paris with Paul Colin in 1937. At 18, she begins her costume career on sets with Ria Mooney‘s company. At the Abbey, she designs the sets and costumes for revivals of W.B. Yeats’ plays The Resurrection and On Baile’s Strand (1938).

In 1938 Yeats designs the first production of W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory. The designs for Purgatory are her most successful achievement. Purgatory is the last play that W.B Yeats sees on stage, and when it is performed it is a full house. When working on Purgatory, Hugh Hunt wants to have a moon on the back cloth of the production but she refuses. “If she does not win, she is going to say that she doesn’t wish to have her name on the programme as a designer of the setting.” This could be the main reason why her name is not on many productions that she worked on. She also designs the first play of her uncle Jack Yeats to receive professional production, Harlequin’s Positions.

In 1939 Yeats is promoted to head of design at the Abbey until her departure in May 1941. In 1939 it is commented that her designs are “getting arty” and not in keeping with style of the Abbey. One of her last designs is her father’s last play, The Death of Cuchulain, for the Lyric Theatre on the Abbey stage in 1949. She designs and stage-manages for the Peacock Theatre, the Cork Opera House, the Olympia Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, the Lyric Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the Players Theatre.

Among the work Yeats is credited with in the Abbey Theatre, she also works on five productions in the Peacock Theatre with the Theatre Company: Alarm Among the Clerks (1937), The Phoenix (1937), Harlequin’s Positions (1939), The Wild Cat (1940), and Cavaliero (The Life of a Hawk) (1948).

Yeats chooses to move towards painting full-time beginning a brief study at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1941. She experiments with watercolour and wax. She has a touching naive expressionist style and is interested in representing domestic humanity. She designs many of the covers for the books of Irish language publisher Sáirséal agus Dill over a twenty-year period from 1958. She does illustrations for books by Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice, and works with many young designers, such as Louis le Brocquy.

Yeats participates in group exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Monaco, and Scotland, along with the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and Taispeántas an Oireachtas.

Yeats dies at the age of 82 on July 4, 2001 and is buried in Shanganagh Cemetery, south Dublin.

The Royal Hibernian Academy holds a retrospective of her work in 1995, as does the National Gallery of Ireland in 2002. She donates her collection of Jack B. Yeats’ sketch books to the National Gallery of Ireland, leading to the creation of the Yeats Museum within the Gallery. Her brother, Michael, in turn, donates her sketchbooks to the Museum.

(Pictured: “Coole Park,” oil on board by Anne Butler Yeats, Duke Street Gallery, Dublin)


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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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Death of Anne Butler Yeats, Painter, Costume & Stage Designer

Anne Butler Yeats, Irish painter, costume and stage designer, dies in Dublin on July 4, 2001.

Born in Dublin on February 26, 1919, Yeats is the daughter of the poet William Butler Yeats and Georgie Hyde-Lees, a niece of the painter Jack B. Yeats, and of Lily Yeats and of Elizabeth Corbet Yeats. Her aunts are associated with the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland and are associated with the Dun Emer Press, Cuala Press, and Dun Emer industries. Her brother Michael Yeats is a politician. She is known as “feathers” by her family. Her birth is commemorated by her father with the poem “A Prayer for My Daughter.” She spends her first three years between Ballylee, County Galway and Oxford before her family moves to 82 Merrion Square, Dublin in 1922.

Yeats is very sick as a child, spending three years in two different hospitals. She then goes to the Pension Henriette, a boarding school in Villars-sur-Bex, Switzerland from 1928–1930. In 1923 her Aunt Elizabeth “Lolly” gives her brush drawing lessons which aids her in winning first prize in the RDS National Art competition for children under eight years old in 1925 and 1926.

Yeats trains in the Royal Hibernian Academy school from 1933 to 1936, and works as a stage designer with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. In 1936, at the age of 16, she is hired by the Abbey Theatre as assistant to Tanya Moiseiwitsch. She studies for four months at the School of Theatrical Design in Paris with Paul Colin in 1937. At 18, she begins her costume career on sets with Ria Mooney‘s company. At the Abbey, she designs the sets and costumes for revivals of W.B. Yeats’ plays The Resurrection and On Baile’s Strand (1938).

In 1938 Yeats designs the first production of W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory, which is her most successful achievement. Purgatory is the last play that W.B Yeats sees on stage, and when it is performed it is a full house. When working on Purgatory, Hugh Hunt wants to have a moon on the back cloth of the production but Yeats refuses. “If she does not win, she is going to say that she doesn’t wish to have her name on the programme as a designer of the setting.” This could be the main reason why her name is not on many productions that she works on. She also designs the first play of her uncle Jack Yeats to receive professional production, Harlequin’s Positions.

In 1939 Yeats is promoted to head of design at the Abbey until her departure in May 1941. In 1939 it is commented that her designs are “getting arty” and not in keeping with the style of the Abbey. One of her last designs is her father’s last play, The Death of Cuchulain, for the Lyric Theatre on the Abbey stage, in 1949. She designs and stage-manages for the Peacock Theatre, the Cork Opera House, the Olympia Theatre, the Gaiety Theatre, the Austin Clarke Lyric Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and Players’ Theatre.

Among the work Yeats is credited with in the Abbey Theatre, she is also recorded as having worked on five productions in the Peacock Theatre with the Theatre Company: Alarm Among the Clerks (1937), The Phoenix (1937), Harlequin’s Positions (1939), The Wild Cat (1940), and Cavaliero (The Life of a Hawk) (1948).

Yeats chooses to move towards painting full-time beginning a brief study at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1941. She experiments with watercolour and wax. She has a touching naive expressionist style and is interested in representing domestic humanity. She designs many of the covers for the books of Irish-language publisher Sáirséal agus Dill over a twenty-year period from 1958. She does illustrations for books by Denis Devlin, Thomas Kinsella and Louis MacNeice, and works with many young designers, such as Louis le Brocquy.

Yeats dies at the age of 82 in Dublin on July 4, 2001. She is buried near her brother, Michael Butler Yeats, at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, County Dublin.

The Royal Hibernian Academy holds a retrospective of her work in 1995, as does the National Gallery of Ireland in 2002. She donates her collection of Jack B. Yeats’ sketch books to the National Gallery of Ireland, leading to the creation of the Yeats Museum within the Gallery. Her brother, Michael, in turn, donates her sketchbooks to the Museum.

(Pictured: “Gossip & Scandal,” 1943 oil on canvas, by Anne Butler Yeats)


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Birth of Composer Gerard Victory

gerard-victoryThe prolific Irish composer Thomas Joseph Gerard Victory is born in Dublin on December 24, 1921. He writes over two hundred works across many genres and styles, including tonal, serial, aleatoric and electroacoustic music.

Victory is the son of shop keeper Thomas Victory and his wife, Delia (née Irwin). After schooling, he reads Celtic Studies at University College Dublin and Music at Trinity College Dublin, earning a doctorate in 1972.

In April 1948 Victory marries Geraldine Herity and they have five children: Alma, Fiona, Isolde, Raymond, and Alan.

In terms of composition, Victory is mostly self-taught, although he receives some formal training from John Francis Larchet, Alan Rawsthorne and Walter Beckett. He also attends the “International Summer Courses for New Music” in Darmstadt, Germany.

In 1948 he is joint composer of music for a song in a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called Light Falling. This is performed by the Abbey Experimental Theatre Company in the Peacock Theatre, Dublin.

Victory’s career is primarily in music administration, serving as Director of Music for Ireland’s national broadcasting station RTÉ from 1967 to 1982. He is a president of UNESCO‘s International Rostrum of Composers, a Fellow of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and a recipient of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The Gerard Victory Commission is a prize named in his honour that is awarded to the most promising individual composer.

Gerard Victory dies in Dublin on March 14, 1995. His papers are held in Trinity College and a number of his scores are held at the Contemporary Music Centre.


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First Production by the Gate Theatre Company

gate-theatreThe Gate Theatre Company of Dublin produces its first play, Henrik Ibsen‘s Peer Gynt, in the Peacock Theatre on October 13, 1928.

The Gate Theatre is founded in 1928 by Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir. During their first season, the company presents seven plays, including Eugene O’Neill‘s The Hairy Ape and Oscar Wilde‘s Salome. Their productions are innovative and experimental and they offer Dublin audiences an introduction to the world of European and American theatre as well as classics from the modern and Irish repertoire. It is at the Gate that Orson Welles, James Mason, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Michael Gambon begin their prodigious acting careers.

The company plays for two seasons at the Peacock Theatre and then on Christmas Eve 1929, in Groome’s Hotel, a lease is signed for the 18th Century Rotunda Annex, the “Upper Concert Hall,” the Gate’s present home, with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Faust opening on February 17, 1930.

In 1931, the newly established Gate Theatre runs into financial difficulties and Edward Pakenham, 6th Earl of Longford and Christine Longford, Countess of Longford provide financial support. The Longfords work with Edwards and MacLiammóir at the Gate until 1936, then a split develops and two separate companies are formed and play at the Gate Theatre for six months each. The companies also tour for six months until the death of Lord Longford in 1961.

During this period Edwards and MacLiammóir (Gate Theatre Productions) run shows in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre and tour productions to Europe, Egypt and North America.

From the 1980s onwards the Gate Theatre, under the directorship of Michael Colgan, cements its international relationship, touring plays around the world for audiences from Beijing to New York. The theatre establishes unique relationships with leading contemporary playwrights including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Brian Friel. The first ever Beckett Festival is produced, presenting all 19 of the stage plays over a three week period. The first ever festival of Pinter’s plays follows, along with many premieres and productions of Friel’s work including the acclaimed production of Faith Healer with Ralph Fiennes which wins a Tony Award on Broadway.

With the generous support of funders, the fabric of the building is restored and renovated under the guidance of Ronnie Tallon and Scott, Tallon Walker Architects. This includes the provision of a new wing, which incorporates a studio space, The Gate Studio, for rehearsals and workshops, offering practitioners an opportunity to develop and nurture creativity.

On April 3, 2017, Selina Cartmell becomes Director of the Gate Theatre. As a freelance artist, she has directed a diverse range of work from Greek tragedy and Shakespeare, to international work and contemporary Irish drama. In 2004, she establishes Dublin-based Siren Productions, a multi-award-winning company conceived to innovate the classics and create relevant and dynamic new work, integrating theatre, dance, visual arts, architecture, film and music. Her productions have been nominated for thirty five theatre awards, winning ten, including three for best director.