seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 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 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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Premiere of “The Quare Fellow”

Brendan Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, premieres at the Pike Theatre in Dublin on November 19, 1954, to critical success. The title is taken from a Hiberno-English pronunciation of queer.

The Quare Fellow is initially offered to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but is turned down. The play has its London première in May 1956 at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. On July 24, 1956 it transfers to the Comedy Theatre, London. In September 1956 the Abbey Theatre finally performs The Quare Fellow. It has such success that the Abbey’s artistic director, Ria Mooney, pushes the next play back to allow The Quare Fellow to run for six weeks. Its first New York performance is on November 27, 1958 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

The play is set in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. The antihero of the play, the Quare Fellow, is never seen or heard but rather functions as the play’s central conceit. He is a man condemned to die on the following day, for an unmentioned crime. Whatever it is, it revolts his fellow inmates far less than that of the Other Fellow, a very camp, almost Wildean, gay man.

There are three generations of prisoners in Mountjoy including boisterous youngsters who can irritate both other inmates and the audience and the weary old lags Neighbour and “methylated martyr” Dunlavin.

The first act is played out in the cramped area outside five cells and is comedic, sometimes rather like an Irish episode of Porridge. After the interval, the pace slows considerably and the play becomes much darker, as the time for the execution approaches. The focus moves to the exercise yard and to the workers who are digging the grave for the soon-to-be-executed Quare Fellow.

The play is a grimly realistic portrait of prison life in Ireland in the 1950s, and a reminder of the days in which homosexuality was illegal and the death penalty relatively common. The play is based on Behan’s own prison experiences, and highlights the perceived barbarity of capital punishment, then in use in Ireland. The play also attacks the false piety in attitudes to sex, politics and religion.

The Auld Triangle“, a song from the opening of the play, has become an Irish music standard and is known by many who are unaware of its link to The Quare Fellow.

In 1962 the play is adapted for the screen by Arthur Dreifuss and stars Patrick McGoohan, Sylvia Syms and Walter Macken. Although the film receives some favourable reviews, it is not regarded as a faithful adaptation of the play.