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 Actor Ray McAnally

Ray McAnally, Irish actor and winner of four BAFTA awards in the late 1980s, is born on March 30, 1926, in Buncrana, a seaside town located on the Inishowen peninsula of County Donegal.

The son of a bank manager, McAnally is educated at Saint Eunan’s College in Letterkenny where he writes, produces and stages a musical called “Madame Screwball” at the age of sixteen. He enters St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth at the age of 18 but leaves after a short time having decided that the priesthood is not his vocation. He joins the Abbey Theatre in 1947 where he meets and marries actress Ronnie Masterson.

The couple later forms Old Quay Productions and present an assortment of classic plays in the 1960s and 1970s. McAnally makes his theatre debut in 1962 with A Nice Bunch of Cheap Flowers and gives a well-received performance as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opposite Constance Cummings, at the Piccadilly Theatre.

On television he is a familiar face, often in glossy thriller series like television series The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase, and Strange Report. In 1968 he takes the title role in Spindoe, a series charting the return to power of an English gangster, Alec Spindoe, after a five-year prison term. This is a spin-off from another series, The Fellows (1967) in which McAnally had appeared in several episodes as the Spindoe character. He could render English accents very convincingly.

McAnally regularly acts in the Abbey Theatre and at Irish festivals, but in the last decade of life he achieves award-winning notice on TV and films. His impressive performance as Cardinal Altamirano in the film The Mission (1986) earns him Evening Standard and BAFTA awards. He earns a second BAFTA award for his role in the BBC’s A Perfect Spy (1987). In 1988 he wins the BAFTA for Best Actor for his performance in A Very British Coup, a role that also brings him a Jacob’s Award. In the last year of his life he portrays the father of Christy Brown, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, in the Academy Award-winning film, My Left Foot (1989).

McAnally dies suddenly of a heart attack on June 15, 1989, at the age of 63, at his home in County Wicklow which he shares with Irish actress Britta Smith. He remains married to actress Ronnie Masterson until his death, although they reside in different homes. He receives a posthumous BAFTA award for his last film in 1990.

At the time of his death, McAnally is due to play “Bull McCabe” in Jim Sheridan‘s film The Field. The part eventually goes to Richard Harris who receives an Academy Award nomination for his performance. McAnally had also been cast in the lead role of First and Last, a drama about a man who walked from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Filming is almost a third of the way done when he dies, but the whole play has to be re-filmed, with Joss Ackland taking the role instead.