seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Hugh Leonard, Dramatist, Writer & Essayist

hugh-leonardHugh Leonard, Irish dramatist, television writer and essayist, is born in Dublin on November 9, 1926. In a career that spans 50 years, he writes nearly 30 full-length plays, 10 one-act plays, three volumes of essays, two autobiographies, three novels and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.

After birth, Leonard is put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changes his name to John Keyes Byrne. For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of “Hugh Leonard” which he later adopts and becomes well known by, he invites close friends to call him “Jack.”

Leonard is educated at the Harold Boys’ National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter. He works as a civil servant for fourteen years. During that time he both acts in and writes plays for community theatre groups. His first play to be professionally produced is The Big Birthday, which is mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956. His career with the Abbey Theatre continues until 1994. After that his plays are produced regularly by Dublin’s theatres.

Leonard moves to Manchester for a while, working for Granada Television before returning to Ireland in 1970. There he settles in Dalkey.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard is the first major Irish writer to establish a reputation in television, writing extensively for television including original plays, comedies, thrillers and adaptations of classic novels for British television. He is commissioned by RTÉ to write Insurrection, a 50th anniversary dramatic reconstruction of the Easter Rising of 1916. His Silent Song, adapted for the BBC from a short story by Frank O’Connor, wins the Prix Italia in 1967. He writes the script for the RTÉ adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.

Three of Leonard’s plays have been presented on Broadway: The Au Pair Man (1973), which stars Charles Durning and Julie Harris, Da (1978) and A Life (1980). Of these, Da, which originates off-off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild theatre before transferring to the Morosco Theatre, is the most successful, running for 20 months and 697 performances, then touring the United States for ten months. It earns Leonard both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Play. It is made into a film in 1988, starring Martin Sheen and Barnard Hughes, who reprises his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance.

Leonard writes two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989). Some of his essays and journalism are collected in Leonard’s Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard is published. Until 2006 he writes a humorous weekly column, “The Curmudgeon,” for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He has a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.

Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displays an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O’Connor, he is asked if it galls him that Gay Byrne is now writing his old column. His reply is, “It would gall me more if he was any good at it.” He is a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In 1994, Leonard appears in a televised interview with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, an Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He has long been an opponent of political violence and a critic of the IRA. However, on the show and afterwards he is criticised for being “sanctimonious and theatrical” towards Adams. At one point he refers to Sinn Féin as “dogs.”

Hugh Leonard – Odd Man In, a film on his life and work is shown on RTÉ in March 2009. Leonard’s final play, Magicality, is not performed during his lifetime. A rehearsed reading of the second act is staged at the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in June 2012.

Hugh Leonard dies after a long illness on February 12, 2009 in his hometown of Dalkey at the age of 82, leaving €1.5 million in his will.

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Birth of Irish Author Maurice O’Sullivan

maurice-osullivan-houseMaurice O’Sullivan (Irish: Muiris Ó Súilleabháin), Irish author famous for his memoir of growing up on the Great Blasket Island and in Dingle, County Kerry, off the western coast of Ireland, is born on February 19, 1904.

Following the death of his mother when he is six months old, O’Sullivan is raised in an institution in Dingle, County Kerry. At the age of eight, he returns to Great Blasket Island to live with his father, grandfather, and the rest of his siblings, and learns the native language. He joins the Garda Síochána in Dublin in 1927 and is stationed in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara.

O’Sullivan is persuaded to write his memoirs by George Derwent Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who has come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. It is Thomson who encourages him to go into the Guards, rather than emigrate to America as do most of the young people. Thomson edits and assembles the memoir, and arranges for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn-Davies.

Fiche Blian ag Fás (in English, Twenty Years a-Growing) is published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture have continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island is a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives.

While Fiche Blian ag Fás is received with tremendous enthusiasm by critics, including E.M. Forster, their praise at times has a condescending tone. Forster describes the book as a document of a surviving “Neolithic” culture. Such interest is tied up with romantic notions of the Irish primitive, and thus when O’Sullivan tries to find a publisher for his second book, Fiche Bliain faoi Bhláth (in English, Twenty Years a-Flowering), there is little interest, as this narrative necessarily departs from the romantic realm of turf fires and pipe-smoking wise-women.

In 1934, O’Sullivan leaves the Guards and settles in Connemara. He drowns on June 25, 1950, while swimming off the Connemara coast. Dylan Thomas commences, but does not finish, a screenplay of Fiche Blian ag Fás.

(Pictured: The ruins of the house in which Maurice O’Sullivan grew up on the Great Blasket Island)