Esteemed actor, director and costume designer

Máire Stafford: March 6th, 1923 - July 1st, 2014

Sat, Jul 26, 2014, 01:00

Máire Stafford (née Fitzpatrick) , who died earlier this month in Galway, was a very accomplished actress, director, translator and costume designer, and central to the development of Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, the Irish language theatre.

John B Keane’s Big Maggie and Moll were among her leading roles. And her versatility in writing, translating and adapting for stage – and even rustling up a costume out of nothing – knew no limits.

Born in Britain, she lost her father when she was an infant and her mother died when she was only eight years old. She was reared by an aunt in Co Cork and showed an early interest in the Irish language as well as stage. She also enjoyed music, was a member of the Emerald Girls Pipe Band and, according to a close friend Dick Byrne, was “decidely republican in her outlook” during her youth.

When she took up a job with the Civil Service in Dublin, she joined a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge. It was while she and colleagues were seeking someone to play a male role in an Irish language play with the Conradh that she met a teacher by the name of Seán Stafford, who was to become her inseparable partner and colleague.

Prolific performer The couple married in 1950, two years after Seán had taken up a teaching job in Galway and had become involved in the Taibhdhearc. Their five children spent time on the stage from an early age and their mother was involved in more than 100 dramatic productions, both plays and pantomime.

The couple were also “the glue”, as Byrne put it, that held the Galway city branch of Conradh na Gaeilge together. They also helped to run Feis Ceoil an Iarthar and Féile Scoil Dramaíochta, along with a Club na nÓg for teenagers, as part of their commitment to the first language.

The prolific nature of her adaptation,translation and writing is reflected on the Playography na Gaeilge database of Irish language plays which credits her for many shows, ranging from Annie, Mikado and Ó Susanna to Corr nó Cliste, Cailíní Monarchan and Leannáin.

Stafford was a character actor, securing many parts on stage, in film and television. She appeared in Dublin’s Peacock Theatre in 1968 as Bean Uí Chathasaigh in Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe’s production of An Triail by Mairéad Ní Ghráda.

Byrne remembers that she was particularly adept at translating popular songs into Irish for the Christmas pantomime productions.

Gifted embroiderer “I would write the scripts and she would insert the music,” he said. “She had the knack of getting the meaning, rhyme and rhythm to match, a task which needs a special skill, a skill that few others have mastered before or since. She was particularly good with Irish versions of Abba numbers, for instance.”

She was also very gifted at needlework, specialising in embroidered Celtic designs for Irish dancing costumers.

“She could whip up a costume with very little material at her disposal,” said Byrne. Against such a background, it was not surprising that her son, Maelíosa Stafford, was to become a highly accomplished award-winning actor and director with the Druid Theatre, appearing in many Abbey Theatre productions and now working and lecturing in Australia.

Writing many scripts together, Stafford and her husband encouraged and nurtured many young actors in the Taibhdhearc over the decades. Both were conferred with honorary degrees by NUI Galway (NUIG) in 2004, with Dr Gearóid Denvir of NUIG’s Centre for Irish Studies summarising their enormous contribution to Irish language theatre.

“Banríon na Taibhdhearca” or “queen of the Taibhdhearc” was how she was described at her funeral in the “Jes” church on Sea road in Galway.

She is survived by her husband Seán, her children Ruairí, Fionnuala, Maelíosa, Órfhlaith and Conall, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.