DOROTHY DENNIS was a sterling stalwart of the Dublin arts scene whose inspirational contribution in many areas was hugely valued. Born in 1928, a member of the well-known Dublin motor business family, she was educated at Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green.
She joined the New Ireland Assurance Company, where she was secretary to the late Senator Eoin Ryan, managing director of the firm. While at New Ireland, her interest in the arts manifested itself: among many other productions, she directed Federico García Lorca’s Dona Rosita with the New Ireland Assurance Drama Group, which was put on at the Gate Theatre in December 1958. On her retirement from New Ireland, she threw herself with even more commitment into the Dublin arts world.
Theatre was perhaps the greatest enthusiasm of Dorothy’s crowded life: she was a member and long-serving secretary of the Dublin Shakespeare Society.
She saw herself, perhaps wrongly, very much as a backroom person, a dedicated organiser; however, on one occasion she was prevailed on to take to the stage, in a production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus: however, it can be firmly stated that she was not involved in the once celebrated nude scene in that work. She also played the part of one of Gabriel’s Conroy’s aunts in a staging by Eilis Mullen of Joyce’s The Dead.
Music came second only to theatre in Dorothy’s enthusiasms; she would regularly round up groups to attend the National Concert Hall or the Dublin Grand Opera Society. One of her major commitments was to the legacy of Count John McCormack. She was a very dedicated committee member of the John McCormack Society: she regularly lectured on the singer, with particular reference to his connection with James Joyce.
Dorothy joined the James Joyce Institute of Ireland in the early 1980s at the instigation of her great friend Grania Gilroy. Her interest in Joyce was largely fuelled by the works’ Dublin ambience, which she responded to instinctively; she had an immediate feel both for the topography of the city as outlined in Ulysses and for the Dublin social world that the books embody. She plunged into the work, as unfazed by the darkest of Finnegans Wake’s intricacies as she was by the most purple passages of Molly Bloom. Indeed, nothing fazed her.
As in almost every society she joined, she soon took on an organising role, in this case becoming secretary of the institute for many years.
In addition to her own formidable organisational skills, she possessed above all the gift of getting others to do the things that needed to be done.
She was also not indiscriminate in the objects to which she applied these formidable energies: not every cause necessarily found favour, but when it did she was totally committed. I recall her determination in organising a lecture to be given to a group of people who were working with prisoners; though the plan did not come to fruition, her concern that such a group should be facilitated was very characteristic (in her younger days, she had worked with the Simon community).
The same steely determination that enabled her to take on James Joyce, recalcitrant actors and recalcitrant lecturers also marked her attitude to travel: she was an intrepid voyager, often journeying on her own and being particularly fond of sailing, often in the company of family members. Her brother Harry recalls that at the age of 70 she learned to swim in order to act as a crew member for a family yachting trip.
Dorothy Dennis, who died on April 18th and is survived by her brothers Brian and Harry and their families, moved in an artistic world which was notably relaxed about matters of organisation, timing, schedules, etc. To this world she brought gifts of clarity, determination and efficiency – to add to her natural love for the arts – that enormously enhanced it. She is greatly missed. – TERENCE KILLEEN