Maura Laverty’s Dublin: from Liffey Lane to Tolka Row

No plaque adorns any Dublin house associated with the most versatile, prolific Dublin-based female writer from 1940 to 1960

A wide shot of the set of RTÉ Television’s drama series Tolka Row, which was based on Maura Laverty’s stage play of the same name and scripted by her

A wide shot of the set of RTÉ Television’s drama series Tolka Row, which was based on Maura Laverty’s stage play of the same name and scripted by her

 

The versatile Irish writer and broadcaster Maura Laverty (nee Kelly) was a Kildare woman, born on May 15th, 1907. She was a Kelly from Rathangan, like myself. This happy coincidence and the desire to promote her literary legacy motivated me to write her biography, The Maura Laverty Story from Rathangan to Tolka Row.

There was a strong Dublin dimension to her life and works. We have heard a lot recently about Patrick Kavanagh’s Dublin. A host of male writers’ links with the capital – Joyce, O’Casey, Behan, Roddy Doyle, James Plunkett , Ross O’Carroll Kelly – have been well aired. What about Maura Laverty’s Dublin?

Maura Laverty is best known as a novelist for her sometimes controversial rural novels , most notably her first Never No More (1942) and for her iconic cookery book Full and Plenty (1960). Maura wrote three very successful Dublin-oriented plays Liffey Lane (1951), Tolka Row (1951) and A Tree in the Crescent (1952). She previously wrote a novel about Dublin It had two names – Liffey Lane (1946) in the US and Lift up your Gates (1946) at home. She was the only scriptwriter on the pioneering TV soap Tolka Row from 1964-1966. Maura lived in Dublin practically all her adult life.

Maura Laverty in 1952
Maura Laverty in 1952

The probability is that Maura Kelly was sent, at aged 9, to live with a childless couple for two years, in Harwicke Street in the Dublin’s north inner city or at least that’s what she has told us in a number of stories housed in the National Library. Very few of Maura’s many short romantic stories focussed on the capital. One story published in the Sign magazine (1952) did.

“That was shortly after the Caseys brought me to live with them in Dublin, I was ten. One Saturday morning Iwas washing the dinner vegetables, at the sink in the basement where Mr Casey carried on his cabinet making business.” If this is true, she could have been in Dublin city centre for the 1916 Rising as she was born in 1907. She tells us that she was enrolled in Dominic Street’s ‘day school for young ladies’ at 15 shillings a term plus extras.

The fact that the National Library has recently catalogued another large tranche of her papers is welcome news for the growing number of Maura scholars and fans. These papers are revealing and include letters of support and thanks from two well-known Dublin writers, Brendan Behan and Christy Brown. Their fascinating letters to Maura Laverty are well covered in my biography, thanks to the co-operation of the National Library.

Maura lived in Dublin from the time she got married to Seamus Laverty in 1928 at age 21, until her untimely death in her house in Rathfarnham in 1966 at the age of 59. They raised three children in the city – Maeve, Barry and Jimmy – who are all deceased. They were sent to boarding schools. The two girls went to Loreto Abbey in Rathfarnham and young Jimmy to Terenure College. Barry went to art college 1950-1952 and became a lifelong friend of Pauline Bewick’s.

Maura has written that the family moved around Dublin a lot during the early years of their marriage. In Maura Laverty’s Cookery Book (1946) she related that “the Dublin kitchen in which I made my debut as a married cook was pretty bad …Since then I’ve had seven kitchens.” She says that ‘surprises’ “prevented us from staying put for more than a couple of years at a time”. In vintage Laverty style she added:

“Someone asked me the other day if I were getting a touch of arthritis in the first and second fingers of my right hand. I’m not, it’s just that my fingers are getting that way from having to keep them crossed all the time. Personally, I don’t mind how often I move house so long as I can count on a fire, some pots and pans and something to cook them in.”

When I was researching her biography thee earliest addresses that I found for Maura in Dublin (circa 1938-9) was when she cleverly wrote to newspapers abroad looking to swap recipes from Castle House, Raheny. Presumably, it was their home address. There were 10 years of Dublin addresses that I have not yet discovered before that. One breakthrough has occurred very recently. She lived at 1 Fairview Corner in 1936.

A second edition of Maura Laverty’s guide to cooking, Full and Plenty, was launched in Jury’s Hotel, Dublin. From left, Peter Odlum. managing director; Maura Laverty, George Shackleton, Irish Flour Millers Association; and GE Hetherington, of Hely’s. Photograph: Eddie Kelly
A second edition of Maura Laverty’s guide to cooking, Full and Plenty, was launched in Jury’s Hotel, Dublin. From left, Peter Odlum. managing director; Maura Laverty, George Shackleton, Irish Flour Millers Association; and GE Hetherington, of Hely’s. Photograph: Eddie Kelly

Her publishers Longmans wrote to Maura at 68 Merrion Square in April 1944. From the mid 1940s to circa 1960, the Laverty family lived at 124 Leinster Road, Rathmines. Alec Newman, in a tribute to Maura at the time of her death in 1966, reflected back on happier times. “In the days when parties ‘at home’ were more frequent than they seem to be nowadays, I was lucky enough to attend several there in her and her husband Jim’s pleasant house in Leinster Road Rathmines, and how these parties sparkled with song and dancing and the occasional declamation by a visiting poet! but Maura herself was always the life and soul of them.” The food, the drink and the stories must have been good too.

Around 1960 she moved to 25 Pembroke Road, possibly at the time Seamus Laverty and Maura separated. Nuala O’ Faolain visited there as she was friendly with her daughter Barry as she recounts in her memoir Are you Somebody? (1996).

“Maura lived in an elegant flat with great long windows hung with sweeps of soft muslin ….Maura was in the world of Ireland and Dublin… ..she knew how to earn good money .She got me my first ever professional job -passing on a commission to research authentic recipes for the new Bunratty Banquet…… ….but I used to feel loneliness coming from her .Three children were growing up on the proceeds of her hard work. Where was her husband ? A husband was never mentioned.”

Christopher Fitz-simon, then the TV producer of Tolka Row, indicated to me that he visited her flat on Pembroke Road on a few occasions to iron out issues with her scripts in the early 1960s. She was alone then too. Maeve Binchy, who was sufficiently impressed with Maura’s work to write fascinating introductions to the Virago re-print of two of her novels in 1984-5, told us that:

“I met Maura once because my best friend had a flat in the basement of her house. She had moved by then to Leinster Road, Rathmines up again in that strange up and down social ladder that had been her lot. She was in her mid-fifties then with a strong, handsome face, lined beyond her years maybe or perhaps it was weather beaten, or again perhaps I just too young and thought that the old were really old.” The respect and admiration shown by Dublin writer Maeve Binchy to Maura, as both a person and as a writer, is very evident in these important introductions.

Maeve’s niece Sarah Binchy was sufficiently impressed with this literary connection that she made the lovely and insightful radio documentary Maura Laverty Remembered (2011) in which you can hear the voice of Maura, Maeve, Sarah and Christopher Fitz-simon – not a bad start for any documentary.

It was not until 1965, the year before her death, that Maura bought her own place at Butterfield Crescent Rathfarnham where she died alone in July 1966. No plaque adorns any Dublin house associated with Maura Laverty, the most versatile and prolific Dublin-based female writer in the period 1940-1960.

Maura was the first advice columnist or agony aunt with Woman’s Way that appeared to much fanfare in 1963. She was to be replaced later that year by the renowned Angela MacNamara. One Kitty Barrett was one of many to welcome the new magazine.

Hurrah! Woman’s Way
arrived today
Complete with glossy cover
I dropped my work
I eagerly flipped its pages over
Oh! Charles Mitchell and Frank Hall,
Maura Laverty – you’ve got them all.

Philip Larkin famously said that ‘sex began in 1963’. Well , Maura’s association with romantic stories and advice in Dublin-based women’s magazines goes back much further than that. In the mid1930s Maura was head, neck and ears involved in Woman’s Life magazine which began life in July 1936. This aspect has been well researched by Dr Caitriona Clear, an avid Maura fan, in her book Women’s Voices in Ireland: Women’s magazines in the 1950s and 1960s (2016).

The very first article in the magazine was entitled ‘Betwenn ourselves by Maura’. The thought for the week was about ‘my five year old’. Her daughter Maeve was five at the time. Another piece mentioned ‘I’m only one today but you’ll like me won’t you”. Daughter Barry was one in 1936. Her opening statement in the first edition read “I want to be a friend for you. Don’t lock your troubles in your heart.Write to me about them. And even before you receive an answer half the load will have vanished, for a trouble shared is a trouble half conquered.” Maura was to have several of her romantic stories published in Woman’s Life in the 1950s.

Maura contributed to many Irish newspapers, both national and local,over a 30-year period. Her husband Seamus worked in a subediting role with The Irish Times and put his name to the occasional piece in the newspapers as well. It is fitting when she died that the blessed trinity of the Dublin-based press – The Irish Times, Irish Independent and the Irish Press – all carried an obituary for Maura Laverty and covered her funeral in July 1966.

A review of Never No More in the Irish Press from 1942, when MJ McManus was literary editor
A review of Never No More in the Irish Press from 1942, when MJ McManus was literary editor

Why did Maura rather suddenly switch to Dublin-related themes for inspiration after three other novels. Her Rathangan childhood and her time in Spain had been covered in the previous novels and she had brought her story or her heroines’ stories up to the time she got married in1928 when they moved to Dublin.

One of the influences behind the switch to the theme of the Dublin poor was perhaps her good friend Dr Robert Collis, who got great praise for his realistic play about life in the top floor of a Dublin tenement in Marrowbone Lane (1939,1942).

Perhaps Laverty’s first foray into Dublin-related writing was the publication of two excerpts from Lift up your Gates (Liffey Lane) published in the Bell in 1946 under their ‘works in progress section’. Maura was no stranger to the Bell at that stage. It contains a lovely full-page photo of Maura in her heyday by Charles Fennell. These excerpts of the then forthcoming novel focused on a kind young girl, Chrissie Doyle, and her brother Kevin. She lived in18 Liffey Lane. The poor children collected cinders from the dump. “If it wasn’t for the smell and the dirt selling cinders would have been great fun.”

The opening line sets this novel firmly in the capital. “The clock in government buildings struck five.” Maura describes Liffey Lane as follows . “Narrow, not more than ten yards in width, but those ten yards stretched as wide as the Atlantic ocean between tenement -dwellers on the right and those who lived in the mews- flats on the left. The ten yards were a chasm between people who lived on the dole an those who earned a regular wage.”

In real life, there is evidence that Maura lived in the Mews flat in Fitzwilliam Lane and some evidence that’ The Mammy of Irish Cookery’ may have made ‘a real Chrissie’ a birthday cake. Lucky girl!

Much of the focus on Liffey Lane was, and to some extent still is, on the slum element and story of the loving and loveable child Chrissie, who for the best of reasons, sold the can belonging to the kindly Sister Martha that was used to deliver for the penny dinners. Chrissie adores her brother Kevin who is sent an Industrial School in Finglas. The book contains a journey down Liffey Lane to each of Chrissie’s customers on her paper round. A review in the Tablet (March 8th, 1947) made no mention of any censorable material but focused instead on “Chrissie running errands for much needed pence, touches in passing the lives of all the other characters. These are vividly drawn, and the squalid realties of their surroundings are faithfully described.” Her vivid description of writer’s block caught my eye.

Liffey Lane was banned in Ireland, which is, to the modern eye, ridiculous. The banning, of course devastated sales at home, as was in the case two of her three previous novels, much to Maura’s annoyance. There is very little indecent or obscene in this book. The only tart in Liffey Lane is an apple tart, beautifully described. It would be great to see the novel republished.

Maura was in some ways a provocative story teller. Three of her four novels were banned in Ireland. The censors, in 1940s Ireland, did not need much provoking. Maura left in a few hostages to fortune in this, her last novel.

The Children singing
Mary McCann, She wants a man,
Her petticoat wants a border,
To clean her nose and tickle her toes and keep her diddies in order.

Or the young lads Chanting
If I met Maggie in the wood
In the wood, In the wood,
If I met Maggie in the wood
I’d tune her old melodeon

Her description of love at first sight was hardly designed to impress the censor. For example, the stranger “had a way of making your heart thump when he looked at you across the room, a note in his voice that could make your blood run singing through your veins, a little quirk in his smile that melted every bit of you into a longing to hold his head to your breast and just go on holding it there forever.” According to the censors you’d have to be married for that carry on.

Her mention of the Clark Gable film “with a half-naked woman being slobbered on by that fellow with his big shoulders and thick tights and toothy grin” may not have impressed the narrow-minded censors. There is an argument that the novel’s washing of Dublin’s dirty linen in public may have contributed to the banning but that is conjecture. In a letter to The Irish Times it was claimed that the book was on the banned list because she “depicted slum life within a stone’s throw of luxury hotels and super-cinemas”. Maura, for example, described how “many of the older children were taken to the fever hospital with scarletina which was such a regular visitor to the Lane that they…always abbreviated its name ‘to the scarlet’”. The novel and the subsequent play even had ‘a red Communist’ which officialdom would have frowned upon.

Maura had become more overtly political herself and engaged with Sean MacBride’s Clann na Poblachta as a sort of publicist at a time when the De Valera Government were very fearful of the party’s rapid rise. In fact she was on the National Executive and scripted Our Country, which is considered to be one of the first party political broadcasts on film in Ireland. She never stood for election for the party, unlike her Rathmines-based namesake Mai Laverty.

Politics and literature overlapped when Maura wrote a very strongly worded letter attacking the De Valera government record on social issues and Censorship.

Two influential people, in particular wrote to Maura saying how impressed they were with her Dublin novel. Micheal MacLíammóir, who rarely understated his viewpoint, wrote to her from Paris in June 1947 “I have read ‘lift up your gates’ with such a stirring of imagination and with such breathless delight that I want to write to tell you so. ..I think it is by far the finest thing you have done.” He fumed at the banning of the book and said “Ireland was a country slowly but surely being transformed by a pack of hysterical ignoramuses into a dank, damp, dirty little nursery”.

Hilton Edwards wrote on July 7th, 1947. “I want to tell you that I was profoundly moved by ‘Lift up Your Gates’. It conjured up for me what I believe to be the real Dublin more profoundly than anything I had read.” This was the start of a long and fruitful association between the duo and Maura.

One joint project that was mooted but did not get off the ground is indicated in a letter from Maura to Hilton, dated May 1st, 1953. “In return for a nominal fee of £5, I shall be glad to renew your film option on Liffey Lane (Lift up your Gates) for a further six months from this date.” When it came to Maura, Hilton Edwards rarely paid Maura the money she was worth or the full amount of money she was owed.

In the US, in particular, the novel Liffey Lane seemed to strike a chord as indeed did Maura’s earlier novels, especially among Catholic America. The emphasis again in these reviews was on Maura’s descriptive powers, the poverty and the kind-hearted child Chrissie Doyle in the midst of her neighbours in the Lane.

The Philadelphia Enquirer (August 31st, 1947) said this book “ is a good bet for late summer reading and porch swing addicts will delight in it”. More recently bloggers such as TBR 313 have drawn attention to this novel and concludes “I wish there were more of her books to discover, but I’m grateful for the four that she did write. I know I will be reading and re-reading them many times in the years to come.”

Maura intended to write another novel called Rhe Rock but it only got to draft stage partly because of her brief political career, the birth of her son Jimmy in 1948, the banning of her books and her focus on money-making romantic short stories and plays for the professional stage instead.

Maura’s three Dublin-Based plays
Maura and the extensive newspaper reviews of her plays repeatedly stated that the first three plays were intended as part of a set of six Dublin plays. Alas, the last three never saw the light of day. The idea was that the six plays would work up the social ladder from the slums of Liffey Lane, to the corporation estate in the suburbs, to the upper echelons of Dublin society. The weakness in the model was that Dublin theatre goers, from O’Casey’s time, liked their drama to focus more on the Dublin poor than the middle class or those ‘above them’ on the social ladder. There was no room for the Ross O’Carroll Kellys at this stage.

Maura was in quite a social circle herself by the mid 1940s. She was a prominent member of the Women Writers’ Club in Dublin. The talented literary ladies favoured Jammet’s restaurant and Roberts café, the Royal Hibernian and the Shelbourne hotels for their soirees. When novelist Kate O’ Brien in 1946 won their annual literary award, the Evening Herald reported on September 26th that it was Laverty who presented the award in her capacity as president of this intriguing club. Maura also won their annual award herself for her second novel Alone We Embark. She later became disillusioned with the club and its activities.

Regarding research for Irish stories and recipes, Maura’s great friend the folklorist Brid Mahon writes about Maura. “She was a regular visitor to the (Folklore) Commission’s archives. We would swap stories and legends before she brought me across to the Shelbourne hotel for lunch. There Margaret Burke Sheridan , the great Mayo diva, might hum an Aria… Mahon for the legends, Laverty for the stories and the food lore also, and Burke Sheridan for the Arias. Count me in.”

The success of her Dublin novel especially abroad and the encouragement of people like Dr Collis, MacLíammóir and Edwards encouraged her to turn the novel into a play. The fact that plays were far less likely to be banned than novels may have tempted Maura into playwriting in the early 1950s.

Liffey Lane was first staged in the Gaiety but produced by Dublin Gate Theatre productions (1951).The MacLíammóir-Edwards connection was perhaps the key point of the advertising and was also key at the box office. Despite the undoubted popularity of her plays and the regular re-run that practically kept the Gate going, Hilton Edwards was very slow to pay her the royalties.

Christopher Fitz-Simon said at the launch of my book on Maura Laverty in November 2017 that “ I saw Liffey Lane presented by the Gate Company at the Gaiety and was greatly taken by this depiction of life in Dublin slums with its amusingly lucid dialogue. Entertaining, yes, but under the surface there seemed to be serious social dialogue.”

MacLíammóir described it ‘as a magnificent tapestry of squalor’ while Thomas MacAnna called it ‘a warm play that touched the heart’. Maura had made a very good start to what she hoped would be a series of six Dublin plays.

The programme for Liffey Lane in 1951 featured a slice of Dublin life at the time – ODearest Mattresses, Lemon Pure Sweets, The Green restaurant, Cafollas, the Toby jug bar and Boyers shop. The child actors were from the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. I was lucky enough to meet recently one of the child actors in this first production – Sean O’Reilly – who is the father of successful novelist Martina Reilly. Patrons were reassured in the programme that “this theatre is disinfested throughout with Jeyes Fluid”. This suggests there may have been more than ‘bums on seats”.

Having delved into tenement Life in Liffey Lane, Maura stuck with the Dublin theme for her second play. The whole point about Tolka Row, in all its forms, was that it was an attempt to capture a stereotypical working-class area in Dublin rather than the nuanced difference between these areas. If you want to find out about the subtle differences between Upper and Lower Ballyfermot or those between Cabra West and Cabra East you won’t find them here. As the introduction of the play states “the action passes in and near the Nolans’ home in Tolka Row. It is one of a thousand similar houses in a slum-clearance scheme on the fringe of Dublin.”

A scene from the RTÉ Television drama series Tolka Row, during studio filming in 1967. From left to right; John McDarby as Gabby Doyle, Des Perry as Jack Nolan, May Ollis as Rita Nolan and Iris Lawler as Statia Nolan/Doyle
A scene from the RTÉ Television drama series Tolka Row, during studio filming in 1967. From left to right; John McDarby as Gabby Doyle, Des Perry as Jack Nolan, May Ollis as Rita Nolan and Iris Lawler as Statia Nolan/Doyle

In fact the play started off with the working title Dodder Terrace. The Evening Herald (September 15th, 1951) proclaimed that a new play of that name would open The Edwards and MacLíammóir autumn season and that it was not a sequel to Liffey Lane’. It dealt with “one stratum above” those in her first play. It went ahead in October 1951 but the title was changed to Tolka Row. The bridge mentioned in the play was Rathfarnham bridge which was over the Dodder not on the Tolka.

The play begins with the Dublin dealer calling to Mrs Feeney’s door selling old clothes . “I’m not buying,” says Mrs Feeney. The dealer retorts “I’m not selling – I’m swapping”. Anyone above their station were deemed to have notions and were a target for a laugh, none more so than the romantic Peggy and her rather grand boyfriend, draper’s assistant Fonsie Madigan. Some of the one-liners probably came from banter in Maura’s drapery \/ dressmaking family in Rathangan, rather that from the streets of Dublin. Peggy’s flirtatious description of her teeth as ‘pearly gates to romance’ would certainly have attracted the censor if it was in a novel. Laurie Morton was the original Peggy. Jack Nolan was played by Denis Brennan and Patrick Bedford played Sean Nolan.

One of the more interesting aspects of the play Tolka Row was the rural versus urban dimension. Old Dan Dempsey (MacLíammóir) was from Ballyderrig (Rathangan) and hankered to be back there. This led to some lively exchanges.

Dan says “there’s nothing makes me laugh only to hear a Dublin Jackeen talking about fresh air. God help them it’s little they know about it. Statia Feeney replied “it’s a great wonder to me that bog trotters would not stay in the bog if they think so much of it instead of inflicting themselves on Dublin families where there not wanted.”

The play caused a stir in another way too. Orson Welles was anxious to see the play. His presence brought out the demonstrators from the Catholic Cinema and Theatre Patrons Association who objected to his alleged communism. Maura, rather unhelpfully, heckled the demonstrators with a few verses of the Red Flag from an upstairs window! Maura also jibed at the censorship board. She owed them a few. “Are you listening to that …and we’re supposed to have a board of censors looking after our literature.”

The play was favourably reviewed in the Irish Independent in October 1951 under the heading ‘Intimate Study of Dublin Life’ .The reviewer praised Maura for adding “another corner to her glowingly original tapestry of Dublin life”. The play was later adapted for radio and was also made into a film by the BBC in 1959 with MacLíammóir again in the key role before it ever appeared on our TV screens between 1964-1968.

Tolka Row was performed on many occasions on the amateur stage. It won the first Amateur Drama Festival in Athlone for St Philomena Drama Group Drogheda in 1953. It also won the Ulster title with a drama group from Lurgan. In Dublin, it was performed by a number of groups including Playback productions in Marian College and twice by Portmarnock Dramatic Society.

So in 1951 Maura had hit the headlines in theatrical circles with two MacLíammóir and Edwards Dublin-based plays, not having had any previous playwriting pedigree. The Evening Herald (Nov 24th, 1951), listed her as one of four ‘outstanding women’ in Ireland in 1951. Actress Maureen O’Sullivan, the showjumper Iris Kellett and the Abbey actress and director Ria Mooney were the others. Exalted company indeed!

The theme of Maura’s third play was moving up the social ladder in Dublin as she had promised. It featured a boarding house keeper, a bitter-tongued gossip and a frustrated civil servant. I’ve met a few of those in my time in Dublin!

This play was less successful at the box office, partly because MacLíammóir was not in it. This play got less favourable reviews. The Irish Press critic declared “that technically Mrs Laverty’s latest play compares very unfavourably with her first two efforts”. An old criticism regarding Maura’s alleged lack of imagining resurfaced. “Where she should create, she merely reproduces and where she should represent, with the terseness the theatre demands, she merely recites.”

The lead part of Fintan Farrell was played by Denis Brennan in his first lead role. The influential Irish Press critic Niall Carroll said “here is a breath of genuine Dublin, despite some erratic writing”. Maura was stung by the criticism. It was the least successful of her three plays and got a very mixed reaction from the critics. Maura did attempt to write more plays but they never made the stage. Maura’s three Dublin plays were and are very hard to find. They were never published but moves are afoot to right that situation which will, hopefully, facilitate their return to the stage.

Maura had been on radio for 35 years entertaining Dubs and culchies alike with her eclectic mix of stories, recipes and advice. Her iconic cookery book came out in 1960. BBC TV had filmed her play Tolka Row in 1959. However, her big break came when the bosses in early Irish television were looking for a weekly serial to put up against Coronation Street. TV producer Christopher Fitz-simon was asked to find an alternative. He suggested Maura’s Laverty’s Dublin-based writing.

In a letter, dated September 24th, 1963, Fitz-simon wrote to Maura as follows: “Our new Controller of Programmes has suggested that we discuss your willingness to start where Tolka Row left off, using the same characters and the same settings” . The deal was done and Maura got 30 guineas an episode and she began writing it in late 1963. Christopher confirmed this insightful story at the launch of my book on Maura in 2017, 54 years later. “The controller of programmes, a resourceful Swedish Canadian called Gunnar Rugheimer, sent round a note asking for ideas for a domestic serial which, he said, should be essential viewing on any self-respecting TV service. I replied by suggesting that as Maura Laverty’s play Tolka Row contained an ideal nuclear family unit, and Mrs Laverty was a most accomplished and versatile writer, so such a serial might start where the stage play left off.”

Maura posted in her scripts which was a bit isolating. She soon ran into deadline problems as it was a massive task. She was also writing a lot of other material including advice columns for Woman’s Way (1963)and stories (mostly reheated) for Creation Magazine ‘for thinking women’ as well as doing her weekly radio scripts. Angela McNamara replaced her in the Womans Way columns in 1963. Maura was also suffering some health-related issues as time went on.

Tolka Row was a popular serial in Dublin and around the country. One Ballyfermot woman told me that “it was as important in her house as Bisto Gravy on the Sunday dinner”. It stayed away from controversial or sensitive issues. The Nolan family, Jack and Rita nd the Feeneys, Statia and Oliver, were centre stage. On one occasion Jack Nolan and Oliver Feeney were chatting and Oliver obliquely refers to Mrs Statia Feeney’s pregnancy. “She has a passion for liquoirish all sorts. Can’t get her fill of them.”

The part of Sean Nolan, played by Fair City’s Jim Bartley, may have been partly based on the banter of her son Jimmy and his friends. Brenda Fricker played one of Sean Nolan’s many girlfriends. Fair City is its worthy successor as an urban soap but it took RTÉ quite a while to find an adequate Dublin-based replacement. When some TV producers claimed that in the Lemass era the Nolans and co. should be more upwardly mobile, Maura stuck to her ‘stuck family’ scenarios. The show gave regular employment and a national platform to a whole host of actors such as May Ollis (Rita Nolan), Iris Lawlor (Statia), Des Perry (Jack Nolan), John Mulloy (Oliver Feeney), May Cluskey (Queenie Butler) and John McDarby (Gabby Doyle). Iris Lawlor stated that by “the 1960s she had had her bellyful of the classics and was glad of the opportunity to join the cast of Tolka Row.” When Iris left the show viewers got it hard to accept the new Statia.

By June 1966 Laverty had written just over 40 episodes of Tolka Row. It could be said she died writing them. She had told relatives that she was busy on her scripts and wanted time on her own, so she died alone. Maura passed away in July 1966. Tolka Row lasted until 1968. Maura would have smiled at the fact that it ended with Jack and Rita Nolan emigrating to England and saying “we’ll be back”. They never came back. Part of the last episode of Tolka Row is online. It is said that a lot of the other episodes were taped over !

Maura’s other major achievement in the early 1960s was the production of the iconic cookery book Full and Plenty. On the guest list for the launch were my namesake Seamus Kelly of the Irish Times, cookery colleague and rival Monica Sheridan, Terry O’Sullivan of the Irish Press (Nuala O’Faolain’s father), and the legendary domestic economy inspector Mary Bonfils. Maura went back to her rural, food-related romantic stories to illuminate this book.

Though Maura’s wish, as recorded in her will, was to donate her body to the College of Surgeons and her eyes to the Eye Hospital, it is fitting that Maura was laid to rest in Glasnevin alongside Dublin’s and Ireland’s greats and beside thousands of less famous Dubliners. Laverty’s versatility and talent are undeniable – mother, poet, novelist, playwright, journalist, broadcaster, cookery book writer and advice columnist. It was a long, fruitful and busy journey fo Maura from Rathangan to Tolka Row that ended all too early in July 1966 when she died alone in her own home in Rathfarnham. It has been a pleasure for me to shine a light on Maura’s life and work.
The Story of Maura Laverty: from Rathangan to Tolka Row is available in shops and directly from the author. Enquiries to james.a.kelly55@gmail.com

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