Prolific radio and TV dramatist and inspiring teacher

Michael Judge: July 26th, 1921 – August 7th, 2015


Michael Judge, who has died aged 94, was an exemplary person, an astonishingly prolific writer and a uniquely inspirational teacher.

He was also a lifelong advocate on behalf of his colleagues; he was a board member of the European Writers’ Congress, a founder member of the Society of Irish Playwrights (1969) and the Irish Writers’ Centre (1991). On May 20th, 2015, he was honoured by the Writers’ Guild of Ireland with the ZeBBie Award for Services to the Writer.

Judge had a substantial reputation outside of Ireland from the 1950s. His work for radio and television was known in Britain, USA, Canada, Germany, Japan and New Zealand.

The first of his eight radio plays produced by the BBC, The Robbers Passing By, was broadcast in 1963; the last, The Anniversary Waltz, was aired in 1987.

At home, Judge wrote 10 plays for Radio Éireann, beginning with The Hungry One in 1959 and ending with Heaven’s First Law in 1997.

Television commissions

Between 1964 and 1977, RTÉ televised 14 original works by him, beginning with The Chair and ending with God’s in His Heaven Etc.

By the end of the 1970s, when RTÉ ceased to invest in studio-based drama in favour of co-productions such as Caught in a Free State¨, his talents were channelled into drama serials such as The Riordans and Glenroe.

Judge also wrote many plays for the stage. His play Death is for Heroes was the first production in the new Abbey Theatre building in 1966.

He was a prolific writer of short stories and, at the age of 83, published his first novel, Vintage Red, which was followed by a second, From the Left Hand, in 2005.

Much of Judge’s huge output was produced while he was teaching in Coláiste Mhuire, the Christian Brothers all-Irish school in Parnell Square, Dublin.

At the time of his retirement in 1981, he was vice-principal. That a lay teacher with a secular view of child-protection issues could hold such a position was a sign of changing times. But the fact that he stood down when he was only 60 was an indication that there were limits to the new openness. But Judge was no wild radical.

Small, neat, immaculately dressed, scrupulously precise, he was impatient with disorder and verbiage – when Yeats said “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree”, Judge wanted his students to wonder why the poet needed first to “arise” and then to go to the island twice.

The curriculum had to be well-taught and it was – but quickly.

That done, his pupils were set free to discover anything and everything in prose, poetry and theatre.

Imagination mandatory

One 13 year old, whose first effort was a short story, was asked was the piece all his own work and when he replied that it was, heard from Judge words that changed his life: “Well, if that’s the case, I think I can say you will become a writer.”

It is an irony that the TV series Caught in a Free State, referred to above, was written by that student, Brian Lynch. But Judge’s influence went beyond the literary. His standards, though private, were discernible.

At his funeral in Mount Jerome another pupil, Arthur McGuinness, recalled how he suddenly understood that when Judge casually used the word “love” about his wife, Lil, he meant it. In his person, as in his work, Michael Judge was exemplary.

He is survived by his wife, Lil, who married him 63 years ago, their children Deirdre, Fiachra, Aisling, Cliona and Siofra, grandchildren and great- grandchildren.