Writer presents papers to Galway university


AN INFAMOUS Abbey Theatre rejection note and correspondence with late authors John McGahern and Mary Lavin are among the papers of playwright Thomas Kilroy due to be presented to NUI Galway next week.

The internationally known dramatist and novelist was formerly professor of English at the university, and his archive includes research notes, drafts and scripts of his novels and plays.

He is due to participate in a public interview with Prof Adrian Frazier on campus next Tuesday to mark the acquisition by the university’s James Hardiman library.

A letter signed by Tomás MacAnna in 1966, rejecting Kilroy’s first play, The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, is among the extensive documentation kept by the writer.

MacAnna had only recently been appointed the national theatre’s artistic adviser, and the decision was taken by his managing director, Ernest Blythe, Kilroy told The Irish Timesthis week.

“So MacAnna’s carefully worded note said that the Abbey could not accept the play . . . not yet,” he recalled.

The play, which dealt with the reaction of several men at an all-night drinking session to a homosexual in their midst, was a success two years later at the 1968 Dublin Theatre Festival, and was subsequently staged by the Abbey in 1989, and as a rehearsed reading in the Peacock two years ago to mark the 80th birthday of Brian Friel.

“Blythe is usually painted as the ogre of Irish theatre, but he did give me a lot of encouragement,” Kilroy said.

“That play dealt with a sensitive subject at the time, but I remember my parents were very supportive. My father was a Garda sergeant, and he told me a couple of stories afterwards, based on his experiences of situations which would have been actually more controversial than the one I wrote about.”

Correspondence from Kilroy’s time as an Abbey Theatre board member, including letters to and from other members of the Field Day Theatre Company, which he was involved in, also form part of the archive.

It includes letters exchanged with literary friends and associates such as Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane, Brian Friel, the late Mary Lavin and John McGahern.

“Like closing a door,” is how Kilroy has described the donation, but he says he is also very happy to know that it will complement literary archives already held by the university.

These range from the John McGahern and Eoghan Ó Tuairisc collections to the archives of Galway’s Druid Theatre, Belfast’s Lyric Players’ Theatre, and Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe.

The handover does not mean that Kilroy has put down his pen. Blake,his new play on William Blake, is due to receive its first reading, directed by Patrick Mason, in the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin, as part of a celebration of his work at Trinity from April 29th-30th next.

He is also writing a memoir, including snapshots of his childhood in Callan, Co Kilkenny.

The university’s librarian, John Cox, said the archive’s cataloguing was already “well advanced”, and would be open to researchers from this coming August.

University president Dr James J Browne said the college acknowledged “with pride our longstanding relationship with the writer” and former professor of English.

An exhibition drawn from the archive will be on display in the university’s James Hardiman library next week from March 23rd-27th inclusive.

The public interview with the university’s Prof Adrian Frazier takes place on Tuesday, March 22nd, at 3pm.