O'Casey and a room of one's own
Sir, – I write to commend Olivia Kelly’s good-news story on the house at 422 North Circular Road, Dublin (“O’Casey’s daughter supports use of house for homeless people”, March 14th).
For years many aficionados of O’Casey’s work have hoped for an angel (in the theatrical sense) to spring to the rescue of the decaying room where Seán O’Casey wrote his three great “Dublin” plays, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926), which brought him worldwide fame.
Every writer, as Virginia Woolf once asserted, needs a room of his or her own, and O’Casey was proof of this claim. He left 18 Abercorn Road, East Wall, in early 1920 after his mother died and he could no longer bear the company of his alcoholic brother Mick. In Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well (1949) he wrote of leaving “forever the room”, not the house, where he had lived with his mother, to go to another room in Mountjoy Square where he was taken in by a trade-union pal, Micheál O Maoláin. In that single room he hatched the plot of The Shadow of a Gunman after the place was raided by the Black and Tans.
Then he was evicted by the landlord and found the room he was to love best, on the ground floor looking out on life on North Circular Road. His friend Gabriel Fallon, who acted in all three of the “Dublin” plays testifies in Sean O’Casey: The Man I Knew how dear that room with a view was, and that over the mantelpiece, to prevent distraction O’Casey erected a sign, in capitals, “GET ON WITH THE BLOODY PLAY”.
After he left Dublin for London in March 1926, O’Casey continued to pay rent for this room, thinking he would return in a year or so. That would not happen, and yet the landlord kept the room for him just in case, as a mark of respect.
In every rented accommodation O’Casey lived in after his marriage to Eileen, he maintained a room modelled on the one back home, the same desk for his typewriter, the same layout, always a room of his own, a sanctuary and a refuge. Now the old room in Dublin will be just that for the homeless, thanks to the quick thinking of Mrs Sabina Higgins and the open-mindedness of Dublin City Council.
This happy news story is alas saddened by the coincidental death of the actor Patrick Laffan, who played in all three of O’Casey’s “Dublin” plays at the Abbey from the 1960s on, as well as taking the leading role in The Silver Tassie in 1972. He was a superb interpreter of O’Casey’s genius. Quite recently, in what must have been his last appearance before the Dublin public, he could be seen discussing O’Casey with passionate insight in the documentary film When O’Casey Met Hitchcock premiered at the Dublin Film Festival. He will be sorely missed.