Sean O’Casey exhibition at Farmleigh

Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Blogging Irish History, Revolutionary Period 1912-23

ScanFarmleigh is hosting quite a few festive events in the run-up to Christmas. But if anyone is planning a festive visit, they might also have a look at the exhibition on Sean O’Casey currently on display in Farmleigh House itself. O’Casey was born on Dublin’s Dorset St in 1880, into a Church of Ireland family whose living standards declined after the death of O’Casey’s father at the age of 49. O’Casey himself worked as a laborer (poor eyesight restricted his formal education), though he was sacked from his first two jobs. Like many young men of his generation, he became politicized, joining the Gaelic League, the IRB, and the ITGWU (membership of the latter got him sacked from a laboring job with the Great Northern Railway). He later joined the Irish Citizen Army, though he broke with them in 1914, but his future was to be as a writer rather than an activist.

 

The Farmleigh exhibition runs until next autumn, and explores the themes of rebellion and conflict in his life and work: his dramatic depiction of the Irish Revolution in his famous Dublin trilogy, and his conflict with the Abbey over the contentious rejection of his experimental World War One drama, The Silver Tassie (1928). The latter ended his association with the Abbey Theatre and ensured that O’Casey went into self-imposed exile in England until his death in 1964. Yet distance was no impediment to controversy: he banned productions of his plays in Ireland after Archbishop John Charles McQuaid expressed his displeasure at the inclusion of a James Joyce adaptation in the Dublin International Theatre festival; O’Casey and Samuel Beckett both withdrew their own plays in protest.

 

The exhibition is small but extremely rich: it is drawn exclusively from the Benjamin Iveagh Library in Farmleigh (now administered by Marsh’s Library) which includes, along with the works in question, the archives of Lennox Robinson, the former director of the Abbey; O’Casey’s often acerbic and witty correspondence is a crucial and fascinating element part of but impressive exhibition, which also includes a selection of favorite quotes from O’Casey chosen by various authors including Joseph O’Connor, Peter Sheridan, and O’Casey’s daughter Shivaun. The exhibition is included on the guided tours of the house (which are free), and is well worth a look.

 

For details of the Christmas programme at Farmleigh, click here.

 

John Gibney

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