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Hugh Leonard

Born John Keyes Byrne
9 November 1926
Dublin, Ireland
Died 12 February 2009 (aged 82)
Dalkey, Republic of Ireland
Occupation writer
Nationality Ireland
Ethnicity Irish
Citizenship Ireland
Notable work(s) Da, A Life
Notable award(s) Jacob's Award, Tony Award, Drama Desk Award
Spouse(s) Paule Byrne (d. 2000)
Katharine Hayes
Children Danielle Byrne

Hugh Leonard (9 November 1926 – 12 February 2009) was an Irish dramatist, television writer and essayist. In a career that spanned 50 years, Leonard wrote more than 18 plays, two volumes of essays and two autobiographies, one novel and numerous screenplays and teleplays, as well as writing a regular newspaper column.


Life and career

Leonard was born in Dublin as John Joseph Byrne, but was put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changed his name to John Keyes Byrne.[1][2] For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of "Hugh Leonard" which he later adopted and became well-known by, he invited close friends to call him "Jack".[3]

Leonard was educated at the Harold Boys' National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter.[1][4] He worked as a civil servant, for 14 years. During that time he both acted in and wrote plays for community theatre groups.[1][2][4] His first play to be professionally produced was The Big Birthday Suit, which was mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956. After that his plays were produced regularly by Dublin's most prestigious theatres.[2]

He moved to Manchester for a while, working for Granada Television before returning to Ireland in 1970. There he settled in Dalkey.[1]

During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard adapted a number of classic novels for British television. In 1969, he won a Jacob's Award for his TV scripts for Nicholas Nickleby and Wuthering Heights. He wrote the script for the RTE adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.[5]

Three of Leonard's plays have been presented on Broadway: The Au Pair Man (1973), which starred Charles Durning and Julie Harris; Da (1978); and A Life (1980).[6] Of these, Da, which originated off-off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild Theatre before transferring to the Morosco Theatre, was the most successful, running for 20 months and 697 performances, then touring the United States for ten months.[7]. It earned Leonard both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Play.[8] It was made into a film in 1988, starring Martin Sheen and Barnard Hughes, who reprised his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance.[9]

In 1984 Leonard discovered his accountant Russell Murphy had embezzled IR₤258,000 from him.[1][4] Leonard was particularly upset that Murphy had used his money to take clients to the theatre and purchased expensive seats at some of Leonards' plays.[4]

Leonard wrote two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989).[1] Some of his essays and journalism were collected in Leonard's Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard was published. Until 2006 he wrote a humorous monthly column, "The Curmudgeon", for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He had a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.[10]

Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displayed an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O'Connor, he was asked if it galled him that Gay Byrne was now writing his old column. His reply was, "It would gall me more if he was any good at it."[10] Leonard was a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In 1994, Leonard appeared in a televised interview with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, an Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[11] Leonard had long been an opponent of political violence and a critic of the IRA.[1]

Hugh Leonard- Odd Man In, a film on his life and work was shown on RTE in March 2009

Leonard died in his hometown, Dalkey, aged 82, after a long illness,[12], leaving €1.5 million in his will.[13]



  • The Big Birthday Suit (1956)[14]
  • A Leap in the Dark (1957)
  • Stephen D [15] (1962)
  • The Poker Session (1964)
  • Mick and Mick (1966)
  • The Late Arrival of Incoming Aircraft (1968)
  • The Patrick Pearse Motel (1971)
  • The Au Pair Man (1974)
  • Da (1975)
  • Time Was (1980)
  • A Life (1981)
  • Summer
  • Suburb of Babylon (three one-act plays) (1983)             
    • "A Time of Wolves and Tigers"
    • "Nothing Personal"
    • "The Last of the Last of the Mohicans"
  • Pizazz: (three one-act plays) (1986)
    • "A View from the Obelisk"
    • "Roman Fever"
    • "Pizazz"
  • Moving (1994)


  • Parnell and the Englishwoman (1992)


  • Rover and Other Cats (1972)
  • Leonard's Last Book (1978)
  • A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979)


  • Home Before Night (1979)
  • Out After Dark (1989)
The Broadway production of
Da (1978) starred Brian Murray and Barnard Hughes

Screenplays and teleplays

  • Armchair Theatre
    • "The Irish Boys" (1962)
    • "A Kind of Kingdom" (1963)
    • "I Loved You Last Summer" (1965)
    • "The Big Blonde" (1966)
    • "Love Life" (1967)
    • "The Virgins" (1974)
  • Thirty-Minute Theatre
    • "The Late Arrival of the Incoming Aircraft" (1965)       
    • "A Time of Wolves and Tigers" (1967)
  • The Wednesday Play
    • "Silent Song" (1966)
    • "The Retreat" (1966)
  • Half Hour Story
    • "Do You Play Requests?" (1968)
    • "A View from the Obelisk" (1968)
  • Comedy Playhouse
    • "Me Mammy" (1968)
  • Love Story
    • "The Egg on the Face of the Tiger" (1968)
  • Play of the Month
    • "Stephen D" (adaptation) (1972)
  • Strumpet City (1980)
  • Good Behaviour (1983)
  • Da (1988)
  • Parnell & the Englishwoman (1991) TV mini-series
  • Widows' Peak (1994)

Episodic television

  • Saki: 8 episodes (adaptations) (1962)
  • ITV Play of the Week: "Come Back, Little Sheba" (adaptation) (1965)
  • The Hidden Truth: 1 episode (1964)
  • Thirteen Against Fate: 1 episode (1966)
  • Public Eye: 2 episodes (1966)
  • The Informer: 2 episodes (1966)
  • Out of the Unknown: 2 episodes (1966)
  • Great Expectations: 10 episodes (adaptations) (1967)
  • Liebesgeschichten: 1 episode (1967)
  • Nicholas Nickleby: 13 episodes (adaptations) (1968)
  • Late Night Horror: 1 episode (1968)
  • Sherlock Holmes: 3 episodes (1968)
  • The Jazz Age: 1 episode (adaptation) (1968)
  • Detective: 2 episodes (1968-1969)
  • Dombey and Son: 13 episodes (adaptations) (1969)
  • W. Somerset Maugham: 2 episodes (adaptations) (1969-1970)
  • Sentimental Education: 3 episodes (adaptations) (1970)
  • Six Dates with Barker: 1 episode (1971)
  • The Moonstone: 5 episodes (1972)
  • Country Matters: 4 episodes (adaptations) (1972-1973)
  • Seven of One: 1 episode (1973)
  • Black and Blue: 1 episode (1973)
  • Father Brown: 6 episodes (adaptations) (1974)
  • Nicholas Nickleby: 6 episodes (1977)
  • London Belongs to Me: 7 episodes (1977)
  • Wuthering Heights: 2 episodes (1978)
  • The Little World of Don Camillo: 12 episodes (1981)
  • Storyboard: 1 episode (1989)
  • Alleyn Mysteries: 1 episode (1993)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Playwright with full mastery of his craft", The Irish Times, obituary section, 14 February 2009, retrieved 16 February 2009
  2. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce "Hugh Leonard, 82, Dies; Wrote Broadway’s ‘Da’" New York Times (12 February 2009)
  3. ^ "Hugie Leonard" was the name of a character in an early play that was turned down by the Abbey Theatre, and Leonard used it on the submission of his next play as a ruse. Weber, Bruce "Hugh Leonard, 82, Dies; Wrote Broadway’s ‘Da’", New York Times (12 February 2009)
  4. ^ a b c d Hugh Leonard, The Daily Telegraph obituaries, 12 February 2009, retrieved 16 February 2009
  5. ^ Death of Hugh Leonard announced, RTE News, 12 February 2009, retrieved 12 February 2009
  6. ^ Hugh Leonard at the Internet Broadway Database
  7. ^ Da at the Internet Broadway Database
  8. ^ IBDB Da:Awards
  9. ^ Da at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ a b Sunday Independent, "Portrait of the legendary artist as an 80-year-old", November 12, 2006
  11. ^ Gerry Adams on the Late Late Show With Gay Byrne
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Filmed as Broth of a Boy (1959)
  15. ^ An adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, by James Joyce

External links

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