Seán O'Casey: Wikis


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Seán O'Casey

Seán O'Casey
Born March 30, 1880(1880-03-30)
Dublin, Ireland
Died September 18, 1964 (aged 84)
Torquay, England
Pen name Sean O'Cathasaigh
Occupation Dramatist
Nationality Republic of Ireland Irish
Spouse(s) Eileen Carey Reynolds (1928-)
Children Breon O'Casey, Niall, Shivaun

Seán O'Casey (Irish: Seán Ó Cathasaigh, born John Casey) (30 March 1880 in Dublin, Ireland; 18 September 1964 in Torquay, England) was a major Irish dramatist and memoirist. A committed socialist, he was the first Irish playwright of note to write about the Dublin working classes.




Early life

O'Casey was born John Casey[1] or John Cassidy [2] to Michael and Susan Archer Casey in a house at 85 Upper Dorset Street, in the northern inner-city area of Dublin. It is commonly thought that he grew up in the working-class society in which many of his plays are set. In fact, his family were considered as "shabby genteel". He was a member of the Church of Ireland, being confirmed at St John the Baptist Church in Clontarf,[3] and being an active member of Saint Barnabas until his mid-twenties,[3] when he drifted away from the church.

O'Casey's father died when Seán was just six years of age, leaving a family of thirteen.[3] The family lived a peripatetic life thereafter, moving from house to house around north Dublin. As a child, Seán suffered from poor eyesight, which interfered somewhat with his early education. He self-taught himself to read and write by the age thirteen.

He left school at the age of fourteen and worked at a variety of jobs, including a nine-year stint as a railwayman. O'Casey worked in Easons for a short while, in the newspaper distribution business, but was sacked for not taking off his cap when collecting his wage packet.[4]

From the early 1890s, O'Casey and his older brother, Archie, put on performances of plays by Dion Boucicault and William Shakespeare in the family home. He also got a small part in Boucicault's The Shaughraun in the Mechanics' Theatre, which stood on what was to be the site of the Abbey Theatre.


As his interest in the Irish nationalist cause grew, O'Casey joined the Gaelic League in 1906 and learned the Irish language. At this time, he Gaelicized his name from John Casey to Sean O'Cathasaigh. He also learned to play the Uilleann pipes and was a founder and secretary of the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band. He joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood[citation needed] and became involved in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had been established by Jim Larkin to represent the interests of the unskilled labourers who inhabited the Dublin tenements. He participated in the Dublin Lock-out, but was blackballed and could not find steady work for some time.

In March 1914 he became General Secretary of Larkin's Irish Citizen Army, which would soon be run by James Connolly. On 24 July 1914 he resigned from the ICA, after his proposal to deny dual membership to both the ICA and the Irish Volunteers was rejected.

Post Politics

In 1917, his friend Thomas Ashe died in a hunger strike and it inspired him to write. He wrote two laments:one in verse and a longer one in prose.[5]

He would spend the next five years writing plays. One of them, The Frost in the Flower, was commissioned by the Saint Laurence O'Toole National Club in 1918. Both his sister and mother passed away in this year (January and September, respectfully). He had been in the St. Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band and played on the hurling team. The club had to decline putting it on because they were afraid the satirical treatment of several parishioners would be resented if it was staged locally. This eventually led him to submit it to the Abbey Theatre, but it was rejected but it was well-received. This led him to re-write it, eventually having it be re-titled (and expanded to three-acts) The Harvest Festival.

Abbey Theatre

The house where O' Casey wrote the Dublin Trilogy.

O'Casey's first accepted play, The Shadow of a Gunman, was performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1923. This was the beginning of a relationship that was to be fruitful for both theatre and dramatist but which ended in some bitterness.

The play deals with the impact of revolutionary politics on Dublin's slums and their inhabitants. It was followed by Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). The former deals with the effect of the Irish Civil War on the working class poor of the city, while the latter is set in Dublin in 1916 around the Easter Rising. Juno and the Paycock was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock.

The Plough and the Stars was not well received by the Abbey audience and resulted in scenes reminiscent of the riots that greeted John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World in 1907. There was a riot reported on the fourth night of the show. His depiction of sex and religion even offended some of the actors, who refused to speak their lines. The full-scale riot occurred partly because the play was thought to be an attack on the men in the rising and partly in protest in opposition to the animated appearance of a prostitute in act 2.[6] Regardless, O'Casey gave up his job and became a full-time writer.

After the incident, even though it was well-liked by most of the Abbey goers, Liam O'Flaherty, Austin Clarke, and F. R. Higgins launched an attack against it in the press. O'Casey believed it was an attack on Yeats, but they were using his play to berate him.


In 1929, W. B. Yeats rejected O'Casey's fourth play, The Silver Tassie for the Abbey. An attack on imperialist wars, and those that suffer from them, The Abbey refused to show it, and as a result, O'Casey moved to England, where he spent the rest of his life. The show would be funded by Charles B. Cochran and only took eighteen months to put it on stage. It was put up at the Apollo Theatre and lasted for only twenty-six performances. It was directed by Raymond Massey, starred Charles Laughton, and with an Act II set design by Augustus John. George Bernard Shaw and Lady Gregory were both very big fans of the show.

Within a few months of being in London, he met his wife Eileen Carey Reynolds and would marry her shortly thereafter.

The plays he wrote after this, including the darkly allegorical Within the Gates (1934), which is set within the gates of a busy city park based on London's Hyde Park. Although highly controversial, Eugene O'Neill was a big fan. The show was originally going to be a film script for Alfred Hitchcock. His widow described it in her memoirs, Sean (1971)

"Originally he had imagined it as a film in which everything, from flower-beds to uniforms, would be stylised. Beginning at dawn and ending at midnight, to the soft chime of Big Ben in the distance, it would be 'geometrical and emotional, the emotions of the living characters to be shown against their own patterns and the patterns of the Park.' Having got so far, he wrote to Alfred Hitchcock, and when Hitchcock and his wife dined with us Sean explained his ideas to an apparently responsive hearer. Hitchcock and he talked excitedly. They parted on the same terms, with the prospect of another immediate meeting, and Sean never heard again." [7]

It closed not long after opening and was another box office failure.

In the fall of 1934, O'Casey went to the United States to visit the New York production of Within the Gates, which he admired very much. It was directed by Melvyn Douglas and starred Lillian Gish. This is when he befriended Eugene O'Neill, Sherwood Anderson, and George Jean Nathan.[8]

The Star Turns Red (1940) is a four-act political allegory in which the Star of Bethlehem turns red. The story follows Big Red (who was based on O'Casey's friend, James Larkin) who is a trade-union leader. The union takes over the unnamed country despite the ruthless efforts of the Saffron Shirts, a fascist organization openly supported by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the country. It was staged by Unity Theatre in 1940 (later, in 1978 by The Abbey in Dublin]]).

Purple Dust (1943) follows two wealthy, materialistic English stockbrokers buy an ancient Irish mansion and attempt to restore it with their wrong notions of Tudor customs and taste. They try to superimpose upon a community with vastly different customs and life-styles that are much closer to ancient Gaelic ways and are against such false values. The Englishmen set the opposing standards represented by the men employed to renovate the house. In the resulting confrontation the English are satirized and in the end disappointed when a symbolic storm destroys their dream of resettling the old into the present. The hint that is enforced by the conclusion is that the little heap of purple dust that remains will be swept away, like the residue of pompous imperialism that abides in Ireland by the rising winds of change. The show has been compared to Shaw's John Bull's Other Island, which was one of O'Casey's favorites, but aside from a few similarities, there is no real grounds for comparison. [9]

He also penned Red Roses for Me (1943), which saw him move away from his early style in favor of more expressionistic means and overtly socialist content to his writing. It went up at the Olympia Theatre (which was the first one produced in Ireland in seventeen years). It would move on to London in 1946, where O'Casey himself was able to see it. This was the first show of his own he saw since Within The Gates in 1934. [10]

Oak Leaves and Lavender (1945) is a propaganda play commemorating the Battle of Britain and England's heroics in the anti-Nazi crusade and it takes place in a manor with shadowy eighteenth-century figures commenting on the present. [11]

These plays have never had the same critical or popular success as the early trilogy. After World War II he wrote Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), which is perhaps his most beautiful and exciting work. From The Bishop's Bonfire (1955) O'Casey's late plays are studies on the common life in Ireland, "Irish microcosmos", like The Drums of Father Ned (1958).

His play The Drums of Father Ned was supposed to go up at the 1958 Dublin Theatre Festival, but the Archbishop of Dublin George Otto Simms refused to give his blessing (it has been assumed because works of both James Joyce and O'Casey were in the Festival). After Joyce's play was quietly dropped, there was massive changes required for The Drums of Father Ned, a devious way to get O'Casey to drop. After this, Samuel Beckett withdrew his mime piece in protest.[12]

Later Life

In 1959 O'Casey gave his blessing to a musical adaptation of Juno and the Paycock by American composer Marc Blitzstein. The musical, retitled Juno, was a commercial failure, closing after only 16 Broadway performances. It was also panned by some critics as being too "dark" to be an appropriate musical, a genre then almost invariably associated with light comedy. However, the music, which survives in a cast album made before the show opened, has since been regarded as some of Blitzstein's best work. Although endorsed by O'Casey, he, at age 79, made no effort to cross the Atlantic to contribute any input to the production or even to view it in its brief run. Despite general agreement on the brilliance of the underlying material, the musical has defied all efforts to mount any successful revival.

Also in 1959, George Devine produced Cock-a-Doodle Dandy with the English Stage Company and it was also successful at the Edinburgh International Festival and had a run in London.

1960 was his eightieth birthday, and to celebrate, David Krause and Robert Hogan wrote full-length studies.

The Mermaid Theatre in London launched the "O'Casey Festival" in 1962, which in turn made more theatre establishments put on his works, mostly in the England and Germany. [13]

It is in these late years that O'Casey put his creative energy into his six-volume Autobiography.

In September 1964 at the age of 84, O'Casey died of a heart attack, in Torquay, England.[14] He was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.

In 1965, his autobiography Mirror in my House (the umbrella title under which the six autobiographies he published from 1939 to 1956 were republished, in two large volumes, in 1956) was turned into a film based on his life called Young Cassidy. The film was directed by Jack Cardiff and featured Rod Taylor (as O'Casey), Flora Robson, Maggie Smith, Julie Christie, Edith Evans and Michael Redgrave.

Personal Life

He was married to Irish actor Eileen Carey Reynolds (1928-) and had 3 children, two sons: Breon O'Casey, Niall (whom died in 1957 of leukemia) and one daughter: Shivaun.[15]

Archival Collection

In 2005, David H. Greene donated a collection of letters he received from Sean O'Casey from 1944 to 1962 to the Fales Library at New York University. Also in the collection are two letters written by Eileen O'Casey and one letter addressed to Catherine Greene, David Greene's spouse.

His papers are held in the New York Public Library, Cornell University Library, University of California, Los Angeles Library System, [University of London Library], National Library of Ireland, and Fales Library.


  • Lament for Thomas Ashe (1917), as Sean O'Cathasaigh
  • The Story of Thomas Ashe (1917), as Sean O'Cathasaigh
  • Songs of the Wren (1918), as Sean O'Cathasaigh
  • More Wren Songs (1918), as Sean O'Cathasaigh
  • The Harvest Festival (1918)
  • The Story of the Irish Citizen Army (1919), as Sean O'Cathasaigh
  • The Shadow of a Gunman (1923)
  • Kathleen Listens In (1923)
  • Juno and the Paycock (1924)
  • Nannie's Night Out (1924)
  • The Plough and the Stars (1926)
  • The Silver Tassie (1927)
  • Within the Gates (1934)
  • The End of the Beginning (1937)
  • A Pound on Demand (1939)
  • The Star Turns Red (1940)
  • Red Roses for Me (1942)
  • Purple Dust (1940/1945)
  • Oak Leaves and Lavender (1946)
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949)
  • Hall of Healing (1951)
  • Bedtime Story (1951)
  • Time to Go (1951)
  • The Bishop's Bonfire (1955)
  • A Sad Play within the Tune of a Polka (1955)
  • The Drums of Father Ned (1959)
  • Behind the Green Curtains (1961)
  • Figuro in the Night (1961)
  • The Moon Shines on Kylenamoe (1961)
  • Niall: A Lament (1991)
  • Autobiography (6 volumes):
    • I Knock at the Door
    • Pictures in the Hallway
    • Drums Under the Window
    • Inishfallen Fare Thee Well
    • Rose and Crown
    • Sunset and Evening Star

Awards and Recognition


In Dublin, a foot bridge on the Liffey is named after him.

See also


  1. ^ Bio of O'Casey
  2. ^ Irish Writers on Writing, ed. Eavan Boland. Trinity University Press, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c O'Casey, Sean; Krause, David; Lowery, Robert G. (1980). Sean O'Casey, Centenary Essays. C. Smythe. p. 1–2. ISBN 0861400089. 
  4. ^ LM Cullen, Eason and Son, A History.
  5. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  6. ^ Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. 2003. ISBN 978-0-7876-3995-2. 
  7. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  8. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  9. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  10. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  11. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  12. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  13. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  14. ^ Seán O'Casey, Irish Playwright, Is Dead at 84, New York Times
  15. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 
  16. ^ Ayling, Ronald (1982). Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945.. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-8103-0937-1. 



  • Igoe, Vivien. A Literary Guide to Dublin. Methuen, 1994. ISBN 0-4136912-0-9
  • Krause, David. Seán O'Casey and his World. New York: C. Scribner's, 1976. ISBN 0-5001305-5-8
  • Ryan, Philip B. The Lost Theatres of Dublin. The Badger Press, 1998. ISBN 0-9526076-1-1
  • Schrank, Bernice. Sean O'Casey: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Greenwood Press, 1996. ISBN 0-313-27844-X



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Seán O'Casey, né John Casey (1880-03-301964-09-18), was an Irish playwright and memoirist whose works show his socialist and Irish republican sympathies. His best-known works are Juno and the Paycock and The Plough and the Stars.


  • A man should always be drunk, Minnie, when he talks politics – it's the only way in which to make them important.
  • The whole worl's in a state o' chassis.
    • Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock (1924), Act 1, and repeated several times later in the play.
  • Isn't all religions curious? If they weren't you wouldn't get anyone to believe them.
    • Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock, Act 2
  • If England has any dignity left in the way of literature, she will forget for ever the pitiful antics of English Literature's performing flea.
    • Letter to The Daily Telegraph, July 8, 1941; published in The Letters of Sean O'Casey: 1910-41 (New York: Macmillan, 1975) p. 890.
    • Of P. G. Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts from Berlin.
  • Wealth often takes away chances from men as well as poverty. There is none to tell the rich man to go on striving, for a rich man makes the law that hallows and hollows his own life.
    • Rose and Crown (New York: Macmillan, 1952) p. 282.
  • The Drama's altar isn't on the stage: it is candlesticked and flowered in the box office. There is the gold, though there be no frankincense nor myrrh; and the gospel for the day always The Play will Run for a Year. The Dove of Inspiration, of the desire for inspiration, has flown away from it; and on its roof, now, the commonplace crow caws candidly.
    • Sunset and Evening Star (New York: Macmillan, 1954) p. 322.
  • Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness. Comedy and tragedy step through life together, arm in arm, all along, out along, down along lea. A laugh is a great natural stimulator, a pushful entry into life; and once we can laugh, we can live. It is the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.
    • The Green Crow (New York: George Braziller, 1956) p. 226.

The Plough and the Stars (1926)

  • She dhresses herself to keep him with her, but it's no use – afther a month or two, th'wondher of a woman wears off.
    • Mrs. Grogan, Act 1
  • There's no reason to bring religion into it. I think we ought to have as great a regard for religion as we can, so as to keep it out of as many things as possible.
    • Fluther Good, Act 1
  • It's my rule never to lose me temper till it would be dethrimental to keep it.
    • Fluther Good, Act 2

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