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Performing the Family: Law and the State

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Abstract

This chapter examines the performance of the family and prescribed gender roles within the constructs (and confines) of the Irish law and state. The chapter examines neglected plays by Carolyn Swift, Mairead Ní Ghráda and Edna O’Brien. The key works which I argue form the basis of this chapter study include The Millstone (1951) by Carolyn Swift, On Trial by Mairead Ní Ghráda (1964, 1973) and A Pagan Place by Edna O’Brien (1977) adapted by the author from her novel of the same name. The plays uniformly deal with the dramatisation of a liberalising national attitude towards sexuality but which also reflected the encompassing attitude of shame, victimisation and stigma placed upon women in Ireland in instances such as pregnancy outside of marriage, resulting in the subsequent enforced adoption of children. Drawing on newly released archival documents, the study of production and design of these plays, as well as the gendered public reception of the works and their authors, this chapter recovers a marginalised dramatic critique of the family within the modern Irish state.

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Fig. 2.1
Fig. 2.2
Fig. 2.3

Notes

  1. 1.

    Today, Le Brocquy’s painting is part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

  2. 2.

    Marion McGarry, “The Irish Cottage: History, Culture and Design”. (Dublin: Orpen Press, 2017) p. 1.

  3. 3.

    “Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks—1951: A Family by Louis Le Brocquy” https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/modern-ireland-in-100-artworks-1951-a-family-by-louis-le-brocquy-1.2287211 Accessed 14 July 2018.

  4. 4.

    Cathy Leeney, “Women and Irish Theatre Before 1960”, in The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Theatre, eds. Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 281.

  5. 5.

    The Millstone premièred at the Town Hall Theatre, Dun Laoghaire in September 1951, produced by the Pike Theatre Company, produced by Alan Simpson.

  6. 6.

    An Trial premièred at An Damer Theatre in Dublin in 1964. It was translated into English and presented by the Globe Theatre Company as part of a summer residency and was directed by Barry Cassin.

  7. 7.

    A Pagan Place was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 2 November 1972, directed by Ronald Eyre. The Irish première of the play took place at the Abbey Theatre on 17 November 1977, directed by Patrick Mason.

  8. 8.

    Joan Scott, “The Evidence of Experience”, Critical Inquiry, 17.4, 1991, 778, quoted in Katherine Newey, “Feminist Historiography and Ethics”, in Cochrane and Robinson, Theatre History and Historiography: Ethics, Evidence and Truth (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 90.

  9. 9.

    Kaithrin Hörschelmann and Bettina Van Hoven, eds., Spaces of Masculinities (London: Routledge, 2005), 5.

  10. 10.

    Christopher Murray, “The Stifled Voice”, Irish University Review, Vol. 25, No. 1, Silver Jubilee Issue: “Teresa Deevy and Irish Women Playwrights” (Spring–Summer, 1995), 3.

  11. 11.

    Letter from Hilton Edwards to Maura Laverty, 21 May 1954. Gate Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway, GADM_00002124, p. 6.

  12. 12.

    For more on Shields, FitzGerald and the Abbey company in Hollywood, see Adrian Frazier, Hollywood Irish: The Irish Invasion of Hollywood (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2011) and John Wyver, “Exploring the Lost Television and Technique of Producer Fred O’Donovan”, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Volume 37, 2017. pp. 5–13.

  13. 13.

    Letters between Blythe and Cassin, Abbey Theatre General Correspondence, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. For more on this see Adrian Frazier, Hollywood Irish: John Ford, Abbey Actor and the Irish Revival in Hollywood (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2012).

  14. 14.

    Letter from Ernest Blythe to Fidelma Murphy, 5 November 1959, General Abbey Correspondence, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. “It is very difficult on the basis of an audition to decide whether a particular aspirant has not only talent but enough talent to enable her to achieve success which would make acting a satisfactory career. We think it would be a good thing if … we gave you a part in our forthcoming pantomime … we could then decide whether we thought you seemed to be promising enough to be given a six-month or a years’ trial in the theatre.”

  15. 15.

    Murray (1997, 173).

  16. 16.

    Ibid.

  17. 17.

    Chris Morash and Shaun Richards, Mapping Irish Theatre: Theories of Space and Place (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 73–74.

  18. 18.

    Morash and Richards (2013, 14–18).

  19. 19.

    Máiréad Ni Ghráda, On Trial (Dublin: James Duffy and Co, 1966), 7.

  20. 20.

    Ibid., 12.

  21. 21.

    Footfalls was written between March and November 1975 and first staged at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 20 May 1976.

  22. 22.

    Ni Ghráda (1966, 5).

  23. 23.

    Morash and Richards (2013, 88–89).

  24. 24.

    Also produced in Limerick during Gemini’s summer Limerick residency were John B. Keane’s Big Maggie and All the King’s Horses by John McDonnell.

  25. 25.

    “Power of “The Trial” as Social Document”, Irish Times, 12 August 1970, 10.

  26. 26.

    Evelyn Forde and Annette Hunter-Evans were co-founders in the 1970s of ‘Cherish’. Mary Robinson served as its first president with Bishop Eamon Casey as its patron. In the 1960s, ‘Ally’ was founded by a Dominican priest, the late Fr. Fergal O’Connor.

  27. 27.

    “’On Trial’ still true”, Irish Times, 21 September 1979, 10.

  28. 28.

    Sarah-Anne Buckley, The Cruelty Man: Child Welfare, the NSPCC and the State in Ireland 1889–1956 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 197.

  29. 29.

    Carolyn Swift, Stage by Stage (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1985), 15.

  30. 30.

    Swift (1985, 62–63).

  31. 31.

    Swift (1985, 65–66).

  32. 32.

    Lionel Pilkington, Theatre and State in Twentieth Century Ireland (London: Routledge, 2001), 151.

  33. 33.

    For more on this case see Spiked! Church-State Intrigue and the Rose Tattoo, Gerard Whelan with Carolyn Swift (Dublin: New Island Books, 2002); Theatre and State in Twentieth Century Ireland: Cultivating the People, Lionel Pilkington (London: Routledge, 2001); and Ian R. Walsh, Experimental Irish Theatre After W.B. Yeats (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

  34. 34.

    Des Hickey and Gus Smith, 210.

  35. 35.

    Pilkington (2001, 152).

  36. 36.

    Letter from Carolyn Swift, 5 November 1955. 10813/384/121, Pike Theatre papers, Trinity College Dublin.

  37. 37.

    Transcript of a radio talk by Carolyn Swift, c. 1956—“Waiting for Godot or Build Your Own Theatre”, 10813/385, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin.

  38. 38.

    Letter from Denis Johnston, 10 Jewett Street, South Hadley, Mass. USA, to Carolyn Swift, Pike Theatre, Dublin. 9 February 1957, 10813/395/478 Pike Theatre papers, Trinity College Dublin. Swift replied on 15 February 1957 (letter 482) to say she is very keen to have the play and hopes rights should not be an issue (unlike many other productions stalled under rights issues) but business is going very well at the Pike, with three weeks booked out despite petrol rationing in Dublin.

  39. 39.

    10813/398/389 Letter from Alan Simpson to Louis Elliman, Odeon (Ireland) Ltd. Theatre Royal, Hawkins St. 29 April 1959. “I gather from Brendan that you do not wish to present ‘Posterity be Damned’ in the Gaiety for the Festival. I think you are mistaken, because I am confident that by the time Carol has finished ‘Fixing it’, it will have considerable impact.” Simpson continues to say that he will have to press on and find another venue. The play was eventually produced at the Gaiety Theatre, beginning 28 September 1959, to great critical acclaim. It was produced outside of the Dublin Theatre Festival as a venue could not be found during the Festival.

  40. 40.

    10813/398/411 Letter from Alan Simpson to Ernest Blythe, 6 June 1959. Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin.

  41. 41.

    Letters between Alan Simpson and Ernest Blythe, 6 June 1959, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin.

  42. 42.

    http://www.dun-laoghaire.com/genealogy/orphans.html Accessed 5 August 2017.

  43. 43.

    In previous correspondence between Sean O’Casey and Cyril Cusack, O’Casey asked after the well-being of Cyril Cusack’s own children, who were sick with scarlet fever, an illness which O’Casey said afflicted all his siblings and his own mother.

  44. 44.

    Letters between Sean O’Casey and Cyril Cusack, 18–20 February 1963, MS38, 060 / 3, Sean O’Casey papers, NLI, Dublin.

  45. 45.

    John Cooney, John Charles McQuaid: Ruler of Catholic Ireland (Syracuse: Syracuse, University Press, 2000), 297.

  46. 46.

    For more about the specifics of the context and historical evolution of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and related contexts for regional Homes, see “Commemorating the Irish Revolution: Disremembering and Remembering the Women and Children of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home” by Sarah-Anne Buckley and John Cunningham, in Women and the Irish Revolution: Feminism, Activism, Violence ed. By Linda Connolly (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2020).

  47. 47.

    Cooney (2000, 246).

  48. 48.

    Moira J. Maguire, “Foreign Adoptions and the Evolution of Irish Adoption Policy, 1945–52, Journal of Social History, Winter, 2002, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 2002), 394.

  49. 49.

    Programme, The Millstone by Carolyn Swift. 1951. Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway.

  50. 50.

    Programme, The Millstone, Pike Theatre Company, 1951. Carolyn Swift Archive, NUI Galway.

  51. 51.

    James McKenna, The Scatterin’, Prompt Script, Simpson Papers, JHL, NUI Galway, 19–20.

  52. 52.

    Carolyn Swift, The Millstone, AIII (1951, unpublished, copy in possession of the author), 18.

  53. 53.

    Maria Luddy, “Gender and Irish History”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History, edited by Alvin Jackson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 201.

  54. 54.

    Swift (1985, 92–93).

  55. 55.

    Swift (1985, 92).

  56. 56.

    Swift (1985, 94).

  57. 57.

    “Child Adoption Theme of Pike’s Theatre’s Play”, Irish Times, 5 September 1951, 3.

  58. 58.

    Irish Press, 5 September 1951.

  59. 59.

    Anna McMullan, “Irish Women Playwrights since 1958”, in British and Irish Women Dramatists since 1958: A Critical Handbook, Trevor R. Griffith and Margaret Llewellyn-Jones, eds. (Open University Press, 1993), 111.

  60. 60.

    10813/387, Press Scrap Book, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College Dublin.

  61. 61.

    Carole Holohan, “Catholic Youth Clubs in the Sixties”, in Adolescence in Modern Irish History, Catherine Cox and Susannah Riordan, eds. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 182.

  62. 62.

    The Sunday Press, 9 September 1951, 10813/387, Pike Theatre Papers, Press Scrap Book, Trinity College Dublin.

  63. 63.

    10813/387, Pike Theatre Papers, Press Scrap Book, Trinity College Dublin.

  64. 64.

    Transcript of a radio talk by Carolyn Swift, c. 1956—“Waiting for Godot or Build Your Own Theatre”, 10813/385, Pike Theatre Papers, Trinity College, Dublin.

  65. 65.

    Edna O’Brien, Mother Ireland (Middlesex: Penguin, 1979), 11.

  66. 66.

    In 1954, John A. Costello led a Fine Gael-Labour-Clann na Tamhlan coalition until 1957. From 1973–1977 Liam Cosgrave led a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government.

  67. 67.

    The Role of Irish Women in the Writings of Edna O’Brien, Helen Thompson, ed. (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), iii.

  68. 68.

    “Irish literary giant coming to Babel”, The Buffalo News, 22 March 2017. http://buffalonews.com/2017/03/22/irish-literary-giant-coming-babel/ Accessed 14 September 2017.

  69. 69.

    Helen Thompson, The Role of Irish Women in the Writings of Edna O’Brien: Mothering the Continuation of the Irish Nation (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), 5.

  70. 70.

    The report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland was published on 12 January 2021: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/d4b3d-final-report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes/?referrer=http://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/2f291-final-report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes/ Accessed 16 January 2021.

  71. 71.

    Rebecca Pelan, “Edna O’Brien’s ‘Stage-Irish’ Persona: An ‘Act’ of Resistance”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jul., 1993), 71.

  72. 72.

    O’Connor (2005, 474).

  73. 73.

    Colletta, Lisa, and O’Connor, Maureen, eds., Wild Colonial Girl, Essays on Edna O’Brien (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press), 2006. 12.

  74. 74.

    Ibid.

  75. 75.

    Eyre had successes in recent years prior to the O’Brien production with a Tony Award nomination as Best Director for his 1975 production of London Assurance, originally the first major success written by Dion Boucicault in 1841.

  76. 76.

    Tipperary-born and UK-based designer, Sean Kenny, died suddenly at age forty-three in 1973, just before his last work on The King of Friday’s Men was to go into production at the Abbey Theatre. His designs had already been completed. His many sets in London included those for Oliver, The Hostage, Uncle Vanya (with Laurence Olivier) and Hamlet (with Peter O’Toole).

  77. 77.

    The London production of A Pagan Place also was one of the first major stage roles for future Academy Award winner, Brenda Fricker, who played the role of ‘Emma’ in the play.

  78. 78.

    John Ryan, 35.

  79. 79.

    MS 36, 252/8, Letter from John Wilson Haire to D.E.S. Maxwell, 17 November 1972. D.E.S. Maxwell Papers, NLI, Dublin.

  80. 80.

    Ibid.

  81. 81.

    “Edna O’Brien Play”, Irish Times, 6 November 1972, 10.

  82. 82.

    Ibid.

  83. 83.

    Ibid.

  84. 84.

    Abbey Theatre. Correspondence: Publicity / Public Affairs re: Correspondence and publicity documents regarding the production of “A Pagan Place”. 1977–1977. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, ADM_00001181, p. 34.

  85. 85.

    Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Dublin, 12 January 2021: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/d4b3d-final-report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes/. Chapter 9, page 32.

  86. 86.

    Final Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Dublin, 12 January 2021: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/d4b3d-final-report-of-the-commission-of-investigation-into-mother-and-baby-homes/. Part V, Archives, page 62.

  87. 87.

    Correspondence between Edna O’Brien and Tomás Mac Anna, Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway ADM_00000135, p. 1.

  88. 88.

    Abbey Theatre. Programming / Planning re: Correspondence between the Abbey Theatre and Edna O’ Brien, 10 Carlyle Square, London, regarding the adaptation of her novel, ‘The Country Girls’. Correspondence also relates to the production of ‘A Pagan Place, 1974–1975. 1974–1978. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, ADM_00000135, p. 5.

  89. 89.

    Ibid., p. 6.

  90. 90.

    “Edna’s play for Abbey production”, Evening Press, 6 November 1977, Abbey Theatre. A Pagan Place, 17 Nov 1977 [press cuttings]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, 2702_PC_0001, p. 2.

  91. 91.

    Ibid., p. 2.

  92. 92.

    “An Irishman’s Diary”, Irish Times, 10 November 1977, Abbey Theatre. A Pagan Place, 17 November 1977 [press cuttings]. Abbey Theatre Digital Archive at National University of Ireland, Galway, 2702_PC_0001, p. 4.

  93. 93.

    O’Brien (1979, 87).

  94. 94.

    Edna O’Brien, A Pagan Place: A Play (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 9.

  95. 95.

    James Joyce, Ulysses (Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922) https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4300/4300-h/4300-h.htm. Accessed 24 March 2021.

  96. 96.

    John McGahern, Memoir (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), 1.

  97. 97.

    For more detailed examination of this scene and its exploration of rhyme, sexual potency and of father-son relationships, see Musical Allusions in the Works of James Joyce: Early Poetry through Ulysses by Zack R. Bowen (New York: State University of New York Press, 1974).

  98. 98.

    O’Brien (1973, 9).

  99. 99.

    James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 41.

  100. 100.

    O’Brien (1973, 11).

  101. 101.

    O’Brien (1973, 13).

  102. 102.

    Ibid., 13.

  103. 103.

    Ibid., 13.

  104. 104.

    Katie Roche written by Teresa Deevy was first produced at the Abbey Theatre by Hugh Hunt in 1933. Waterford-born Deevy was one of the most successful playwrights at the Abbey Theatre during the 1930s but her relationship with the Abbey broke down as her contract, as recorded in the minutes of the Board of the Abbey Theatre, was recommended to be let lapse. The minutes from the meeting held 28 April 1939 record: “The Board decided against the production of ‘Holiday House’ and agreed that the contract with Miss Deevy should be allowed to lapse.” Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, NUI Galway. https://digital.library.nuigalway.ie/islandora/object/nuigalway%3Aa25629b6-65ab-4d2d-8b31-74695205cad3 Accessed 11 October 2017.

  105. 105.

    O’Brien (1973, 14).

  106. 106.

    O’Brien (1973, 23).

  107. 107.

    O Brien (1973, 23–24).

  108. 108.

    The Constitution of Ireland. https://www.constitution.ie/AttachmentDownload.ashx?mid=ee219062-2178-e211-a5a0-005056a32ee4 Accessed 11 October 2020.

  109. 109.

    O’Brien (1973, 24).

  110. 110.

    O’Brien (1973, 44).

  111. 111.

    Luke1: 46–55: The verse in full is known as ‘Song of Mary’, presenting Mary as a dutiful and humble servant of Christ:VerseVerse My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

  112. 112.

    James M. Smith, Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

  113. 113.

    O’Brien (1973, 51).

  114. 114.

    Ibid.

  115. 115.

    O’Brien (1973, 64).

  116. 116.

    Cathy Leeney, “Women and Irish Theatre before 1960”, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Drama, Chris Morash and Nicholas Grene, eds. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 271.

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Houlihan, B. (2021). Performing the Family: Law and the State. In: Theatre and Archival Memory. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-74548-6_2

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