Sean O’Casey, Rose and Crown

  • Liam Harte


Sean O’Casey (1880–1964) was at once a compulsive and a hesitant self-portraitist. Six volumes of autobiography, written over a period of 25 years and published between 1939 and 1954, testify to a protracted obsession with textual self-definition. Yet in his written comments on these works he was reluctant to use the term ‘autobiography’, preferring instead synonyms such as ‘reveries’ and ‘biographical sketches’.1 Such semantic scepticism points to the experimental nature of O’Casey’s autobiographical writings, further signified by his use of third-person narration and a protean protagonist who is variously ‘Johnny Casside’, ‘Irish Jack’, ‘Sean O’Cathasaigh’ and, finally, ‘Sean O’Casey’. Being disquieting and provocative was, of course, part of the playwright’s mission in life. His celebrated Dublin trilogy — The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926) — was inspired by his fierce and often fractious involvement with the enmeshed politics of Irish language revival, trade unionism, socialism and nationalism, which began with his joining the Gaelic League in 1906. The Dublin premier of the Plough outraged nationalist audiences in February 1926 and within weeks O’Casey had departed for London to attend a performance of Juno and collect the Hawthornden Prize. Although he fully intended to return, his exile became permanent after his next play, The Silver Tassie, was rejected by Yeats and the Abbey Theatre in 1928.2 In 1938 O’Casey moved to Totnes in Devon with his actress wife Eileen and family. Sixteen years later they relocated to Torquay, where he died in September 1964.


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  1. 1.
    Michael Kenneally, Portraying the Self: Sean O’Casey and the Art of Autobiography (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988), p. 237, n.6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Christopher Murray, Sean O’Casey: Writer at Work, A Biography (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2004), pp. 183 ff.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Cited in Ronald R Ayling, ‘The Origin and Evolution of a Dublin Epic’, in Robert G. Lowery (ed.), Essays on Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 4, 28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Liam Harte 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Liam Harte
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ManchesterUK

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