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Death of playwright Thomas Kilroy

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From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Death of playwright Thomas Kilroy Death of playwright Thomas Kilroy

President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to playwright and novelist Thomas Kilroy who died on Thursday, December 7, following a short illness.

Born in Callan, County Kilkenny, in 1934, Thomas Kilroy’s roots were in Galway, as his parents were from Caltra. They had both fought in Ireland’s War of Independence and had married in 1921 while his father was in Galway Jail.

Thomas (Tom), who lived in Kilmaine, County Mayo with his wife, Julie, was Professor of English at the then UCG from 1978 to 1989. As well as teaching undergraduates, he set up a National Writers Workshop for creative writing, based on a concept he had first seen while teaching in the USA in the 1960s.

Before that, the UCD graduate he had spent time teaching in a Jewish school in Dublin and he also taught in UCD.

Writing was his passion and with 16 plays – most original, and a few adaptations – he has left a rich legacy.  In works such as Double Cross (1986) and his debut drama, the controversial Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche (staged at the 1968 Dublin Theatre Festival), he explored less pleasant aspects of Irish society.

Similarly with his only novel, The Big Chapel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1971 and which won the Guardian Fiction award

The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, which had homosexuality as a central theme, was initially rejected by the Abbey Theatre but became a hit – a controversial one –  when it premiered in 1968.   However, Tom developed a fruitful relationship with the Abbey which produced his second play, 1969’s The O’Neill, on the Peacock stage. The company revived The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche in 1972. The Abbey also produced Tea and Sex and Shakespeare (1976) and Talbot’s Box in 1977.  The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, The Shape of Metal and Christ Deliver Us! also premiered in the Abbey, in 1997, 2003 and 2010 respectively.

At various stages, he served as script editor, writer-in-association and on the board of the Abbey.

President Higgins described Thomas Kilroy as “one of the most significant of a generation of playwrights”, alongside writers like Tom Murphy and Brian Friel.

With Friel and the actor Stephen Rea, he was a key figure in the groundbreaking Field Day company, for which he wrote Double Cross and 1991’s The Madame MacAdam Travelling Theatre.

In 2021, Druid Theatre staged a revival of his adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, outdoors at Coole Park and he was present for the opening night, as was President Higgins.

His 2018 memory book, Over the Backyard Wall, a mix of memoir and fiction which dealt with his life until the late 1960s, was praised for its honesty and the excellence of his writing. Thomas Kilroy won many awards for his work and was a member of the artists’ association, Aosdána.

Pictured: The late Thomas Kilroy.

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