One of Callan’s most famous sons has died.
The Irish Times is reporting that Thomas Kilroy passed away aged 89 with his Funeral held yesterday.
Born on Green Street in the County Kilkenny town, he penned a novel and 16 plays – including The Big Chapel which was staged in his native area as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival a couple of years ago.
President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins has issued the following statement;
“It is with sadness that Sabina and I have I learned of the death of the noted playwright and Aosdána member Thomas Kilroy. Thomas will be remembered as one of the most significant of a generation of playwrights that included Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and so many others. It was that generation who modernised Irish theatre through his work with the Abbey Theatre, and as a ground-breaking founder with visionaries such as Stephen Rea, of Field Day Theatre Company. It is important too that Thomas is remembered as a fine novelist, with his book ‘The Big Chapel’, rigorously disciplined in its crafting, and courageous in its theme, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
“Thomas Kilroy’s plays, both in his original work and in his adaptations, were unafraid to cross boundaries, while examining social issues, which would not have been widely considered for audiences in Irish theatre previously. An example perhaps is “The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche” one of the Irish plays to have a gay central character.
“In his later work and adaptations, his paralleling of the decline of the Irish landed class with the Russian novel and work such as that of Chekhov was a particularly insightful contribution.
“A novelist or colleague and a valued one, at UCG Thomas made a significant contribution through his teaching and critical work, including his over ten years as Professor of English at University College Galway from 1978 to 1989.
“In more recent years, in addition to his ongoing writing, Thomas’ recollections of his own parents’ roles in the War of Independence, and the early years of the new State were welcome additions to the reflections made by so many over the last decade.
“Thomas Kilroy was a close friend of Sabina and mine over the years, may we extend our deepest condolences to Julia, his family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
Suimhneas síoraí da anam uasal.”
Etaoin Holahan of Callan’s cultural coffeehouse, Fennelly’s, has been remembering him too – listen to what she had to say to our Carol Dooley here;
While the Arts Council has expressed its deep regret at the passing of the playwright, writer and Aosdána member.
They’ve issued the following;
“Chair of the Arts Council, Prof Kevin Rafter said: ‘The passing of Thomas Kilroy will be keenly felt by theatre and literature lovers worldwide. He was one of the foremost theatre artists this country has ever produced. He was known for his seering depictions of Irish society and for revealing uncomfortable truths through luminous, beautiful writing. His was a very large canvas which encompassed grand historical narrative from both Ireland and overseas. He brought a number of figures from history such as Matt Talbot, Constance Wilde and Lord Haw Haw vividly to life in his extraordinary plays. During the Covid-19 crisis I was fortunate to see his adaptation of The Seagull (after Chekhov) presented by Druid in a striking outdoor production at Coole Park in Co. Galway in 2021.’
Born in Kilkenny in 1934, Thomas Kilroy studied at University College Dublin and taught and lectured at several universities in Europe, Asia and the U.S. He was Professor Emeritus of Modern English at the University of Galway.
One of Ireland’s most renowned playwrights, his plays include The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche, The O’Neill, Tea and Sex and Shakespeare, Talbot’s Box, Double Cross, The Madame MacAdam Travelling Theatre, The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde and The Shape of Metal. He adapted Ibsen’s Ghosts and Chekhov’s The Seagull, the latter to a setting in the west of Ireland, and he wrote a version of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. The Big Chapel, a novel, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1971 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
In the late 1980s, he was a director of the Field Day Theatre Company. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (and won its Heinemann Award in 1972), and a member of the Irish Academy of Letters. He won the Irish-American Foundation’s Literary Award in 1974.
He also wrote screenplays for television and film, and numerous works of criticism on Irish literature. At the Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards, 2004, he was presented with a Special Achievement Award for his contribution to theatre. Asylum Productions presented an adaptation of his novel The Big Chapel in his home town of Callan in 2019 as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival and his adaptation of The Seagull (after Chekhov) was presented by Druid in an outdoor production at Coole Park in 2021. His memoir Over the Backyard Wall was published by Lilliput Press in 2018.”