Iris na Gaeilge     November 2003           uimh 5

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When Micheál mac Liammóir was born of English parents in north London in 1899, he was called after his father, Albert Willmore. In later life he became one of those rare Englishmen who decide to assume a total Irish identity. Patrick O'Brien, the highly successful novelist and writer of sea stories and the naval life, did the same thing around the same time. Aodh de Blacam was another, but earlier on, of course.

After rapid success on the London stage as a child prodigy, and then a course at the Slade School of Art, he went to Ireland in 1917. His sister was married to Anew McMaster, the well-known actor. Micheál travelled with their touring company all over Ireland performing good-class plays and Shakespeare in towns and villages.

By 1927 Micheál mac Liammóir was fluent, and learned also, in the Irish language. He wrote Diarmaid agus Gráinne, regarded now as the chief drama of the Language and then he took the lead role in it at the newly opened Taibhhdhearc na Gaillmhe in 1928. This theatre still survives.In Dublin in 1929, with Hilton Edwards, he founded The Gate theatre. Whilst the very successful Abbey Theatre continued to concentrate on plays of Irish national origin and theme. Micheál thought that Irish people must have an opportunity to see the great European dramatists on their local stage in their own capital city. So,he gave them, at The Gate, Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw, Strindberg, O'Neill Pirandello, Shakespeare, Chekhov and many others.

He wrote plays, including "Ill met by Moonlight" and "A slipper for the Moon". He also wrote some good books: 'All for Hecuba', 'I'm talking about Yeats'. He did a number of outstanding one-man shows on stage, radio and television. Among them were 'Robert Emmet', and 'The importance of being Oscar'. He took The Gate company on many very successful tours abroad.

He was a stout supporter and admirer of the Irish language . As well as the drama ' Diarmaid agus Grainne' he wrote many books in Irish , such as 'Oidheanna Sídhe,' , ' Lá agus Oídhce', 'Bláth agus Taibhse' and ' Ceo Meala Lá Seaca'. He kept his private diary in Irish. He was fluent in a number of European languages also.

He chose a phrase from 'Love songs of Connacht 'Ceo Meala Lá Seaca' as the title for a wonderful collection of his articles and essays in simple, clear Irish, which was also autobiographical. In it we meet him in Sevilla, Berlin, Cairo with his theatre friends. We read his views on the Russian novelists, Shakespeare, and the future of the Irish language. " Rich and rare" said The Irish Times reviewer. "Intelligent, sensitive, sparkling", said The Evening Mail. It won Duais an Chraoibhín in 1953 also.

Like Donall Mac Amhlaigh later on, Micheál mac Liammóir broke with the traditions of the past in Irish language writing. He certainly brought a new range of thought and consciousness into the writing of Irish It was all an outstanding achievement for an English exile. He died in 1978.

Ceo Meala Lá Seaca' was published by Sáirséal and Dill in Dublin in 1952 and has been reprinted in paperback. It can be borrowed from most public libraries in Ireland. Booksellers can order it.

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