‘On This Day 2’ hits the shops just in time for …


It’s here! – two more years worth of RTE

Drivetime’s  ‘On This Day’ feature.


More than one hundred stories from Irish history and the Irish diaspora – almost all of them accurate, many of them stranger than fiction.

Only one is completely fabricated – and it shouldn’t take too long to figure out which one. (Hint – just check the date of transmission)

Cheap and cheerful in a bookstore near you.

Thanks to all at New Island Books.



On This Day 9.3.1931  Birth of Jackie Healy Rae 



He actually shares a name with one of Ireland’s best known journalists, the great political columnist John Healy, a noted champion of rural Ireland. Which is oddly appropriate, because the man we know as Jackie Healy Rae had similar affinities, albeit largely to his own small part of the Irish countryside.

He was born in 1931, one of six children who grew up on a farm in Kerry. The ‘Rae’ in his surname, the bit after the unlikely hyphen, comes from the area in which he grew up, Reacaisleach. He was a prominent member of the local GAA in his youth. But his prowess would be of little use to him when it came to winning votes at elections. Because Jackie Healy-Rae, as well as sporting an aristocratic hyphen, was a hurler. Now who would vote for a hurler in Kerry? Who can even name a single Kerry hurler?  He was also an accomplished musician. Accordion perhaps? Maybe the flute? Neither. Jackie Healy-Rae, always a contrarian, shared a passion for the instrument made famous by John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Lisa Simpson. He was a saxophone player.

Starting in the early 1970s Healy-Rae was a dedicated member of the Fianna Fail party, working assiduously and effectively at election times to get local supremo John O’Leary into the Dail over and over again. Under his guiding hand as director of elections and a county councillor Fianna Fail regularly claimed two seats out of three in his South Kerry bailiwick.

Then came the 1997 general election and it was Jackie’s turn to stand for the Dail after John O’Leary announced he was retiring. Except that it wasn’t. Despite all his hard work over the previous thirty years he was passed over for selection. Fianna Fail would go on to rue the day they messed with Jackie Healy-Rae. He stood as an independent, was given no chance, but did what far too many politicians are doing today, and defied the pollsters, by taking a seat. Not only that but he topped the poll. The seat has been in the family ever since.

He got lucky—though in politics you make your own luck—when the putative Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition was a few nails short of a governing tool box. Bertie Ahern’s government needed the support of four independents. Jackie—by now becoming known to a wider and not altogether welcoming public for his impenetrable Kerry accent and glued on cap—drove a hard bargain for his constituents, and they loved him for it. He arrived in Dublin after the election stand-off with a shopping list of road-building, pier, harbour and hospital construction, spiced with a tincture of agricultural grants, and job creation projects, for South Kerry.

His reward, during the 2002 general election, was a surprise call for a recount when the second Fianna Fail candidate, Tom Fleming, finished just over two hundred votes behind him. That did not go down well in Healy-Rae-ville. He was returned to the Dail, but the new government didn’t need his vote any longer, so the shopping list went back into his pocket. He did not get to produce it again.

Never renowned as an orator, his contributions to Dail debates were infrequent, and his attendance rate at the Oireachtas committee which he chaired left a lot to be desired. But that didn’t greatly bother his constituents. And he was nothing if not colourful. Among his most memorable Rae-isms are his immortal threat to pull the plug on the FF/PD coalition with the observation that ‘the fellas inside there [he was referring to the Dail] can be getting oil for the chains of their bikes.’ On his less affluent constituents he remarked that, ‘some people coming to me are so poor they couldn’t buy a jacket for a gooseberry.’

Though seen as a conservative political force he was no backwoodsman, and often adopted a libertarian, ‘live and let live’ approach. His attitude to a proposal for a nude beach in Ballybunion, for example, was ‘If people want to go without clothes, why should they be made wear them.’ When asked about the fate of Bishop Eamon Casey, he pointed out that the prelate had ‘got a raw deal, and what the man did was very light indeed compared with things that emerged about other churchmen afterwards.’

Jackie Healy-Rae, an independent voice, but a politician from the Fianna Fail gene pool, was born eighty-seven years ago, on this day.


On This Day 2 March 1948  – Birth of Rory Gallagher




He was the first Liam Gallagher, albeit with a hundred times more talent than the former Oasis lead singer. That’s because he was christened William Rory Gallagher. The William bit never caught on and we all know him simply as ‘Rory’.  In this country, if you just use his first name, everyone knows who you mean.

He was the Siamese twin of a sunburst 1961 Fender Stratocaster—Serial Number 64351—  purchased for around £100, second hand, in Crowley’s Music Store in MacCurtain Street in Cork in 1963, when he was fifteen.  He wanted a guitar like Buddy Holly’s. As a kid, he loved Lonnie Donegan and skiffle, graduated to Muddy Waters and the blues, and played the music of Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly, before he found his own unique voice. He couldn’t afford to buy records, so he listened a lot to Radio Luxembourg and the American Armed Forces Network, drifting in and out of coverage, on the family radio. Eventually, as a guitarist and, arguably, as a singer and songwriter, he would eclipse all his early influences. Because Rory Gallagher was the business. He was also shy, charming, engaging, modest, and an out and out gentleman.

Just to rewind a little. William Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal—I would be justifiably slaughtered if I omitted to mention that—but was raised in the city of Cork, from where he got his accent, as well as his first electric guitar, which, by the way, was once stolen from the back of his van, and found in a ditch a few days later.

As a music crazy teen-ager, he earned the money to pay for the Fender Stratocaster by playing with the Fontana showband, but pop music covers were not his thing and, in 1966 he formed the R&B trio Taste, along with Norman Damery and Eric Kitteringham, also from Cork. Two albums later, he went solo, and began a twenty-year association with bass player Gerry McAvoy. By 1971 he was topping the Melody Maker’s Guitarist of the Year list, ahead of someone called Eric Clapton.

In a career that lasted more than thirty years he sold an average of a million albums a year, but it was his live performances that got his juices going, and endeared him to a generation of air-guitar playing fans. Alongside Van Morrison and Phil Lynott—to both of whom lead guitar was anathema—Gallagher became a bona fide Irish rock superstar, without ever courting or exploiting that status. His check shirts, blue jeans, flowing hair, battered Fender, and passion, set him apart from the posers, pranksters and piss-artists who populated rock music in the 1970s and 80s, just as they do today.

Rory always remained true to himself and his music. He was asked to replace the legendary Ritchie Blackmore as lead guitarist with Deep Purple, and, allegedly, Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones, but opted to stay solo. Throughout his career there is little doubt that, despite his notorious perfectionism, he placed far less value on his own abilities than did his legion of fans, and music industry admirers. Sometimes you can be just a little too modest and self-deprecating.

He also had time for everyone. One young guitarist recalls asking Rory how he achieved his unique sound. Gallagher sat him down and showed him. The young man went on become Brian May, so Queen owe at least some of their distinctive sound to Rory.

Although never your stereotypical recreational drug-taking rock star Gallagher had a fondness for alcohol which, over the years, adversely affected his liver. In 1995, he was admitted to King’s Hospital in London for treatment, and while awaiting a liver transplant contracted an MRSA infection, and died at the age of forty-seven.

Jimi Hendrix was once asked who was the greatest guitarist in the world, he responded, with becoming modesty, ‘I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher.’

Ireland’s greatest guitarist, Rory Gallagher, was born in Ballyshannon—there, I’ve said it again—seventy years ago, on this day.


On This Day 23 February 1943 – St. Joseph’s Orphanage fire in Cavan



Long before the Stardust—where forty-eight young people lost their lives in the 1981—there was the Poor Clares fire in Cavan! This is a story very much in keeping with the illustrious Irish tradition of religious run orphanages, mother and baby homes, reform schools and Magdalene laundries.

It was a disaster that could so easily have been avoided, a tragedy of errors, and it cost the lives of thirty-five young orphan girls, and one adult employee, in February 1943.

St. Joseph’s Orphanage and Industrial School, run by the enclosed and contemplative order of Poor Clare nuns, had been a fixture in the centre of the town of Cavan since its establishment in 1869. By 1943 it was a grim, austere building where, on the night of 23 February, a small fire broke out in the basement laundry. This wasn’t noticed until after midnight on the morning of the 24th.

Once the alarm was raised, everyone in the building could have been evacuated immediately. There was still plenty of time to get all the girls, nuns and staff down to the street below. Instead the nuns decided to move all their young charges into one dormitory, and wait until someone put the fire out. The received wisdom at the time was that the Poor Clare sisters were prepared to risk the lives of more than eighty young girls, in order to avoid the embarrassment of them being seen in public in their nightgowns.

Two local men, John Kennedy and John McNally, took it upon themselves to attempt to put the fire out at source. They barely escaped from the laundry with their lives. McNally collapsed and had to be dragged out by Kennedy. As the fire took hold it now became impossible for the girls to be evacuated from their upstairs dormitory through the main entrance.

The town of Cavan in 1943 lacked a formal fire service. Dundalk Fire Brigade was notified, but by the time the fire tender had come from almost fifty miles away it was far too late. It appears that no one thought to contact Enniskillen fire station which was closer to Cavan than Dundalk.

What there was of a local fire service in the town in 1943 did not have ladders long enough to reach the girls in their dormitory. They were encouraged to jump. Three did so, incurring injuries, but surviving. The others, mostly younger children, were too scared to attempt the leap. A number of children managed to escape by a variety of hazardous routes, including a burning fire escape. Five were rescued when a ladder, adequate to the task, was finally found. The rest died when the flames reached the dormitory.

Afterwards there was a public inquiry, which found that the disaster had taken place due to an electrical fault. No one was held responsible. Locals, in the main, blamed the inaction, panic or rumoured prurience of the Poor Clare nuns. Secretary to the Inquiry was one Brian O’Nolan, a Dublin-based civil servant, better known as the writer Flann O’Brien. Along with one of the barristers at the inquiry, future Fine Gael TD and Presidential candidate, Tom O’Higgins, he penned a limerick which captured local feeling on the proper attribution of blame. It went:


In Cavan, there was a great fire

Judge McCarthy was sent to inquire

It would be a shame

If the nuns were to blame

So, it had to be caused by a wire.


Two of the dead girls, Mary Elizabeth and Susan McKiernan, had been placed in the Orphanage at the insistence of a local priest, after the death of their mother. The alternative was being raised by their father, or willing Protestant neighbours. The youngest orphan fatality was Elizabeth Heaphy from Swords, aged four, the eldest was eighteen-year old Mary Galligan from Drumcassidy in Cavan. None of the members of the Poor Clare order died in the fire, despite their own reluctance to leave the building. As members of an enclosed order many of the nuns apparently felt that to do so was a violation of their vows. The only adult fatality was the eighty-year old cook, Mary Smith. Rescuers found enough remains to fill eight coffins, these were then buried in a mass grave.

A fire that claimed the lives of thirty-six people, mostly young orphan girls, began to take hold in the laundry of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Cavan, seventy-five years ago, on this day.



On This Day- 16.2.1902  Birth of Delia Murphy




She was ‘The Ballad Queen’ whose voice and presentation would probably not conform to modern tastes, but, in a parallel and hazardous life, she also helped save hundreds of Jews and Allied soldiers from imprisonment, or the gas chambers. Delia Murphy may not have been Enya, but she was a courageous and remarkable woman nonetheless.

She had a relatively privileged upbringing in rural Ireland in the early 1900s. She was born in Mayo on the Mount Jennings Estate in Hollymount, in 1902. Her father, John Murphy, was one of those rarities, a returned emigrant who had made a fortune in North America. He had struck it rich during the Klondike gold fever of the 1890s, married a woman from Tipperary, and came back to Mayo. Despite his wealth, John Murphy was an exceptional individual in his own right, not least because he was happy for members of the travelling community to camp in the grounds of his newly acquired estate. This had beneficial consequences for his daughter, who learned many of the ballads that would later make her famous, around the campfires of the travellers.

Delia was fortunate, and somewhat unusual for a woman in those days, in receiving an education up to, and including, third level. She studied Commerce in University College, Galway, where she met and married fellow student, Tom Kiernan when she was twenty-two years old.


Kiernan then joined the Irish diplomatic service and was posted to London. That was where Delia’s career really began to take off. The huge Irish emigré population in pre-war London took to her singing, and her rise in popularity led to the recording in 1939, by His Master’s Voice—shortened in more recent days to the more familiar HMV—of some of her best-known songs, such as, If I Were a Blackbird, The Spinning Wheel and Three Lovely Lassies. Her popularity was probably based as much on her personality and charm as it was on her singing, because, truth be told, she was no female John McCormick.

And that might have been all there was worth saying about Delia Murphy, had Tom Kiernan not been transferred in 1941, by the Department of External Affairs, from London to Rome, as Irish Chargé d’Affaires (or Minister) to the Vatican. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and US entry into the war, the Irish legation in Rome became the only English-speaking diplomatic mission left in the city.

In 1943 Mussolini was deposed and Allied POWs in Italy were released. Nazi Germany, however, rapidly reasserted fascist dominance, and the POWs were in danger of re-capture. Enter the extraordinary Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish priest based in the Vatican City. For the next two years, he led a network which sheltered Allied soldiers on the run, and Jews in danger of being dispatched to Nazi death camps. They were hidden in dozens of safe houses in Rome and elsewhere. Delia Murphy was one of O’Flaherty’s closest associates in this hazardous enterprise. When in Rome O’Flaherty did as the Romans did, assuming a variety of disguises so that he could pass as Italian. But, as the SS grew more aware of his activities, and attempted to assassinate him, he was compelled to remain inside the confines of the politically independent enclave of the Vatican City, where the Germans couldn’t touch him.


After the war, Delia Murphy travelled with her diplomat husband to Australia, Germany, Canada and the USA where she continued to record and perform. In 1962, she recorded her only LP, The Queen of Connemara, in New York. Two years after the death of her husband, she returned to Ireland, and lived in Chapelizod outside Dublin. She died there in 1971 at the age of sixty-nine.

Delia Murphy, friend of the Irish traveller, ballad singer, and audaciously altruistic people smuggler, was born one hundred and sixteen years ago, on this day.



On This Day 9.2.1983 Kidnapping of Shergar




Would the name Cresswell mean anything to you? If it does, perhaps you should keep that to yourself, in case you become implicated in one of the greatest unsolved crimes in Irish history.

The main victim, who probably lost his life, was one of the most successful athletes of the 1980s, winning the blue riband event of his sport by the greatest margin ever recorded. In June 1981, at the running of the two hundred and first Epsom Derby, Shergar, with a teenage Walter Swinburn on board, showed a clean pair of heels to the field, in winning by ten lengths. So far ahead was he, that John Mathias, rider of the runner up, Glint of Gold, thought he was actually winning, until he spotted Shergar up ahead in the distance.

Shergar re-asserted his dominance a few weeks later in the Irish Derby at the Curragh, but the longer fourteen furlong trip of the final classic of the year, the St. Leger, was too much for him. The dual Derby winner only managed to finish fourth, and was retired to stud. His career as a stallion would be short.

Shergar had been owned by the Aga Khan. Before the horse’s stud career began, however, he had cashed in some of his chips, and sold shares in the horse to a few very interested buyers. Shergar had a syndicated value of £10m when he began to have sex with other horses for a living. Life as an equine gigolo was certainly preferable to being whipped by undersized men. Shergar the racehorse had been trained by Michael Stoute in England, Shergar the sire was based in Ballymanny Stud in Kildare. If you wanted him to get together with your favourite mare it would set you back at least a cool fifty grand.

In his only season as a professional Dad he sired thirty-five foals. They only ever produced one classic winner between them, and that was in the lowly Irish St. Leger. We never got to find out if the next crop would be any better, because there was none.

On the night of the 8 February 1983 a gang of at least six men, all apparently calling each other ‘Cresswell’, kidnapped Shergar’s groom James Fitzgerald, forced him to identify the Derby-winning colt’s stable, and stole the horse. Fitzgerald was released around midnight, after being given the code phrase—King Neptune—the gang intended to use in ransom negotiations.


What happened next was such a comedy of errors that had Shakespeare been around, he would have changed the plot of  his eponymous play. When Fitzgerald managed to raise the alarm in the early hours of 9 February the manager of the Ballymany Stud phoned the horse’s vet Stan Cosgrove, one of the members of the shareholding syndicate. So, obviously, Stan Cosgrove phoned the Gardai. Well, not exactly, he phoned a friend, as if he was a contestant in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire rather than the victim of a serious crime. The friend then phoned the Minister for Finance, Alan Dukes … as you would. Dukes, probably became part of the chain because he was TD for Kildare and TDs, as we know, have all the answers. Alan Dukes, very sensibly referred the distraught shareholders to the Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan. Why not the Minister for Agriculture, one wonders, surely he would have more to do with horses.

Anyway, after the gang was safely home, having breakfast, and looking forward to reading about their exploits in the morning papers, before making that all important first call, someone told the cops.


That was when Chief Superintendent James Murphy got involved. Here was a man who knew he was a detective, because he wore a trilby hat. During one press interview Chief Superintendent Murphy is supposed to have uttered the immortal phrase ‘A clue … that is what we haven’t got.’ Philip Marlowe he was not, despite the trilby. The lack of clues persuaded Murphy to act on information supplied by psychics and clairvoyants. If you made this stuff up and put it in a story you would spend the rest of your life trying to find an agent for your work.

No one ever found poor Shergar. When last seen he was being ridden by Elvis Presley in the Adolf Hitler stakes in Atlantis. The IRA were blamed for the theft at the time, this theory being reinforced by the 1999 memoir written by the IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan.

Whoever stole Shergar probably overlooked two salient facts. Firstly, horses are bigger, stronger and more highly strung than human kidnap victims. The fashionable theory is that the kidnpappers were forced to kill their victim within hours because they had no clue how to handle him. Secondly, the Aga Khan didn’t own Shergar anymore, having sold thirty-three of the forty shares in the horse. This made ransom negotiations a little bit like a White House press conference. No ransom was ever paid and Shergar has not been seen since. If still alive he would be approaching human middle-age.

Somebody finally told the Garda Siochana that Shergar had been kidnapped, thirty five years ago, on this day.




On This Day – The Birth of James Joyce and the publication of Ulysees



The second of February was a red-letter day in the life of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce. It was his date of birth, and of the publication, on his fortieth birthday, of probably the greatest novel of the twentieth century, Ulysees.

As you probably know the action of the novel all takes place in a single day, 16 June 1904, which just happens to be the day that Joyce and his future wife Nora Barnacle, first ‘stepped out’ together. What you may not know is how close the narrative of Leopold Bloom came to becoming a short story in the Dubliners collection, published in 1906. Joyce briefly considered, and then abandoned the idea.

He started writing Ulysees in 1914, as the continent of Europe began to eat itself alive. He completed it in October 1921. The content, judged as obscene by authorities in the USA and Britain on numerous occasions, made it far too hot to handle for any mainstream publisher, so the book was brought out by Syliva Beach, owner of the Parisian left-bank bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. We won’t even get started on how the novel was greeted in his native country. Oddly enough it was never actually banned here. But just try buying a copy in a Dublin bookshoop in the 1920s!

The first thing to be said about Ulysees is that it is actually very funny. The stream of consciousness technique that Joyce used can alienate a casual reader but if you just sit down and map your own thought processes for about five minutes, it all makes much more sense.

Another thing about Joyce was that if you ever came across him and made an impression of any kind, for good or ill, the chances are that you would end up in one of his books. You might not recognise yourself for the monster that you were, or you might, and then look forward to your next meeting with the short-sighted and vindictive author.

So, who is who in Ulysees?

Not much doubt about Stephen Dedalus, as Joyce’s alter ego had already appeared as the ‘artist’ in his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Bloom may have been based on a Dubliner named Alfred Hunter. Joyce had got himself involved in a drunken fight in St. Stephen’s Green, where he came off worse. He was helped by Hunter, who brought him to his home and looked after him. Hunter was Jewish and was said to have been cuckolded by his unfaithful wife. All of which makes him uniquely qualified him for consideration as the template for Leopold.

Then there’s ‘stately plump Buck Mulligan’, who appears in the first sequence, set in the Martello Tower in Sandycove which, for a brief period—six days in all—Joyce shared with the poet, novelist and future senator, Oliver St. John Gogarty. The two men fell out before Joyce abandoned Dublin for Zurich in 1904. The portrayal of Mulligan is not precisely how Gogarty would have liked to be remembered. But, as time passes, few have any recollection of the man himself, while his loutish and God-awful fictional representation remains fresh in the mind of anyone who has read the book. Revenge is, after all, a dish best served cold. Gogarty himself sought some consolation in being, as he put it, the only character in any of Joyce’s work, ‘who washes, shaves and swims’.

Joyce finally completed Ulysees in Paris, to which he had been invited by the celebrated poet, and proto-fascist, Ezra Pound. He was supposed to stay for a couple of weeks but ended up living there for two decades. Just as neutral Switzerland had been his home during the Great War, he fled Paris in advance of the Nazi German invasion in 1940, and returned to Zurich where he died in 1941. Nora Joyce, who finally married her partner in London in 1931, twenty-seven years after their first date, later offered to have his body repatriated for burial in Ireland, an offer which the Irish authorities churlishly declined. So, the grave of Ireland’s greatest author is in the Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, situated, in an irony that Joyce would probably have appreciated, near the city zoo.

James Joyce was born on 2 February 1882, and his masterwork Ulysses, was published ninety-six years ago, on this day.





On This Day – 26.1.1907  The ‘Playboy’ opens in the Abbey Theatre



J.M.SYNGE (1905)

It never ceases to amaze how far people will go out of their way to be offended. It’s a phenomenon on a par only with the numbers of those who will take gross offence at something they have neither seen nor heard, because, obviously, it is so offensive.

Take John Millington Synge’s classic Playboy of the Western World, which opened in the Abbey Theatre in 1907.  W.B.Yeats, the poet and the theatre’s eminence, said of Synge, that ‘whenever a country produces a man of genius, that man is never like the country’s idea of itself’, and he would know. He might just as well have been writing about W.B.Yeats.

Ireland in 1907 liked to think of itself as sober, steady and respectable. In a word, boring. But the West of Ireland seaboard that Synge depicted was wild, rumbustious, sexy and delightfully disreputable. This was, after all, the story of a converted village idiot who enchants a west of Ireland community by telling them that he has ‘killed his da’ with a blow to the head. Not exactly reputable middle class Rathmines and Rathgar sort of material, though it was from the leafy boroughs of Dublin that the theatre drew its audiences.

Of course Synge had ‘previous’ where the fumblers in greasy tills were concerned. This was, after all, the man who had written a drama, The Shadow of the Glen, about a frustrated Wicklow woman who ups and leaves her marriage to follow a tramp she barely knows. Even Henrik Ibsen himself, the Godfather of louche theatre, might have baulked at that one.

So the Dublin middle classes, sober, steady and respectable to a man and woman, were probably lying in wait for Synge’s follow-up to Shadow of the Glen. Just as you might allow the first wave of a headlong attack to pass through your defences, they let the production off the hook on the opening night.

By 28 January, however, a couple of nights into its run, word had got out that if you came to the Abbey you could be truly scarified by what you saw and heard onstage. Catholics could shiver at a Protestant playwright having the anti-hero of the play, Christy Mahon, utter the line:

With the help of God, I killed him surely, and may the holy immaculate mother intercede for his soul.

The prurient could cover their reddened ears in shame when Christy transgressed against sexual morality with the shocking insult to Irish womanhood:

What would I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their                shifts itself maybe …

It was the reference to ‘shifts’ that seems to have done it. A ‘shift’ by the way is female undergarment, just in case you have yet to reach the age of sixty. The performance on Monday 28 January was rendered almost inaudible by members of the audience shouting ‘kill the author’, an exceptionally muscular form of theatre review. The following night Yeats called the Dublin Metropolitan Police to keep the peace, while a young Sean O’Casey stood outside the theatre being pushed around by what he described as ‘Gaelic Leaguers foaming at the mouth’.

In the Gaelic League newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis, which he edited at the time, Patrick Pearse called for a boycott of the play, observing of Synge that, ‘It is not against a nation that he blasphemes so much as against the moral order of the universe.’ In fairness to Pearse, he had changed his tune on Synge, as on much else, by 1913. Neither did the rioters cause the play to be taken off. The run continued, and the disturbances ended.

Later, when the Playboy finally premiered in the west of Ireland, where it was set, many theatre-goers were said to have been bored by the production, their attitude being, ‘You can see the like of that any night you like in the pub’.

When it travelled to the USA in 1911 they were ready for it there too. The performers were booed and hissed throughout the New York opening, and were arrested in Philadelphia and charged with putting on an immoral performance. The charges were later dropped.

By the way, Yeats didn’t come onstage in 1907 and tell the restive audience, ‘You have disgraced yourselves again’. That didn’t happen until the sequel almost twenty years later in 1926 at the Plough and the Stars riots. The artistic riposte on this occasion was for the theatre to launch, at the last count, fifty-six separate stagings or productions of O’Casey’s classic. The Playboy can’t be too far short of that

John Millington Synge’s Playboy of the Western World opened at the Abbey Theatre one hundred and eleven years ago, on this day.