Deevy and the Archive

Paper 2

Title: In dialogue with Deevy: Little Theatres of the 1950s

Dr Úna Kealy and Dr Kate McCarthy


This paper considers Deevy’s involvement with studio theatre practice and her interest and admiration of amateur theatre during the 1950s.  O’Doherty (1995c, p. 112) suggests that Deevy’s work was a casualty of Ernest Blythe’s “shamelessly conservative and commercial” tenure as director but, even prior to Blythe’s rejection of Wife to James Whelan in 1941, Deevy’s relationship with the Abbey was ambiguous. In 1935 Deevy confided to her friend, the writer Florence Hackett, “Something will have to be done about the theatre in Ireland. It’s appalling”.  Additionally, following the Abbey’s rejection of Wife to James Whelan, in another letter, also to Hackett, Deevy wrote, “it may be a good thing to be finished with the Abbey. Yet I love the Abbey, & their actors are fine”.  The letters reveal an unease within Deevy’s relationship with the Abbey suggesting that, while she admired the acting company, either the programming decisions, the ideology or the artistic agenda within the directorship operated at odds with her own.

Deevy’s correspondence with her friend and fellow playwright James (Jim) Cheasty, analysed in this paper, reveals her interactions with and admiration of small, independent studio theatres and amateur dramatic companies during the 1950s. This analysis adds to existing scholarship on the place and role of amateur and studio and theatre clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s (Smith and Hickey 1992; Whelan with Swift 2002; Morash 2002; O’Farrell 2004; Walsh 2012; O’Gorman 2014; Collins 2018). The paper explores archival material hitherto unavailable to researchers casting a new light on the role of non-commercial studio theatres as producing work that offered theatre-makers and audiences alternatives to the artistic programmes of the larger Dublin theatres including the Abbey, the Gate, the Gaiety, or the Olympia theatres.

How do I access this recorded presentation?

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Úna Kealy lectures in Theatre Studies and English in Waterford Institute of Technology and, in recent years, Úna’s research has focused on the work of playwright Teresa Deevy. In addition to academic publications this research takes the form of rehearsed play readings, practical workshops. Úna’s research is driven by a desire to interrogate questions of identity, marginalization, social inclusion and exclusion and to work with colleagues in sister institutions, cultural organisations, independent theatre makers, cultural advisory bodies and policy makers so as to improve equality of opportunity and achievement for all who wish to work in the Irish cultural sector. A full list of publications, curated events and research events is found here.

Kate McCarthy is a Lecturer in Drama at Waterford Institute of Technology. She holds a BA (1st class hons.) in Drama and Theatre Studies and English, and an MA (1st class hons.) in Drama and Theatre Studies from University College Cork. She also holds Associate and Licentiate diplomas in Performance from Guildhall/Trinity College London. Her PhD research, at the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin, investigated the relationship between drama and theatre education, and applied theatre. Her research interests include: the arts and education, contemporary theatre practice, in particular participatory performance and live art, and the work of Waterford playwright, Teresa Deevy. As a practitioner, Kate has facilitated and devised numerous contemporary performance projects in Ireland and in the UK—ranging from youth theatre to site-responsive and street theatre to drama education projects. Kate’s professional profile can be accessed here.

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11 replies on “Deevy and the Archive”

Oh! I loved your style of presentation! It was great and really enlivened what can sometimes be tedious snippets of archival material. I got a real sense of Deevy’s personality (through the selection of letters- and channeled wonderfully by Una!) and how truly generous of spirit and expertise Deevy was to aspiring writers.

I am really enjoying working my way through the wonderful talks- thanks so much for all the work you both put in to make this possible!


Hi Róisín,
Thank you for archiving and cataloguing these Deevy documents, it is wonderful that they are all so well preserved and, as they are digitized, that they are so readily available. It was also wonderful to see some of the documents at the co-curated exhibition at WIT in 2016 which coincided with the beginning of my PhD journey at WIT!
It was great to listen to such a succinct overview of the varied contents of this Deevy archive; which identifies the types of documents and then offers more detailed insights into a selection of the documents. I found the description of the different drafts of Deevy’s plays and their catalogue numbers particularly helpful. I felt that your selection of correspondence brought to life Deevy’s engaging and energetic personality, as well as her interest in the work of her friends (such as Jack Yeats). It also provided a hint of the vivacious personalities of characters like Robinson (his humour) and Jack Yeats. In my focus on Deevy, huge and important figures like these sometimes become just a series of names on the page- so it was great to hear their words spoken aloud. Like you, I also find the letter, written by Deevy about herself, so interesting as she selects the moments in her life which she found significant (and doesn’t mention that she is deaf despite the huge impact this must of had on her life and writing). It is also interesting in its brevity- modestly surmising, ‘I think that is about all’…just when I was dying to hear so much more!

Dayna Killian

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Róisín, Agreeing with everything Dayna said above and adding my own thanks for a presentation that was sensitive to Deevy’s personality, to the significance of the different items within the Deevy collection and to the rich tapestry of opportunity offered by copies of multiple versions of the “same” scrips. The phrases “PP.6.98” and “PP.6.99” shouldn’t be so thrilling…..but they are! I’m planning to organise a WIT trip to Maynooth when Covid restrictions ease and H&S allow…. Thanks to all in Maynooth Libraries for being such wonderful collaborators and a special mention of thanks to our friend and former MU Special Collections Librarian, now working with the RIA, Barbara McCormack.

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Roísín – thanks for your wonderful presentation and your ongoing work with the archive. It is wonderful to hear that the collection continues to grow with the new correspondence that was secured last year. I have found the Maynooth Archive a stunning resource and I really appreciate all that you do to make it accessible. Looking forward to working more with you in the future.

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I loved this presentation, Úna and Kate! I find this research into this network of studio theatres in the 50s to be really inspiring and interesting. As you know, I am also intrigued by networks / correspondences so I think it is a super lens to bring to this material. I love how your presentation style allowed Deevy’s mentoring persona (in her relationship with Cheasty) to shine through. It is great to see that side of her and to challenge some of the stereotypes that exist about her later creative life. The material seems very rich and I can’t wait to hear how your paper develops.


Thank you Caoilfhionn,

You know, of course, that we were guided and inspired by your work with Angus Mitchell on Vernon Lee and Alice Stopford Green and also the wonderful research undertaken by your colleague Deirdre Brady in relation to literary networks and in particularly Blanaid Selkeld.

See you on Friday and a special thanks to you for all your support for this conference from the very outset!



Thanks Úna – I was just thinking we first discussed a Teresa Deevy conference in the summer of 2017 at the MIC conference 🙂
I must flag that Deirdre Brady has a monograph on literary networks and the Irish Women Writers’ Club coming out this summer (with Liverpool UP). She has uncovered so many interesting connections, projects and events from the 40s and 50s.


Dear Róisín, thank you for this detailed presentation and for all you have done for us in terms of providing access to the Deevy archive and the conference. I think it is so important that researchers and drama and theatre students understand, acknowledge, and appreciate the role of the archivist as a key one in Irish drama and theatre scholarship. As Dayna also comments, the way Deevy describes herself is fascinating, particularly that line about wasting much time before realising that “the best thing in the world was to be a playwright”.

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Wonderful presentation, Kate and Una! Loved your back and forth scenes of Deevy dialogue! Hope you continue to develop this, since it’s a great idea! Many thanks for such an enjoyable presentation!


Congratulations, Roisin, on a wonderful presentation. Your organizational skills as an archivist shine throughout! How wonderful to be in on the ground floor of locating, collecting, and archiving all these materials on Deevy. I hope my own contribution will add to the archive. Look forward to meeting you someday when Covid has lifted and we can all travel again. Many thanks for an engaging exploration of the archive!

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Thank you all for these lovely comments. This last week has been such a revelation, not just in terms of the exciting and ground-breaking research being carried out, but the generosity of spirit within the Deevy community. I am really looking forward to seeing many of you in our reading room in Maynooth University Library in the coming months and years.
A special thank you to you Eileen for donating your Deevy research papers to MU Library. We are so grateful to receive them. In a letter to Jack Deevy, Sean Dunne once referred to a student from Oregon visiting Cork by the name of Eileen Kearney. He describes this visitor as ‘an enthusiastic Deevy-ite’. We owe a great deal to that enthusiasm!


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