Sean O’Casey

A Guide to Seán O’Casey

Seán O’Casey was a famous Irish playwright and a memoirist. He was born John Casey, on 30th March 1880.  He changed his name to its Irish form when he became involved with Irish Nationalism. Seán O’Casey was no doubt a committed and dedicated socialist and was a founder member of the Irish Citizen Army.

His plays reflect the experiences of the poverty and wretchedness of Dublin slums When his disillusionment with the Nationalist movement waned, he turned to writing drama as a vehicle for change. He was the first Irish playwright who wrote about the Dublin working classes.

What was the background of Sean O’Casey?

Seán O’Casey was born in Dublin at 85 Upper Dorset Street. His father was Michael Casey who was a mercantile clerk. His mother’s name was Susan Archer. His parents were Protestants and members of the Church of Ireland. He was baptized on the 28th July 1880 in St. Mary’s parish.

From his plays, it has been assumed that the Casey family was also of the poor working class but this was not the case; his family could be described as “shabby genteel” until his father died when Sean was just six years old. Michael left a family of thirteen, and the family were plunged into relative poverty, moving from house to house around Dublin.

From the early 1890s, O’Casey and his elder brother, Archie, put on performances of plays by Dion Boucicault and William Shakespeare in the family home. He also got a small part in Boucicault’s The Shaughraun in the Mechanics’ Theatre, which stood on what was to be the site of the Abbey Theatre.

As a youngster, O’Casey had difficulties with his eyesight which created problems for his education, but he taught himself to read and write by the age of thirteen.  He was quite an active member of Saint Barnabas until his twenties when he drifted away from the church. He worked for some time as a railwayman and for a publications distribution company.

How is Mountjoy Square related to Seán O’Casey?

While living at No. 35 Mountjoy Square, O’Casey wrote some of his most famous plays, which were also set there.  During the Irish War of Independence, O’Casey wrote a play “The Shadow of a Gunman” which was inspired by an incident in Mountjoy Square.

When he was living there, his house was raided by the Black and Tans. This incident had a huge impact on his mind. “Shadow of a Gunman” was debuted at the Abbey Theatre in 1920.

O’Casey’s three greatest plays, known as his “Dublin Trilogy”, are The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926).  The plays in the “ Dublin Trilogy” were all premiered at the Abbey Theatre Dublin.

All the plays are set in the slums of Dublin and violent death and the daily tribulations of tenement life profile the swaggering bravado and patriotic bristling of men caught up in the struggle for Irish independence.

Shadow of a Gunman was adapted twice for television, in 1972 and 1992.