By Ned Egan
THE RECENT DEATH OF NED KENNEDY BROUGHT IMMENSE SADNESS TO THE KILKENNY POPULATION RECENTLY.
Ned was a native of Freshford and a long-time member of the Kilkenny Archaeological society. His published works include: Tullaroan, Memories of the Second Millenium(2002) With Ned Young; The Land Movement in Tullaroan County Kilkenny,( 2004); Friggers Alley (stories, songs and poems and history of entertainment in Freshford ( 2018); In Slips, The history of coursing in Freshford ( 2020) with Ned Cuggy and John Meagher : Edmund Fitzpatrick: artist and Illustrator ( 2022) .
The Kilkenny Observer , enjoyed many conversations with Ned and prior to his death had discussed his recent publication for print in our paper.
Today we print part one of Michael Egan (1895-1956) Playwright and author
In May 1938 Michael formed a Playgoer’s Club in London. The object of the club was to offer its members the means of purchasing tickets at reduced prices. He had previously formed a company to produce plays so, from his two business ventures, Michael showed his concern for the most important people connected with theatre, namely, the actors and the audience. In this new venture he received, through a letter, the private blessing of none other than George Bernard Shaw even though, because of reasons of perception, Shaw was unable to publicly support him.
In December 1938 another new play by Michael, titled TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH, was presented at St. Martin’s Theatre in the West End. This play was groundbreaking in that it tackled the thorny issue of remarriage by divorced persons. With the title of one play THE DOMINANT SEX and divorce the subject of another, it is clear Michael’s plays would not have passed the censorship regime in 1940s Ireland and there is no record of his plays being staged here.
In May 1940 a new play FIND THE LADY was premiered at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. It was described as “…brightly written….”
Michael chose an entirely new situation for his next play SALT OF THE EARTH which opened on Thursday, July 9, 1942 at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand in the West End. It was set in Normandy during the war, ongoing at that time, showing the pressure brought to bear on a French family by the Nazi occupation. One critic wrote: “It suggests authenticity” but added: “It would be even more exciting if it were not quite so long.”
It is noticeable now that this was the second play by Michael to actually premiere in the West End which was a tribute to his drawing power.
We have to wait until September 1943 to hear of Michael again when his play PAINTED LADIES was produced at the Empire Theatre in PENGE in south east London. A critic wrote: “….. Taken as an innocuous piece of light-hearted Irish banter, it certainly has its merits. Much of the dialogue is delightfully racy of the soil and the author has built up a fine character in the free and easy manservant who is seldom off the stage……”
This part was specially written for the Irish-born actor Arthur Sinclair. They proved a productive team as it was the second time that Michael created a role for him.
We jump to 1947 to hear from Michael again. In August it was announced that his play CUPID IN CLOVER would be staged at the Empire Theatre in Peterborough. Described as a “clever comedy,” the newspaper report was headlined as a “Peterboro’ Premiere.”
On Christmas Eve 1947 it was announced that Michael’s new play, BRED IN THE BONE, would be premiered in Cardiff in January and would then open at the Lyric in Hammersmith in London.
The Cardiff critic suggested that the play had echoes of Ibsen, high praise again. The theme was about heredity, environment and class and the critic continued: “…..This interesting play is remarkably free of the political bias which might so easily have clouded the issue and is a genuine attempt to set forth again a recognised problem, though it leaves this unsolved.”
After a remarkable output over fourteen years, beginning in 1934, Michael Egan is no longer heard from in the newspapers after January 1948 until his death which occurred, after an illness, on 26 July 1956. His obituary in The Stage highlighted the 642 performances of his first play THE DOMINANT SEX. His press protégée, George Fearon, wrote a particularly kind obituary alluding to Michael’s generosity to him after the war. He recalled that, anticipating peace in 1943, Michael recreated his theatre publicity organisation and then handed the job over to Fearon two years later on his return from war. In fact during the war Michael was himself a very active Air Raid Precautions warden where he lived in Hampstead in London.
In another obituary in The Times, a well known theatre and film critic, Ernest Betts, wrote of Michael’s generosity, charm and intellectual vigour: “…..To those who knew him best, in fact, he was a deeply religious man, thirsting for knowledge and of an intensely independent spirit…..”
Back home, the Kilkenny People quoted The Times obituary in its report of his death.
During his lifetime, three of Michael’s plays, THE DOMINANT SEX, TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH and PRIVATE COMPANY were published by the Gollancz publishing company, a major British publishing house of the twentieth century.
A year after his death, TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH was adapted for television and was broadcast by the BBC on Thursday, 17 October 1957. This was the second of Michael’s plays to be filmed.
Michael Boetius Kieran Egan is interred in Streatham Vale in London. He was survived by his wife Greta Ida May.
For his output of nine plays and his influence on theatre in the West End, throughout Britain and beyond, between 1934 and 1948, this Kilkenny-born man of letters deserves to be remembered with the Banims, Francis MacManus, Thomas Kilroy, et al.
• Kilkenny Families in the Great War, Kilkenny 2012.
• British Newspaper Archive.
• The Boys’ Wireless Annual, London, c. 1925, ed. Michael Egan.
• Kilkenny People Archive, Kilkenny Archaeological Society Library.
• Francis McEvoy, “Patrick M,. Egan 1843-1903” in “Kilkenny Through The Centuries”, 2009, eds. John Bradley and Michael O’Dwyer.