By Ned Kennedy
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
While walking through St. Kieran’s Cemetery, my attention was drawn to a headstone with an unusual middle name, Boetius. Boetius was a Roman martyr and saint. The person who bore the name on the headstone was Michael Egan. Subsequent research revealed that Michael was splendidly named at birth, with a nod to both Rome and Ossory, as Michael Boetius Kieran Egan.
In addition to having his unusual baptismal name, Michael is also credited on the headstone as having been a playwright and author. Enquiries in the city left me with the impression that few, in modern times, had heard of him; however, research revealed that, for a period of fourteen years between 1934 and 1948, the seemingly long-forgotten playwright took the West End theatre district of London by storm. It could actually be said that he took the British theatre world by storm with productions running in cities all over the country. In fact his first play was staged in Europe, America and Australia.
Michael Boetius Kieran Egan was born on 26 June 1895 in Kilkenny. His father was P.M. Egan, the former Mayor of Kilkenny, and his mother was Bride Byrne from Athy, Co. Kildare. He had one brother and three sisters. When P.M. Egan died in 1903, his wife, Bride, was left to rear five young children ranging in age from 12 down to 3.
Aged 20 years in 1915, Michael joined the Royal Navy as an Air Mechanic and served until April 1917.
After the war he spent three years at King’s College. He became a journalist with regular contributions to radio and electrical magazines writing a number of books, among them The Complete Wireless, and The Boys’ Wireless Annual.
In 1932 Michael became the press representative at the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London. It was a life-changing move. Two years later he submitted his own play to the Embassy. It was titled THE DOMINANT SEX and was based on the age-old theme of the battle of the sexes within marriage. The play was premiered at the Embassy Theatre on Monday, Dec. 3, 1934.
The first review of a play by Michael Egan appeared in a London theatrical weekly newspaper called The Stage. The critic was impressed, saying: “….. Michael Egan has certainly the right stuff for the making of a successful dramatist……”
The following month the play transferred to the Shaftesbury Theatre in the Mecca of the London Theatre world, the West End, where it opened on Wednesday, January 2. In March it moved to the Aldwych Theatre, also in the West End. By September 1, 1935 it had passed 300 performances and had “hopes of running until Christmas.” In fact it was only half way through its West End stage life!
April 1935 saw the play reach another milestone when it was presented in America. THE DOMINANT SEX was staged at the Garrick in Philadelphia in March and opened at the Cort Theatre on Broadway in New York on April 1, 1935. We don’t know what Michael felt about his new found fame. In fact one of his obituaries emphasises his modesty so it is up to today’s audience to marvel at the success this new playwright had with his first play which received 642 performances in the West End alone not to mention being staged in over 50 cities and towns around Britain over the next five years. Indeed, there can’t be that many Irish dramatists who progressed from a theatre in the suburbs of London to the West End in the space of four weeks and then to Broadway four months later.
1936 began with a return visit to the Embassy Theatre for a new play PRIVATE COMPANY which commenced on Monday, February 10. This too is notable because, again, there cannot be that many Irish playwrights with two plays running simultaneously in London which was now the case with Michael Egan.
On February 20, 1936 The Stage newspaper reported that the landmark 500th performance of THE DOMINANT SEX would take place four days later at the Aldwych in London but then comes the news which must set Michael apart as a unique first-time Irish playwright. This report stated: “The play has recently been produced very successfully in Amsterdam and Stockholm and it will shortly be produced in the Czech language in Prague, in Polish in Warsaw, and in German in Vienna, Zurich and Berlin.” Few new playwrights, and certainly not many Irish ones, can have seen such success so early in their careers. It is truly a remarkable tale.
Back home in the Marble City, in November 1936, the Kilkenny People took delight in a report taken from the Sunday Express which previewed a new play ART AND CRAFT. The ‘People quoted: “Egan is the only playwright of recent years in whom the critics have detected intimation of greatness.” There must have been great pride felt in James’s Street (the family address on the 1901 census) and Archersfield on the Castle Road (where the family lived later) when those incredible words were read.
To add to the delight, later in the month, there was further news from London when it was announced that THE DOMINANT SEX was in production as a film! The movie was made at the famed Elstree Studios and was released in 1937.
We hear next from Michael in December 1938 when a new ground-breaking play about divorce and remarriage drew the crowds back to the West End .
Part two next week.