The work of George Fitzmaurice whose plays were staged at the Abbey Theatre in the early part of this century is now being appreciated by the wider world.
George Fitzmaurice was born in 1877 in the Bedford House, the home of the FitzMaurices outside Listowel, County Kerry. His father (also George) was a Church of Ireland clergyman in Listowel and his mother Winifred O'Connor was a Catholic. He was the tenth of twelve children. As was the custom at that time, the boys of the family were brought up in the faith of their father and the girls in that of their mother.
Following the death of his father in 1891 the family relocated to a farmhouse in Kilcara near the village of Duagh, where he attended the local primary school, and received his secondary school education in Listowel.
Moving to Dublin in 1901 George joined the Civil Service, and in his spare time wrote short stories which were published in weekly newspapers from 1900 for a period of about seven years.
His first major success was in 1907 when his comedy 'The Country Dressmaker' was staged in the Abbey Theatre. The extent of the play's popularity with audiences apparently took Abbey co-founder WB Yeats by surprise.
The commercial success of 'The Country Dressmaker' brought much needed income to the Abbey as 1907 was also the year when JM Synge's 'Playboy of the Western World' drew unwelcome controversy and caused a riot on its opening night. Gaeorge Fitzmaurice's second Abbey play 'The Pie Dish', a dramatic fantasy, was considered blasphemous and slated by the critics, and another work 'The Dandy Dolls' was rejected by WB Yeats.
Fitzmaurice enlisted in the British Army in 1916 and served with Lord Kitchener in the First World War. When it ended he returned to Dublin, having been diagnosed with neurasthenia, which made him nervous of crowds and shy with people.
In 1923 his play 'Twixt the Giltinans and the Carmodys’ was performed on the Abbey stage and eight of his plays were printed in the literary journal The Dublin Magazine from 1924 – 1957. ‘The Country Dessmaker’ was also broadcast on Radio Éireann. Some of his dramatic works were also produced during his lifetime by poet Austin Clarke in Dublin’s Lyric Theatre.
As time went on George Fitzmaurice became increasingly reclusive. He died penniless at his home at No. 3 Harcourt Street in 1963 and is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.
The works of George Fitzmaurice are now undergoing something of a revival. He is starting to be recognised as the great dramatist he truly was, says fellow Kerry playwright John B Keane.
A man who never fitted in with the Dublin literary scene of his time, George Fitzmaurice set all his plays in north Kerry, using the local people and their unique idiomatic English to great effect. John B. Keane describes his work as having,
Practical clarity of speech coupled with a great conciseness, and a tightness in his writing and in his construction.
The playwright from Duagh was not accepted by WB Yeats in the same way as his contemporary JM Synge, because while Synge wrote a poetic speech form,
Fitzmaurice wrote the living speech of the people...truly and with great force and clarity.
Duagh native Michael O’Connor now owns land which previously belonged to the Fitzmaurice family, and often saw the dramatist in the village after his retirement from the civil service. By that time George Fitzmaurice had lost interest in seeing his plays on the stage, in contrast to the early days when he emerged into the world of Irish theatre,
I don't think he was anxious that they would be produced...he didn't give any permission in latter years for anybody to perform his plays.
This episode of ‘Newsbeat’ was broadcast on 27 August 1965.