Tomás Mac Anna

1926-2011; b. 5 March, Dundalk; ed. CBS, Dundalk; worked as a customs officer on the Border, 1945-47, first entered a theatre in 1947 and was appt. producer of Gaelic plays under Ernest Blythe in that year [var. 1949]; produced Diarmuid agus Gráinne by Micheál Mac Liammóir, 1947; trained in Berlin and Reykjavik; dir. Behan's An Triail (An Damer, q.d.); moved with Abbey after fire to the Queen’s Theatre; directed Bertholdt Brecht’s Galileo ([Abbey] 1965), and appt. Artistic Adviser to the Board succeeding Walter Macken, with the opening of the new Abbey, 1966-68; always lamented the departure of the old theatre and the architecture of the new one designed by Michael Scott; also wrote Winter Wedding (1956), Dear Edward (1973), Scéal Scéalaí (1977), and Glittering Spears (1983), a drama-documentary based on O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie;
seen as chief moderniser of the national theatre on opposition to the Gate, Mac Anna was appt. Artistic Director, 1973-78 and again for an interim period in 1985; directed over 150 plays including some by W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Brendan Behan (Borstal Boy, dir. Frank McMahon, 1967), Louis MacNeice (One for the Grave), Patrick Kavanagh (Tarry Flynn,dr Mac Anna, 1966) and Brian Friel (The Loves of Cass Maguire); co-authored and directed the annual Irish Irish pantomime at the Abbey; his own play A State of Chassis (Sept. 1970), co-authored with John D. Stewart, triggered a one-man demonstration in the theatre from Eamonn McCann, and charges of trivialising the Northern Troubles from others; experienced failure when he directed the world premiere of T. H. Nally’s The Spancel of Death at Boston College, prev. scheduled and cancelled by the Abbey in 1916;
he issued memoir as Fallaing Aonghusa: Saol Amharclainne (2001); d. 17 May 2011, in St. Michael’s Hospital, Dun Laoghaire; bur. Bray; survived by his wife Caroline, daughters Fiona and Darina and sons Ferdia, Niall and Naoise; James Hickey and Kate Holmquist are his son- and dg.-in-law; he was patron Patron of Ballymoney Drama Festival; he is the eponymous hero of The Last of the High Kings (1991) by his son Ferdia; his wife Caroline died in Sept. 2015.

‘No apologies, no regrets, I had a ball.’


Karen Carleton [interview], in Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, ed. Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan, et al. (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2001), pp.277-89.

See Guardian obituary by Richard Pine - online.


Pól Muirí, review of Fallaing Aonghusa: Saol Amharclainne (An Clóchomhar 2001), 294pp., in The Irish Times [Weekend] (6 Oct. 2001), invited to interview by Ernest Blythe; unlike others Mac Anna is not hypercritical of Blythe and criticises the Abbey’s inadequate Irish-language policy.

Abbey Theatre [Amharclann na Mainistreach] - appreciation (18 May 2011: ‘[...] Tomás Mac Anna directed over 150 plays for the Abbey Theatre, both in Irish and in English, including plays by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, J.M. Synge, Douglas Hyde, Lennox Robinson, Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan, Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and William Shakespeare. His direction of Brecht’s Galileo in 1965 and P.J. O’Connor’s adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh’s Tarry Flynn in 1966 are famed as theatrical landmarks. / In 1967 he directed the world premiere of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy adapted by Frank MacMahon. The play, which Tomás Mac Anna also designed, broke all box office records of the day and went on to win the Abbey Theatre’s first Tony Award as Best Play on Broadway in 1970, along with the New York Circle Critics’ Award. / He wrote plays for the Abbey Theatre (including contributing to the Christmas Irish language pantomimes), the BBC and for Radio Eireann. In 2010 he was given the Special Tribute Award at the Irish Times Theatre Awards.’

The Irish Times (21 May 2011) - funeral report includes list of those in attendance with theatrical and cultural associations: ‘Garry Hynes, Patrick Mason and Ben Barnes, all former directors of the Abbey; playwrights Tom Murphy, Tom Kilroy and Bernard Farrell; actors Niall Tóibín, Stephen Rea, Eamonn Morrissey, Máire Ní Ghráinne, Barry McGovern, Tom Hickey, Pat Laffan and Stephen Brennan; Pat Moylan, Arts Council chairman; John O’Shea of Goal; artist Robert Ballagh; former High Court judge Bryan MacMahon; writer Ulick O’Connor; radio producer Séamus Hosey of RTÉ; and director of the Gaiety School of Acting Patrick Sutton. President McAleese was represented by Capt Murt Larkin.’

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