Carolyn Swift


1923-2002 [née Carolyn Samuel]; b. London, ed. London and Sussex; worked for the British Council, 1941-46; joined Anew McMaster’s company for the Gate Th. season in Dublin, 1947; m. Alan Simpson, 1947, with whom she formed the Pike Theatre (viz., Pike Theatre Club at 18a Herbert Lane) and premiered Behan’s The Quare Fellow (1953), and later produced Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1955) simultaneously with the London premier;

Simpson and Swift also produced the first English translation of Ionesco, The Bald Prima Donna and Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo as the opening show at the First International Dublin Theatre Festival in 1957 - the latter resulting in Simpson’s arrest at the Pike Theatre for presenting ‘a lewd entertainment’ and his imprisonment at the Bridewell on 23 May 1957, even though the play was due for transfer to the Gate at the time; the case against him was vigorously pursued by Government and finally dropped in the High Court on the grounds that the play was not obscene;

Swift wrote three plays, The Millstone (1951), on legal adoption; Resistance (1977), against fascism, and Lady G (1978), on Lady Gregory’s underrated contribution to the revival; she separated from Simpson, who moved to London in 1964; became an RTÉ scriptwriter and a prolific author of children’s books from the 1980s; with Gerald Whelan, she wrote about the affair of The Rose Tattoo in Spiked (2002), an investigation of church-state conspiracy based on episcopal papers of Archbishop J. C. McQuaid; Maureen Simpson is her dg. ATT DIH

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Plays, The Millstone (1951); Resistance (1977); Lady G (1978).

For Children, Robbers in the House (Dublin: Children’s Press 1981); Robbers in the Hills (Dublin: Children’s Press 1982); Robbers in the Town (Dublin: Children’s Press 1983); Robbers in the Theatre (Dublin: Children’s Press 1984); Bugsy Goes to Limerick (Dublin: Poolbeg 1988); Robbers on TV (Dublin: Poolbeg 1989); Robbers on the Streets (Dublin: Poolbeg 1990); Bugsy Goes to Cork (Dublin: Poolbeg 1990); Irish Myths & Tales (Dublin: Poolbeg 1990); Bugsy Goes to Galway (Dublin: Poolbeg 1991); The Secret City (Dublin: Kildanore 1991); Myths & Tales from Europe (Dublin: Poolbeg 1992); The Mystery of the Mountain (Dublin: Kildanore 1992); Robbers in a Merc (Dublin: Poolbeg 1992).

Miscellaneous, ‘The Sleeping Beauty Wakes up to the Facts of Life’, in Kavanagh, op. cit. (1985), pp.42-46; Carolyn Swift & Gerald Whelan, Spiked: Church-state Intrigue and the Rose Tattoo (Dublin: New Island Books 2002); entry on “ballet” in W. J. McCormack, ed., Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture (1999; 2001), pp.49-50.

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Maureen Charlton, Appraisal (RTÉ 1, 23 August 1987); Shirley Kelly, interview, A Touchstone of Censorship, in Books Ireland (Nov. 2002), pp.273-74.

See also Philip B. Ryan, The Lost Theatres of Dublin (Westbury: The Badger Press 1998), and Nicholas Grene, Patrick Lonergan, eds., Interactions: Dublin Theatre Festival 1957–2007 [Irish Theatrical Diaspora, Vol. 3] (Dublin: Carysfort Press 2008).

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The Irish Times - obituary: Carolyn Swift launched the theatrical career of Brendan Behan and Irish children’s publishing industry in the early 1980s; brought into RTÉ by Hilton Edwards; long association as scriptwriter with Wanderly Wagon; b. Carol Samuel, London 1923; worked with Anew McMaster in Dublin and met Simpson at the Gate, 1947; invented professional name Carolyn Swift; fnd. Pike Theatre, 1953-61; m. Alan Simpson; premiered Tennessee Williams, Jean-Paul Sartre, Eugène Ionesco in Ireland; discovered Brendan Behan and introduced plays of Beckett in Ireland; brought Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to Irish provincial towns in 1956; estab. Late-night satirical review at Pike; experienced attempted State prosecution of her production of Williams’s The Rose Tattoo, dir. by Simpson, and leading to the end of the Simpsons’ marriage; subsequently researched that controversy with Gerard Whelan, post-2000 when the State files were released; called here ‘a determined populist [...] a lousy self-publicist [...] without a single grain of cant in her body’; survived by dgs. Maureen, Deirdre and gd.-dg. Lena Cullen [photo-caption].

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Beckett’s letter to Alan Simpson, regarding a Dublin production of Waiting for Godot:

February 7th 1955
Rue des Favorites
Paris 15°

My dear Alan Simpson

Thank you for your letter. Donald Albery has now got rid of the star-obsessed Glenville and acquired for himself exclusively a further six months option on Godot. He says, as usual, that he will now press forward with production, and perhaps he will, with only himself to please. In any case I am afraid we must stick to our agreement with him not to produce in Dublin before the London opening. In other words I cannot give you formally permission at this stage to open at the Pike on April 23rd, though it is quite possible you may be able to do so. I think your best course would be to hold your horses until we get a definite date from Albery and in the meantime get on with something else. Sorry for all this mess.
  Glad to hear of your success with “The Q.F.” Remember me to the new O’Casey.

Yours sincerely s/ Sam. Beckett
Samuel Beckett

Printed in Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, et. al., eds, The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941-1956 (Cambridge UP 2011); see Gerry Smyth, ‘The Beckett Letters’, in The Irish Times (17 Sept. 2011) - Weekend Review, p.7.

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James E. Doherty & D. J. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History Since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989) lists Pike Theatre, fnd. Dublin, 1953, by Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift; first Irish production of works by Beckett and Behan; focus of controversy during Dublin Drama Festival of 1957, with production of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo, thought to contain ‘objectionable passages’; Simpson consequently arrested for showing ‘indecent and profane play for gain’; supported by Behan, Frank O’Connor, Donagh MacDonagh but not by the Festival committee or Lord Longford; police refused to reveal source of complaint in court; charges dropped, 4 July; Harold Hobson indicated in his review in Sunday Times that a contraceptive had been dropped on stage, instigated the police action.

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The Dublin Theatre Festival: The Festival was founded in 1957 by Brendan Smith. Smith was manager of the Olympia Theatre and proprietor of the Brendan Smith Academy of Acting. The Festival was established with assistance from a Tourist Board Grant and with a view to bringing the best of international theatre to Ireland and to showcase new Irish plays. The Festival was tested at the started when the directors of the Pike Theatre in Herbert Lane were charged with presenting a lewd performance in the shape of The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams - a charge which was dismissed by the High Court without interruption of the production. Smyth continued to direct the festival up to 1983 and has been succeeded by Lewis Clohessy (1984–89), Tony Ó Dálaigh (1990–99), Fergus Linehan (2000–04) and Don Shipley (2005–06), and Loughlin Deegan (2007–2011). Willie White is the current Director at 2013. The Festival has been sponsored by the Ulster Bank during 2007-11, and has subsequently been supported by grants from Culture Ireland, The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dublin City Council, Fáilte Ireland and