Northern Ireland

Tributes to acclaimed Irish playwright and author Thomas Kilroy

Thomas Kilroy was one of Ireland's most celebrated authors and playwrights. Picture, The Lilliput Press
Thomas Kilroy was one of Ireland's most celebrated authors and playwrights. Picture, The Lilliput Press Thomas Kilroy was one of Ireland's most celebrated authors and playwrights. Picture, The Lilliput Press

THE Irish Arts Council has led tributes after the death of Thomas Kilroy (89), one of Ireland’s most celebrated playwrights.

Born in Kilkenny in 1934, his many plays included The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, The O’Neill, Tea and Sex and Shakespeare as well as Double Cross.

His funeral and cremation was held on Sunday in Shannon Crematorium, with those attending including the actor Stephen Rea and theatre director Patrick Mason.

A member of Aosdána (a prestigious association of artists in Ireland), he had also been a professor of English at the University of Galway.

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During the 1980s, he was a board member of Derry’s Field Day Theatre Company, which was founded by Rea and fellow playwright Brian Friel.

Other works included adaptations of Ibsen’s Ghosts and Chekov’s The Seagull, which he relocated to the west of Ireland.

His novel, The Big Chapel, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1971 and had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

A production of Thomas Kilroy's Double Cross was staged in Belfast's Lyric Theatre in 2018.
A production of Thomas Kilroy's Double Cross was staged in Belfast's Lyric Theatre in 2018. A production of Thomas Kilroy's Double Cross was staged in Belfast's Lyric Theatre in 2018.

Writing screenplays for television and film, he was presented with a Special Achievement Award for his contribution to theatre at the Irish Times/ESB Theatre Awards in 2004, while his memoir Over the Backyard Wall was published by Lilliput Press in 2018.

Chair of the Arts Council, Professor Kevin Rafter, said: “The passing of Thomas Kilroy will be keenly felt by theatre and literature lovers worldwide. He was one of the foremost theatre artists this country has ever produced.  

“He was known for his seering depictions of Irish society and for revealing uncomfortable truths through luminous, beautiful writing.

“His was a very large canvas which encompassed grand historical narrative from both Ireland and overseas.

“He brought a number of figures from history such as Matt Talbot, Constance Wilde and Lord Haw Haw vividly to life in his extraordinary plays.  During the Covid-19 crisis I was fortunate to see his adaptation of The Seagull (after Chekhov) presented by Druid in a striking outdoor production at Coole Park in Co. Galway in 2021.”

The Irish Times report that in 2011, Trinity College Professor Nicholas Greene praised Kilroy for his groundbreaking work in modernising Irish theatre.

This included his 1968 breakthrough, The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, which became “the first Irish play to have a gay figure as a central character”.

He added that as well as bringing modernist techniques into Irish theatre, he had also been “a critic and a dramatiser and an observer of modern Irish life and what has made us what we are”.