Irish playwright and author. With the help of W. B. Yeats, he overcame the disadvantages of his background to become a leading Irish writer of the twentieth century.
O'Casey was brought up in poverty in his native Dublin, the last of thirteen children, eight of whom died in infancy. Deprived of formal education by a painful disease of the eyes, he taught himself to read in his teens but could only find employment as a casual labourer. From 1916 he began writing plays with the encouragement of W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory of the Abbey Theatre, and after several rejections his first play, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), was successfully staged at the Abbey. Like all his best work, the play is based on the lives of the Irish poor during the political troubles in which O'Casey himself had played a minor but active part. His best-known play, Juno and the Paycock, followed in 1924, but The Plough and the Stars (1926) aroused such hostility in Dublin that O'Casey decided to move to England.
O'Casey's subsequent experience with the theatre was almost uniformly discouraging. The anti-war play The Silver Tassie (1929), which had been rejected by the Abbey Theatre and caused O'Casey to break with Yeats, was a critical success in London but a financial failure. Within the Gates (1934) was even less successful. Only Red Roses for Me (1946) achieved any critical recognition. Purple Dust (1940), Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), and Bishop's Bonfire (1955) were poorly received and are now rarely performed. The Drums of Father Ned (1960), which O'Casey wrote for the 1958 Dublin International Festival, had to be withdrawn after objections were raised about its production. From 1938 O'Casey lived in Devon, where he wrote his six-volume autobiography starting with I Knock at the Door (1939) and ending with Sunset and Evening Star (1954).
Subjects: Literature — Theatre.