Walter Macken (1915-1967)


Life
[var. 1916]; b. 3 May, b. 18 St Joseph’s Ave., Galway; his father, a carpenter, died at the Somme in March 1916; family moved to St. Jude’s on Henry St., 1927; wrote first story aged 12; joined Taibhdhearc [Gaelic Theatre], Galway, at 17, acted, directed and wrote Irish plays; eloped with Peggy Kenny, eldest dg. of Tom Cork Kenny, fndr. of Connacht Tribune, 1937; lived two years in London before returning to Galway, summer 1939, settling nr. Whitestrand where he remained until be moved to in Dublin, 1948; acted at the Abbey during in 1940s and 50s, with a home at 31 Ardpartick Rd., Cabra;
 
wrote Mungo’s Mansion (Abbey, 1946), prod. by Frank Dermody, had a long run with F. J. McCormick as Mungo King; Dublin and successful productions in London and Belfast established his reputation as a skilful regional dramatist; played lead role in Broadway production of M. J. Molloy’s The King of Friday’s Men (1948); and his own Home is the Hero (1954), as the unsympathetic father-as-outcast; later filmed near O’Connell’s schools, 1958; purchased “Gort na Ganiv” (built in 1900), on Glann Road, nr. Oughterard, and wrote most of his novels there; wrote Twilight of A Warrior (1955), in which Dacey Adam is a hero of the Troubles turned successful business man;
 
issued I Am Alone (1949), a novel dealing with an Irishman in London, and banned by the Irish Censorship Board; also issued Rain on the Wind (1950) a romance set in the Claddagh, Co. Galway; his best-remembered series of historical novels include Seek the Fair Land (1959), dealing with the Cromwellian migrations, The Silent People (1962) on the Irish Famine, and The Scorching Wind (1964), concerning the Troubles, 1916-1922; his story-collections incl. The Green Hills (1956) and God Made Sunday (1961);
 
Macken made a film of Behan’s The Quare Fellow; served as artistic director of the Abbey, from 1966, in the wake of an actor's strike against the management of Ernest Blythe; moved to Menlo, nr. Galway, 1966, occupying purpose-built house; d. 22 April. DIW DIL IF OCIL

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Works
First Performances
  • A Play of Galway Life (Abbey, 11 Feb. 1946);
  • Home is the Hero (Abbey, July 1952);
  • Twilight of A Warrior (Abbey, 1955);
  • The Voice of Doolin [dir. Cyril Cusack] (Dublin Theatre Festival, 1960).
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Plays
  • Mungo’s Mansion: A Play of Galway Life (London: Macmillan 1946; rep. 1957), [ded. to his wife Peggy];
  • Vacant Possession (London: Macmillan 1948);
  • Home is the Hero (London: Macmillan 1953);
  • Twilight of A Warrior (London: Macmillan 1956); The Voice of Doolin unpublished.
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Novels
  • Quench the Moon (London: Macmillan 1948), Do. (NY: Viking 1948; Dingle: Brandon 1995);
  • I Am Alone (London: Macmillan 1949);
  • Rain on the Wind (London: Macmillan 1950), Do. (Dingle: Brandon 1994);
  • The Bogman (London: Macmillan 1952), Do. (Dingle: Brandon 1994), 288pp.;
  • Sunset on the Window-Panes (London: Macmillan 1954), 323pp.;
  • Sullivan (London: Macmillan 1957);
  • Seek the Fair Land (London: Macmillan 1959);
  • The Silent People (London: Macmillan 1962; Pan 1965);
  • The Scorching Wind (London: Macmillan 1964);
  • Island of the Great Yellow Ox (London: Macmillan 1966);
  • Brown Lord of the Mountain (London: Macmillan 1967), Do,. (Dingle: Brandon 1995), and Do., trans. as Le Seigneur de la Montagne ([Paris:] Terre de Brume 1998), 303pp.;
  • The Flight of the Doves (London: Pan 1971).
 
[See also Pan Book and Papermac edns. of Macmillan prose titles in uniform series.]
 
Short Stories
  • The Green Hills and Other Stories (London: Macmillan 1956);
  • God Made Sunday and Other Stories (London: Macmillan 1962; rep. Dingle: Brandon 1996);
  • The Coll Doll and Other Stories (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1969);
  • City of the Tribes (Dingle: Brandon Press 1997), 256pp.

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Criticism
  • Robert Hogan, ed., ‘Introduction’ to Seven Irish Plays 1946-1964 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1967), [q.p.];
  • Robert Hogan, After the Irish Renaissance: A Critical History of the Irish Drama since 'The plough and the stars' (Minneapolis: of Minnesota 1967), pp.65-70;
  • Noël Debeer, ‘The Irish Novel Looks Backward’, in The Irish Novel in Our Time, ed. Rafroidi & Maurice Harmon ( Université de Lille 1975-76), pp.106-23, espec. p.106;
  • Roswitha Drees, ‘Die Darstellung irischer Geschichte im Erzahlwerk Walter Mackens’ [‘The Presentation of Irish History in the Work of Walter Macken’] (Diss., Wuppertal, 1982; Frankfurt: Lang 1983);
  • Ultan Macken, Walter Macken: Dreams on Paper (Cork: Mercier Press 2009), 448pp. [see Irish Times eview by Patrick Lonergan, in RICORSO Library, infra].
 
See also James M. Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room: The Irish Historical Novel (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1983), Chap. 6, esp. pp.157-69 [extract]; also Irish Book Lover, Vol. 30.

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Commentary
James Calahan, Great Hatred, Little Room: The Irish Historical Novel (Gill & Macmillan 1983), writes: ‘Macken conveys the Irishness of his characters’ speech mostly through individual words rather than through Anglo-Irish syntax, as with O’Flaherty, Ó Faoláin, or MacManus. Why Macken chose to write in his particular metropolitan idiom we do not know because due to lack of scholarly attention very little is known about Macken in general. He was born 3 May 1915, son of Agnes Brady Macken and Walter Machen, a carpenter, who died early; ed. Patrician Brothers’ Primary and High Schools, Galway; clerk on the county council, became involved in Taibhdhearc at sixteen or seventeen; eloped to London with the daughter of a local newspaper editor; sold insurance there for two years; returned, and stayed acting, producing, and writing plays in Irish - which went unpublished - for nine years. His English play Twilight of the Warriors (1956) was concerned with the Troubles; he collaborated with O’Flaherty on a dramatic adaptation of The Informer, which was completed in 1952 but not produced. Of eleven novels, three are historical, Seek the Fair Land (1959), The Silent People (1962), and The Scorching Wind (1964), dealing respectively with Ireland in the 1650s, the period 1822-1847, and the period 1915-22. Though not a trilogy, the novels do share characters’ names, Dualta and Dominick, and other general features in common. Each is introduced by a “Historical Note”, informing the reader of the key facts and preparing for a nationalist interpretation. These notes are both mechanical and emphatic in their stress upon the repressive role of Britain in Irish history. The stories are romances in that the characters do not have specified livelihoods, and achievement feats of physical stamina, engage in relationships of pure love, or - where the villains are concerned - pure hatred (such as Col. Coote’s) - and live by the light of self-conscious racial bravery. The series of their patriotic adventures leading from the Cromwell repressions to the War of Independence and the Civil War possesses the force of an ideological argument. At the same time, Macken inculcates a spiritual lesson, beyond politics. This is exemplified by the history of the priest, Sebastian, in Seek the Fair Land, who travels with Dominick but is eventually captured and burnt at the stake. In dying, he appears to transfer his voice to Dominick’s mute son, a miracle which persuades Dominick that the ‘fair land’ exists within, ‘that would be the real fair land, deep down in yourself.’ (p.299). [Cont.]

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James Calahan (Great Hatred, Little Room, 1983) - cont.: ‘This psychological and spiritual discover is in harmony with the countryside itself: “Not that this physical one wasn’t fair too. The mountains were all purple-tinged and they ranged allaround him protectingly, and below him was the white sand of the shore, and the heaving sea was stained with many colours.” (299). The characters all engage in a journey - an odyssey of racial self-discovery. Each novel begins with an event registering the extremity of oppression under which the Irish people labours. Dualta Dane in The Silent People is struck in the face with a horsewhip by the landlord’s son whom he turns from his saddle, and so has to flee; he becomes an agrarian rebel. He joins Cuan McCarthy and the Whiteboys in the 1820s before being convinced of pacificism, by Daniel O’Connell in person. He then settles in Co Clare down to farming and school-teaching. In The Scorching Wind, Dominic, called the reluctant rebel’ by his brother, is “convinced” of the necessity for armed struggle by the experience of torture at the hands of the Black and Tans, and later becomes transformed into a die-hard Republican in the Civil War while his brother accepts the Treaty and the Free State. Macken’s pivotal figure is often a school-teacher, or at least bookish. Irish politicians and priests tend to be unambiguously avatars of freedom. In The Silent People, O’Connell has the attributes of a demagogue and a demigod, “There has been too much blood spilled, without need. Listen, I have called a nation into existence, all of them, not a few her and a few there with pikes in the thatch, but a whole people. I will imbue them like a years in a cake so that they will rise and swell, and become so peacefully big and cohesive, so morally strong, that they will have to be handed what they want.” (SP, 123). Dualta helps him in is successful campaign against Vesey-Fitzgerald in the Clare election of 1828. At the end, Dualta visits O’Connell, whom he finds dying, the voice going out of him. Soon the land will be silent. It is a sympathetic and a tragic portrait.[157-64].

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Mary Moloney, ‘Walter Macken’s Galway’ [Irish Times, q.d., 2001]; most of his novels written in period house outside Oughterard; b. 18 St Joseph’s Ave., 1915; f. died at Somme in 1916; family moved to St. Jude’s on henry St., 1927, with belching laundry chimney behind; acted in An Taibhdhearc; eloped with Peggy Kenny, eldest dg. of Tom Cork Kenny, fndr. of Connacht Tribune, 1937; lived two years in London; returned to Galway, summer 1939; settled nr. Whitestrand and remained to 1948; producer at An Taibhdhearc; moved ot Dublin, 1948; joioned Abbey; lived at 31 Ardpartick Rd., Cabra; purchased Gort na Ganiv (built in 1900), Glann Road, nr. Oughterard; set The Bogman around Eyrecourt, nr. Ballinasloe; moved to Menlo, nr. Galway, 1966, occupying purpose-built house; Flight of Doves later filmed; working on musical God’s Own Country at time of death, suddenly, at home, 22 April; a son Ultan continued in the house.

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Quotations
The Silent People (1962), Cuan’s deathbed speech: ‘You were wrong about O’Connell. What came of the peace? ... Smelly stinging death ... Planning, action, you see. That is the way. Not oratory. One doer better than forty talkers. The people betrayed. No leaders. What will you do now? - I don't know. Just that I will survive. Me and my wife and my son. We will survive.’ ( p.329.)

The Scorching Wind (1964): The schoolteacher, Mr Duane in is accused of preaching disafection in his school and exclaims: ‘If I have taught disaffection, I have failed, signally. How many of my pupils had the courage to rise against oppression? None, as far as I hear.’ (p.45); on finding that his own son intends to join the British Army: ‘Has everything I told you over the years meant nothing at all to you? Would I have been beter off trying to teach patriotism to the pigs?’ (p.11). [The foregoing both cited in Noël Debeer, ‘The Irish Novel Looks Backward’, in Rafroidi and Maurice Harmon, eds., The Irish Novel in Our Time, Université de Lille 1975-76, pp.106-23; p.109, 115.]

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References
Kevin Rockett, et al., eds., Cinema & Ireland (London: Routledge 1988), discusses Home is the Hero (1959), a film adapted from successful Abbey play by Emmet Dalton Productions; in production at Ardmore when the studio was officially opened by Seán Lemass; When Home &c opened in Dublin April 1959 Walter Macken was widely praised for his performance, ‘one of the greatest characterizations the screen has ever given us’ (Sunday Press); it also brought doubts about Abbey play adaptations (Sunday Ind.); produced Ardmore studios; Paddo, ‘the Goliath of Galway’, kills the father of Maura, his son Willie’s childhood sweetheart; imprisoned; returns after five years; conflict with son and daughter; tries to stop Willie and Maura marrying and Josie, his sister from a relationship with village playboy; he nearly kills another man before Willie subdues him to accepting role of responsible husband and father. (Op. cit., pp.106-07.) Note also that Macken appeared in the film version of The Quare Fellow (UK 1962); video release.

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Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985), lists Quench the Moon (London: Macmillan 1948), 409pp. [Stephen Riordan, with Paddy Rice, Thomasheen Flannery, schoolboys at ‘Killduff’, Connemara, hates father, loves mother; in love with sister of bitter enemy, Malachai Finnerty; tragic ending]; I Am Alone (Macmillan 1949) [Galway emigrant labourer; driven out of house by religious fanaticism of uncle; in love with English Maureen; drawn into company with IRA-man wanted for attack on Coventry]; Rain on the Wind (Macmillan 1950) [Mico, the Galway fisherman, his brother Tom at university; girl he loves in Galway; descriptions of storm]; The Bogman (Macmillan 1952) [Galway small farmers; the neighbours burn out Cahal Kinsella, a half-tinker and rebel against forced marriage and social convention]; Sunset on the Window Panes (Macmillan 1954), Connemara, irresponsible Bart seduces Sheila; his brother Joseph, a failed priest, sees a vision of Our Lady, and brings ignominy on the family, dies; The Green Hills (Macmillan 1956) [twenty-one stories of Galway and Connemara]; Sullivan (Macmillan 1957) [career of the son of a Galway dock-labourer as actor in Dublin, London, and New York, with an unadmirable hero]; Seek the Fair Land (1959) [Cromwellian times, siege of Drogheda, Dominic McMahan, Murdoc O’Flaherty, and Fr. Sebastian travel West; Murdoc kills Sir Charles Coote and dies himself [latest title listed in IF2]. Note Brown Lord of the Mountain (1967), in which man who deserts his bride to wander the world returns to find a dg. to look after him and begins to bring prosperity to his valley until a terrible crime turns him to vengeance] (Books Ireland notice to Brandon ed., April. 1995).

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Brandon Catalogue lists rep. edns. of The Bogman (1994), 288pp. pbk; Rain in the Wind (Brandon 1994), 288pp. pbk.

Belfast Central Public Library holds The Bogman (1952); The Green Hills (1956); Home is the Hero (1953); Mungo’s Mansion (1946); Rain on the Wind (1950); Sunset on the Window-Panes (1954); Vacant Possession (1948).

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Notes
Mungo’s Mansion, set in 2nd story room in Buttermilk Lane, Galway, with chars. and ‘innumerable children’ [see 1957 Macmillan ed.]; Vacant Possession (Macmillan 1948), 3 acts; includes Author’s note disclaiming suggestion that Galway is a city of slums, with remarks commending the building schemes of the Corporation; ded. to ‘my beloved Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe, that small idealistc theatre’.

1916 Commemoration: The Abbey theatre commemorated the 1916 Rising in 1949 with three one-act plays including Lady Gregory's Dervorgilla and The Rising of the Moon, with Macken and Harry Brogan resp. as the Sargeant and the Ballad Singer; also Lost Light by Roibeard Ó Faracháin. (See The Irish Times, Tues. April 19, 1949; rep. in The Irish Times, 12 Sept. 2009 [suppl].),

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