M. J. Molloy

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1917-1994 [Michael Joseph Molloy; fam. Joe Molloy]; b. 3 Mar., Milltown, Co. Galway; ed. St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam; left St. Columba’s seminary for health reasons [T.B.], and worked small farm outside Milltown; folk dramatist, writing plays adapted from folk tradition and dealing with poverty and emigration in the West of Ireland; member Aosdána; d. 27 May; Wood of the Whispering was successfully revived in an abbreviated version Druid Theatre (dir. Gary Hynes), 1983. DIW DIL/2 FDA OCIL

[ top ]

Works
First performances
The Old Road (Abbey 28 April 1943); The Visiting House (1946); The King of Friday’s Men (1948, Dublin & Broadway); Paddy Pedlar (1952); The Wood of the Whispering (1953); Petticoat Loose (1979); also The Will and the Way (1955); Daughter from Over the Water [q.d.]; A Right Rose Tree (1958); The Wooing of Duvesa (1964); The Bride of Fontebranda (1975).
 
Plays (published)
  • The King of Friday’s Men (Dublin: Duffy 1953), also printed in T. C. Trewin, ed., Play of the Year (London: Paul Elek 1949), pp.307-436;
  • The Paddy Pedlar (Dublin: Duffy 1954), rep. in Grattan Freyer, ed., Modern Irish Writing (Dublin: Irish Humanities Centre 1979), pp.181-202;
  • The Will and the Way (Dublin: P. J. Bourke 1957);
  • The Old Road (Dublin: Progress House 1961);
  • The Wood of the Whispering, with author’s preface (Dublin: Progress 1961) [three acts; see details];
  • Daughter from Over the Water (Dublin: Progress House 1963);
  • The Bitter Pill”, in Irish Countrywomen’s Association Prizewinning Plays of 1964 (Dublin: Progress House; Boston: Brandon Press 1965), pp.53-80;
  • “The Visiting House”, in Robert Hogan, ed. Seven Irish Plays (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 1967), pp.32-95.
 
Unpublished Plays
Tess Leitrim [unperformed]; Knight Errant [unperformed]; The Right Rose Tree [performed Dublin 1958]; The Wooing of Duvesa [performed 1964]. The Bride of Fontebranda [performed 1975].
 
Selected and Collected Plays
  • Three Plays by M. J. Molloy (Newark, Delaware: Proscenium 1975) [ “King of Friday’s Men”, “The Paddy Pedlar”; and “The Wood of the Whispering”]; Petticoat Loose (Newark, Delaware: Proscenium; Dublin: Society of Irish Playwrights 1980);
  • Robert O’Driscoll, ed., Selected Plays M. J. Molloy (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1999), with a bibl. [contains “The Ring of Friday’s Men”, “The Paddy Pedlar”, “The Wood of the Whispering”, “Daughter from over the Water”, “Petticoat Loose”, “The Bachelor’s Daughter”].
 
Prose
  • ‘The Making of Folk Plays’, in Alison Feder and Bernice Schrank, eds. Literature and Folk Culture: Ireland and Folk Culture (St. John’s: Memorial University of Newfoundland 1977), pp.58-80.

[ top ]

Bibliographical details
The Wood of the Whispering
(1961) - CHARACTERS: Sanbatch Daly; Con Kinsella, a woodsman in his middle thirties; Paddy King, an old farmer; Jimmy King, his brother; Stephen Lanigan, an old farmer; Sheila Lanigan, his daughter; Mark Tristnan, a young farmer; Hotha Broderick, a farmer in his fifties; Kitty Wallace, a young girl; Sadie Tubridy; THE SCENE: A wood in the West of Ireland. THE TIME: 1950 [See extracts.]

[ top ]

Criticism
Maeve Kennedy, ‘Maeve Kennedy Talked to M. J. Molloy’, Irish Times (19 May 1979); Robert Hogan, After the Renaissance (Minneapolis UP 1967; London: Macmillan 1968); D. E. S. Maxwell, Critical History of Irish Drama 1981-1980 (Cambridge UP 1984).

[ top ]

Commentary
David Kennedy, ‘The Drama in Ulster’, in Sam Hanna Bell, et al., eds., The Arts in Ulster (London: Harrap 1951): ‘[…] the stage Irishman has been derided as an extravagant caricature of our national character. Yet the characters in a recent Abbey Theatre play, The King of Friday’s Men, outdid in extravagance Macklin’s Sir Callaghan O’Brallaghan. But they assumed a new credibility by being depicted against the background of the eighteenth century by a playwright in tune with the Gaelic springs of speech and action.’ (p.51.)

[ top ]

References
The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing
, gen. ed., Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, selects The Wood of the Whispering [1143-76]; see also summary of The King of Friday’s Men (1948), his most famous play, set in 1787, elaborate presentation of brutal landlord-tenant system of 18th c., both slaves and masters corrupted; Bartley Dowd, shillelagh champion, triumphs over cynical landlord Caesar French; condemns himself to life of hunted man by killing his opponent; surrenders love of Oona, over whom French tries to exercise droit de seigneur; goes off with Rory Commons, remnant of Gaelic culture; in The Wood of the Whispering (1953), the characters are victims of a social and political system that has almost destroyed them; they experience of sexuality and marriage are again what has to be surrendered; central character in self-repressing community, Sanbatch Daly; revived by Druid, 1983 and restored to central position in modern Irish theatre [Chris Murray, ed.; 1137-38]; BIOG 1305.

[ top ]

Grattan Freyer, ed., Modern Irish Writing (Irish Humanities Centre 1979), selects M. J. Molloy, The Paddy Pedlar, one-act play (pp.181-202), with note: Joe Molloy, as generally known; b. outside Milltown Galway; m. schoolteacher, f. commercial traveller; authors biographical note, ‘like Shakespeare, Shaw and Ibsen, he saw his family fall from prosperity to near poverty when his father died, leaving a family of eight to be reared on his widow’s salary; ed. local college, Tuam; two years training for Catholic missions in Far East; tubercular knee, 2 yrs. in sanatorium; lived in Milltown since; fascinated by history; first play produced by fellow-inmates in sanatorium; uses heightened ordinary speech of people around him; collected from notebook patient hours talking and listening; picturesque incidents also fodder for plays; The Paddy Pedlar, written 1949, produced by Ballina players, 1952, dir. Gerard Molloy, his brother; won All Ireland Amateur Drama final, Athlone, 1952.

[ top ]

British Library holds The Paddy Pedlar [A play in one act]; (Dublin: James Duffy & Co. 1954), pp.31; The King of Friday’s Men [A play in three acts] (Dublin: James Duffy & Co 1953), pp. 88.

[ top ]

Quotations
The Wood of the Whispering (Dublin: Progress 1961) - Con [char.]: ‘Let ye marry here for if ye marry foreign, your children will be foreign. If ye want your children to be Irish and of the same mind and knowledge as yourselves, ye must marry in Ireland and on the land of Ireland.’ (Quoted in Shaun Richards, ‘Progressive Regression in Contemporary Irish Culture’, [pt. 3 of] ‘The Triple Play of Irish History’, in Irish Review, Winter-Spring 1997, p.38.)

[ top ]

The Wood of the Whispering (1961), Preface: ‘After the Israelites of old escaped from Egypt and long slavery, they wandered in the desert for forty years, never daring to attack the warlike tribes who occupied their Promised Land. But after forty years the old slave-born generation had died, or retired from leadership, and a bold new freeborn generation had taken over. Under new freeborn leaders the new freeborn nation crossed the Jordan, and conquered after many a fierce campaign, their Promised Land. / For forty years Ireland has been free, and for forty years it has wandered in the desert under the leadership of men who freed their nation, but who could never free their own souls and minds from the ill-effects of having been born in slavery. To that slave-born generation it has always seemed inevitable and right that the Anglo-American plutocracies, because they are rich, should be allowed to destroy us because we are poor - destroy us root and branch through mass emigration. So for forty years we have continued to be the only dying free nation on earth, inheriting Turkey’s old title of “The Sick Man of Europe.” And for forty years our slave-born economic and financial experts have continued to assure our slave-born political leaders that the depopulation is all for the best: that big cattle ranches and big grain ranches are more economic than small farms. But neither cattle nor combine harvesters have ever fought for their country as small farmers have been known to do. / In the last war neutral Norway found itself invaded by both sides on the same day, because its position was strategically important and because its population was too small to defend its big area. And the bitter lesson of the Six Counties and of Partition, and indeed of all history, is that the worst disaster that can befall a nation is not conquest, but colonisation. And depopulation is the thing that invites colonisation and insures its success. Ourselves and Britain lie like two vast aircraft carriers off the coast of Europe. Every year with the rise of air power our strategic position becomes more important, and every year with the fall in population our defences become weaker. / While we desert the finest farm-land in Europe, the Jews return [3] from all over the world to the Promised Land from which they were driven nearly two thousand years ago. They set to work to make fertile and to populate land that has been desert for two thousand years, sunscorched desert where the new grasses have to be watered four times a day. What man has done, man can do; and we could repopulate our deserted farm-lands if only we could find new freeborn leaders with minds and souls not warped or stunted by birth in slavery. / In 1910 the Great Blasket island had one hundred and fifty people and a well filled school. Forty years later the population was a handful, there was only one child, so they called their island Tir Na Sean, the Land of the Old. There are countless dying villages and townlands in rural Ireland to which the same title could be applied. The death of a village, like the death of an individual, is usually a painful business, and marked by distressing symptoms. But of this fact our suburban depopulation enthusiasts know nothing. / But country people know all about it, and they know the background of this play, the comedy of the eccentric old bachelors, and the tragedy, too. So it was no coincidence that its first amateur performances were by two tiny rural villages: Inchovea in County Clare and Killeedy in County Limerick, which between them won half a dozen drama festivals with it - before their dramatic societies were shattered by emigration. Every activity is hit by a falling population; and every activity is helped by an expanding population.’ (pp.3-4.) [ Note: Preface quoted in part [‘For forty years Ireland has been free .... born in slavery’] in Richard Pine, The Diviner: The Art of Brian Friel (Dublin: UCD 2000), p.356.]

[ top ]

King of Friday’s Men (1953, Preface: ‘The play opens in the year 1787 with the French Revolution a couple of years ahead. One of the abuses that provoked that bloody outbreak of vengeance was the droit du seigneur: The old fuedal [sic for ‘feudal’] rule or custom, whereby the landed aristocrats could compel the prettiest daughters or wives of their tenant farmers to become their mistresses for a night or a lifetime. The droit du seigneur was practised in many countries besides France. Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro had its run terminated by order of the Austrian Emperor, because he knew that the variety of droit du seigneur satirised in the opera was standard practice amongst his nobility. The English landlord in Goldsmith’s novel behaved as badly as his contemporary landlord in my play. / But nowhere, except probably Tsarist Russia, was the droit du seigneur practised more openly and brutally than in Ireland. In Ireland the landed aristocrats were backed by the English army of occupation, and enjoyed the rights of conquerors as well as the old feudal rights of great land-owning aristocrats. They were also the local magistrates with powers of life and death, as the only police force was their own servants. Their tenant farmers had to sign farm leases acknowledging that their landlords owned everything on their farms except two things: sunlight and air. The threat of eviction from their farms and homes always hung over them, as they could be evicted for no reason. So the tenant farmers had a proverb: “Never fear the winter till the snow is on the blanket”: - that is, until you are evicted. Yet like war-time soldiers on leave, they flung themselves into every kind of wild merrymaking they could think of and half afford. If security is bad for us, as some philosophers say, security was an evil from which they were wholly free. / In a new country like North America, feudalism never became established: neither did its usual by-product, the droit du seigneur. But it is a mistake for North Americans to suppose that other older countries were so fortunate: countries held in the iron grip of feudalism for a thousand years. And yet feudalism had developed as a very necessary protection against the Viking raids and invasions. In the same way that Communism developed in our day as a reaction against the excesses and failures of Capitalism. The French Revolutionaries cared nothing about poverty but everything about individual liberty. The Communists care everything about poverty and nothing about individual liberty. So mankind has fetched the full circle in less than two hundred years.’

[ top ]