John O’Donovan

Life
1921-1985 [John Purcell O’Donovan]; b. Dublin; author of five Abbey plays during the Queen’s Theatre period (1957-63), these including The Less We Are Together (1957), The Shaws of Synge Street (1960; pub. Newark: Proscenium 1966), and Carlotta; also Copperfaced Jack (1962), on John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, with Arthur Woulfe and Francis Higgins as characters; also a study and memoir of Shaw, Shaw and the Charlatan Genius, a memoir [by &c] with 18 illustrations (Dolmen 1965). DIL DIW OCIL

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Works
Plays
, The Half Millionaire (Abbey, Jan. 1954); The Less We Are Together (Abbey 1957); A Change of Mind (Abbey 1958); The Shaws of Synge Street (1960), printed with Carlotta in Jonathan, Jaeg and GBS (Newark: Delaware UP; AUP 1962); Copperfaced Jack (Abbey 1962), printed in Robert Hogan, ed. Seven Irish Plays [Delaware: Proscenium] (Minnesota UP 1967); Dearly Beloved Roger (Abbey 1967); Devil’s Daughter (1981); Carlotta (1985); Eleven Famous Irish Trials (RTÉ 1984-85); Oh God, Oh Dublin (1985).

Collections & anthologies, Robert Hogan, ed., Jonathan, Jack, and GBS, Four Plays About Irish History and Literature by John O’Donovan. [1993]; Robert Hogan, ed., Seven Irish Plays, 1946-64 (Minnesota UP 1967) [contains Copperfaced Jack].

Miscellaneous, Shaw and the Charlatan Genius, a memoir [by &c] with 18 illustrations (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1965), 160pp.; Wheels and Deals, People and Place in Irish Motoring (1983); G. B. Shaw (1983). Also, ‘The Big Three’, in Sean McCann, ed., The World of Sean O’Casey [New English Library] (London: Dent 1966), pp.186-95.

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Commentary
James M. Cahalan review of Four Plays [ &c], in Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1993, p.13-14: notes the influence of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy (here ‘throposophy’) on a former reviewer, [Robert] West. Of O’Donovan’s connection with Shaw, he relates this: ‘O’Donovan pestered Shaw for permission to visit, and was finally answered, “Well come, then, and be damned”. On his arrival, Shaw said, “You must have had a long, tiring journey from Dublin .. Well, then, you must be anxious to get back. Good day.”’ O’Donovan wrote to plays in commemoration of Shaw and his family, The Shaws of Synge Street (Abbey 1960), and Carlotta (not produced), the latter judged more amusing as including Shaw’s wife Charlotte, his sister Lucy, and the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell who speak back at him in Shavian dialogue; also a radio play on Swift, The Fiddler and the Dean, concerning imaginary conversation with Handel in 1742 (RE 1961); cites Copperfaced Jack, a play of 1798.

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Quotations
Shaw and the Charlatan Genius (Dolmen 1965): Recounting his researches into the parentage of Shaw, or rather into the evidence for Shaw’s covert belief that John Lee Vandeleur, the ‘musical genius’ who formed an attachment to his mother, was his real father, O’Donovan recounts remarks that Shaw acted on the sensible principle that if you can’t hide the family skeletons you might as well make them dance. [9] [Shaw referred to theories about his parentage as “Hendersonian speculation” [29]. Painstaking biographers include Archibald Henderson, Demetrius O’Bolger, and St. John Ervine. Quotes Shaw: ‘Dear Mr O’Bolger, you will certainly be the death of me. As you describe it, my story is one in which the kindly hero, my father, was driven to drink by his wife’s infidelity, and finally abandoned to die in the workhouse. Must I tell you the facts over again? And if I do will they be any more effectual in driving this fictitious item of police news out of your distracted head than my own authentic account?’ But O’Bolger, son of an Irish police inspector ... remained unmoved [12; and see op. cit., p.63.] Further: [When] St. John Ervine was writing his Shaw biography, he asked me if I could supply him with information about the Shaw circle in Dublin, especially about Lee. Tracing family history is a harder job in Ireland than in England. Thousand of public records were destroyed when the Custom House in Dublin, and later the Public record Office, were set on fire during the War of Independence. Registers of births, marriages and deaths, wills, deeds, leases, parish records, family records and letters all went up in smoke so that the genealogist is severely handicapped in his researches. [12] O’Bolger, an Irishman whose outlook had broadened after his years in America, hankered after some proof of Lee’s genius beyond the mere assertion [...] he was slapped down. “It it doesn’t suit your story to believe that Lee was in his way a genius, better alter your story” [63; &c.]

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References
Belfast Public Library holds As I Drove Pigs Down Grafton Street (n.d.).

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Notes
St. John Ervine recalled how the young O’Donovan corresponded with Shaw when first in London, and how he destroyed the letters at Shaw’s request; see W. R. Rodgers 1950s broadcast series, published as Irish Literary Portraits (1972).

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