George Shiels


Life
1881-1949 [pseud. “Paul Twyning”], b. 24 June, Ballybrake, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, son of Robert and Elizabeth [née Sweeny] Sheils, one of seven brothers; ed. local national school attached to Church of Our Lady and Saint Patrick; emig. Canada, and suffered paraplegic accident while working on construction of Canadian Pacific, 1913; returned to Ballymoney and began reading with Jane Austen’s novels; wrote stories about the West; turned to drama on advice of local theatre enthusiast; espoused name of “George Morshiel”; first plays produced by the Ulster Literary Theatre; a play appeared each year at the Abbey from 1921 but only saw one production of his plays;
 
wrote Bedmates (1921), for the Abbey; Insurance Money (1921); Paul Twyning (1922); The Retrievers (1924), set in Northern ireland during the Civil War - considered complementary to O'Casey's Shadow of a Gunman; The New Gossoon (1930), a successful comedy illustrating the effect of the motor engine on rural life; also The Passing Day (1936), originally commissioned by the BBC and broadcast as His Last Day of Business; The Rugged Path (1940) enjoyed a record 12-week run at the Abbey, to be followed by a sequel, The Summit (1941); others for the Ulster Group Theatre were The Old Broom (1944), Borderwine (1946), and Mountain Post (Group Th. 1948), inspired by broadcast of Orwell’s Animal Farm and treating Soviet aggression in Europe in local idiom;
 
his Tenants at Will (1947), set against background of Devon Commission on land tenure, 1844, was written as a chronicle play and pruned at the behest of the Abbey directors; d. Ballymoney; called ‘the Tom Moore of Irish drama’ by Lennox Robinson; George Shiels Special Collection, containing his books and papers, chiefly correspondence, is held in the Library of the Univ. of Ulster at Coleraine. NCBE DIB DIW DIL FDA OCIL
 

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Works
  • Bedmates, A Play in One Act (The Gael Co-op. Soc., 1922), 20pp.
  • Two Irish Plays, Mountain Dew: A Play in Three Acts, and Cartney and Kevney: A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1930), 222pp.
  • The New Gossoon: A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1936), 114pp.
  • The Passing Day: A Play in Six Scenes and The Jailbird: A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1937), 267pp.
  • The Rugged Path: A Play in T hree Acts and The Summit: A Play in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1942), 238pp.
  • The Fort Field: A Play in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle Books 1947)
  • Give Him a House: A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947)
  • Quin’s Secret: A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947)
  • The Caretakers: A Play in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1948)
  • The Old Broom: A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1948)
  • Tenants at Will: A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947)
  • Grogan and the Ferret: A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947), 82pp.
  •  
    Also Neal Maquade (Abbey; q.d.), rewritten for Ulster Group Theatre as Macook’s Corner.
     
    Scholarly editions
    Christopher Murray, ed. & intro., Selected Plays of George Shiels (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2008), 476pp. [“The Retrievers”, “Professor Tim”, “The New Gossoon”, “The Passing Day”, “The Rugged Path, “The Summit”]

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    Criticism

    • T. C. Murray, ‘George Shiels, Brinsley MacNamara, etc.’, in The Irish Theatre, Lectures Delivered During the Abbey Festival Held in Dublin in August 1918, ed. Lennox Robinson (London: Macmillan 1939; rep. NY: Haskell 1971);
    • W. J. Feeney, ‘The Rugged Path, A Modern View of Informers’, in Éire-Ireland 2 (Spring 1967), pp.41-47;
    • D. Kennedy, ‘George Shiels, A Playwright at Work’, in Threshold 25 (Summer 1974), pp.50-58;
    • Daniel J. Casey, ‘George Shiels, The Enigmatic Playwright’, in Threshold, 33 (Winter 1983), pp.5-21 [extract];
    • James Wellington MacDonald, ‘The Realism of George Shiels’ [DPhil Thesis, Exeter Univ. 1989];
    • Bernard McKenna, ‘George Shiels’ in Bernice Schrank & William Demastes, ed., Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook (CT: Greenwood Press 1997), pp.341-55.
     
    See also David Kennedy, ‘The Drama in Ulster’, in Sam Hanna Bell, et al., eds., The Arts in Ulster (London: Harrap 1951), pp.56, 57-60.

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    Daniel J. Casey, ‘George Shiels, The Enigmatic Playwright’, Threshold, No. 33 (Winter 1983), pp.5-21, incls. preliminary checklist of his plays incl. radio, among which unpublished adaptation of Amanda McKittrick Ros, Irene Iddlesleigh (BBC Radio, 25 July 1943) and an adaptation of Charles Macklin, The Man of the World (1948) [unperformed.]

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    Commentary
    P. S. O’Hegarty praised The Retriever [n.d.] ‘an illuminating play on rural conditions in time of disorder’ alongside O’Casey’s ‘A Dramatist of the New-born Ireland’, Northern American Review, CCXXIV (1927); printed in Ronald Ayling, ed., Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements (1969), pp.60-67.

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    References
    Shell Guide to Ireland (1967), states that there is an annual Shiels Drama Fest. in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim.

    Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing of Irish Literature (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, selects The Passing Day [709-12]; biography p.718.

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    Anthony Slide, The Cinema and Ireland (McFarland & Co 1988), lists The Poacher’s Daughter (1960), released in Ireland as Sally’s Irish Rogue, and based on The New Gossoon by George Shiels, first seen on stage in New York in 1930, and here directed for film by George Pollock also, with Julie Harris and a supporting cast of Abbey players, and produced at Ardmore by Emmet Dalton (Slide, pp.29-30, 32.).

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    Kevin Rockett, et al., eds., Cinema & Ireland (1988), p.98 [Lennox Robinson, Emmet Dalton, Ernest Blythe, and Louis Elliman formed TV company which produced only an adaptation of George Shiels 1925 play Professor Tim at 30,000]; p.106 [The New Gossoon, retitled Sally’s Irish Rogue, early Ardmore Studies adpt. n.d.].

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    British Library listing of the plays of George Shiels in Irish Translations, An Grógánach agus a Peiréad [Grogan and the Ferret] greann-dráma thrí ngníomh, trans. Seán Ó Maolain; Ag Baine lae Ar, Aith-innrint o dhein Seán Tóibín ar The Passing Day (Oifig an tSoláthair 1944), 115pp.; An tEán Prioriún, Padraic Óg Ó Conaire d’airtrig (Oifig an tSoláthair 1944), 154pp.; An tOllamh Tadg Professor Tim] dráma trí nGníomh trans. Conchubar Ó Muimhneácáin (Oifig an tSoláthair 1944), 103pp.; Pól Twyning greann-dráma iñ [sic] ngníomh trans. Padraig Ó hAirt (Oifig an tSoláthair 944), 222pp.; An Cosán Garbh [The Rugged Path] dráma thrí nGníomh, trans. Micheál d’Andún (Oifig an tSoláthair 1944), [?22]pp.

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    Books in Print (1994), Bedmates, A Play in One Act (Dublin: Gael Co-op. Soc., 1922); Two Irish Plays, [1] Mountain Dew, A Play in Three Acts [2] Cartney and Kevney, A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1930); [1] Professor Tim [2] Paul Twyning, A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1927, 1935), pp.22; The New Gossoon (London: Macmillan 1936); [1] The Passing Day, A Play in Six Scenes and [2]The Jailbird, A Comedy in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1937); [1] The Rugged Path, A Play in Three Acts and [2] The Summit, A Play in Three Acts (London: Macmillan 1942); Three Plays, [1] Professor Tim; [2] Paul Twyning, and [3] The New Gossoon (London: Macmillan 1945, 1951), 268pp.. SINGLE PLAYS ISSUED BY GOLDEN EAGLE; The Fort Field, A Play in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle Books 1947); Give Him a House, A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947); Quin’s Secret; A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947); Tenants at Will [SHORT TITLE ONLY] (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947); The Old Broom (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1947); The Caretakers, a Play in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1948); The Old Broom, A Comedy in Three Acts (Dublin: Golden Eagle 1948); SEE BELF, Grogan and the Ferret [n.d]; The Fort Field [1940]. NO WORKS HELD IN LIBRARY OF CONGRESS or NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA.

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    Belfast Public Library holds Bed Mates (1922); The Fort Field [1940]; Give Him A House (n.d.); Grogan and the Ferret (n.d.); The Old Broom (1947); The New Gossoon (1936); The Passing Day (1937); do., and The Jailbird (1937); Professor Tim and Paul Twyning (1927, 1935); Quin’s Secret (1947); The Rugged Path, and The Summit (1942); Tenants at Will (1947); Three Plays (1951); Two Irish Plays, Mountain Dew, and Cartney and Kevney (1930). See also Belfast Linen Hall Library holds Cuttings (15.122, 38.27).

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    Notes
    Unedited letters: Maire Liberace (New York) writes to the Abbey Theatre Archive [online] at 29 Jul 2009, ‘I am doing research on George Sheils and am hoping to be able to have access to you archives especially data regarding play production dates. I have a number of personal letters from George to my mother and am attempting to edit them with a view to possible publication.’.

    Alex Blair lectured in ‘George Shiels: The Man and His Plays’ in the Flowerfield Arts Centre, Portstewart, Co. Derry, N. Ireland, at 7.30 pm on 28 July 2009.

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