Revisiting a trove of Irish theatrical and literary anecdotes

‘Green and Chaste and Foolish’ challenges even the most sober to laugh out loud


Padraic O’Farrell published a wonderful collection of Irish theatrical and literary anecdotes called Green and Chaste and Foolish in 1994. The emphasis in the book is on the lighter side of Irish theatre and literature.

There are many anecdotes in the book about George Bernard Shaw, including the occasion when his mordant wit found its match in Winston Churchill’s. At a time when Churchill was not doing too well politically, Shaw sent him some tickets for the opening night of one of his plays with the note that they were for “yourself and your friends – if you have any”. Churchill returned the tickets, explaining that he had a prior engagement, but expressed interest in tickets “for a second night – if there is one”.

In March 1928, Sean O’Casey sent his new play, The Silver Tassie, to the Abbey directors with the view that it was his best play so far. But Yeats, Lady Gregory and Lennox Robinson had expected another play similar to Juno and the Paycock or The Plough and the Stars. Yeats felt one should write about what one knows and so replied to O’Casey: “You are not interested in the Great War. You never stood in the battlefields or walked the hospitals.”

To this O’Casey replied: “Was Shakespeare at Actium or Phillipi? Was GB Shaw in the boats with the French, or in the forts with the British when Joan and Dunois made the attack that relieved Orleans? And someone I think wrote a poem about Tír na nÓg who never took a header into the Land of Youth.”

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There is a more recent snippet about another O’Casey play in O’Farrell’s book. The Gate Company brought Juno and the Paycock to the 1986 Jerusalem Festival. During Act I, Captain Boyle says: “Chiselurs don’t care a damn about their parents . . . ” This was translated into Hebrew as: “Monumental sculptors don’t care a damn about their parents…”

In March 1974, Chekhov’s Three Sisters was playing at the Abbey while downstairs in the Peacock was The Brother, a one-man show by Eamon Morrissey. A lady rang the box office, which serves both theatres, to book tickets and was asked if they were for Three Sisters or The Brother.

“What are you talking about?” she asked. “They’re for myself and my cousin.”