Thomas Kilroy, acclaimed playwright, novelist and academic, dies aged 89

Kilkenny author of 16 plays and one novel helped modernise Irish theatre

The death has occurred of the acclaimed playwright Thomas Kilroy. Kilroy (89), the author of 16 stage plays and one novel, died on Thursday. His funeral and cremation took place on Sunday.

Along with friends and family of the playwright, actor Stephen Rea, theatre director Patrick Mason and sculptor John Behan attended the funeral at Shannon Crematorium.

A member of Aosdána and former professor of English at the University of Galway, Kilroy also served on the board of the Abbey Theatre, where many of his plays were performed.

In the 1980s, he sat on the board of the groundbreaking Field Day Theatre Company in Derry, founded by playwright Brian Friel and actor Rea.


His plays include Double Cross, Talbot’s Box, Tea and Sex and Shakespeare, The O’Neill and The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde.

He received a special tribute award at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2004 and was presented with the PEN Ireland Cross award for his contribution to literature in 2008.

Speaking in 2011, Nicholas Grene, professor of English literature at Trinity College Dublin, praised Kilroy for his role in modernising Irish theatre since his 1968 breakthrough play, The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche.

Prof Grene noted that the production was “the first Irish play to have a gay figure as a central character”.

He said the playwright had brought into Irish theatre “modernist techniques from the great European masters going right back to [Anton] Chekhov and [Luigi] Pirandello, both of whom he has adapted for the Irish stage . . . but he has also been a critic and a dramatiser and an observer of modern Irish life and what has made us what we are”.

Born in Callan, Co Kilkenny, in 1934, Kilroy attended St Kieran’s College, where he captained the senior hurling team. He obtained a degree in education from University College Dublin and went on to be a teacher and headmaster.

In 1965 he was appointed senior lecturer at UCD, lecturing on English, Anglo-Irish and 18th century drama. He was also a visiting professor in various American universities.

Between 1973 and 1979, he took a break from his university career after the success of his novel, The Big Chapel, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1971.

He was then appointed as professor of English in Galway but left in 1989 to concentrate on writing.

In 2011, his personal archive was deposited in the University of Galway’s James Hardiman Library. He lived in Co Mayo.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times