Far from Dublin, O'Casey stands in his home in England. On the wall behind him is a portrait done by the famous British artist, Augustus John, 28 years ago when O'Casey, fresh from his early triumphs in Dublin, was a literary lion of London.
Caption from LIFE. Far from Dublin, O'Casey stands in his home in England. On the wall behind him is a portrait done by the famous British artist, Augustus John, 28 years ago when O'Casey, fresh from his early triumphs in Dublin, was a literary lion of London.Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Far from Dublin, O'Casey stands in his home in England. On the wall behind him is a portrait done by the famous British artist, Augustus John, 28 years ago when O'Casey, fresh from his early triumphs in Dublin, was a literary lion of London.
On Abercorn Road the house where O'Casey lived still stands—No. 18, second house in street at right. The boys play hurley, similar to hockey, which O'Casey too played 60 years ago
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Charles Parnell
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
In own role as Donal, O'Casey, who put much of himself into play, declaims in self-recrimination after Minnie is killed: 'Oh, Davoren . . . poet and poltroon, poltroon and poet.'
Sean O'Casey's Ireland, 1954.
Sean O'Casey, 1954.
Dry land sailor Michael Moran, Liffey River dockworker, dresses seafaring style although he has never been to sea. This picture might be O'Casey's portrait of the paycock in Juno.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Sean O'Casey's Dublin, 1954.
Ragged poet who appears often in O'Casey's works lives in the bohemian figure of Brendan Behan who, as Sean did, came from the slums and writes plays, poems and ballads.
At his typewriter which he bought at 10 shillings a week 30 years ago, O'Casey works over his new book.
Stairway to nowhere once led from dressing rooms to stage at the Abbey Theatre, now burned out. Actors Barry Fitzgerald and Sara Allgood descended them to play O'Casey's roles.
Pathway to nowhere, a tree-lined walk, once led to Lady Gregory's Coole Park estate, now leveled. Yeats, Shaw, Synge, O'Casey and the other Irish greats came here to visit
Under a sunhat, the playwright inspects plants in a garden at Totnes, Devon, which he recently gave up in favor of a flat in the town of Torquay.
Caption from LIFE. Far from Dublin, O'Casey stands in his home in England. On the wall behind him is a portrait done by
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Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Eire Apparent: Recalling Sean O'Casey's Vanished Ireland

Mar 12, 2014

Few Irish writers ever held a grip on their native land's imagination as powerful as Sean O'Casey's (1880 - 1964). There was Joyce, of course, and Bernard Shaw and Yeats; Frank O'Connor and Flann O'Brien; Synge, Swift, and Oscar Wilde; and the long, long list of phenomenal post-war Irish novelists, poets and dramatists, from Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh to Edna O'Brien, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett (who of course penned his greatest works in French) and so many others.

But as LIFE magazine wrote in a 1954 article: "Now that Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, and Eugene O'Neill, son of an Irishman, are dead, the greatest living playwright in the English language is another Irishman, Sean O'Casey."

Three brilliant plays -- " The Shadow of a Gunman ," "Juno and the Paycock" and "The Plough and the Stars" -- all set in Dublin during the bitter days of street fighting and sudden death, made O'Casey famous. They brought as vividly alive as the red geraniums that so often bloom in Dublin windows the world he was born into, the Dublin slums where grinding poverty lives behind graceful Georgian facades, plain people talk with rich imagery, and saloon brawls erupt over philosophical questions

O'Casey . . . has spoken unkindly of the churches, dedicated books to eminent theologians, sung the praises of Communism and written the soul-stirring words that caused riots, bannings and uproars in great cities.

Years ago Sean O'Casey left Dublin, and now at 70 he lives peacefully in England's Devonshire countryside. Behind him his world, also grown older and more peaceable, still exists in the streets of north Dublin, as full of poetry and misery as ever it was. There Gjon Mili found and photographed it.

Six decades later -- when much, but not quite all, of the world that O'Casey brought to life on stage and on the printed page has vanished with the years -- LIFE.com recalls an Ireland that endures in fading memory, in literature, and in Gjon Mili's wonderful pictures.

LIFE photographer Gjon Mili at work in Ireland, 1954. Gjon Mili—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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