Hugh Leonard, playwright

About his work for stage, page and screen

The books of Hugh Leonard

Hugh Leonard wrote memoirs, novels and a large number of essays and articles, book, theatre, film and television reviews. Many of his satirical columns and essays were anthologised.  This page details his work that was published in book format.

hugh leonard book sandycove

Autobiography and memoirs

Hugh Leonard wrote two acclaimed autobiographical works, Home Before Night and Out After Dark.

Home Before Night covers Jack Keyes Byrne (Hugh Leonard)’s early life and adulthood to the point when he makes the decision to leave a steady job in the civil service to work full time as a writer. While usually described as an autobiography, it is more than the standard account of the author’s life.  It is an evocation of a time, place and community that surrounded Jack’s early years in Dalkey and the Irish Land Commission.  The tone and style are set by the famous opening words “My grandmother made dying her life’s work”.  The work is written alternately in the first and third person which enables the author to vary his perspective and to recount the more emotionally difficult episodes of his childhood.  Home Before Night was widely acclaimed on publication:

The Times (London) wrote: “He has the simplicity and genius of Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan … If you want to look at the South Dublin working class of the thirties and forties, here it is – a childhood that anyone would envy”.

The Sunday Telegraph: “A tour de force of prose which captures all the poetry and drama of a child’s experience of Dublin in the thirties and forties. The author’s crystal-clear recollections, recounted with sparkling humour and immediacy, and the vast array of colourful characters combine to create an engaging and enthralling read….  the playwright author’s gift of language and apparently total recall makes his account of growing up in the thirties and forties absolutely irresistible’”.

Out After Dark is a companion piece – rather than a sequel – to Home Before Night.  In theory it ranges over much of the same chronological time, that is the late thirties, forties, fifties and sixties – the adolescence and early professional life of the author. But it does not follow a straight chronology and is much more of a reflection from the author’s advancing years (he was in his early ‘60s when he wrote it) that joins up different elements and episodes of his life.  It was also well received:

Terry Wogan writing in The Sunday Times: “If you want to understand the Irish … Hugh Leonard’s autobiographical follow-up to Home Before Night, conveys the lilt, the light and the shade of the people. Like them it’s naturally funny.”

The Sunday Tribune:  “Out After Dark deserves to stand among the very best Irish biographies.”

A third autobiographical work, A Devil for Grandeur, was written towards the end of Hugh Leonard’s life, not completed and not published to date.  And we include under this heading Rover and Other Cats, a personal reminiscence, often assumed to be a series of essays but written as a single work.  The first publications of Hugh Leonard’s autobiographical work were:

  •  Home Before Night, Andre Deutsch, 1979
  • Out After Dark, Andre Deutsch, 1989
  • Rover and other cats, Andre Deutsch, 1992

Novels

Hugh Leonard wrote three novels: Parnell and the Englishwoman, A Wild People and Fillums.

Parnell and the Englishwoman was a novelisation of Hugh Leonard’s original script of the BBC Television series starring Trevor Eve and Francesca Annis.  The novel won The Sagittarius Prize in 1992, a literary award given between 1991 to 2005 by the Society of Authors for a first novel by an author over the age of sixty. It was published by Andre Deutsch in 1991.\

A Wild People was published by Methuen in 2001 and Fillums by Methuen in 2004.

Essays and articles

Hugh Leonard was a regular columnist for the Sunday Independent from 1976 until his death in 2009 and for the journal Hibernia from approximately 1973 until 1976.  He reviewed stage productions, mainly musicals on the London stage, for Plays and Players in the 1960s.   He reviewed television for Hibernia in the early 1970s and books for the Irish Times, Sunday Independent and other newspapers for many decades.

Published collections of essays and articles

From the journal Hibernia from 1973-1976 and in the Sunday Independent from 1976.

  • Leonard’s Last Book, Egotist Press, 1978
  • A Peculiar People and Other Foibles, Hugh Leonard”s Second Last book, Tansy Books, 1979.
  • Leonard’s Year,  Canavaun Books, 1985
  • Hugh Leonard’s Log, Brophy Books, 1987
  • Leonard’s Log – again, Brophy International Publishing, 1988
  • Dear Paule, Mercier Press, 2000

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