Hugh Leonard

WP HL at his desk

Hugh Leonard – who was the first Irish playwright to win a Tony Award and who wrote prolifically for the stage, television, big screen, and books and print media – was born in Dublin in 1926 and grew up in the small seaside town of Dalkey.  He claimed to have written his first play at the age of eight or nine.  During the 1950s he worked as a civil servant by day and a writer by night: producing stage plays and radio scripts.  His first professionally produced play was The Big Birthday, staged by the Abbey Theatre in 1956.  The blog posts of this website discuss different plays.

He spent the 1960s in England, first working as a script editor for Granada Television and then free-lancing in London.  During this decade he continued to write for the stage, producing almost a play a year – usually alternating original and adaptations – for the Dublin Theatre Festival.  These included Stephen D, adapted from works of James Joyce, the Poker Session, the Au Pair Man, the Saints Go Cycling In (adapted from Flann O’Brien’s The Dalkey Archive) and The Barracks, from the novel by John McGahern. His output for television was prodigious: Imdb lists some 70 credits in total, many from this decade.  Perhaps the most significant work was Insurrection, commissioned by RTE  to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising.

Hugh Leonard returned to Ireland in 1970 and spent the rest of his life living in or near Dalkey.  His stage work in the 1970s included some of his best and most popular plays: Da, Summer and A Life.  He worked continually and diligently to the time of his death in 2009.  The “catalogue” counts some 30 full length plays, 10 one act plays, at least six film scripts, three volumes of memoirs, three novels and a satirical newspaper column  which he wrote for nearly four decades.  His  70 television credits included original plays, classical series and adaptations, situation comedies.  He also wrote a couple of radio plays.  He won awards including the Prix Italia for the television play Silent Song and a Tony for his play Da (the full panoply of awards is listed here).  His plays have been performed on five continents.  His play are still regularly performed.

“Hugh Leonard” was a pen name.  During his life his own name varied with his family circumstances and sometimes on whim.  Let us settle, for the purpose of this site, on Jack Keyes Byrne. He was born on 9 November 1926, died on 12 February 2009.  His hometown of Dalkey, County Dublin recurs in and sometimes inspired his work.

5 thoughts on “Hugh Leonard

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  1. Hi,

    Is there any news of Hugh Leonard”s third autobiographical work? The last I heard this book was called A Devil for Grandeur and was to published by Methuen.

    Best Regards

    Vincent Bartley

    1. Dear Vincent, Excellent question. The book was originally called Upstart and then subsequently HL changed the title to A Devil for Grandeur. Methuen acquired the rights, appointed an editor (that would have been in 2009 or 2010) and then it all went quiet. I will make enquiries and advise if there is any real news. Best wishes Danielle (Keyes Byrne)

  2. Hi Danielle, thanks for the info. Sorry about the late response. I confused this site with the Facebook page so I’m only checking here now. Would be really interesting to read this work at some stage. I have devoured everything else that your dad wrote. Was in Ireland recently and took a stroll around many of the HL landmarks. Fabulous. Btw. I think that A Devil for Grandeur is the better title. It seems to complement the Home Before Night and Out After Dark. Best Regards Vincent

  3. I would love to see this published as well. Even if it’s incomplete. Any updates on it? I presume the title “Devil for Grandeur” is a reference to HL’s mother – he says that she was just that in Home Before Night (when talking about the pension that the Jacobs mailed to his da).

    1. Thank you for your comment. There are currently, I believe, no plans to publish A Devil for Grandeur. As you note, it is a reference to Mag Keyes, HL’s mother. Though, speaking personally, I sometimes think it could be applied to HL himself!

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