Irish playwright Hugh Leonard 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.
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 – in 2012 his plays were still being performed on four continents.
“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.