Máiréad Ní Ghráda

To mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere production of An Triail (22nd September 1964) and its English language version On Trial (19th March 1965), Irish Theatre Institute celebrated the contribution of Máiréad Ní Ghráda to Irish theatre with a dedicated project examining the play and playwright in its theatrical and historical contexts. Explore below and join us in celebrating the life and work of Máiréad Ní Ghráda.

  • Born in Co. Clare in 1896, Máiréad Ní Ghráda was a playwright, broadcaster and teacher. She was a tireless promoter of the Irish language and wrote many educational texts, some of which are still widely used today including ‘Progress in Irish’.

    Máiréad grew up in Kilmaley, a Breac Ghaeltacht, with Irish speaking parents. She won a university scholarship while attending the local Convent of Mercy School and received a BA in English, Irish and French and an MA in Irish from UCD. An active member of the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBán, she was imprisoned in 1920 for selling flags on behalf of Conradh na Ghaeilge on Grafton Street. After a short time teaching in St. Brendan’s private school, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, Máiréad was employed as organiser and later as secretary to Ernest Blythe in the first Dáil and during the Civil War. In 1923, she married Richard Kissane, a civic guard (Garda Síochána). They had two sons and settled in Ranelagh, Dublin. She was the first female announcer with 2RN (now Radió Éireann), engaged as Woman’s Organiser with the national radio station for many years, a job which involved programming for women and children.  

    VIDEO: Mairéad Ní Ghráda explains her role as a “Woman Organiser” and recalls the early days of drama production at 2RN  ©RTÉ

    Máiréad wrote her first play in 1931 while teaching Irish in a domestic science college in Kilmacud. An Udhachta one act comedy based on ‘Gianni Schicchi’ by Puccini, was produced by Michéal Mac Liammóir at The Gate (1931). Her writing for theatre includes Mícheál, 1933 (adaptation of Michael, a story by Tolstoy), An Grádh agus an Garda (1937), Giolla an tSoluis (1945), Hansel & Gretel (1951), Lá Buí Bealtaine (1953), Úll glas Oíche Shamhna (1955), Ríte (1955), Súgán Sneachta (1959), Mac Uí Rudaí (1961) and Stailc Ocrais (1962). An Triail (1964) & On Trial (1965) and Breithiúnas (1968), although critical of Irish society at the time, were her greatest successes.

    Máiréad Ní Ghráda died on 13 June 1971. Her enormous contribution to Irish language theatre includes 11 original plays – more than any other playwright in Irish.


    • Dictionary of Irish Biography – Courtesy of Éamon Ó Ciosáin
    • Ainm.ie – Diarmuid Breathnach, Máire Ní Mhurchú
    • Máiréad Ní Ghráda: Ceannródaí Drámaíochta, Siobhán Ní Bhrádaigh
    • Comóradh Mháiréad Ní Ghráda, Courtesy of Clare County Libraries
    • PLAYOGRAPHYIreland and Playography na Gaeilge 
    • RTÉ Archives 
  • 1960s

    An Triail presented by Gael Linn/ An Club Drámaíochta, premiered to great acclaim at The Damer theatre during Dublin Theatre Festival, 1964Caitlín Maude initially played the role of Máire but due to illness, was forced to step down and the part was taken over by Fionnula Flanagan. Praised by the Sunday Times theatre critic, Harold Hobson, the play succeeded in introducing Irish language drama to new audiences: 
    He comments on the packed house at the Damer and the high proportion of young people in the audience. Special praise is given to Co. Galway – born Caitlín Maude, who played an unmarried mother, and to producer Tomás Mac Anna. (Irish Newspaper Archives, Irish Press, 04.12.1964)

    An Triail premiered alongside Eugene McCabe’s King of the Castle and Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! in the 1964 festival and Máiréad has been praised for “the same willingness to tackle hitherto taboo subjects evident in English-language counterparts.” (Christopher Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 p.228) 

    Shortly after the first production the play was translated into English by the author. It again featured Fionnuala Flanagan in the leading role. On Trial was produced by Phyllis Ryan (Gemini Productions) at The Eblana theatre in March 1965:
    An agreement was reached yesterday between Máiréad Ní Ghráda and Phyllis Ryan when the author assured Miss Ryan that she would present her with a translated script shortly. Miss Ryan said that she would stage the play shortly after Christmas (…) “I shall, if possible, have the same director who staged it in the Damer Hall”, she said. “Tomás Mac Anna did a wonderful job on that small stage and I shall ask him to handle the English version. I consider this play so good, and so timely, that the language barrier, though it’s being slowly surmounted by many eager people now, should not prevent all the public from having an opportunity of seeing it. It is a moving play, intensely human, at time heart-rending. It must be seen again. Having read a report of it in the Irish Times, I went to the Damer. The theme transcended the language of which I knew too little. Do you know that that play has set me learning Irish?”  (Irish Times, 03.10.964)

    An Triail
     was filmed for RTÉ in a production by Michael Garvey and was entered into the 1965 Berlin Television Festival:

    (Máiréad Ní Ghráda) leaves Dublin by air on June 17 for Berlin where the festival is being held June 18-23. “The play has done astonishingly well here in Ireland but in the television festival it is going to have stiff competition from other European countries”, she said. The English version meanwhile continues to pack the Eblana every night and no date has yet been fixed as to when it will finish. (Irish Press, 24.05.1965, Irish Newspaper Archives)

    In 1965, Fionnula Flanagan won a Jacob’s TV Award for her portrayal of Máire in the television version.

    In 1968, Taibhdearc na Gaillimhe staged An Triail in Galway and subsequently toured to the Peacock Theatre, Dublin. The cast featured Síle Ní Chonaill as Máire Ní Chathasaigh and Máire Stafford as Bean Uí Chathasaigh. Full production details can be viewed here.
    Speaking at the reception afterwards in The Abbey for the cast and guests, Máiréad Ní Ghráda congratulated the cast and especially director Frank Bailey for an excellent production of the play, and said she could not ask for better. (“Taibhdhearc Players Feted in Dublin”, Cartlann na Taibhdhearca)*. 


    On Trial, produced by Gemini, was praised as the “festival finest offering” in Limerick’s Festival of Irish Theatre, 1970. It featured Dearbhla Molloy as Maura Cassidy, next to Maureen Toal, Anna Manahan, Arthur O’Sullivan, Geoffrey Golden and Helen Robinson:
    There have been many fine productions in the Festival of Irish Theatre currently being staged at the City Theatre, but this week’s presentation of Máiréad Ní Ghráda’s “On Triail” offers the best in theatrical entertainment, and is drawing capacity audiences. (Limerick Leader, 15.08.1970)


    An extract from On Trial was read as part of Glasshouse Productions’ festival, Acts and React: a Festival of Drama & Dialogue – There are no Women Playwrights 2, in 1994. The extract was compiled by Caroline Williams, directed by Katy Hayes and performed by Sian Quill, Clare Dowling and Eugene O’Brien

    In 1998, Amharclann de hÍde staged An Triail in The Crypt, Dublin Castle. Directed by the Artistic Director Bríd Ó Gallchoir and featuring Lesley Conroy, Ann Marie Horan, Brid McCarthy, Darach Mac Con Iomaire, Niall O Sioradáin and Seán O Tarpaigh, it toured to five regional venues in 1999:

    The play caused a lot of controversy when it premiered at the Damer Theatre in September, 1964, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. Thirty-five years later, the dilemmas faced by Máire in An Triail still resonate for contemporary Irish society.Amharclann de hÍde’s production present a minimalist set and an aesthetic inspired by expressionism and the work of Tadeusz Kantor. Director Bríd O Gallchoir imbues this political drama with a 1930s ambience of film noir to highlight, in a stark stylised way, the issues at the core of the play. (Southern Star 17.04.1999)


    Since 2004, Aisling Ghéar have toured the country with numerous stage productions of An Triail. To date, their various productions, catering specifically for secondary school audiences, have been directed by Niall Ó Sioradáin, Bairbre Ní Chaoimh, Joan Sheehy, Seamús Ó Aodha and Bríd Ó Gallchoir. Some of the actors who have worked with Aisling Ghéar on An Triail include Nuala Ní Neill, Cillian Ó Donnachadh, John Burke, Noni Stapleton, Tony Devlin, Norette Leahy, Bríd McCarthy, Mary Louise McCarthy, Cillian Ó Gairbhi, Malachy McKenna, Donal Mac Giolla Chóill, Gina Costigan, JD Kelleher, Myles Breen, Dorothy Cotter, Domhnall O Dongohue, Bairbre Ní Chaoimh, Michael Wallace, Kelly Shatter, Rossa Sheridan, Liz Fitzgibbon, Jamie Hallahan, Mary Ryan, Piaras Donnelly, Susie Lamb, Mary Conroy, Tim Creed, Shaun Dunne, Lesley Conroy, Bríd Ó Gallchoir and Karen Ardiff.

    Fíbín have been touring An Triail almost every year since 2007. Their unique version of the play features four actors using a variety of puppets and masks to portray the numerous characters in the play. Production team included: Brendan Murray, Pete Nelson, John Comiskey, Sean O’ Cearbhuil, Pete Ray, Matthew Guinnane and Blánaid Ní Nuanáin. Cast included: Eoin Mac Diarmada, Ray Cudihay, Cliona De Brí, Bridin Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and Clíona Ní Chiosáin.

  • “This play is significant because it has an urgent theme and is entitled to rank as the most important offering the Theatre Festival makes available. Just imagine for a moment the sequence of articles written by Michael Viney in the Irish Times recently, on what is known as illegitimacy, crystallised into a searing drama that challenges every aspect of the nation’s treatment of this social problem“. (L. Mac G. on 23 Sep 1964)

    VIDEO: Mairéad Ní Ghráda talks about the inspiration for Máire

    Mairéad Ní Ghráda talks to Aedín Ní Chaoimh about the inspiration for Máire in this radio interview from ‘Dá Bhfaighinn Mo Rogha’, broadcast on 29 March 1979. 

    An Triail was first produced on 22nd September 1964, just 3 days after the final instalment of Michael Viney’s series of articles in the Irish Times, collectively titled No Birthright. This illustrated series was a critical investigation of the treatment of unmarried mothers in Ireland; the Irish girls who travelled to Britain and of the social structures which dealt with them and their children.

    The first article titled “Clare and Danny” gives a candid description of a young girl’s journey to London to have her child.

    Clare made only one preparation for the birth of her baby. She bought a pair of sterile scissors, which she carried about with her in case she gave birth in the street or on the bus.

    After Danny was born, Clare went home to tell her mother. She acknowledges that “it didn’t take her long, I’m afraid, to think of what the neighbours would say,” indicating the general fear of public opinion under which many in her situation suffered.

    Her final statement reveals the stark choices available to unmarried mothers at the time: Whatever happens, I’ll do anything to keep my baby. Anything short of prostitution – I’ve drawn the line there.

    The second article titled “The Reckoning” discusses the number of unmarried women in Ireland compared with Europe (lower per capita) and the organisations that help them. The article includes a graph representing “Illegitimate Births in Ireland 1953-1963” which shows a high of around 1,350 in 1953 and a low of around 950 in 1959.

    It opens with a statement by the author. Viney says: When I mentioned to an Irish prison doctor that I intended to write these articles, he warned: “If you go besmirching the name of Irish womanhood, you won’t be forgiven”.

    He also quotes an Irish mother who said: Tell my daughter never to set foot in Ireland again and that she has disgraced her family and her country – belying the peculiarly politicised perspective of Irish people towards unmarried women.

    The next day brought “The Secret Service” which discusses the Homes for Unmarried Mothers around the country and the lengths to which they go to maintain the secrecy of the women’s identities.

    Perhaps the one really distressing aspect of these secret-service homes is that Irish society should have made such conspiracy necessary. Is there not something missing from a family relationship when a girl feels she cannot confide in either mother or father in this, the worst crisis of her life.

    Pregnant From Ireland” investiagtes the influx of girls arriving in the UK from Ireland to have their babies.

    The initials “P.F.I.” are part of the everyday vocabulary of the social workers and almoners who help the unmarried mother in London and the major cities of north-west England.

    Describing the fear of being sent home under which the girls suffer, Viney remarks: As a social worker in a Catholic welfare agency said: “What sort of society do you have in Ireland that puts the girls into this state?

    In “The Lonely City,” Viney reveals what life is like for Irish girls who travel to London to have their babies, the decisions they must make and the type of help available to them. This article includes a table from a report of the London County Council* which gives details of unmarried mothers seen by London moral welfare organisations during the year.

    He explains that even for young Irish emigrants in London, fear of reactions “back home” to the birth of a baby outside marriage – or even its conception before the marriage date  – can lead to pathetic decisions. Three separate social workers quoted instances of young emigrant Irish couples who had become engaged in Britain, had then conceived a baby, and who were then so afraid of what their parents would say that they let the baby be born illegitimately and be adopted before they actually married and went on to have more children.

    The Chosen Children” describes the adoption process, detailing the changes that have occurred since the Adoption Act in 1952. It is a situation that favours the “perfect” baby (and the perfect baby girl at that) and leaves the less well-favoured child to linger in a nursery, or with foster parents, until someone takes him for their own.

    The final article, “The Luck of Love”, details the variety of situations the illegitimate child might find themselves in from adoption by a family member, “A Family Affair,” to foster homes. Viney concludes as follows: The unmarried mother has the rest of her life to live. Her child’s has just begun. Should we not hate the sin, but love the sinner – and the sinned against?

    MICHAEL VINEY has been writing for the Irish Times for half a century, with a parallel career in broadcasting, film-making and as natural history author.  In the 1960s he wrote about social issues such as No Birthright (book published by the Irish Times in 1964 as No Birthright: an inquiry) and the  fate of people in institutional care. In 1966, he won a Jacob’s Award for his RTÉ Television documentary, Too Many Children.
    His Saturday Irish Times  “Another Life” column began in 1977, when he moved with his family from Dublin to settle on the Mayo coast. “Another Life” has developed from experiments in self-reliance to a deep concern with nature and ecology and is illustrated with his drawings and paintings.

    *Report of the County Medical Officer of Health and Principal School Medical Officer.


We invited people who had worked with Máiréad Ní Ghráda and her texts, to share their memories of the author and the creative team involved in the premiere productions of An Triail / On Trial in 1964 and 1965.

Ray Yeates, Dublin City Arts Officer, on directing a play by Máiréad Ní Ghráda
Áine Ní Mhuirí and Máire Ní Ghráinne share their memories of “An Triail” and “On Trial”
Áine Ní Mhuirí and Máire Ní Ghráinne on Máiréad Ní Ghráda
Ray Yeates talks about Tomás Mac Anna

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Colin Murphy writes about 50th Anniversary of An Triail

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