|Born||Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith
24 May 1922
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Died||16 November 1986
|Spouse(s)||Denis O'Dea (1956–1978)|
She was born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith in Belfast, Northern Ireland into a Catholic and nationalist family. She grew up in Galway City (where her father was Professor of Mathematics in UCG) and in County Monaghan speaking fluent Irish. She was still in her teens when she became a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and made her stage debut at Galway's Gaelic Theatre, the Taibhdhearc, in 1940.
She is remembered for her English-language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she would eventually star in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.
While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she met actor Denis O'Dea, whom she eventually married in 1956. Until 1970 they lived in Richmond Street Sth., Dublin. They had one child, a son: Donnacha O'Dea, who swam for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.
In 1947, she made her debut on the London stage and on Broadway in 1955 in The Chalk Garden for which she would receive a Tony Award nomination for "Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama." In 1956, she appeared in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton called her performance the finest portrayal of Joan in memory. Siobhán McKenna's popularity earned her the cover of Life magazine. She received a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers in which she starred with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.
Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appeared in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also acted in several motion pictures including 1961's King of Kings, starring in the role of the Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performed in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago.
McKenna was awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having "significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people."
Siobhán McKenna's final stage appearance came in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Suffering from lung cancer, despite surgery, she died the following year in Dublin, Ireland, at age 63, and was interred in the Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway. The inscription on her tomb is written in Irish. In 1988, 2 years after her death, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
- Ó hAodha, Micheál (1994). Siobhán: A Memoir of an Actress. Ireland: Brandon Book Publishers. ISBN 0863221882.
- McGuire, James; Quinn, James (2009). Dictionary of Irish Biography. Volume III. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy-Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521633314.
- Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 251. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 360. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Find a Grave - Siobhán Nic Cionnaith
- "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". New York Times. November 22, 1988.