Hugh Leonard

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hugh Leonard
Leonard c. 2004
Leonard c. 2004
BornJohn Joseph Byrne
9 November 1926
Dublin, Ireland
Died12 February 2009 (aged 82)
Dalkey, Ireland
Notable worksThe Au Pair Man
A Life
SpousePaule Byrne (d. 2000)
Katharine Hayes

Hugh Leonard (9 November 1926 – 12 February 2009) was an Irish dramatist, television writer, and essayist. In a career that spanned 50 years, Leonard wrote nearly 30 full-length plays, 10 one-act plays, three volumes of essay, two autobiographies, three novels, numerous screenplays and teleplays, and a regular newspaper column.

Life and career[edit]

Leonard was born in Dublin as John Joseph Byrne, but was put up for adoption. Raised in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, by Nicholas and Margaret Keyes, he changed his name to John Keyes Byrne.[1][2] For the rest of his life, despite the pen name of "Hugh Leonard", which he later adopted and by which became well known, he invited close friends to call him "Jack".[3]

Leonard was educated at the Harold Boys' National School, Dalkey, and Presentation College, Glasthule, winning a scholarship to the latter.[1][4] He worked as a civil servant for 14 years. During that time, he both acted in and wrote plays for community theatre groups.[1][2][4] His first play to be professionally produced was The Big Birthday, which was mounted by the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1956. His career with the Abbey Theatre[5] continued until 1994. After that, his plays were produced regularly by Dublin's theatres.[2]

He moved to Manchester for a while, working for Granada Television, before returning to Ireland in 1970, settling in Dalkey.[1]

During the 1960s and 1970s, Leonard was the first major Irish writer to establish a reputation in television[6] writing extensively for television, including original plays, comedies, thrillers, and adaptations of classic novels for British television. He was commissioned by RTÉ to write Insurrection, a 50th-anniversary dramatic reconstruction of the Irish uprising of Easter 1916.[7] Leonard's Silent Song, adapted for the BBC from a short story by Frank O'Connor, won the Prix Italia in 1967.[8] He wrote the script for the RTÉ adaptation of Strumpet City by James Plunkett.[7]

Three of Leonard's plays have been presented on Broadway: The Au Pair Man (1973), which starred Charles Durning and Julie Harris; Da (1978); and A Life (1980).[9] Of these, Da – which premiered[10] at the Olney Theatre in 1973 before being produced off-off-Broadway at the Hudson Guild Theatre and then transferring to the Morosco Theatre – was the most successful, running for 20 months and 697 performances, then touring the United States for 10 months.[11] It earned Leonard both a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award for Best Play.[12] It was made into a film in 1988, starring Martin Sheen and Barnard Hughes, who reprised his Tony Award-winning Broadway performance.[13]

In 1984, Leonard discovered his accountant Russell Murphy had embezzled IR£258,000 from him.[1][4] Leonard was particularly upset that Murphy had used his money to take clients to the theatre and purchased expensive seats at some of Leonard's plays.[4]

Leonard wrote two volumes of autobiography, Home Before Night (1979) and Out After Dark (1989).[1] Some of his essays and journalism were collected in Leonard's Last Book (1978) and A Peculiar People and Other Foibles (1979). In 1992 the Selected Plays of Hugh Leonard was published. Until 2006 he wrote a humorous weekly column, "The Curmudgeon", for the Irish Sunday Independent newspaper. He had a passion for cats and restaurants, and an abhorrence of broadcaster Gay Byrne.[14]

In 1994, Leonard gave a review of Katie Roche[15]' by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy which was performed in the Peacock Theatre, and he recalls his own acting role in an undated amateur production of 'Temporal Powers' which Teresa Deevy attended.

Even after retiring as a Sunday Independent columnist, Leonard displayed an acerbic humour. In an interview with Brendan O'Connor, he was asked if it galled him that Gay Byrne was now writing his old column. His reply was, "It would gall me more if he was any good at it."[14] Leonard was a patron of the Dublin Theatre Festival.

In 1994, Leonard appeared in a televised interview with Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, an Irish political party associated with the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[16] Leonard had long been an opponent of paramilitary groups and a critic of the IRA.[1] However, on the show and afterwards he was criticised for being "sanctimonious and theatrical" towards Adams; at one point he referred to Sinn Féin as "dogs".[17][18][19]

Hugh Leonard- Odd Man In, a film on his life and work, shown on RTÉ in March 2009. Leonard's final play, Magicality, was not performed during his lifetime; a rehearsed reading of the second act was staged at the Dalkey Castle and Heritage Centre in June 2012.[20]

Leonard died in his hometown, Dalkey, aged 82, after a long illness,[21] leaving €1.5 million in his will.[22]


  • Writers Guild of Great Britain – Award of Merit for Silent Song, 1966
  • Prix Italia for original dramatic television programs – for Silent Song 1967
  • Jacob's Television Award for adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Nicholas Nickleby, 1969
  • Antoinette Perry Award (Tony) nomination for best play – The Au Pair Man, 1973/74
  • Antoinette Perry Award (Tony) award for best play – Da, 1977/78
  • Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play – Da, 1977/78
  • New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best play – Da, 1977/78
  • Outer Critics Circle Award for the Most Outstanding Play of the New York Season – Da, 1977/78
  • Harvey's Irish Theatre Award for A Life – best new play, 1979/80
  • Rhode Island College – honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, 1980
  • University of Dublin – honorary Doctorate of Letters, 1988
  • Society of Authors Sagittarius Prize – novel for Parnell and the Englishwoman, 1992
  • The Abbey Theatre Award, 1999




  • Those crazy cat days in their cradle (1994)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Playwright with full mastery of his craft", The Irish Times, obituary section, 14 February 2009, retrieved 16 February 2009
  2. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce "Hugh Leonard, 82, Dies; Wrote Broadway’s ‘Da’" New York Times (12 February 2009)
  3. ^ "Hugie Leonard" was the name of a character in an early play that was turned down by the Abbey Theatre, and Leonard used it on the submission of his next play as a ruse. Weber, Bruce "Hugh Leonard, 82, Dies; Wrote Broadway’s ‘Da’", New York Times (12 February 2009)
  4. ^ a b c d "Hugh Leonard". The Daily Telegraph. London. 12 February 2009. Retrieved 16 February 2009.
  5. ^ "The Abbey Theatre Archive".
  6. ^ Fintan, O'Toole (13 February 2009). Irish Times. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b Death of Hugh Leonard announced, RTÉ News, 12 February 2009, retrieved 12 February 2009
  8. ^ "Prix Italia Winners" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  9. ^ Hugh Leonard at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. ^ Coe, Richard (9 August 1973). "'Da': World Premiere". The Washington Post. ProQuest 148357040. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
  11. ^ "Da". Internet Broadway Database.
  12. ^ IBDB Da:Awards
  13. ^ Da at IMDb
  14. ^ a b Sunday Independent, "Portrait of the legendary artist as an 80-year-old", 12 November 2006
  15. ^ "The Teresa Deevy Archive".[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Gerry Adams on the Late Late Show With Gay Byrne
  17. ^ Video on YouTube
  18. ^ Video on YouTube
  19. ^ Video on YouTube
  20. ^ 98FM [1] retrieved 24 November 2012
  21. ^ "Irish dramatist Hugh Leonard dies". BBC News. 12 February 2009.
  22. ^ Collins, Liam (11 October 2009). "Playwright Hugh Leonard leaves €1.5m estate". Irish Independent.
  23. ^ "Awards and honorary degrees of Hugh Leonard". 16 February 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  24. ^ Playography Ireland entry for Hugh Leonard [2], retrieved 11 November 2012
  25. ^ The Agency (London) Ltd Client List Archived 3 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Filmed as Broth of a Boy (1959)
  27. ^ An adaptation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stephen Hero, by James Joyce
  28. ^ An adaptation of The Dalkey Archive by Flann O'Brien
  29. ^ A Wild People and Fillums published by Methuen
  30. ^ "Prose work of Hugh Leonard". 13 February 2014. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  31. ^ IMDb entry for Hugh Leonard
  32. ^ RTE statement on death of Hugh Leonard, retrieved 6 January 2013

External links[edit]