Micheál Mac Liammóir
Micheál Mac Liammóir
Mac Liammóir performing The Importance of Being Oscar
25 October 1899
|Died||6 March 1978(aged 78)|
Alfred Willmore (25 October 1899 – 6 March 1978), known as Micheál Mac Liammóir, was a British-born Irish actor, dramatist, impresario, writer, poet and painter. Mac Liammóir was born to a Protestant family living in the Kensal Green district of London. He co-founded the Gate Theatre with his partner Hilton Edwards. He is one of the most recognizable figures in the arts in twentieth-century Ireland.
Life and work
As Alfred Willmore, he was one of the leading child actors on the English stage, in the company of Noël Coward. He appeared for several seasons in Peter Pan. He studied painting at London's Slade School of Art, continuing to paint throughout his lifetime. In the 1920s he travelled all over Europe. Willmore was captivated by Irish culture: he learnt Irish which he spoke and wrote fluently and he changed his name to an Irish version, presenting himself in Ireland as a descendant of Irish Catholics from Cork. Later in his life, he wrote three autobiographies in Irish and translated them into English.
While acting in Ireland with the touring company of his brother-in-law Anew MacMaster, Mac Liammóir met the man who would become his partner and lover, Hilton Edwards. Their first meeting took place in the Athenaeum, Enniscorthy, County Wexford. Deciding to remain in Dublin, where they lived at Harcourt Terrace, the pair assisted with the inaugural production of Galway's Irish language theatre, An Taibhdhearc; the play was Mac Liammóir's version of the mythical story Diarmuid agus Gráinne, in which Mac Liammóir played the lead role as Diarmuid.
Mac Liammóir and Edwards then threw themselves into their own venture, co-founding the Gate Theatre in Dublin in 1928. The Gate became a showcase for modern plays and design (even as Mac Liammóir himself maintained an ongoing fascination with Celticism). Mac Liammóir's set and costume designs were key elements of the Gate's success. His many notable acting roles included Robert Emmet/The Speaker in Denis Johnston's The Old Lady Says "No!" and the title role in Hamlet.
In 1948, he appeared in the NBC television production of Great Catherine with Gertrude Lawrence. In 1951, during a break in the making of Othello, Mac Liammóir produced Orson Welles's ghost-story Return to Glennascaul which was directed by Hilton Edwards. He played Iago in Welles's film version of Othello (1952). His Iago is unusual in that Mac Liammóir was about fifty (and looked older) when he played the role, while the play gives Iago's age as 28. This may have been because of Welles' intended interpretation – he wanted Iago played as an older "impotent" consumed by envy for the younger Othello. The following year, he went on to play 'Poor Tom' in another Welles project, the TV film of King Lear (1953) for CBS.
Mac Liammóir wrote and performed a one-man show, The Importance of Being Oscar, based on the life and work of Oscar Wilde. The Telefís Éireann production won him a Jacob's Award in December 1964. It was later filmed by the BBC with Mac Liammóir reprising the role.
In 1969 he had a supporting role in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter. In 1970 Mac Liammóir performed the role of narrator on the cult album Peace on Earth by the Northern Irish showband, the Freshmen and in 1971 he played an elocution teacher in Curtis Harrington's What's the Matter with Helen?.
Mac Liammóir claimed when talking to Irish playwright Mary Manning, to have had a homosexual relationship with General Eoin O'Duffy, former Garda Síochána Commissioner and head of the paramilitary Blueshirts in Ireland, during the 1930s. The claim was revealed publicly by RTÉ in a documentary, The Odd Couple, broadcast in 1999. However, Mac Liammóir's claims have not been substantiated.
Mac Liammóir's life and artistic development are the subject of a major study by Tom Madden, The Making of an Artist. Edwards and Mac Liammóir were the subject of a biography, titled The Boys by Christopher Fitz-Simon. Edwards and MacLiammoir are buried alongside each other at St. Fintan's Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin
In 1973, he and Edwards were granted the Freedom of the City of Dublin.
Mac Liammóir is the subject of the 1990 play The Importance of Being Micheál (also published as a book) by John Keyes.
Relationship with Edwards and legacy
The academic Éibhear Walshe of University College Cork notes that Mac Liammóir and Edwards did not ever identify themselves as gay as "Irish cultural discourse simply didn’t accommodate any public sexual identity outside the heterosexual consensus", noting that Irish society at the time only recorded lesbian and gay communities and cultures "in police records, prosecutions of men for same sex activities or medical records of institutional committals of men and women for the mental illness of inversion".
They were, however, prominent features on the Dublin social scene and as Walshe notes elsewhere "MacLiammóir [sic] and his partner Edwards survived, and even flourished, as Ireland's only visible gay couple". Walshe goes on to say that "when MacLiammóir died in 1978, the president of Ireland attended his funeral, as did the taoiseach and several government ministers, while Hilton Edwards was openly deferred to and sympathised [with] as chief mourner" 
The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival presents an award for "Best Actor" in his name.
|1915||The Little Minister||Micah Dow|
|1916||Comin' Thro' the Rye|
|1924||Land of Her Fathers|
|1968||30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia||Irish storyteller|
|1970||The Kremlin Letter||Sweet Alice|
|1971||What's the Matter with Helen?||Hamilton Starr||(final film role)|
- The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Columbia University Press, New York (2007), p. 851. ISBN 978-0-231-14032-4.
- O'Doherty, Ian (29 October 2005). "Plastic Paddies". Irish Independent.
- Blau, Eleanor (20 November 1982). "HILTON EDWARDS, 79, IS DEAD; FOUNDER OF THEATER IN DUBLIN". The New York Times.
- Tom Madden (2015), The Making of an Artist: Creating the Irishman Micheál MacLiammóir. Dublin: Liffey Press
- Micheál Mac Liammóir, Put Money in thy purse – the Making of Othello. 1952. p. 26
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 13818-13819). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- The Guardian. 'Sodom and Begorrah' May 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/may/04/artsfeatures1
- Walshe, Éibhear. Invisible Irelands: Kate O’Brien’s Lesbian and Gay Social Formations in London and Ireland in the Twentieth Century
- Walshe, Éibhear. 1997. Sex, Nation, and Dissent. Cork: Cork University Press.
- Fitz-Simon, Christopher. The Boys: A Double Biography.
- Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 15–16.