McKenna in 1959
Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith
24 May 1923
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
|Died||16 November 1986 (aged 63)|
(m. 1946; died 1978)
She was born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith in Belfast, Northern Ireland into a Catholic and nationalist family. She grew up in Galway, where her father Eoghan McKenna was Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, 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 national Irish language theatre, An 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 married in 1946. Until 1970 they lived in Richmond Street South, 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 in The Chalk Garden. She reprised the role on Broadway in 1955, 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 on 10 September 1956. In 1957, she joined the acting company of the Stratford Festival in Canada, playing Viola in Twelfth Night. 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 appeared in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performed in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii, as Fortunata, wife of Gaius (Laurence Olivier).
In 1979 Mckenna appeared in the title role of Roald Dahl's The Landlady, an episode of the British TV series 'Tales of The Unexpected' where she played a seemingly charming maternal if eccentric landlady who subsequently murders her tenants and adds them to her collection of stuffed creatures..
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. Despite surgery, she died of lung cancer the following year in Dublin, Ireland, at 63 years of age. Her body was buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway. The inscription on the grave is in Irish.
In 1988, two years after her death, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast, is named in her memory.
The Siobhán McKenna Archive, documenting her life, is held in the Hardiman Library, NUI Galway.
|1947||Hungry Hill||Kate Donovan|
|1948||Daughter of Darkness||Emily Beaudine|
|1949||The Lost People||Marie|
|1951||The Adventurers||Anne Hunter|
|1961||King of Kings||Mary|
|1963||The Playboy of the Western World||Pegeen Mike|
|1964||Of Human Bondage||Nora Nesbitt|
|1977||Philadelphia, Here I Come||Madge|
|1984||Memed, My Hawk||Iroz|
|1979||The Landlady||The Landlady (Title role)||Tales of The Unexpected|
- 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.
- Curtis, Maurice (15 December 2015). Rathgar: A History. The History Press. ISBN 9780750967723.
- "Siobhán McKenna acting credits". Stratford Festival Archives. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
- https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0717493/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl Tales of the Unexpected (TV Series), The Landlady (1979)
- Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 360. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
- Grave marker, Rahoon New Cemetery
- "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". The New York Times. 22 November 1988.
- "Archive documenting Siobhán McKenna's career on display". RTE. 15 November 2019.