Siobhán McKenna

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Siobhán McKenna
Siobhan McKenna 1959.jpg
McKenna in 1959
Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith

(1923-05-24)24 May 1923
Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Died16 November 1986(1986-11-16) (aged 63)
Dublin, Ireland
Spouse(s)Denis O'Dea (1946–1978)

Siobhán McKenna (Irish pronunciation: [ˈʃɪwaːn̪ˠ]) (24 May 1923 – 16 November 1986) was an Irish stage and screen actress.

Walter Slezak and Siobhán McKenna from the 1960 presentation "Woman in White" on the anthology program Dow Hour of Great Mysteries


She was born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith in Belfast, Northern Ireland into a Catholic and nationalist family.[1] She grew up in Galway, where her father 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 Gaelic Theatre, the Taibhdhearc, in 1940.[2]


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.[2]

While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she met actor Denis O'Dea, whom she married in 1946.[3] 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.[2]

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 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.[1]

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.[1] She also appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii, as Fortunata, wife of Gaius (Laurence Olivier).

She starred in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode "The Landlady".

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."[2]


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.[4] Her body was buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway. The inscription on the grave is in Irish.[5]

In 1988, two years after her death, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.[6] The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast, is named in her memory.


Year Title Role Notes
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
1965 Doctor Zhivago Anna
1977 Philadelphia, Here I Come Madge
1984 Memed, My Hawk Iroz

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c McGuire, James; Quinn, James (2009). Dictionary of Irish Biography. Volume III. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy-Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521633314.
  2. ^ a b c d Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 251. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4.
  3. ^ Curtis, Maurice (2015-12-15). Rathgar: A History. The History Press. ISBN 9780750967723.
  4. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 360. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
  5. ^ Grave marker, Rahoon New Cemetery
  6. ^ "Theater Hall of Fame Adds Nine New Names". The New York Times. 22 November 1988.

External links[edit]