Sive (play)

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Written byJohn B. Keane
CharactersLiam Scuab
Mike Glavin
Mena Glavin
Nanna Glavin
Thomasheen Seán Rua
Pats Bocock
Seán Dóta
Date premieredMarch 1959
Place premieredWalsh's Ballroom, Listowel, Ireland
Original languageEnglish
SubjectIllegitimacy, marriage, poverty
GenreTragedy, drama
SettingRural County Kerry, 1960s

Sive /ˈsv/ is a play by the Irish writer John B. Keane, first performed in Listowel, County Kerry in 1959.[1] Keane chose to use the name "Sive" for the play in honor of his sister, Shiela, using the Irish-Gaelic form of the name.[2]


The story is centred on an eighteen-year-old girl, Sive, who is illegitimate. She lives with her uncle Mike, his wife Mena, and Nanna, who is Mike’s mother. A local matchmaker, Thomasheen Sean Rua, decides that Sive should marry a man named Seán Dota. Seán is rich but old and haggard. Thomasheen convinces Mena to organise the marriage of Sive to Seán Dota. She and her husband will receive a sum of two hundred pounds as soon as Sive marries him. Mike is originally unwilling to have Sive married to a man so much older than her, but Mena convinces him otherwise.

Sive, however, is in love with a young man by the name of Liam Scuab. But Liam is unsuitable as he is related to the man who got Sive's mother pregnant out of marriage, before going to work in England and drowning. Mike, who believes that Sive's father deliberately abandoned her mother upon discovering her pregnancy, refuses permission for Liam to marry Sive, on account of his being related to her father.

Sive is distraught but is forced to do the will of her uncle and his wife. Nanna does not approve and would prefer her to marry Liam. Two local tinkers — Pats and his son Carthalawn — connive together and decide to help Sive escape from Seán Dota and marry Liam. They plan to do this by giving a letter (written by Liam Scuab) to Nanna, who will pass it on to Sive. The plot fails, however, when Thomasheen discovers the letter and destroys it. On the night before her marriage Sive disappears and shortly afterward, Liam finds her corpse in a bog hole. He carries the body into the house, announcing to Mena that she is responsible for the death. As Liam cries over the dead body, Seán Dota and Thomasheen both leave the room. The play concludes with Pats and his son singing about a maiden who was drowned as she would not be a bride.

Performance history[edit]

After being rejected by the Abbey Theatre, The Listowel Drama Group produced the play. Sive first performed in Christy's Ballroom, Listowel, Co. Kerry. The play was an overall success, but John B. Keane noted that some took offense to the melodramatic content of the play, calling it blasphemous and pornographic based on the appearance of Sive as a young girl.[3]

In the first performances of the play, Nora Relihan played Mena Galvin, Margaret Dillon performed as Sive, and John B. Keane himself played Carthalawn.[4]

The play is still widely known throughout Ireland, usually being a piece of theatre taught in Irish school systems.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Des., Hickey (1992-01-01). John B : the real Keane. Mercier Press. ISBN 1856350657. OCLC 28548700.
  3. ^ Keane, John B. (1964). Self Portrait. Cork: Mercier Press. p. 92. Some others resented 'Sive', said it was blasphemous and ungodly, and noisily gave vent to their opinions while the play was in progress.
  4. ^ Keane, John B. (1964). Self Portrait. Cork: Mercier Press. pp. 87–98.

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