Máirín Cregan, Author and Playwright. (27 March 1891 – 9 November 1975)
Máirín Cregan was born in Langford Street, Killorglin. Her mother, local woman, Ellen O’Shea, was married to Morgan Cregan, a native of Newcastlewest. Mairin’s siblings were Ellen, Dora, Celia and Morgan John, who died in infancy. A talented musician and Irish language enthusiast, Máirín attended National School in Killorglin, where she was taught by the Cumann na mBan activist, Una Nic Coluim.
Having completed her secondary education at the St. Louis Convent, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, she taught at the Brigidine School, Co. Kilkenny, until moving to Dublin in 1914 to study at the Leinster School of Music. In Dublin, Máirín socialised at the Ranelagh home of the prominent nationalist family, the Ryans of Tomcoole, Co. Wexford. It is there that she met James Ryan, whom she would later marry.
Three days before the Easter Rising in Dublin, in 1916, she travelled by train to Tralee, Co. Kerry. Hidden in her violin case was ammunition, as well as written instructions on how to operate wireless technology, for delivery to the revolutionary leader, Austin Stack.
Máirín and James were married shortly after his election to the First Dáil (provisional Irish government) in January 1919. They settled in Co. Wexford, where, during the Irish War of Independence, their home was often raided by British soldiers. The couple remained fervently republican and were opposed to the 1921 Treaty and the foundation of the 26-county Irish Free State. During the ensuing Civil War, James was interned by the Free State Government for months on end. Alongside hundreds of other prisoners, it was during his confinement at the Tintown Camp, the Curragh, Co. Kildare that he went on hunger strike for 36 days, in Autumn 1923.
Cregan began her literary career as a playwright and completed a two-act play, Hunger Strike, in 1927. Based on the couple’s real-life experiences and deemed too controversial for production at that time, it was subsequently rejected by the Abbey Theatre in 1931. The national broadcaster, 2RN, aired a radio adaptation of the play in 1936.
Cregan enjoyed an illustrious career as a children’s author. Her first novel Old John, an Irish version (Sean Eoin), of which was illustrated by the artist, Jack B. Yeats, featured on the primary schools’ curriculum. She won international acclaim for her novel, Rathina and its translation into several languages. She received the American Downey Award for Children’s Fiction in 1942.
With their three children, Eoin, Nuala and Seamus, the couple eventually settled at Kindlestown House, Delgany, Co. Wicklow. James was a founder member of the Fianna Fáil political party and enjoyed a prestigious political career until his retirement in 1965.
In March 2022, the Killorglin Archive Society presented the first ever production of Hunger Strike at the CYMS Hall. Fittingly, members of both the O’Shea and Ryan families attended this tribute to Máirín Cregan and her contribution to Irish theatre and literature.