Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jack Butler Yeats

Mary O'Malley's affinity for the work of W.B. Yeats led her to the little-known dramas of the poet's brother, Jack B. Yeats. The younger Yeats is of course known primarily as an artist. He is a figure that dominates twentieth century Irish art, and was the first to sell for over a million pounds (The Wild Ones, in 1999).

His forays into literature are no less significant even though they are undoubtedly more obscure than his paintings. He in fact wrote plays, novels, and even designed theatrical sets. Three of his plays were performed at the Abbey in Dublin, including the one the Lyric would eventually go on to produce, La La Noo. This play was first produced at the Abbey in May 1942, and ran for just one performance. The Lyric produced the play in 1956 as part of a double-bill with W.B. Yeats' The King's Threshold.

The Jack Yeats material in the Lyric Theatre archives at NUI Galway consists of correspondence between Yeats and Mary O'Malley. As well as this, there are copies of three more of his plays, sent personally by Yeats in response to a request by O'Malley in 1956. These include The Deathly Terrace and Harlequins Position, pictured below. This material, when fully catalogued, will be a rare opportunity for researchers to explore Jack Yeats' writing.

Yeats' own papers, deposited in the National Gallery of Ireland, are currently the subject of a major cataloguing project themselves. The archivist can be contacted through the page linked above.

The Deathly Terrace
Harlequins Position

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