As my last post described, NUI Galway has acquired several important theatrical collections over the past decade or so, and is in the process this year of making them fully accessible through a cataloguing project. The aim is to create a cohesive body of collections for researchers of Irish theatre.and related topics. One collection which really illustrates the links between these archives is the Siobhán McKenna papers.
The gaeilgeoir and actress was born in Belfast but raised in Galway and Monaghan. She debuted on stage with An Taibhearc in 1940 as a teenager, and there followed an illustrious acting career. McKenna received Tony Award nominations for her roles in The Chalk Garden (1955) and The Rope Dancers (1958). But it is her definitive role as the eponymous St Joan by George Bernard Shaw that she is best remembered. Her portrayal was acclaimed as the best in memory by theatre critic Elliot Norton. First and foremost a stage actress, McKenna nonetheless appeared in several films, including Dr Zhivago. She died in 1986 at the age of sixty three.
McKenna’s papers are currently being catalogued, but the links between this collection and that of An Taibhearc, the company with which she started her career, are clear. As well as this, there is a note from McKenna to the Lyric Players, written on their opening night at the Dublin Theatre Festival, wishing them luck. These are only the most obvious of connections; it will fall to researchers to discover more amongst the archives when made available.