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Tell Your Own Story

The Actor: My Grandfather, Ira Allen by Cecil Allen

Article by Cecil Allen ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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You never know what will happen when you write a book.

I wrote the book The Actor to celebrate the life and work of my grandfather, Ira Allen. Ira was my hero. Ira Allen was a famous theatre-actor-manager who wrote and performed in more than 20 of his own historical melodramas. He produced his plays and staged them in the Queen’s Theatre, Dublin and then took them around the country. His melodramas told the stories of the lives of Ireland’s patriots and saints. His most successful play, Father Murphy, the hero of Tullow, told the story of the rebel priest Fr John Murphy and the battle of Vinegar Hill. Ira died at the early age of forty-eight and he achieved much in his short lifetime.

Although I studied theatre in university I had never read a play or anything written by Ira. I set myself the task of finding rectifying that situation. I decided to find and read Father Murphy. To research my book and to complete my task I spoke to as many family members as I could and I contacted actors and theatre historians. I read Seamus de Burca’s wonderful book about The Queen’s Royal Theatre and an aunt gave me a very faded copy of one of Ira’s plays A Nobel Brother. I read it, it was great fun. I visited the National Library in Kildare Street and the Dublin’s Theatre Archives in Pearse Street and found some posters of Ira’s productions. I even found a poster for a 1913 production of Father Murphy but no copy of Father Murphy.’

Using a few articles that Ira wrote for newspapers, a few mentions in Irish history books and some other information in Irish theatre history books plus a few reflections from older actors, I imagined a life story of Ira and his times. Now I know that it is more fiction than fact but it is fiction infused with facts and loving conjectures.

To promote my book I devised a talk about Ira’s beloved Queen’s Theatre and its place in Irish theatre history. I delivered the talk around the city in libraries, retirement groups and history group. Along the way I renewed acquaintances with a long lost cousin who told me that in 1965 just before the Queen’s Theatre was demolished his mother, with permission from Dublin Corporation, retrieved some of Ira Allen’s handwritten plays and papers from the condemned building. Then he told me that among the items his mother retrieved from the Queen’s Theatre was a copy of Ira’s most famous play Father Murphy. At last it was within my grasp but alas when I looked through the material there was no Father Murphy.

Then my cousin remembered that he had loaned the manuscript to another cousin in England. I contacted the lady in question and she told me that she had several files pertaining to Ira and his work. I asked if I could go to England and look at the files. Without hesitation she sent me the files t, all seven boxes of them. I immediately searched through the files and low and behold there was Father Murphy, the hero of Tullow. Right then and there I sat and read Ira’s masterpiece. It was wonderful, full of high drama and great comic scenes.

One evening following one of my talks on the Queen’s Theatre I was introduced to Dr Mary Clark, theatre archivist. I told her my story of how I found Ira’s Allen’s plays and papers. To my delight she informed me that The Dublin Theatre Archive would love to have the Ira Allen papers and would be proud to give them a permanent home. I spoke with my cousins and they agreed to donate the plays and papers to the archive and now there is an official Ira Allen Collection and his plays and papers are available to all to read or study. I think Ira would be pleased.
That’s what happened when I published my first book The Actor. Now, what is going to happen now that I have published my second book Constructing Alice? I can’t wait!

(c) Cecil Allen

About The Actor:

A story of love and passion set in a time of war and violence. A story of one man’s struggle to find his place in the world. A story of theatre. A story of life. In 1914 a young Jim Brevin runs away from his middle-class Dublin home and joins a theatrical fit-up company travelling around Cork and Kerry. On the day he becomes an apprentice with the famous Ira Allen’s Company of Irish Players at the Queen’s Theatre he reluctantly gets involved in the 1916 Rising. Jim is mistaken for a British spy, marries a rebel’s sister, discovers fraud and theft in the family business and suffers a horrendous personal tragedy. In time he becomes a celebrated actor and at the moment of his greatest theatrical success he is faced with a stark choice. The Actor is a page turner, full of colourful characters, wit, tragedy, humour, life and theatre. It illustrates how the emerging Irish state impacted on the lives of ordinary people, shaped one man’s dream and closed the Queen’s Theatre. Drawing extensively on the life of the writer/actor Ira Allen, the novel places readers at the centre of the organized chaos and theatrical magic that was melodrama and at the core of a violent changing Ireland.

Order your copy online here.

And you can order a copy of Constructing Alice here.

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Cecil Allen is an award winning writer and the grandson of the famous actor and writer Ira Allen. Cecil, author of the hugely popular ‘The Actor – A Novel,’ is a retired college lecturer from the Dublin Institute of Technology who holds a BA from Indiana University and an MFA from the University of Minnesota. He is a former professional actor who performed in many Dublin theatres including the Gate Theatre and the Olympia Theatres. He was a broadcaster with RTE for over twenty years and represented Ireland twice at International Toastmasters Competitions. He is the father of two sons and lives in Malahide with his wife Julie.