Tom Murphy: a Celebration at Trinity

Posted on: 05 October 2017

Tom Murphy is Ireland’s greatest living playwright, recently elected Saoi of Aosdána, an honour conferred on him by President Michael D. Higgins.  Trinity College Dublin  is celebrating Murphy’s achievement this evening [Thursday, October 5th, 2017], with a multiple event: the announcement of the acquisition of his papers by the Library of Trinity College Dublin, the launch of a new book by retired Professor of English Literature at Trinity, Nicholas Grene,  and an accompanying online exhibition. Marking the special occasion, Irish Times opinion columnist, Fintan O’Toole will speak at the event, and actor and founding member of the Druid Theatre company, Marie Mullen will read from Murphy’s plays.

In his acknowledgment of the playwright’s enormous contribution to Irish writing and theatre Professor Nicholas Grene said: “For over 55 years he has been pushing the boundaries of theatre with his powerfully disturbing images of Irish life and his haunting vision of being in the world. He has spoken of his preferred 'adventure method' of playwriting, as against working to crowd-pleasing dramatic formulae. The result has been a series of plays of astonishing daring, each one a new experiment in theatrical imagination.”

Tom Murphy on the occasion of  the award of his honorary degree at Trinity in 1998.

Commenting on the Library’s acquisition of Tom Murphy’s literary papers, College Librarian & Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “In October 2001 The Library of Trinity College announced the   acquisition of a large tranche of Murphy’s literary archives. These have been available for scholarship for over a decade and are among the most heavily used of the Library’s literary collections. I’m very pleased to be able to announce another recent acquisition of material produced since the beginning of the century. We are very proud of this important collection which will play a significant part in future Irish literary scholarship.  Tom Murphy’s collection joins Trinity’s other world renowned holdings of literary archives of famous Irish writers including Jennifer Johnston, John Banville, John B Keane and Leland Bardwell.”

Murphy’s literary activity since 2000 has been prodigious and his most recent work includes The Wake, The House, the Alice Trilogy, The Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant and Brigit, drafts of which are included in the collection together with a whole range of theatrical materials: promptbooks, set designs, and reviews.   There is also correspondence with theatres and publicity– about the staging and reception of Murphy’s work.

It is a very special collection as it also includes the original typed script of The Gigli Concert from 1983. This had previously been given by the playwright as a twenty-first birthday gift to his son Bennan Murphy who has generously returned it to the collection.

A new book by Professor Nicholas Grene was also launched on the night. The Theatre of Tom Murphy: Playwright Adventurer a new critical study, published by Bloomsbury, is the culmination of years of research, drawing heavily on the Library collection of Murphy papers.  Murphy’s powerful and searchingly honest engagement with Irish history and society is reflected in the violent A Whistle in the Dark, which made Murphy’s name with its West End success in 1961, the epic Famine, staged by the Abbey in 1968, the often hilarious Conversations on a Homecoming (Druid 1985), and the darkly Chekhovian The House (2000).  Folklore and myth figure more prominently in the spiritual drama of The Sanctuary Lamp (1975), the Faustian Gigli Concert, and the women’s stories of Bailegangaire, brought to life so memorably by Siobhán McKenna in 1985 and again by Marie Mullen in 2014.  The range and reach of Murphy’s theatre is demonstrated in this illuminating and authoritative reading, supported by an extended interview with the playwright himself, and essays by two eminent international scholars, Lucy McDiarmid and Alexandra Poulain.

Marking the significant contribution that the playwright has made to Irish theatre, an online exhibition has also been mounted by the Library, Tom Murphy: a Life in the Theatre.  This online exhibition curated by Professor Nicholas Grene and Liam Harrison, traces the genesis of Murphy’s work from his life as a young man in Tuam (memories of which feature so frequently in his plays), the imaginative development of his plays through the writing process, his engagement with staging and production by the Abbey and Druid Theatre Company.  Featured in the exhibition are draft manuscripts, a range of photographs of productions, and of the playwright himself from an early appearance as Christy Mahon in The Playboy in the Tuam Little Theatre Guild through to the conferral of the gold torc of the Saoi by President Higgins.  There are also especially commissioned interviews on Murphy’s work by Garry Hynes, Fintan O’Toole, and Colm Tóibín.

Link to online exhibition:


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