Siobhan McKenna (1923 - 1986)

Siobhan Mckenna
1923 - 1986
updated July 24, 2019
Siobhan McKenna was born on May 24, 1923 at Belfast, Ireland, U.K.. She died on November 16, 1986 at Dublin, Ireland at 63 years of age.

Siobhán McKenna (Irish pronunciation: [ˈʃɪwaːn̪ˠ]) (24 May 1923 – 16 November 1986) was an Irish stage and screen actress.
She was born Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith in Belfast, Northern Ireland into a Catholic and nationalist family. She grew up in Galway, where her father was Professor of Mathematics at University College Galway, and in County Monaghan, speaking fluent Irish. She was still in her teens when she became a member of an amateur Gaelic theatre group and made her stage debut at Galway's Gaelic Theatre, the Taibhdhearc, in 1940.
She is remembered for her English language performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where she would eventually star in what many consider her finest role in the George Bernard Shaw play, Saint Joan.
While performing at the Abbey Theatre in the 1940s, she met actor Denis O'Dea, whom she married in 1946. Until 1970 they lived in Richmond Street South, Dublin. They had one child, a son: Donnacha O'Dea, who swam for Ireland at the 1968 Summer Olympics and later won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1998.
In 1947, she made her debut on the London stage in The Chalk Garden. She reprised the role on Broadway in 1955, for which she would receive a Tony Award nomination for "Best Actress in a Leading Role, Drama." In 1956, she appeared in the Cambridge Drama Festival production of Saint Joan at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre. Theatre critic Elliot Norton called her performance the finest portrayal of Joan in memory. Siobhán McKenna's popularity earned her the cover of Life magazine. She received a second Tony Best Actress nomination for her role in the 1958 play, The Rope Dancers, in which she starred with Art Carney and Joan Blondell.
Although primarily a stage actress, McKenna appeared in a number of made-for-television films and dramas. She also appeared in several motion pictures such as King of Kings in 1961, as Virgin Mary. In 1964, she performed in Of Human Bondage and the following year in Doctor Zhivago. She also appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii, as Fortunata, wife of Gaius (Laurence Olivier).
She starred in the title role of the Tales of the Unexpected episode "The Landlady".
McKenna was awarded the Gold Medal of the Éire Society of Boston, for having "significantly fulfilled the ideals of the Éire Society, in particular, spreading awareness of the cultural achievements of the Irish people."
Siobhán McKenna's final stage appearance came in the 1985 play Bailegangaire for the Druid Theatre Company. Despite surgery, she died of lung cancer the following year in Dublin, Ireland, at 63 years of age. Her body was buried at Rahoon Cemetery in County Galway. The inscription on the grave is in Gaelic.
In 1988, 2 years after her death, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Siobhán McKenna Theatre in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, in her native Belfast is named in her honour.

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Amanda S. Stevenson
10.4k+ favorites
Siobhán McKenna was an Irish stage and screen actress. Wikipedia
Born: May 24, 1923, Belfast, United Kingdom
Died: November 16, 1986, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Full name: Siobhán Giollamhuire Nic Cionnaith
Nationality: British
Children: Donnacha O'Dea
Aug 03, 2017 · Reply
Amanda S. Stevenson
10.4k+ favorites
The nicest Irish actress you would ever want to meet.
Dec 26, 2017 · Reply

Siobhan Mckenna Obituary

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Published: November 17, 1986

Siobhan McKenna, a pride of the Irish theater whose vivid Joan of Arc captivated Broadway audiences in 1956, died of a heart attack yesterday after surgery at the Black Rock Clinic in Dublin. She was 63 years old and a resident of the Irish capital.

Miss McKenna's agent in New York, Milton Goldman, reported that she had been suffering from lung cancer. The actress was to have appeared in a new film directed by John Huston and based on Joyce's story ''The Dead,'' Mr. Goldman said.

Miss McKenna, who was born in Belfast and grew up speaking Gaelic, was a product of the Abbey Theater in Dublin. She began her acting career in 1940 as a semiprofessional at the Gaelic An Taibhdhearc Theater in Galway, Ireland.

She became associated with the Abbey in 1944 and made her London debut in ''The White Steed'' in 1947. But she returned to Galway in 1951 to appear as Joan in her own Gaelic translation of Shaw's ''Saint Joan.'' She then did the role in English to great acclaim in Ireland and London. 'An Immediate Impression'

Theatergoers in New York first saw Miss McKenna in ''The Chalk Garden'' in 1955. But it was her vigorous portrayal of Joan that took Broadway by storm the following year.

''A tidy young lady with a broad face, alert eyes and a voluminous voice,'' Brooks Atkinson, the theater critic of The New York Times, wrote after the premiere at the Phoenix Theater, ''she makes an immediate impression on the theater, and for the last two or three years has been made a distinct impression on 'Saint Joan.' ''

Mr. Atkinson, who believed that Miss McKenna's interpretation did not fully explore Shaw's character in all its ramifications, wrote that she ''concentrates on the hearty farm girl who has seen visions and who bullies her way to the Dauphin's court and the fields of France by her rude vitality, naive camaraderie, brashness and boyish stance.''

''Miss McKenna,'' he went on, ''fairly bursts into every scene, and usually at the top of her voice. She reads her lines with a sing-song rhythm that becomes rather hypnotic before the play is over. But the accent is Irish, which makes it particularly attractive to American ears, and the voice is extraordinarily powerful.'' 'The Best St. Joan'

The actress Geraldine Page said yesterday: ''It was the best St. Joan I've ever seen. It is one of the greatest performances of the century.'' She also called Miss McKenna ''an absolutely extraordinary actress.''

In Ireland, another colleague, Cyril Cusack, called her death ''a great shock and a great loss to the Irish theater and country.''

Miss McKenna also scored an enormous success with a one-woman show, ''Here Are Ladies,'' that became a centerpiece of the New York Shakespeare Festival's comeback season in 1971. In it, she presented a gallery of women by Irish writers she loved and admired: Yeats, Synge, Joyce and Beckett, among others.

Miss McKenna turned the show into a collage of Irish writing, delivered with a caressing brogue and crowned with a powerful reading of Molly Bloom's soliloquy from Joyce's ''Ulysses.'' Scheduled for only a short run, it played for 67 performances until Miss McKenna decided the strain of the multiple-role solo evenings was becoming too much for her.

But she took the show on a United States college tour later that year, then performed it, again to much acclaim, in Ireland and Britain, and brought it to Broadway in 1973. A 1971 one-hour film version of the show, broadened to include the sights of Ireland and a supporting cast from the Abbey, was seen on American cable television last year.

Spoke Only Gaelic as a Child,

Siobhan McKenna was born on May 24, the year being given variously as 1922 or 1923. As a child, she spoke only Gaelic. After attending a convent school, she gained her first acting experience at Galway University, where she joined the only all-Gaelic reportory theater in Ireland,
An Taibhdhearc.

After graduation in 1944, she moved to the Abbey and first appeared in ''The Countess Cathleen,'' which marked her stage debut in English. She made her film debut in 1947 in Daphne du Maurier's ''Hungry Hill.''

More films followed, but Laurence Olivier prompted her to return to the stage in ''Fading Mansions.'' Her career then became a steady stream of roles in plays, new and classic, and movies, including ''Doctor Zhivago'' and ''Playboy of the Western World.''

Miss McKenna walked the boards of London, Edinburgh, Stratford-on-Avon, Stratford in Ontario, New York and many other places. Among her most recent work in the United States was another one-woman production, ''Dubliners, Exiles, Epiphanies,'' with readings from Joyce. She opened it in 1982 at the Joyce Centennial Festival in Washington and took it around the country and to Ireland after that.

Miss McKenna was married for 22 years to the actor Denis O'Dea, who died in 1978. She is survived by their son, Donnacha O'Dea, and a sister, Nancy.

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1923 - 1986 World Events

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In 1923, in the year that Siobhan McKenna was born, on August 2nd, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President of the United States due to the sudden death of Warren G. Harding. After the scandals of the Harding presidency, Coolidge restored public confidence and was very popular. He won the Presidential election in 1924 but declined to run again in 1928.

In 1935, by the time she was only 12 years old, the BOI's name (the Bureau of Investigation) was changed to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and it officially became a separate agency with the Department of Justice. J. Edgar Hoover, the Chief of the BOI, continued in his office and became the first Director of the FBI. The FBI's responsibility is to "detect and prosecute crimes against the United States".

In 1945, by the time she was 22 years old, on May 8th, World War II in Europe ended when Germany surrendered. Hitler had committed suicide a week before.

In 1974, at the age of 51 years old, Siobhan was alive when on July 30th, the House Judiciary Committee adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon. He was charged with obstruction of justice, failure to uphold laws, and the refusal to produce material subpoenaed by the committee. In order to avoid impeachment, Richard M. Nixon announced that he would resign on August 8th, the first President to do so.

In 1986, in the year of Siobhan McKenna's passing, on January 28th, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members died. The cause of the explosion was later found to be a failed O-ring. The O-ring failure was due to the unusually cold conditions at Cape Canaveral.

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