Bryan MacMahon
A Great Writer From County Kerry



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BRYAN. MACMAHON was in the tradition of many Irish writers and storytellers and was a schoolteacher. He came from the area of North Kerry that produced many other outstanding playwrights and novelists, J. B Keane, Maurice Walsh and George Fitzmaurice.

MacMahon was to become well known on both sides of the Atlantic as a playwright, a short story writer and a novelist in both Irish and English.

Bryan MacMahon was born in Listowel, County Kerry on September 29, 1909. He attended St. Michael’s College, Listowel where one of his teachers was the writer, Seamus Wilmot.

From an early age Bryan had an ambition to be a teacher and attended St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College in Drumcondra, Dublin. He qualified as a teacher and took a teaching post in the National School in Listowl. He was extremely popular with all the pupils and encouraged them to express themselves.

MacMahon also ran a bookshop in the town. He was an amiable man only too willing to dispense information to a child or adult on writing or local history. He was also active in the amateur drama movement in the town, particularly the Listowel Players. He was a prolific writer and produced along with his short stories, plays and novels some historical pageants for national commemorative occasions.

Bryan wrote short stores from an early age and had his first one published in the literary magazine, The Bell. The writers Sean O’Faolain and Frank O’Connor admired his work and greatly encouraged him.

McMahon was at ease writing in either Irish or English. In 1948 his first collection of short stores The Lion-Tamer was published. The reviews were excellent and termed him a strong new force in Irish fiction.

His first stage play was The Bugle in the Blood that was produced in Abbey Theatre in 1949.

Running parallel were his wide range of short stories that appeared in many newspapers and magazines. His short story collections included The Lion Tamer and other Stories (1948), The end of the World (1977) and The Sound of Hooves (1985).

Other plays produced in the National Theatre included The Song of the Anvil (1960) and The Honey Spike (1961).

Many people regard the Honey Spike as his best play and his best novel. It was the romantic tale of a young tinker couple, Breda and Martin travelling from their native Kerry to the Antrim coast because they want to see ‘the top of Ireland’.

The government appointed Bryan a shareholder in the National Theatre Company.

MacMahon’s short stories in both Irish and English appeared in many anthologies of Irish Writing. He wrote books for both adults and children. In 1950 his children’s book Jackomoora and the King of Ireland’s Son was published in the United States.

Two years later his novel Children of the Rainbow was published in Ireland, Canada and the U.S.

In 1969 Bryan was assigned as teaching advisor to Robert Mitchum for the film Ryan’s Daughter being directed by David Lean in Dingle, County Kerry. Unfortunately Bryan broke, his leg the weekend before filming commenced and had to withdraw.

In 1973 he translated Peig, the autobiography of Peig Sayers from The Great Blaskets, from the original Irish into English. It brought the unique text to a wider audience and on the curriculum for many schools.

His successful Pageant of Ireland was extremely popular and ran sixteen years in a medieval castle in Kinvara, County Clare. He was also commissioned to write other pageants for national commemorative events.

Bryan was one of the founding members of Listowel Writers Week in his native town. Until the year he died he was actively involved with the Festival. Annually hundreds of aspiring writers travelled from Ireland and abroad to attend lectures and creative writing workshops.

Bryan gave generously of his time to advise young writers and read their manuscripts.

Bryan also wrote many children’s books including Patsy-O, Patsy-O and His Wonderful Pets, Jack O’Moore and the King of Ireland’s son and Brenden of Ireland. He also wrote a well-researched travel book entitled Here’s Ireland.

Bryan was also an authority on Shelta, the language of travellers or itinerants. Many characters from this background appeared in his writing.

Bryan was a member of a number of prestigious literary organisations. He was a member of the Irish Academy of Letters, the Society of Irish Playwrights and President of Irish PEN 1972-73.

Throughout his life Bryan represented Ireland at many literary conferences abroad particularly in the United States. In 1922 his best selling autobiography, The Master was published. It told of his life as a teacher. In 1993 he won the American Ireland Fund Literary Award.

Bryan MacMahon died in 1998 and there was a huge attendance at his funeral in his native Listowel.

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