Today we are mourning the loss of a giant of Irish theatre, Thomas Kilroy. His contribution to the Abbey Theatre as a playwright, board member, wise friend and steadfast ally through six decades of collaboration is immeasurable.  

A statement from Caitríona McLaughlin, Co-Director and Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre: 

“All over the building today I have been met with a deep sadness at the loss of the great Thomas Kilroy – an exceptional playwright and the kindest, most generous and supportive colleague and friend. Talk to playwrights like Frank McGuinness, Marina Carr and Deirdre Kinahan and you’ll hear how Tom supported them in the early part of their career and always shared an opportunity when it came along. I myself remember an event a few years ago, where he was honoured by the Abbey, and his entire speech was given over to celebrating the work of young writers, and in particular Margaret Perry, who was making her debut on the Peacock stage.

“Of course, he wrote essays, was a renowned academic, a novelist and agent provocateur, but Tom Kilroy was a playwright through and through. Tom understood the power and privilege of that shared space and he believed in theatre, in a theatre community and in theatre’s power to effect change in society. He was an innovator, pushing Irish theatre practice to modernise at a time when, as he put it himself, “The Abbey was not saying much to my generation”.

“Tom wrote the first openly gay character in an Irish play in The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche. He was ahead of his time – Tom forged ahead and brought the rest of us with him and he never stopped experimenting. I first came across his work through Field Day’s production of The Madame MacAdam Travelling Theatre at The Riverside Theatre in Coleraine. A farce in which he experimented with the idea of ‘costuming’ in society, be that in a theatre or on a policeman. In that play he was exploring Ireland post WWII and the idea of theatre as a comic invasion. He was a true original and we will miss his gentle presence in our theatres, a gentle presence which belied a ferocious intelligence and an uncompromising talent. We join his wife Julie and everybody who loved him in mourning his passing.”

Playwright Tom Kilroy by Joe O’ShaughnessyThomas Kilroy and the Abbey Theatre 

Thomas Kilroy’s playwriting is celebrated for its technical complexity and daring stagecraft but is best remembered for his remarkable ability to bring themes and characters from the shadows of Irish life out into the light. Of his sixteen works for the stage, both new plays and adaptations, eight had their world premiere here at the Abbey Theatre; The O’Neill (1969), Tea and Sex and Shakespeare (1976), Talbot’s Box (1977), Ghosts (after Ibsen, 1989), Six Characters in Search of an Author (after Pirandello, 1996), The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde (1997), The Shape of Metal (2003) and Christ Deliver Us! (inspired by Spring Awakening by Wedekind, 2010).  

This rich history with the Abbey Theatre began with the debut production of his second play, The O’Neill in 1969 on the Peacock stage. Over the following decade, his plays The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche (1972), Tea and Sex and Shakespeare (1976) and Talbot’s Box (1977) made a deep impact on audiences here at the Abbey. This quickly established Kilroy as a leading voice in an era of bold, vivid playwriting, in concert with the work of his contemporaries and friends Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and Tom MacIntyre who made up that towering generation of playwrights.  

The Abbey Theatre toured productions of Talbot’s Box (1977), Ghosts (1990) and The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde (1998/ 2000) nationally and internationally to audience acclaim from Galway to London, New York to Melbourne. His recent work at the Abbey Theatre included Double Cross (2018), a co-production with Lyric Theatre Belfast, and his final piece of new playwriting as part of 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field (2020), a monologue project broadcast from Croke Park to mark the 100th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. Alongside his plays, he made significant contributions to other aspects of the work of our organisation, working as Script Editor from 1977 – 1978, as Writer in Association in 1998 and serving as a board member from 2010 to 2016. In each of these roles, his kindness and his conviction about the value of theatre were a constant. 

Kilroy was held in the highest regard by the Irish theatre community, as an insightful colleague, a trusted academic and a brilliant artist. A thoughtful and rigorous craftsman, he was also a generous collaborator. He relished the communal creative experience of the rehearsal room, working alongside the director, actors, and creative team to shape the work, remarking It’s like having a light thrown on something you thought you knew.”   

He was a founding board member of celebrated theatre company Field Day, for whom he wrote Double Cross (1986) and the Madame MacAdam Travelling Theatre (1991). A member of Aosdána, he was recognised by the Royal Society of Literature and the Irish Academy of Letters for his contribution to literature. At the 2004 Irish Times Theatre Awards, he was presented with a Special Achievement Award for his contribution to theatre.  

Across a lifetime, Thomas Kilroy has provided Irish stages with some of our most memorable and enduring plays. His 2015 portrait by Colin Davidson hangs proudly on the Abbey Theatre staircase. He will be greatly missed by all of us, and his work will continue to reverberate.  

Thomas Kilroy Production History at the Abbey Theatre 

30 May 1969 – The O’Neill, Peacock stage (world premiere) 

8 May 1973 – The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, Abbey stage 

25 June 1973 – The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, Abbey stage 

15 May 1989 – The Death and Resurrection of Mr Roche, Abbey stage 

6 October 1976 – Tea and Sex and Shakespeare, Abbey stage (world premiere) 

13 October 1977 – Talbot’s Box, Peacock stage (world premiere) 

23 January 1978 – Talbot’s Box, Abbey stage 

16 February 1978 – Talbot’s Box, Peacock stage 

2 March 1978 – Talbot’s Box, Abbey stage 

14 August 1978 – Talbot’s Box, Abbey stage 

5 October 1989 – A new version of Ibsen’s Ghosts, Peacock stage (world premiere, in association with Gemini productions) 

1 May 1996 – A new version of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, Abbey stage (world premiere) 

8 October 1997 – The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, Abbey stage (world premiere) 

6 September 2000 – The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, Abbey stage 

29 September 2003 – The Shape of Metal, Abbey stage (world premiere) 

2004 – Reading the Decades series: The Death and Resurrection of Mr. Roche, Abbey rehearsal room 

16 February 2010 – Christ Deliver Us! Abbey stage (world premiere) 

2011 – A public reading of commissioned play Blake, Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin 

October 2018 – Double Cross, Peacock stage (Co-production with Lyric Theatre, Belfast) 

November 2020 – 14 Voices from the Bloodied Field, Croke Park/Online (world premiere) 


Touring productions 

23 Nov-17 Dec 1977 – Talbot’s Box, Royal Court Theatre, London 

9-14 January 1978 – Talbot’s Box, Coleraine 

May-June 1990 – Ghosts, Galway/New York 

1998 – The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, Melbourne 

2000 – The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, Barbican, London