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Summary Article: McKenna, Siobhán (1923-86)
from Brewer's Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable

Actor. She was born in Belfast on 24 May 1923 into an Irish-speaking household: her father, a Cork-born mathematician, lectured at Queen's University Belfast, and her mother was from Longford. The family moved to Galway when she was eight and her father was appointed professor of mathematics at University College Galway (UCG). She was educated at St Louis Convent in Monaghan and studied languages at UCG.

From the beginning of her college days McKenna became deeply involved with An TAIBHDHEARC, the small Irish-language theatre in Galway, originally translating modern plays into Irish for production there, then acting in them herself. Because the plays were in Irish, her parents considered that she was engaged in a worthwhile activity, so they did not object too much until it became clear that acting was her chosen profession. She completed her degree with honours before moving to Dublin, where she eventually got a small part in the ABBEY THEATRE.

McKenna achieved international fame as Joan of Arc in Shaw's Saint Joan, which played in Dublin in 1950 and opened in London in 1954, but the part for which she is still remembered is that of Pegeen Mike in Synge's The PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD in the 1951 Dublin production and the 1962 film. Her last major role, undertaken some months before her death, was as the matriarch in a production by DRUID THEATRE, Galway, of Tom Murphy's BAILEGANGAIRE, a play written specially for her. Her final performance was on 24 May 1986, and she died of lung cancer on 16 November of that year.

Copyright © Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2009

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