TERESA DEEVY (1894-1963)            

   She was born on January 21, 1894 at the family home, Landscape, Passage Road, Waterford and was the youngest of thirteen children born to Edward Deevy and Mary Feehan.  Her father came from Co. Kilkenny farming stock but he left farming in 1867 and established a drapery business in Kilkenny.  He married a local girl, Mary Feehan, in 1874 and in 1876 he re-located his drapery business to Waterford.  In 1881 he bought a lovely residence overlooking the river in the exclusive Passage Road area of the city and he named the house "Landscape."  Edward died when Teresa was only two years old and she was reared by her mother and seven sisters.  She and her mother were very close and her mother imparted to Teresa a great sense of Irish nationalism - Teresa's uncle, Fr. Thomas Feehan was a committed member of the Land League.  

  Teresa attended the Ursuline Convent in the city (where she was very happy) and on leaving there, in 1913, she enrolled in University College Dublin with the intention of becoming a teacher.  However she was already displaying symptoms of Méniéres disease which brought on her deafness and which forced her to transfer to University College, Cork where she could have treatment at the Cork Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and where she could be nearer her family.  Her increasing deafness meant that she could not continue with her B.A. studies and she went to London in 1914 to learn lip-reading.  It was in London that she developed her interest in drama.  She was totally deaf by now and she read the scripts before the performance and lip-read the actors as they performed.

  When she returned to Waterford in 1919 she joined Cumann-na-mBan and was active in Republican circles in the city.  She was already writing plays and contributing articles and stories to the press, local and national and, in 1925, she began submitting her work to the Abbey Theatre.  It was not until 1930 that she had her first success with that company when her three-act play, Reapers, was performed there.  This was followed , in 1931, by a one-act play, A Disciple. In that year she and Paul Vincent Carroll shared the honour of the Abbey Play Competition in Dublin with her play, Temporal Powers, which was produced on 24 April 1932. This was followed later by two others, The King of Spain's Daughter (1935), Katie Roche (1936) and The Wild Goose (1936). Her play Wife to James Whelan was rejected by the Abbey in 1937.  It was an amazing achievement for a woman, let alone a deaf woman, to break through the glass ceiling and become an established playwright.  In D.E.S.Maxwell's Modern Irish Drama 1891-1980, only four women dramatists are listed - Lady Gregory, Alice Milligan, Countess Longford and Teresa Deevy - out of nearly fifty playwrights working for the Abbey and the Gate. 

   At this time she became interested in writing for the radio and, for the next twenty years, a veritable stream of her works was broadcast on Radio Eireann and BBC Northern Ireland.  In 1939 two of her plays were broadcast on the new BBC Television service.

  During this period of her life she had removed to Dublin where she had a wide circle of friends, mostly, but not exclusively, from within the artistic community.  She lived with her sister, Nell, and one friend described the pair thus; "Together they were one person - Nell the ears and Teresa the voice".  She was intensely religious, a daily communicant and an active member of the Legion of Mary.  She visited all the great Catholic shrines of Europe, usually alone.

  Teresa was elected to the Irish Academy of Letters in 1954, and, after Nell's death that same year she returned to Waterford and "Landscape". She became a familiar figure to Waterfordians of my generation as she cycled round the city on her 'High Nelly' bike.  When her health began to get worse she was admitted to Maypark Nursing Home in Waterford city.  She died in Maypark, aged 68, in 1963.                

   Teresa Deevy's plays came from the Ireland of the 1930's: a conservative, patriarchal society where women were regarded as mere chattels and where they lived in economic bondage.  They were restricted intellectually, socially and politically.  Her plays show us romantic young women who dream of, and crave, a happy love life but who must accept the real world all around them - rural Ireland of the 1930's in all its ghastliness. Her writing gives no hint of her profound deafness, it is filled with euphonious language that should be spoken out loud to be fully appreciated.  In contrast to the spoken language in her plays we have her pointed use of silences, echoing the lack of a voice for Irish women of that time.  Fiona Becket in her essay A Theatrical Matrilineage? from Ireland in Proximity (Routledge1999) wrote that 

Deevy's work for the stage represents a realism in the manner of Ó'Faoláin and their contemporaries writing prose.  There is a tension here, palpable in much of Deevy's work ... between the desire to represent cultural self-confidence and fidelity to a tawdry realism.

  After her death her plays were neglected by theatre managers and it seemed that the theatre world had forgotten her but, in April 1994, the Abbey Theatre revived her play, Katie Roche to critical acclaim and her canon of plays is now becoming the subject of literary conferences and University theses.           


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