Arthur Shields – The 1916 Rising on the Street, Stage and Screen

On the 11th February 1926, rioting greeted the Abbey Theatre performance of Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars” because of what was viewed as it’s anti-Irish sentiment. Yeats tells the audience “You have disgraced yourselves again”.

From the Arthur Shields Family Collection is a photograph from that production, featuring G Fallon, Arthur Shields, FJ McCormack and Shelah Richards(T13/B/246). In spite of the controversy surrounding aspects of the play, it played to full houses, and had many re-runs and revivals, as well as a film version in 1937.

Arthur Shields in “The Plough and the Stars”, 1926. T13/B/246 Hardiman Library

In a reply to critics, printed in “The Irish Times” on 19 February 1926, O’Casey tackled some of the criticisms of the play, and went on to state.

The politicians – Free State and Republican – have the platform to express themselves, and Heavens knows they seem to take full advantage of it. The drama is my place for self-expression, and I claim the liberty in drama that they enjoy on the platform (and how they do enjoy it!), and am prepared to fight for it.

In a unique twist, Arthur Shields, an actor and stage manager at the Abbey Theatre, was also an active participant in the Easter Rising of 1916, would star in the 1926 production of “The Plough and the Stars” at the Abbey Theatre and also feature in the 1936 film version of “Plough and the Stars”, directed by John Ford.

For more on productions of “The Plough and the Stars” check out the Shields Family Collection athttp://archives.library.nuigalway.ie/cgi-bin/FramedList.cgi?T13 and programmes from the various Abbey Theatre productions of ‘The Plough and the Stars’ as part of the abbey Theatre Digital Archive, available at the Hardiman Library.

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