Aideen O’Connor (1913 – 1950)

In August 1934 the Abbey Theatre agreed an increased weekly wage of £3 10s for a young woman named Una Mary O’Connor. Una had graduated from the Abbey School of Acting in 1933 and was granted the increased wage because she had agreed to give up her job to go on tour . The Abbey was transporting ‘fourteen players, three stage hands with the necessary scenery, costumes and property’ to the United States and Canada. Official identification documents show that Una was five foot two and half inches tall and weighed 106 pounds.Her heart-shaped face was doll-like, pale with wide grey eyes and she had hair of ‘a copper colour … a mass of tiny ringlets’. At twenty-one years of age, Una would board a ship from Belfast on 29 September 1934 to cross the Atlantic ocean for the first time.

I always refer to her as ‘Aideen’ rather than ‘Una Mary’ because this was the stage name she chose for herself – the name that appears in newspapers and theatre programmes. It was also the woman she became, and the life she chose for herself.

In 1939, Aideen followed the love of her life, Arthur Shields (Boss), to New York. Some months later, he contracted TB and was advised to move to the West Coast where he could be treated in a proper sanitorium. He left for California and Aideen followed soon after. The couple spent the war years in Hollywood, where Arthur appeared in Ford movies and his brother Barry Fitzgerald began to find real fame. In 1943, Shields’ wife Bazie Magee died and the couple married. Christine Shields, their only daughter, was born in 1947 and on 4 July 1950, Aideen died at the age of 37.

Aideen and Frolie
Aideen O’Connor and Frolie Mulhern

Frolie Mulhern (1907 – 1939)

An American newspaper interviewed Aideen and Frolie in the late 1930s and declared the girls had known each other since they were infants. I haven’t been able to prove or disprove this, but I don’t believe it. Frolie (a nickname for Frances) was born in Enniskillen and moved to Dublin with her widowed mother as a child. She was brought up on Ailesbury Road, one of Dublin’s most distinguished addresses, and after taking classes at the Abbey School, she joined the company a few years before Aideen.

A talented mimic and comedienne, she had a relationship with an American producer (read the posts for more) but died at 32 without leaving any children. After months of searching, I tracked down a relative in Dublin. Frolie’s niece was then living around the corner from the parents’ home, two minutes walk from where I grew up.

Ria Mooney (1903 – 1973)

Ria (short for Maria) is now best known for being the first female director in the Abbey Theatre after its founder, Lady Gregory. In fact, she had a rich and fascinating life before then as a director and actress in Dublin and New York. She attended art school but was the first actress to play the infamous prostitute Rosie Redmond in Sean O’Casey’s 1926 play The Plough and the Stars and trained in New York with world-renowned director Eva Le Gallienne.

In 1953, Ria directed The Play and the Stars and the Abbey Company performed it at an international festival in Paris. The Abbey Theatre Company received third prize in the festival for her production, behind China’s Opera de Peking and Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble.

Ria Mooney's portrait, hung backstairs at the Abbey Theatre
Ria Mooney’s portrait, hung backstairs at the Abbey Theatre

May Craig (1889 – 1972) 

May Craig made her first appearance on the Abbey Theatre stage in the premiere of J. M. Synge’s Playboy of the Western World in 1907. She appeared in decades of productions, while raising five children. My count of the Abbey Digital Archive records suggests that Craig performed in 915 productions before her retirement. Her most frequent parts were Mrs Scally in George Shiels’ comedy Professor Tim (35 productions) and Jane in Lennox Robinson’s The White Headed Boy (34 productions). She was most famous for playing Mrs Henderson in Yeats’ one-act play about a psychic The Words Upon The Window Pane.  Legend has it that Craig performed the night her husband died and the night her son died. She toured with the US Company in the 1920s and 1930s but subsequently stayed in Dublin.

(L-R) May Craig, Aideen, Frolie
(L-R) May Craig, Aideen, Frolie