62 – The Unseen Woman

Do you remember the woman that was ‘on the train but unseen’ in September 1937, as the Abbey Company departed for America?

Did you catch a glimpse of her two well-behaved children, who disappeared from the platform when May Craig’s brood were still careering around causing mayhem?

Did you see her husband in the photograph of the departing company, but wonder why Eileen Crowe absented herself?

What would it take to coax the elusive Eileen Crowe out of the train carriage?

Click here to have a look: Photograph of Eileen Crowe

“I am not a dancer. I am not a singer. I am not anything,” a demure Eileen told a Boston Evening Transcript in 1933. She waxed lyrical about the work of her husband, F.J. McCormick, but played down her own career. This is the woman, remember, who objected on hearing that her husband earned less than she did and asked the directors to reduce her salary accordingly.

I ask again, what would it take to coax the elusive Eileen Crowe out of the train carriage?

The possibility of a film contract, it seems.

In February 1936, there was a Board meeting held upstairs in the Abbey, with Ernest Blythe in the chair and Frank O’Connor, Fred Higgins and Dr. Richard Hayes in attendance. After some financial and practical issues, it was explained that the actress Eileen Crowe was appealing a change of casting in The Plough and the Stars, as she was no longer in the part of Nora Clitheroe.

If I were present, I might now choose to put my hand up and interject, addressing the Chairman politely before reminding those present that Eileen Crowe had objected so much to O’Casey’s dialogue in 1926 that she had been eventually been relegated to playing the Woman from Rathmines. She had decried the play from the stage when the riots started. The Chairman would drum his fingers on the table before announcing that this speech be struck from the record.

The formal minutes from the meeting did record:

‘On the basis of information at their disposal the Board had selected Miss Richards for the part of Nora Clitheroe, as she was considered better than Miss Crowe.’

At this point, everybody looks away to avoid the gaze of Eileen Crowe, who is sitting in the corner with her hands clasped in her lap as if in prayer.

I’m doodling on my notebook, recording some pertinent facts:


– Behind the scenes, there was some debate about the acting talent of Eileen Crowe. Lennox Robinson had declared her ‘genius’, putting her in the Company after the briefest of auditions and writing many of the main parts in his drawing room comedies specifically for her. Others weren’t enamoured.

– Holloway adored her, but he quoted a chat with Brinsley MacNamara:

“Speaking of Eileen Crowe, Mac said, ‘There is a great diversity of opinion about Miss Crowe’s acting; some raved about it, while others can’t see any merit in it at all.’ Robinson’s word, “Genius”, as applied to her acting spoiled her, Mac thinks. ‘She had a great facility for learning parts without letting their meaning sink into her,’ he thinks, ‘that was fatal to her work being ever great, and also her face was very expressionless.’ I said, “I think her fine in many parts.”

– Holloway also liked the fact that Eileen Crowe sometimes invited him to have tea and cake with them in their home in Rathmines. But none of this ‘hearsay’ would be permitted in the meeting.


The formal Minutes typed up by the secretary recorded:

‘Mr Higgins said it appeared that Miss Richards used the theatre when it suited her and that under circumstances such as that it was unfair to the established players that work should be given to others.  It also appeared that Miss Richards was anxious to play the part owing to the fact that a casting director of film company was likely to see the play during the week, and that she had canvassed with this in view.’

My ears prick up. A film company is in town. This is the source of the gossip and excitement in the Green Room. The actors are debating the possibilities, financially as well as professionally, for those chosen to be involved. Shelah Richards is a beautiful young woman, full of energy and stubborn as an ox when she sets her mind to something. But Eileen Crowe has Fred Higgins on her side.

The discussion carries on across the table, Higgins pushing his agenda and O’Connor blustering through, as usual. The Secretary closes her ears to the choice language and Ms Crowe blushes.

The Secretary records:

After some discussion it was decided on the motion of Mr O’Connnor seconded by Mr Higgins that Miss Crowe be restored to the part.

It was then explained to Miss Crowe that she had been restored to the part because Miss Richards had canvassed for it, and canvassing by Players was not allowed.

Miss Crowe thanked the Board and withdrew.


She thanked the Board and withdrew.

She was on the train, but unseen.

She raised two children, who were never seen in the lobby or the Green Room.


The next time Maire Judge (Eileen’s daughter) turned up was in 1945, when Aideen sent her copies of Variety magazines. Maire wanted news, possibly advice, from Hollywood. Aideen put a couple of magazines (already read) in an envelope and sent it to her.

Aideen and Ria gave me quite an adventure; but I’ve a sense that chasing Eileen Crowe is going to be a radically different adventure. So, this is a PLEA as much as anything else: to anyone who has knowledge of an Eileen Crowe OR F.J. McCormick archive that may shed some light on the woman with the dark eyes and polite manners that knows her prayers and ‘her place’.

Mister Chairman, I ask that this request be recorded, in order that records of Eileen Crowe’s life be maintained in good order.

I ask that this be an action point of some urgency.

Any other business?

Meeting adjourned.



2 comments on “62 – The Unseen Woman

  1. When F.J.McCormick was very ill in hospital (1948) Blythe instructed that he be payed non-playing salary. Eileen opened the envelope and inserted the difference so he would think he was being paid full salary while ill. The difference would only have bee a pound or two. P.L.

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