In 2009, I discovered an archive of letters from Aideen O’Connor in the James Hardiman library at NUI Galway. I’d recently transplanted my life to Galway where I knew nobody or nothing, to study as a mature student for a Masters in Writing. Aideen became my first friend.
Aideen was born in September 1913, during the Dublin Lockout. She trained at the Abbey School in the late 1920s, and toured the US twice with the Abbey Company (of Ireland’s National Theatre) and eventually settled in California. She wrote lively letters all her life: to her sisters, her business contacts, her husband. She wrote through her glamorous youth, her troubled years looking for work in New York, through homesickness and depression in the Hollywood hills. She died aged 37.
In 2009, I become obsessed with knowing more about her life.
I leave for Los Angeles in August 2011, when I’m meant to be beginning a PhD in NUI Galway. I travel around California, searching for clues about her life, often accompanied by her wonderful daughter Christine. I begin blogging and people start reading about my adventures. They ask for more posts.
My doctoral studies eventually begin and I become interested in the other women that travelled to the US with the Abbey Company: Aideen’s close friend, Frolie Mulhern; burgeoning director Ria Mooney; May Craig and Eileen Crowe. The research keeps expanding. People get in touch with stories, archives, ideas about ‘my girls’. I keep blogging.
I decide to give up the blog, but material keeps turning up that I want to share with readers. I start blogging again.
I begin to explore the amazing connections between ‘my girls’ and women in US theatre. I discover close friendships with Broadway composer Kay Swift and director Eva Le Gallienne. I travel to New York to visit Columbia University’s archives and to visit the haunts of the Abbey Company in the city. I go to Princeton University to find out more about the Abbey Theatre’s visits there. I keep blogging.
I become enthralled by contemporary actresses, and how they take on major (and minor) female roles in Irish canonical plays. I persuade some to talk to me. They are also interested in the lives of Irish actresses in the past.
I discover material relating to female playwrights like Mary Rynne, Teresa Deevy and Elizabeth Connor. They are great plays and extraordinary women. I have many questions about their work and how they were treated in Dublin and elsewhere. I start to look for answers. I keep blogging in the hope I’ll find some.
In November 2015, the ‘Waking the Feminists’ movement explodes onto the Dublin theatre scene, demanding an end to inequality for women in Irish theatre. People start to recognise the rich history of female performers and directors we have in this city. I decide the blog should have a permanent base as a website: This is my contribution to that movement. The treasure hunt goes on, and you’re very welcome to come along with me.