Laverty, Maura (1907–1966)
Laverty, Maura (1907–1966)
Irish novelist, playwright and broadcaster. Born Mary Kelly in Rathangan, County Kildare, on May 15, 1907; died on July 26, 1966, at her home in Dublin; second of thirteen children of Michael Kelly and Mary Ann (Tracey) Kelly; educated at BrigidineConvent, County Carlow; married Seamus Laverty also seen as James Laverty, on November 3, 1928; children: two daughters, Maeve Laverty and Barrie Laverty, and one son, James Laverty.
Irish Women Writers' Award (1942).
Never No More (1942, rep. Virago, 1985); Alone We Embark (US: Touched by the Thorn, Longmans, 1943); No More than Human (Longmans, 1944); Lift Up Your Gates (US: Liffey Lane, Longmans, Green, 1946).
When Maura Laverty started to write fiction in the early 1940s, her childhood experiences of growing up in rural County Kildare informed much of her writing. Maeve Binchy has noted the strength and force of her country characters and the amazingly intense village life. Laverty knew what it was like to go from comfortably well off to very poor. Her father Michael Kelly, who married when he was 57, owned a large farm, but lost it as a result of his gambling habit. To support the family, her mother Mary Ann Kelly became a dressmaker. Maura spent much of her childhood with her grandmother, who was immortalized as Delia Sally in Laverty's first novel Never No More.
Maura's adventurous streak asserted itself when, after leaving school, she went to Spain in 1925 to be a governess. She soon abandoned that notion and trained as a secretary, subsequently working for the diplomat Prince Bibesco, and then for the Banco Calamarte and the journal El Debate. She became engaged to a Hungarian, but when she returned to Dublin to announce the news to her family, she met James Laverty, then serving in the Irish army. They married after a whirlwind courtship. James, who would become a journalist, also had a profitable agency for the Irish Sweepstakes but this disappeared with the outbreak of the Second World War and with it the Lavertys' comfortable existence.
The idea for her first novel, Never No More, came when Laverty read an old cookery book by Florence Irwin , Irish Country Recipes, which brought back memories of her childhood in Kildare. Sean O'Faolain serialized the novel in his journal The Bell. After her death, the Irish Times would call it "one of the best books about an Irish childhood." However, her next three novels—Alone We Embark (1943), No More Than Human (1944), a sequel to Never No More, and Lift Up Your Gates (1946)—were all banned under Ireland's strict censorship laws, a fate Laverty shared with other leading writers of her generation. The director of Dublin's Gate Theater, Micheál MacLiammóir, wrote to Laverty of his "despair" that Ireland was "slowly being transformed by a pack of ignoramuses into a dank, damp little nursery."
It was MacLiammóir's fellow Gate director, Hilton Edwards, who suggested to Laverty that she adapt Lift Up Your Gates into a stage play. The novel was set in a Dublin tenement lane, behind two formerly grand Georgian houses, and follows the 14-year-old Chrissie Doyle as she traverses the lane on her paper round. As Doyle visits the various shops and apartments, Laverty describes the lives of her customers. The play, called Liffey Lane and produced in February 1951, was an enormous commercial and critical success. It was followed by two other plays which formed a trilogy, Tolka Row (October 1951), about a Dublin inner-city family moved to a new council estate, and A Tree in the Crescent (October 1952). Laverty's plays gave the Gate much-needed box-office success and all but kept the theater afloat in the 1950s. However, as Christopher Fitz-Simon wrote in his biography of MacLiammóir and Edwards, she was exploited ruthlessly by them in the matter of payment although she was badly off financially, with three children and a husband to support.
Broadcasting had become an increasingly important source of income for Laverty. She had a weekly radio program in which she answered letters on a variety of topics, especially cookery. Her cookery books, Kind Cooking (1946) and Full and Plenty (1961), were enormously popular with generations of Irish women. The pages
of her books, writes Binchy, "are full of spicy vapours which would cajole a dying man to eat, luscious pools of butter on speckled surfaces of seed cake, potato apple cakes oozing with sugar and butter."
Shortly after Irish television service began at the end of 1961, Christopher Fitz-Simon, who was working in the drama department, asked Laverty to adapt Tolka Row. The first episode aired in January 1964, and the show quickly became one of the most popular on Irish television. Laverty would write all the episodes until her death in 1966. As the first Irish television soap opera, its importance lay in its portrayal of the urban working class in a culture which was largely preoccupied with rural life. As one television executive observed, "It introduced one half of Ireland to the other half."
At the beginning of 1966 Laverty's health began to deteriorate. She had a serious operation, and also broke her hip, but continued to record her radio programs from her hospital bed. In May 1966, the 100th episode of Tolka Row was televised. At the end of July, Laverty was found dead at her home in Dublin; she had suffered a heart attack. Since the 1980s, a number of her books have been reprinted, including Never No More and her children's books, Cottage in the Bog (1992) and The Queen of Aran's Daughter (1995), which were illustrated by her daughter, the artist Barrie Castle .
Binchy, Maeve. Introduction to Never No More. London: Virago, 1985.
Fitz-Simon, Christopher. The Boys: A Double Biography. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994.
Obituaries in Irish Independent, Irish Press, Irish Times, Dublin, 28–30 July 1966.
Sheehan, Helena. Irish Television Drama: A Society and its Stories. Dublin: RTE, 1987.
Deirdre McMahon , lecturer in history at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland