Walter Macken, 1915-1967.
April 26th, 2007
Forty years ago last Sunday, on the 22nd of April, 1967, Walter Macken died. He had been in hospital for a check-up, and returned home with everything apparently in order. He died in bed that night.
He was born in Saint Joseph's Avenue in 1915. His father, also Walter, was a carpenter who was originally from Knock, Spiddal. He was a fine actor, and appeared in many productions in the Racquet Court Theatre, which was where Charlie Byrne's bookshop is in Middle Street today. He was out of work in 1915, and as he had to provide for his wife and 3 children, he joined the British Army (The Royal Fusiliers) and they brought him to France. Sadly he was killed in St. Eloi on the 28th March, 1916. His son was 9 months old.
He went to the Presentation National School, which was a bit of an embarrassment to him as it was nearly all girls there, but they were formative years and he really liked it. As he later wrote in the centenary magazine of the school
"Little Babies meant to me; ink. This was my first contact with ink. We sat at a desk with a white ink-bottle stuffed in a hole, and one day, I drank the contents. This I remember brought me into the limelight. My sister was sent for from the class upstairs and she had to come down and wash out my mouth at the tap outside with a big concrete jar outside the glass door.I think she took a dim view of my action because she was the one to suffer, not me. What a stupid thing to have a brother down there lunatic enough to swallow ink. I often wonder if I got ink in my veins that day in Middle Babies, and am still trying to use it up. It is very difficult to give a logical explanation of why you drink ink otherwise"
He went to St Mary's for a while and then to the Bish, which he loved. He started acting in An Taidhbhearc, and there he met Peggy Kenny whom he married.. They lived briefly in England, and returned in 1939, when he took over the running of the Taidhbhearc.. He directed some 80 productions here before moving to the Abbey, and then eventually giving up the theatre altogether to concentrate on writing full time. He lived in Glann near Oughterard, and moved to Menlo just a short time before he died.
He wrote 22 plays, of which several were published, 3 books of short stories, 2 books for children and 10 novels, a remarkable output in a career that was all too short. He was great company, had a beautiful singing voice and was a terrific storyteller. Above all he was a Galwegian, and so it is fitting that he should be honoured in his own city with the unveiling of a bronze plaque tomorrow. This event is part of The Cuirt Literary Festival and is sponsored by Galway Business School. Also being unveiled is a poem of Louis McNeice's which he wrote on Nimmo's Pier on the day war broke out, in 1939. This one is sponsored by Galway City Council.
The unveilings will take place at 12noon tomorrow on Nimmo's Pier and all are welcome.
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