J. M. O’Neill

Reference Code: P9/
Title: J.M. O’Neill Papers
Dates: 1954-1998
Extent: 3 Boxes

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Jerry O’Neill (1921-1999), playwright and novelist, was born in Limerick, where his father was the city’s postmaster, and educated at the Augustinian College, Dungarvan, County Waterford. He moved to England in the 1950’s where he worked in Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas) and grew to specialise in colonial banking.

He was posted to West Africa and ended up in Ghana/The Gold Coast. He returned to England with his wife Mary and his family, and became an agent in the building trade in London and the Home Counties. In 1967 he became the tenant landlord of the Duke of Wellington pub in the Ball’s Pond Road in Islington. There he established the Sugawn Theatre and Sugawn Kitchen, a well-known venue for plays and folk music.

In 1980 he left the pub trade and settled in Hornsey, where he wrote a number of plays and four novels. During this time he received two Irish Post/AIB awards. His plays include Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, Diehards, and God Is Dead on the Ball’s Pond Road. His first novels, Open Cut (1986) and Duffy Is Dead (1987), were hailed as truly original works, earning him the accolade of being “the laureate of the London Irish”. These first two novels were followed by Canon Bang Bang (1989) and Commissar Connell (1992). He moved to live in Kilkee, County Clare, where he completed his two last novels, Bennett & Company (1998) and Rellighan, Undertaker (1999). He died in 1999, in his seventies, shortly after being awarded the Kerry Ingredients Book of the Year Award for Bennett & Company.

Content & Structure

This collection contains the drafts and proofs of O’Neill’s novels and plays, as well as other writers’ adaptations of his novel Open Cut for film. A thesis discussing the significance of O’Neill’s work in the context of Irish writing is also included in the collection.

The J.M. O’Neill Papers were donated to the Glucksman Library, University of Limerick in November 2001 by Joe and Joan Hartnett.


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