Friday, July 1, 1994

Mary Mullan - writer

I remember the first night of "The Clock Ticks Dusk". A play in three acts by local author Mary Mullan it was put on by Athy Social Club Players in St. John's Hall in 1955. I was a young fellow just out of short trousers and being allowed to get out of the house after dark was in itself a treat. Young as I was the thrill of seeing a local person's play produced on stage was something noteworthy. Of the Social Club plays I saw over the years only "The Clock Ticks Dusk" and the earlier production in the Town Hall of "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" are all that I can recall with certainty.

Mary Mullan whose house is in the beautiful countryside adjoining Brackna Wood was the daughter of Willie and Catherine Fennin who lived on the family farm originally purchased by Willie's father, Tim Fennin, in 1858. Mary attended St. Mary's, Athy, then a private senior school operated by the Sisters of Mercy where the requirements of a liberal education did not necessitate the sitting of State examinations. Classes consisted of no more than 4 or 5 pupils. The Sisters of Mercy provided the entire teaching staff which included Sister Claire, the School Principal, who taught History and Geography, Sister Beuchmans who taught French, Sr. Joseph, the English teacher and Sr. Ursula, the Irish teacher.

When Mary Fennin decided to attend University she found to her dismay that Latin, a subject she had not studied, was an essential requirement for Matriculation. Undaunted she contacted Brother Dolan of the local Christian Brothers School who gave her grinds for five weeks after which she successfully met the entry requirements for University College Dublin.

When she got her Arts Degree with First Class Honours in Languages at nineteen years of age she was the youngest Arts graduate for many years. Obtaining a teaching post in Loretto College, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin she remained there for a number of years. It was while there that she met her future husband Dermot Mullan from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone. Marrying in 1945 she later returned to the family farm at Brackna on the death of her father.

Mary who had short stories and poetry published over many years continued her literary work while her children were growing up. Through her husband's involvement in the Castlemitchell Players and later the Social Club Players in Athy she became interested in drama. Her first play "The Clock Ticks Dust" was premiered on the 25th of April, 1955 and published the same year with many subsequent performances by amateur groups throughout the country. The original cast of the play produced by Ken Reynolds included Frances Fenlon, Sheila Lynch, Seamus Finnerty, Dermot Mullan, Nellie Fox, Patsy O'Neill, Mary Harrington and Tommy Walsh. A sequel "Where There Is Smoke" also written by Mary Mullan was performed by the Social Club Players in 1957.

Mary, whose husband Dermot has since died, began teaching in St. Brigid's School, Athy, in 1961 where initially she took night classes in French. Later appointed to a full-time post she taught French, English and Irish until her retirement two years ago. She still writes as she says "whenever the spirit moves me" but nowadays she is no longer producing work for the stage having reverted to her favoured medium, poetry.

As she sits at her writing desk she is faced by a portrait of her grandfather, Tim Fennin, the first member of the Fennin family to live at Brackna. His portrait painted in oils by Mr. Webber of Kellyville House links the present literary occupant of Brackna House with another literary person of that area Rev. Thomas Kelly, a former owner of Kellyville House. Looking out across the wood I am reminded of another literary connection. It was here that Patrick O'Kelly formerly of Kilcoo and author of "1798 Rebellion" and translator of Abbe Geoghegan's 'History of Ireland' and then a Captain in the United Irishmen assembled his men prior to a planned attack on Athy during the 1798 Rebellion.

Such are the connections made as I sat and talked to Mary Mullan last April and as she took down a treasured memento of her first play's production in Athy on the 25th of April, 1955 I marvelled at the coincidence that thirty nine years to the day after the curtain had been raised on "The Clock Ticks Dusk" she was sharing her memories with me in her house on the edge of Brackna Wood.

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