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Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell papers

Identifier: MSS 0136

Scope and Content Note

The Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell Papers consists of 1.3 linear feet of letters and manuscripts, which span the dates 1911 to 1974 (bulk 1918-1954). Including letters, essays, poems, clippings, speeches, reviews (criticism), programs, notes, pamphlets, tickets, paintings, broadsides, prospectuses, and playbills, the papers provide an overview of the life and work of Irish businessman, politician, and playwright Frank O'Donnell.

The letters written to O'Donnell and collected in Series I. communicate O'Donnell's interests in the business world, especially in seeking foreign commerce for the Irish economy and the establishment of the Federation of Irish Industries, Inc.; his efforts to acquire performances of his plays; and his influence in Irish politics. The collection includes letters from managers of Irish theatres; Irish playwrights, artists, and literary figures; as well as businessmen and friends.

Some of the letters convey O'Donnell's interest in amateur drama leagues, such as his correspondence with J. J. Hayes, who assisted in founding The Little Theatre of Newark, (NJ) Inc. and the Drama Guild of the Oranges (NJ). Enclosed in the Hayes letters are eight programs for The Little Theatre of Newark.

In other letters, O'Donnell discusses the establishment of the Drama League of Dublin, his participation in the Dublin Rotary Club and the Irish Literary Society, his support of Catholic charities and Irish theatres, his interest in modern painters, and his overriding desire to promote the Irish national identity and economy of the Irish Free State.

Among the correspondents are noted literary figures including Austin Clarke, Denis Ireland, Edward Martyn, Sean O'Casey, Lennox Robinson, and W. B. Yeats. The nine letters from Yeats are particularly interesting, in that they demonstrate Yeats's helpful approach to the problems of the amateur playwright.

The copies of letters drafted by O'Donnell contain discussions of Irish independence and the political situation in Ireland, details of his attempts to find jobs for others, reflections on his marriage, and arrangements for speaking engagements. The drafts of two letters to Irish President de Valery reflect his concerns for the Irish State.

Among the manuscripts written by O'Donnell which are preserved in these papers are examples of O'Donnell's essays, short stories, poetry, addresses, and reviews. Although there are performance notes for The Dawn-Mist and Keeper of the Lights and a synopsis of a play titled Deirdre, no manuscripts of his plays are present. The essays reflect his interests in the theatre and politics and several of the manuscripts bear O'Donnell's pseudonyms, "Thomas Oriel," "Marcus Kingston," and "Mans Cloonan."

The papers also include four manuscripts written by others, two of which are speeches on business topics. Patrick Sarsfield O'Hegarty's review of O'Donnell's play Futility and Frederick Robert Higgins's poem "Invocation" complete the series. In addition, a typescript of Constance de Markieviecz's play The Invincible Mother is enclosed in her letter to O'Donnell (F32) and Edward Martyn's autograph article, "Astraea Redux," is enclosed in one of his letters (F33).

Finally, the papers include several miscellaneous items relating to O'Donnell, including an Abbey Theatre placard for O'Donnell's play Anti-Christ, clippings about O'Donnell (especially his speeches and plays), a copy of The College Songs (1912), a passenger list for a 1923 cruise on the "President Monroe" (which lists O'Donnell), pamphlets concerning the Irish Literary Society, two unidentified watercolor paintings, a broadside titled "A Few 'Bars' on the 'Grate,'" as well as several tickets, prospectuses, and tear sheets.


  • Creation: 1911-1974
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1918-1954


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S.Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Irish businessman, politician, and amateur playwright Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell was born in Tuam, County Galway in 1911.

As a young man, Irish businessman and amateur playwright Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell was noted for his political efforts on behalf of an Irish Free State while a member of the Senate in 1943-1944, 1951, and 1954. He was later recognized for his plays, which depicted Irish life and political struggles, and for his promotion of Irish commerce.

As the successful owner of the Dublin Shirt and Collar Industries, O'Donnell was a frequent and eloquent speaker on topics related to the Irish economy and the development of Irish industry. O'Donnell encouraged investments in Irish enterprises, advocated a scheme for national advertising of Irish products, and championed a Federation of Irish Industries. His speeches discussed the Irish problems of massive emigration and the neglect of industrial development, while encouraging the Irish to think nationally and to purchase Irish products.

As an amateur playwright, O'Donnell was mentored by his friend, Abbey playwright T. C. Murray. O'Donnell was most often recognized by his contemporaries as "being Ireland's most banned playwright" (The Irish Press, October 15, 1945). Both his O'Flaherty's Star (1945), and The Dawn-Mist: a play of the rebellion (1922) were banned by the British government for political reasons.

O'Donnell's first play, produced by Abbey Theatre, was The Drifters (1920). Although the critics found the two-act play unsuccessful, the Abbey later produced O'Donnell's Keeper of the Lights and Anti-Christ (1925).

In addition to plays, O'Donnell wrote articles on foreign politics for Irish and British newspapers, as well as creating poetry and short stories.

In addition to his literary, business, and political achievements, O'Donnell was recognized as one of Dublin's most successful collectors of modern paintings and as an active member of the Irish Literary Society (London) and the Dublin Rotary Club. O'Donnell also worked for years on plans for an Irish Federation of Amateur Dramatic Societies and a National Drama Festival.

Frank Hugh O'Donnell died on November 4, 1976 at his residence, Vartry Lodge, Killiney, County Dublin.

Hogan, Robert and Richard Burnham. The Art of the Amateur 1916-1920. The Modern Irish Drama V. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1984. pp. 239-241, 250-255, 278. Additional biographical information derived from the collection.


1.3 linear foot (4 boxes)

1 oversize removal


Including letters, essays, poems, and a variety of other materials, the papers provide an overview of the life and work of Irish businessman, politician, and playwright Frank O'Donnell.


Purchase, 1977.

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-4: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes

Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)


Preliminary processing in 1979; completed by Anita A. Wellner, 1993. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, 2006.

Finding Aid for Frank J. Hugh O'Donnell papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2006 June 8
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA