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Few Irish writers ever held a grip on their native land’s imagination as powerful as Sean O’Casey’s (1880 – 1964). There was Joyce, of course, and Bernard Shaw and Yeats; Frank O’Connor and Flann O’Brien; Synge, Swift, and Oscar Wilde; and the long, long list of phenomenal post-war Irish novelists, poets and dramatists, from Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh to Edna O’Brien, Brendan Behan, Samuel Beckett (who of course penned his greatest works in French) and so many others.
But as LIFE magazine wrote in a 1954 article: “Now that Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, and Eugene O’Neill, son of an Irishman, are dead, the greatest living playwright in the English language is another Irishman, Sean O’Casey.”
Six decades later — when much, but not quite all, of the world that O’Casey brought to life on stage and on the printed page has vanished with the years — LIFE.com recalls an Ireland that endures in fading memory, in literature, and in Gjon Mili’s wonderful pictures.