by Marie Bashford Synnott
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – January 2015)
Peter spent his early years in Skerries, attending the Holy Faith convent for his primary education. He and his family moved into Dublin when he was ten or twelve years old and lived there for most of the rest of his life apart from a brief period in London working in the Civil Service. Returning to Dublin, he remained in the Civil Service – it was a nice safe job with a good salary and a good pension at the end of it – just the sort of job that any young man from a good family should be grateful for. But was he?
Peter must have felt his life was mapped out for him but the time chained to his desk dragged and he began filling his evenings with amateur theatricals – working through his lunch hours so he could leave early to attend rehearsals. A respectable Civil Servant couldn’t be seen to be involved with the acting world so he invented the persona of F J McCormick for his evenings in the theatre while Peter continued with his daytime desk drudgery.
But he couldn’t keep up his double life for ever and one fateful April Fool’s Day in 1918, he resigned from his safe public service career and embraced acting full time as a member of the Abbey Theatre Company.
He acted in over 400 plays for the Abbey Theatre, being most notably associated with Sean O’Casey. He created the character of Joxer Daly in ‘Juno and the Paycock’ in l924 and was immortalised in this role by the renowned Dublin-born Stained Glass artist Harry Clarke in one of the eight panels of his famous Geneva Window. He went on to play Fluther Good in ‘The Plough and the Stars’ in 1926 and even made it to Hollywood, playing the part of Captain Brennan in the film version of this play. He co-starred with James Mason in the English Director Carol Reed’s film ‘Odd Man Out’ but sadly succumbed to a brain tumour only months after completing the film in 1947.
Considered as the greatest and most versatile actor of his generation, his early death at the age of 57 was a huge loss to Irish theatre and The Abbey Theatre Company in particular, with which he remained associated all his working life. And he never forgot his roots, describing his Skerries childhood, despite losing his mother when he was only 2 years old, as a very happy one.
Report by Oona Roycroft
Page updated – 03 / 03 / 2015