John B Keane’s original manuscript of Sive discovered

The original manuscript of John B Keane’s play Sive, which was sent to and rejected by the Abbey Theater, has been discovered.

One of Keane’s best-loved and performed works, the manuscript was found in a garage sale in Cork City and has been on display at the Kerry Writers’ Museum in Listowel.

The story of the beautiful young orphan, Sive, who commits suicide rather than consent to a marriage with an old man, the play explores dark themes in rural Ireland, including attitudes towards poverty and women, the love, sex and people born out of wedlock. , matchmakers and Travelers.

Sive was staged by the local amateur theater group, the Listowel Players, in early February 1959, and went on to become a huge hit, performing to packed halls at amateur theaters and ballrooms across the country, despite many controversies on its subject.

Sive’s original manuscript signed by John B Keane

The manuscript sent to the abbey, signed by Keane, was discovered during a house clearance in Cork and was presented to the Keane family. When Listowel’s playwright sent the manuscript to the National Theater on February 17, 1959, he signed it and added, in his distinctive handwriting, “submitted to Abbey Theater.”

Book lover Karl Harding was cleaning an old house in Cork City when he discovered the play on the floor of a dilapidated old house he was helping to empty.

The manuscript was in good condition, surprisingly, as many other documents in the house were unrecoverable.

“I picked it up and thought it must be for a school play, then I saw Sive and was amazed to come across John B’s signing,” M said Harding.

Mr Harding made contact with the BBC’s Fergal Keane, a nephew of John B Keane, who put him in touch with the Keane family in Listowel.


John Keane, John B’s youngest son, said the family owed a huge debt of gratitude to Karl and his wife Mar for making this unique piece of social history in Listowel.

“There is no doubt that he would have received a five-figure sum for this collector’s item at auction,” Keane said.

It has now been loaned to the Kerry Writers’ Museum in The Square, Listowel.

Speaking on handing over the manuscript, Kerry Writers’ Museum Director Cara Trant said: “We are honored that the Keane family has entrusted us with this unique piece of our literary history, for the local community and visitors alike. . We are indebted to Karl Harding for bringing it back to Listowel.

The Listowel Players won the All-Ireland Drama Festival in Athlone with the play and were invited to perform at the Abbey Theater in May 1959. They were the first English-speaking amateur group to perform in the National Theater. Finally, in 1985, the abbey staged its own production of Sive which lasted 42 performances.

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