Corkman's play is set for Abbey Theatre Dublin stage... in Ohio!

John Dolan tells the fascinating story of a Cork man who asked the Abbey Theatre in Dublin to host his play - but when it was a yes, he found out, he'd written to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in Ohio
Corkman's play is set for Abbey Theatre Dublin stage... in Ohio!

Sean Cooney as a boy around 1963, outside his family's bar in Youghal

FOR any Irish playwright, having their work performed on stage at the prestigious Abbey Theatre in Dublin is a dream come true.

And that is exactly what has happened to Corkman Sean Cooney... after a fashion.

In a twist that would make Agatha Christie proud, Sean, an exile in New York for more than half a century, is to have his first ever play performed on stage next month - but at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ohio, instead of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland.

And it all came about due to a mix-up that has elements of pure theatrical farce.

During the pandemic, Sean emailed some of his plays to various theatres on spec, including to what he thought was the Abbey in Dublin, Ireland, but was actually the one of the same name in Ohio.

Sean, 73, who admits he isn’t great with technology, then had an interesting follow-up phone call with Joe Bishara, Artistic Director of the Ohio theatre, on Good Friday in 2021.

At some point, Sean pointed out Bishara wasn’t an Irish name with which he was familiar. Joe, whose surname is Egyptian, spelled out this was the Abbey in America, and the penny dropped for Sean!

“I said to him, ‘It’s Dublin, Ohio?’ and we laughed,” recalled Sean. “Apparently, there are 22 Dublins in America. Joe then said, ‘Yes, you sent the plays to the wrong place, but we like them all. Can you come out for a reading?’”

Sean Cooney with Maureen O'Hara.
Sean Cooney with Maureen O'Hara.

Next month, the Abbey Theatre in the city of Dublin in the midwestern state is putting on Sean’s work, A Yankee Goes Home. It will run for nine nights from April 14-23, and rehearsals are due to begin next week. Tickets cost $20 a head.

Now that’s a plot twist that merits a standing ovation!

Sean, who was born in Youghal in 1949, said: “I have written lots of plays and some poetry down the years, and a few years ago, I finally decided to send some of them to various theatres by email, to see what they thought.”

When Joe Bishara read the script for A Yankee Goes Home, he was immediately struck. 

“I loved it, the story intrigued me, it is charming, poignant, and compelling, it incorporates the U.S pastime of baseball, and has the feel of the film It’s A Wonderful Life.

“It also features a figure based on George Steinbrenner, a Ohio businessman who became the owner of the New York Yankees.

“The story is unique in its ability to draw in any audience, with its themes of sport, family, loss, grief, and most importantly, hope.

“The play ticked all the boxes.”

Joe has collaborated on over 200 theatrical productions across the U.S as an award-winning actor, director, educator and producer. His Abbey Theater is a government agency, and usually has a remit to concentrate on works by local playwrights. But Sean’s play was so good, he “decided to make an exception. I was intrigued and charmed by Sean - and he talked my ear off for 45 minutes in that initial phone call!” 

A Yankee Goes Home is about a retired U.S cop with post traumatic stress disorder since 9/11 who struggles to communicate with the outside world and his family. Through his love of the Yankees baseball team and ‘George’, a figure similar to the guardian angel in It’s A Wonderful Life, wounds heal, and a family is reborn.

Sean flew from his New York home to Ohio in October, 2021, to take part in a workshop on his play at the theatre, which was a great success and led to the idea to stage the full play in April, 2023.

And this may not be the end of the success story for Sean.

Joe Bishara said: “The hope and goal now is to identify a play by Sean and start a dialogue with the Abbey in Dublin, Ireland, with a view to staging a play there.”

Which, when you think about it, was Sean’s plan all along! When I point out to Joe that a Corkman would get an equal thrill from having a play at our Opera House or Everyman venues, he smiles. “Yeah, that would be great too!”


Sean Cooney, aged 73 from Youghal.
Sean Cooney, aged 73 from Youghal.

This amazing story is just the latest chapter in the remarkable life of Sean Cooney. He was born in Youghal and his family had Cooney’s Bar, later the Yawl Inn.

He moved to New York in 1970, where his brothers ran a successful chain of restaurants, premises which had theatres above them.

Writing always formed a large part of Sean’s life, and working in the restaurants saw him rubbing shoulders with some of America’s finest playwrights and actors. He befriended Jack Nicholson, who bought the rights to one of Sean’s stories, and playwright Arthur Miller, who became something of a mentor to young Sean. Miller, who wrote Death Of A Salesman and The Crucible, and wed Marilyn Monroe, said of A Yankee Goes Home: “I found much warmth in it, wit and good characterisations.”

Sean’s other plays include Van Gogh Is In The Attic and Moby Dick’s Gone Missing - the latter with a plot around the famous film shot in Sean’s birthplace of Youghal when he was a boy.

That film’s legendary director was John Huston, and when Sean met Huston’s daughter, Anjelica, when she was dating Jack Nicholson, the two swapped stories about the filming in Youghal - Angelica was a young girl then and spent time on the set in Cork.

Sean’s Moby Dick play is also attracting interest from a theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the book was set. It had become too modern by the time the film was made in the 1950s, so Youghal was chosen instead.

When Sean heads out in April to see his stage debut as a playwright in Ohio, he says: “It will be an incredibly proud moment.”

And this may be just the start of a journey, as a production company owned by billionaire basketball legend LeBron James plans to turn A Yankee Goes Home into a film.

Next stop the Oscars for our Sean? You wouldn’t put it past him.

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