FRANK J. Hugh O’Donnell (1894 – 1976), the politician and playwright is sometimes confused with another Galway politician Frank Hugh O’Donnell, who was born in Ballybane in Galway city.
Frank J.H. O’Donnell was born at his father’s family home in Milltown but worked from a young age at his mother’s family’s sadderly shop (Carr’s) in Shop Street, Tuam, a business which had been long run by his grandfather Charles Carr. His mother was Delia M. Carr and his father John O’Donnell.
Frank went to school in Milltown and at the Tuam CBS. He went on to a prominent role nationally in business and in politics, running as a candidate for the Dáil in the 1940s and serving three terms between 1943 and 1954 as an independent Senator, nominated by the Taoiseach, with the support of the Manufacturer’s Federation. Although he spent much of his life in Dublin, O’Donnell never forgot his native county. Over many years he was a strong advocate for the Arts in the West of Ireland, and especially in Tuam. He suggested the establishment of Galway as a first national ‘free port’ and that the production of poteen should be regulated, licensed and exported. Poteen, he claimed had “qualities vodka could never claim!” He also advocated that the Oireachtas should meet periodically in Galway to encourage greater support for the Irish Language. He worked to raise awareness of the West of Ireland’s natural resources, which were ripe from exploitation and export, from Connemara ponies, to marble, wood and kelp.
At a meeting of the Galway’s Men Association in Dublin in 1946 he reminded his listeners of Tuam’s past industrial importance and that “linen woven in Tuam made the sails on the ships in which Nelson sailed”.
O’Donnell was the author of several plays and short stories and was for many years a drama critic for the Evening Herald. His first play The Dawn Mist (1919) involved the Egans, a Galway family, who lose two brothers and an uncle in the Easter Rising. The play was extremely popular, but its unapologetic support for Republicanism led to its banning by the British authorities, earning it the title of ‘Ireland’s most proclaimed [banned] play.’ The Dawn Mist was even interrupted when it was played in Mountbellew.
His writings became the subject of controversy upon his nomination to the Seanad’s Cultural and Educational Panel in 1944. A rival for the position, Donal O’Sullivan, claimed that O’Donnell’s work was “devoid of any literary merit” and he insinuated that O’Donnell only sought appointment to Seanad positions as an industrialist.
O’Donnell retorted that he wrote “in good peasant language”. Frank was defended by Peadar O’Donnell (The NUJ candidate) and his nomination was successful.
Amongst his other plays were The Drifters (1920), Five minutes Wait (1921), Keeper of the Light (1925), Anti Christ (1925) and O’Flaherty’s Star (1925). He died November 4, 1976 at his home, Vartry Lodge, Killiney.
Article published in The Tuam Herald on the 7th October 2020