Born in Dublin in 1928, he studied at University College Dublin and in New Orleans, and practiced as a barrister for some years before becoming a full-time writer. His plays include The Dream Box (1972), The Dark Lovers (1975), The Emperor's Envoy (1976), The Grand Inquisitor (1977), Submarine (1977), Deirdre (1977), The Oval Machine (an adaptation of the Hippolytus myth, 1986), Joycity (1989) and A Trinity of Two (1988), a play about Oscar Wilde and Edward Carson, was translated by Raymond Gerome as Deux de la Trinité in 1990. His books of poetry include Lifestyles (1973), Three Noh Plays (1980), All Things Counter (1986) and One is Animate (1990), and a translation of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, with an introduction by Michel Deon of the Académie Francaise.
Perhaps his most original contribution to the theatre has been through plays written in the Noh form. These include Submarine (1977) and Deirdre (1977) which were performed in the Abbey Theatre and later in New York. Under the auspices of the Japanese cultural foundation he spent some time in Japan examining aspects of the Noh style there.
His biographies of Oliver St. John Gogarty (Jonathan Cape, 1964) and Brendan Behan (Hamish Hamilton, 1970) have stayed in print since they were published. He has written several works of criticism and history, including A Terrible Beauty Is Born (1975), A History of Ireland from 1912 to 1922 (since published under different names); Celtic Dawn (1984), on the Irish literary renaissance; and Biographers and the Art of Biography, 1991. Irish Tales and Sagas was published in 1981, with illustrations by Pauline Bewick. His diaries were published in 2000, and he is working on second volume. In 1985 he received the Irish-American Institute's Literary Award.
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