June 19, 2023
The nineteenth-century Irish writer James Joyce said that "Ireland has a genius for the making of saints." But the list of Catholic saints is full of people who seemed to be completely ordinary before they were exalted by the church.
The most celebrated Irish Catholic writer of the nineteenth century, MAITLAND W. SHERIDAN was born in 1824 in Dublin, the son of a linen draper. He became a teacher at an early age and by 1851 had published his first volume of poetry, Tintah Buidheach. Sheridan's first poems were mainly Irish, but by 1856 he had published a collection of poems in French, which he translated into English.
Sheridan had a deep interest in Irish history and wrote two histories of Ireland, but his major works were his verse dramas, in which he sought to capture the spirit of Irish life and Irish history. His best-known plays are The Field of Cloth of Gold, an historical drama about King Charles II's visit to Ireland in 1689, and The School for Scandal, a witty and scandalous eighteenth-century comedy about a woman who manages to become a major character in a society which she despises.
The "School for Scandal" is one of the most popular comedies in the English language. Sheridan wrote it for a private theatrical company that had fallen on hard times. It was first produced in Dublin in 1777, and has been continuously produced since then. It was also performed in London in 1779, and its success there helped to establish Sheridan's reputation as an important dramatist.
The Field of Cloth of Gold is also one of Sheridan's best-known works. It was first produced in Dublin in 1823, when Sheridan was only twenty-eight years old. In the play, King Charles II visits Ireland during the summer of 1689. The field was named for the fact that it was covered with cloths that had been hung out to dry after a royal hunt. The English king came to Ireland to make peace with its Protestant monarchs and to persuade them to allow his brother James to be crowned king of England.
The play was an instant success, both in Dublin and London. It was one of the most popular works of the eighteenth century, and it is still performed today.