CHRISTINE LONGFORD / Playwright & Novelist

CHRISTINE LONGFORD

PLAYWRIGHT/ NOVELIST

Longford & Dublin
1900 - 1980

Christine Pakenham, Countess of Longford, was a playwright and novelist who, along with her husband Edward, helped to found and finance the Gate Theatre in Dublin. She wrote several novels and plays.

Born in Somerset, England on September 6th 1900, Christine grew up in Wells and Oxford and attended Somerville College, Oxford, where she read Classics and Philosophy. In 1925 she married fellow student, Edward Pakenham, 6th Earl of Longford. The couple moved to Ireland, where they settled at the Pakenham family home, Pakenham Hall (now Tullynally Castle), in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

Christine published her first book, a historical study of life in Ancient Rome, in 1928 and she also wrote a non-fiction work, "A Biography of Dublin." Her novels have been praised by critics for their "deftly drawn characterisation" and "witty observation of human foibles."

It is for her work in Irish Theatre that Christine is best remembered. In 1928 her husband became Chairman of the Board of the Gate Theatre, Dublin and its main financial backer. Indeed, the theatre might not have survived without the support of the Longfords. Christine worked with her husband on all aspects of the management of the Gate. She began to write plays for the theatre, including "Queens and Emperors" and, in collaboration with Edward, an adaptation of Aeschylus's Oresteian Trilogy.

Christine's own plays included a number focusing on Irish history. She adopted novels by Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth and Sheridan Le Fanu for the stage and also had a success with a stage version of her novel "Mr Jiggins of Jigginstown." In all she wrote some 20 plays. After enjoying one of her comedies, a critic called Christine "a great benefit to humanity."

In 1936, Christine and Edward formed the Longford Players. The Players spent the summer months at the Gate Theatre and the winter months touring the country. While on tour, Edward would sell the programmes while Christine looked after the box office. They were enthusiastic supporters of Irish language and culture and frequent visitors to Gaelic cultural events. They learned to speak Irish and were on friendly terms with politicians such as Eamon De Valera.

Edward Pakenham died in 1961, and Christine left Westmeath and wound up the Longford Players. She remained in Dublin, serving as Managing Director of the Gate Theatre until ill-health forced her retirement in 1964. However, she remained on the board of the Gate until her death. She worked as a book reviewer for The Irish Times and also appeared on Radio Eireann Arts programmes. For her services to theatre she was given honorary life membership of Irish Equity in 1967. She received an Honorary Doctorate from the National University of Ireland.

Christine Longford, the reserved, chain-smoking Englishwoman who did so much for Irish theatre, died in Dublin on May 14th 1980, aged 79. A bust of Christine was unveiled in the Gate Theatre in 2015.

Thanks to Herstorian Ruth Illingworth for this herstory. 

Image: Christine Longford by Henry Lamb.