Bannard Cogley, Daisy (1884–1965), theatre director and producer, actor and singer, was born Johanna Mary Bannard on 5 May 1884 in Paris to a French father, Thomas Bannard, who worked as a coachman in the city, and an Irish mother, Mary Furlong, from Co. Wexford. She studied at the Sorbonne, trained in Paris as an operatic soprano at the Conservatoire and as an actor, performing in theatres and concert halls around France. While visiting Co. Wexford in 1908 she met Fred Cogley (1885–1937), a journalist who worked with a local newspaper and was active in Sinn Féin. They moved for a time to Santiago, Chile, where they married in 1909 before returning to Ireland in 1911.
In February 1912 Bannard Cogley, as she was often known, appeared in the first production (‘Pirates of Penzance’) of the newly formed Wexford Operatic Society, one of the wellsprings of the Wexford Opera Festival, which started forty years later. Her recital repertoire included French operatic and other nineteenth-century material, folk songs, chansons des métiers (trade songs) reflecting her life-long commitment to the causes of working people, Irish nationalist songs, and a suffragist reworking of La Marseillaise. She sang in concert halls, art galleries and theatres, often in fundraising events for various charities or movements, and gave recitals on 2RN, from 1926 the new Irish state’s radio service. From 1913 to 1923 Bannard Cogley was active in the women’s suffrage, republican and labour movements. Her activism was mainly as an organiser and participant in social and cultural events, prompting the Irish Citizen to remark that ‘her genius for organising amusements is a proverb’ (1 July 1917). Many of these activities were undertaken in association with Constance Markievicz (qv), in whose 1918 election campaign Bannard Cogley also took part; both performed with the Liberty Hall Players established by the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.
During the war of independence Bannard Cogley provided a safe house for IRA personnel, documents, arms and ammunition at the family home in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Serving in the IRA publicity department under the direction of Robert Brennan (qv), a friend of her husband from Wexford, she also ran dispatches for the IRA to London and Paris. She acted on behalf of the IRA as an interpreter for visiting French journalists and politicians and worked on the administration of Dáil Éireann’s daily Irish Bulletin. She took the anti-Treaty side in the civil war and was imprisoned in Mountjoy jail for three months in 1922–3 after a raid by Free State forces on a republican publicity office in Suffolk Street, Dublin. Her role as an organiser of entertainments for the prisoners was recorded in Margaret Buckley’s (qv) memoir and in Rosamond Jacob’s (qv) diaries. Fred Cogley was also anti-Treaty and was interned for a total of ten months from December 1922. For two months, they were both in prison and, briefly, both in Mountjoy. After her release, Bannard Cogley undertook a mission with Máire O’Brien (qv) in September 1923 to raise the cause of republican prisoners at an International Red Cross conference in Geneva. Despite not having appropriate credentials they managed to address the conference, doing so in French. For her various services to the national cause Bannard Cogley was awarded a military service pension in the 1940s.
She contributed in many different capacities to theatre productions in Dublin, initially for Dublin Repertory Theatre alongside Constance Markievicz, then the Irish Theatre Company and the Dublin Drama League. Later, and most importantly, she set up several clubs, ‘little’ or studio theatres, introducing Irish audiences to the work of continental European writers and emerging Irish writers. From the mid-1920s she also introduced continental European-style cabaret to Dublin while running a business as dressmaker and seller of French millinery and clothes from a premises in Molesworth Street. Her Saturday cabaret shows, including recitations, songs, sketches, excerpts from plays and late-night dancing, were presented initially under the auspices of the Radical Club – founded by Liam O’Flaherty (qv) and F. R. Higgins (qv) – then as the Thalia cabaret at Egan’s art gallery in St Stephen’s Green, and later at venues in South William Street and Harcourt Street. Among the frequent contributors to the cabarets was actor Gearóid Ó Lochlainn (1884–1970) and Francis ‘Dom’ Bowe, painter and sculptor, who both joined her in early Gate Theatre productions, Bowe as set-builder as well as actor.
In 1927, the radical magazine, Honesty, described Bannard Cogley as ‘well known in Dublin where her Cabaret shows scored such a success last season’ (17 Sept. 1927). Through her cabarets she gave Micheál MacLiammóir (qv) and Hilton Edwards (qv) their first opportunity to perform in Dublin. In 1928, along with MacLiammóir, Edwards and Ó Lochlainn, she was a founding director of the Gate Theatre in Dublin, and worked on early Gate productions, mainly as designer and maker of costumes. The Gate’s initial support base was drawn from the membership of the Art Club that she had established and ticket sales for early Gate productions as well as fundraising events took place at her club premises. She retained an association with the Gate as a board member into the 1960s.
Bannard Cogley, MacLiammóir and Edwards also worked together on many pageants; MacLiammóir recalled doing so in 1929 to the ‘distant crashing’ of a jazz band rehearsing in her premises. She took over a building in Harcourt Street that previously housed the Morosini-Whelan dance school and the ballroom walls were decorated with caricatures of figures from Dublin’s cultural world. Harry Kernoff (qv) contributed graphic design and set designs to her ventures, becoming a close associate and frequent portraitist of Bannard Cogley in paint and pencil.
During the 1930s she lived in London with her husband and their second son, Fergus. Fred Cogley had moved there to find employment as a journalist, which he had found difficult in Dublin. Bannard Cogley established the Green Curtain Little Theatre in Hampstead and took part in cultural events organised by the London branch of the Republican Congress.
Following her return to Dublin in 1941 she helped numerous amateur theatre groups, including the left-wing New Theatre Group and the Dublin Jewish Dramatic Society. She also set up the Dublin Theatre Group, later Studio Theatre Group, which ran for over a decade at addresses in Upper Mount Street, Dublin. Among the playwrights whose work she presented were Jean Cocteau, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Peter Ustinov, Ernest Toller, Somerset Maugham, Anton Chekhov, Gerhard Hauptmann and Stig Dagerman, one of whose plays she staged in its first production outside Sweden. Some of those who appeared in Studio Theatre productions went on to distinguished careers in theatre or media, among them Daphne Carroll and Louis Lentin (qv).
Bannard Cogley also directed and produced plays by Irish playwrights who experienced difficulties in getting their plays produced in more mainstream settings, including Christy Brown (qv), Joy Rudd, James Cheasty and, perhaps most significantly, Cheasty’s strong supporter, also from Waterford, Teresa Deevy (qv). Deevy’s ‘Wife to James Whelan’, written in 1937 and rejected by the Abbey Theatre in 1942, was given its stage premiere by Bannard Cogley in 1956. The following year, the Studio Theatre took part in the first Dublin Theatre Festival with a production of ‘The Gilla Rua’, ‘a fantastical play’ by district justice and writer, Kenneth Reddin (qv). Bannard Cogley went under various names in different public roles, adding the name Désirée (usually shortened to Daisy) to her forenames; she appeared in Dublin theatres as Helen Carter for her first decade in the city, as Madame Cogley in concerts, and was known in political circles as Mrs Cogley, Nóinín (Daisy) and Johanna Mary Cogley; to closer friends she was Toto. She died on 8 September 1965 in Dublin and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery.
Her first son, Mitchel Cogley (1910–91), was sports editor of the Irish Press and the Irish Independent, and his son, Fred Cogley (1934–2017), was a noted rugby commentator and head of sport with RTÉ. Her second son, Fergus, was born in Dublin at Easter 1916 and was an actor and theatre director, frequently working with his mother on theatre productions. He served during the second world war in the British army’s Royal Corps of Signals.