Carroll, Paul Vincent (1899–1968), playwright, was born in Blackrock, Dundalk, Co. Louth, on 10 July 1899 (though the year was long thought to be 1900), the second son of Michael Carroll and his wife, Kitty (née Sandys) who had eleven children. He was educated in Dundalk and qualified as a primary school teacher at St Patrick's College, Drumcondra. In 1920 he emigrated to Scotland and settled in Glasgow, where he began to write. His first play, ‘The watched pot’, in one act (unpublished), was staged by the Peacock Theatre in Dublin in 1930, and he won an Abbey prize in 1932 for the three-act ‘The things that are Caesar's’, in which the theme of clerical domination was sounded. His masterpiece, ‘Shadow and substance’ (1937), extended this theme, an important one as, following the Eucharistic Congress of 1932, Ireland became a more church-dominated nation. The central character, Canon Skerritt, with his aristocratic, Spanish-influenced manners, stands as an interesting contrast to the hysterical priests peopling most of Carroll's plays, and he is to be seen to some extent as a reimagining of Jonathan Swift (qv). Indeed, Carroll said, ‘I decided one day to resurrect Dean Swift, make him not only a catholic, but a learned interpreter of catholicisms, and throw him into the modern mental turmoil in Ireland’ (Fallon, 853). Canon Skerritt is opposed, however, by schoolteacher Dermot O'Flingsley, author of a book entitled I am Sir Oracle attacking the Roman catholic church, and the canon sacks him from the local school. O'Flingsley remarks, ‘the scholar of taste is ever the avowed “enemy of the people”’, and this veiled reference to Ibsen's ‘An enemy of the people’ (1881) paves the way for the attack on O'Flingsley by a mob, roused up by the ‘hooliganism’ of the canon's two curates. In the course of the attack, Brigid, the canon's maid, who has an obsession with Saint Brigit (qv), whom she claims to see and hear, is killed. Though the theology of the play is rather confusing, and the canon's demeanour is as unsympathetic as his style is impressive, Carroll apparently intended the play as symbolic of the struggle going on in Ireland between orthodoxy and atavistic devotionalism on the one hand and a new fanaticism bordering on fascism on the other. Carroll said of the ending: ‘The rebel schoolmaster and the Canon represent the conflicting forces that crush Brigid (the spirit of the Nation) between them’ (Fallon, 853). However, that summary leaves out of account the third force in the play, the threatening fascism of catholicism, which is clearly the most dangerous.
Following the writing of the unpublished ‘Kindred', Carroll's courage in attacking ‘the new clerical fascism’ was evident again in ‘The white steed’, which the Abbey rejected amid controversy in 1938. As with Sean O'Casey (qv) before him, rejection confirmed Carroll's worst fears about Ireland. He took ‘The white steed’ to New York, where it was a major success, directed by Hugh Hunt (qv) and starring Barry Fitzgerald (qv). Carroll broke with the Abbey at this time, and his next play, ‘The strings, my lord, are false’ (1942), subtitled ‘A drama of the Clydeside air raids in four scenes’, which dealt topically with the effects of German bombs on a working-class community, had its premiere at Dublin's Olympia Theatre, directed by the adventurous Shelah Richards (qv). A return to the Abbey with ‘The wise have not spoken’ in 1944 proved inauspicious, and Carroll turned to writing for films, moving from Glasgow to Bromley in Kent to be nearer the studios. Although he wrote several more plays, one of which, ‘The wayward saint’, was turned into a German musical in 1968, Carroll's best work was over with the 1930s. It may be significant, however, that he wrote a play for television about Jonathan Swift, ‘Farewell to greatness’ (1956), in this way returning to an earlier interest. Though often seen as a follower of Ibsen and over-preoccupied with the so-called problem play, the Swiftian influence suggests that Carroll was at the same time a satirist of considerable range. Although neglected latterly, he wrote well and deserves critical reconsideration. He died 20 October 1968 in Bromley. His wife Helen was from Glasgow: together they had three daughters, one of whom, Helena, became a successful actress in the USA.