Craig, Mary (‘May’) (c.1889–1972), actress, was born in Dublin, younger of two surviving daughters of David Craig, an engineer, and his wife Emma. As a child she enjoyed regular trips with her mother to see operas and plays in the Dublin theatres. Later famous for her long and successful association with the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, she made her initial contact with it in January 1907 when her parish priest, Fr Eugene McCarthy, introduced her to his friend William Fay (qv), who was at the time looking for female actresses for the forthcoming production of ‘The playboy of the western world’ by J. M. Synge (qv). She was subsequently hired to play the part of Honor Blake in its original (and highly controversial) production. After this she acted in the populist melodramas and light comedies staged at the York St. Workingmen's Club and St Francis Xavier Hall, both in Dublin. Her initial break came while appearing in a production of ‘The colleen bawn’, staged by the Pioneer Dramatic Company at St Francis Xavier Hall (December 1915–January 1916), when she was noticed by the Abbey's manager, J. Augustus Keogh. Having auditioned for the company, she marked her return to the Abbey (16 October 1916) by a performance as Raina Petkoff in ‘Arms and the man’ by G. B. Shaw (qv). This was followed by a series of successful appearances in roles such as Miss O'Neill in the comedy ‘Nic’ by William Boyle (qv) (26 October 1916), Jane in ‘The white-headed boy’ (13 December 1916) and a much acclaimed performance as Jude in T. C. Murray's (qv) ‘Spring’ (January 1918). Critics reviewing her portrayal of Jude were invariably enthusiastic about the rapid progress she had made as an actress since 1916.
During these early years she did not restrict herself to the Abbey and accepted work with the companies of both Ira Allen and P. J. Bourke (qv) at the Queen's Theatre (1917–19). Her marriage to the New York-born, Dublin-based accountant and playwright Vincent Power Fardy in 1916 resulted in her appearing in his plays. Listed as taking the female lead in his drama of Fenian times, ‘The rat’, staged (September 1917) at the Empire Theatre, Dublin, by 1918 she had formed her own company, seemingly with a view to staging his work. After a production by ‘Miss May Craig's Company’ of his comedy ‘A sure cure’ (Empire Theatre, July 1918) she produced and acted (alongside a future Abbey star, F. J. McCormick (qv)) in his sketch ‘Such is life’ at the Queen's in Dublin and the Belfast Hippodrome (December 1918). Fardy later established his own company, in which she was a key player. Among her appearances at the Queen's Theatre in 1919, she took part, as the leading lady, in his production of ‘Tom Burke of Ours’ (November 1919) by James William Whitbread (1847–1916). This commitment to popular drama was maintained alongside more challenging performances in the Abbey, most notably with well-received performances as Nona in Yeats's ‘The player queen’ (December 1919) and Mrs Anderson in Shaw’s ‘The devil's disciple’ (February 1920).
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s she built on these early successes to become one of the Abbey's most versatile and popular performers. Among her best-known parts were Mrs Tancred in ‘Juno and the paycock’; the original Mrs Grigson in ‘The shadow of a gunman’ (April 1923); Ellen Keegan in ‘Autumn fire’ (July 1926); Mrs Scally in ‘Professor Tim’ (December 1927); Mrs Henderson in Yeats's ‘The words upon the window pane’ (November 1930); the title role in ‘Margaret Gillan’ (July 1933); and Miss Prosperine Garnett in ‘Candida’ (September 1935). W. B. Yeats (qv), who coached her for the role of the medium Mrs Henderson, later said of her brilliant performance: ‘When May Craig leaves her dressing room she locks the door and leaves May Craig inside and becomes Mrs Henderson’ (Ir. Times). Though her Abbey colleague Eileen Crowe (qv) was cast as Mrs Gogan in the original production of ‘The plough and the stars’, Craig stepped into the role after Crowe refused to deliver some of her lines. Despite the hostility that greeted the first production (February 1926), her performance was considered a triumph and the part subsequently remained a central part of her repertoire. Throughout the 1920s she also worked with the experimental Dublin Drama League, which took over the Abbey's stage on Sunday and Monday nights. Her daughter Una and son Raymond Power Fardy also acted with the League, both appearing in ‘Hoppla!’ (March 1929).
Craig travelled with the Abbey company (October 1931) on their first North American tour in fourteen years, and subsequently took part in a further five Abbey tours of America. Though she was popular with American audiences and critics alike, Joseph Holloway (qv) states she found the lengthy absences from Dublin and from her four surviving children (a daughter died in 1928) were a strain. However, the income they provided proved particularly important after the death of her husband in June 1933.
Over the years Craig also worked for radio (broadcasting with 2RN as early as 1927), television, and from 1952 in films. Her film appearances include roles in The quiet man (1952), The rising of the moon (1957), Boyd's shop and Johnny nobody (both 1960), and A pair of green eyes (1964). She was cast as the woman from Rathmines in a 1966 RTÉ television production of ‘The plough and the stars’; among her papers are rehearsal scripts for ‘The white-headed boy’ and ‘The rose is not for you’ for ABC Television, London (1957/8). Continuing her work into the 1960s, she took part, alongside Abbey veterans Eileen Crowe and Eric Gorman in the Abbey production of ‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London, as part of the World Theatre Season (April 1964) and made her last appearance on the Abbey stage as Miss Eliza Draper in ‘The last eleven’ (3 February 1968). She died 8 February 1972 in Our Lady's Manor nursing home, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. A portrait by James Le Jeune (qv) is in the Abbey Theatre collection.