Laird, Helen (‘Honor Lavelle’) (1874–1957), actress, costumier, teacher, and feminist, was the daughter of John Laird, a protestant pharmacist, and of Marion Laird, née Seymour. She was born in Limerick on 12 April 1874. About 1899 she joined the Gaelic League and Inginidhe na hÉireann, where she took drama classes and met other enthusiasts including Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh (qv), Máire Quinn, and Padraic Colum (qv). From this group the actor-managers, Willie (qv) and Frank Fay (qv), formed W. G. Fay's Irish National Dramatic Company with an initial capital of only £10. Their first production was a double bill of ‘Deirdre’ by AE (qv) (George Russell) and ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ by W. B. Yeats (qv) and Lady Gregory (qv), with Maud Gonne (qv) in the title role, performed 2 April 1902 in St Teresa's Hall, Clarendon St., Dublin. Laird made the costumes, to AE's specifications, and painted the sets. The production was such a success that four months later, on 9 August 1902, they formed the Irish National Theatre Society, under the presidency of AE, and later of Yeats. This was the foundation of the future Abbey company. On 4 December 1902 they produced ‘Laying the foundations’, by Fred Ryan (qv), in which Laird appeared under her most frequent stage name, ‘Honor Lavelle’. Over the next year productions were staged in Molesworth Hall and Laird played in most of them, including Yeats's ‘The king's threshold’ (8–10 October 1903) and ‘Shadowy waters’ (14–16 January 1904) and Colum's ‘Broken soil’ (3–5 December 1903). In March 1903 she took on probably her most important role as Maurya in the first production of ‘Riders to the sea’ by J. M. Synge (qv). When the play transferred to the Royalty Theatre, London, she was praised by English critics for her classic grandeur. Arthur Griffith (qv) also praised this performance as magnificent and a high-water mark of Irish acting, but she was not generally considered in the first rank of Irish actors and did not receive notices to compare with those of Sara Allgood (qv) or Nic Shiubhlaigh. Yeats originally praised her playing of the mother in ‘Cathleen ni Houlihan’ as near perfect, but said of her later performances that she had neither delivery nor deportment, and the inveterate theatregoer and diarist Joseph Holloway (qv) wrote of her speaking a prologue ‘in a very Yeatsian singsong chant but she pitched her voice so low that the meaning of the words she uttered escaped me’ (Hogan, Laying the foundations, 114).
In January 1906 she sided with Edward Martyn (qv) in the rift with Yeats over whether the Abbey should be a commercial enterprise, and with Nic Shiubhlaigh, Colum, Seumas O'Sullivan (qv), and others, helped found in June 1906 the alternative Theatre of Ireland. Its first production at Molesworth Hall (7–8 December 1906) was a treble bill of ‘The racing lug’ by James Cousins (qv), ‘Casadh-an-tsúgán’ by Douglas Hyde (qv), and an extract from Ibsen's ‘Brand’, with ‘Honor Lavelle’ appearing in the first two. The Theatre of Ireland ran for about six years, during which time Laird lived at Woodlands, Fairview, north Dublin.
Laird was unusual for the range of her interests. For much of her career as an actress, she also worked as a science teacher in Alexandra College, Dublin. A key interest was botany, and she contributed articles on plants to various publications. Her friends in the science world included Robert Lloyd Praeger (qv), Augustine Henry (qv), and Grenville Cole (qv).
A radical in politics, she was active in the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL) and counted among her friends Maud Gonne and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (qv). With Gonne she helped form the Ladies’ School Dinners Committee, which in 1911 fed children from Dublin's poorest schools. The following year the committee protested against Sheehy-Skeffington's dismissal from the School of Commerce in Rathmines. Also in 1912 the IWFL sent Laird to London to try and persuade Irish MPs to vote in favour of Philip Snowden's clause in the home rule bill, which called for the local government register to be the basis for election to the home rule parliament – this would enfranchise 100,000 women. In the event only forty-one voted in favour of the clause (5 November 1912).
On 17 December 1913 Laird married the lawyer and critic Con Curran (qv). She continued her involvement with the theatre for a short period – making the costumes for ‘Uncle Vanya’ (performed in Hardwicke St., 1914), and acting in ‘Bairbre Ruadh’, by Pádraic Ó Conaire (qv), under her Gaelic name, ‘Eibhlis nic a Bhaird’, in 1915 – but marriage largely curtailed all her activities in theatre, education, and politics. She was, however, an active member of the Save the Children Fund for three decades till her death.
The Currans lived at 42 Garville Avenue, Rathgar, Dublin and were noted for their conviviality and their afternoon salons every Wednesday. They had one daughter, the art critic Elizabeth Curran , who married the Austrian-American economist Josef Solterer. Laird predeceased her husband, dying 5 October 1957 in Dublin. After a large funeral in a catholic church, attended by the president, Seán T. O'Kelly (qv), she was buried in Deansgrange cemetery.