Mooney, Ria (1904–73), actress, teacher, and producer, was born in Rathmines, Dublin, daughter of William Mooney, who had a confectionery and catering business in Baggot St. She started acting at age six, and was singing with the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society at sixteen, before study at the Metropolitan College of Art in Dublin. She was invited to join the Abbey Theatre in 1924, after she was spotted in the Dublin Arts Club's production of Anton Chekov's ‘The proposal’. Although she had always wanted to be an actress, she had not been keen to act at the Abbey. Reminiscing in an unpublished autobiography, she alluded to its members, particularly W. B. Yeats (qv) and Lennox Robinson (qv), as ‘odd-looking people’ (The rise of the realists, 116).
After joining the Abbey, she acted in many productions alongside the great actors of the day, Cyril Cusack (qv), Máire O'Neill (qv), and F. J. McCormick (qv). Micheál MacLiammóir (qv) remembered her as possessing ‘a curious intensity like a steadily burning inner fire, and her acting was poised, shapely, and full of intelligence’ (All for Hecuba, 104). She was to display this ‘intensity’ particularly in February 1926, when she took on the part of Rosie Redmond in the first production of ‘The plough and the stars’ by Sean O'Casey (qv). Despite riots in the theatre on the first night, during which missiles and abuse were hurled at the stage, and also despite the venomous criticism and threats of physical violence directed specifically at her in the following days, she achieved a considerable personal triumph in the play, and was ever afterwards associated with the courageous stand taken by the players against the chauvinism evident in the audience. She toured the US with the Abbey players, making her debut there in 1927, and afterwards moved to New York for a short time as assistant director of the Civic Repertory Theatre there, before returning to Ireland.
After a short period at the Gate Theatre in Dublin, she returned to the Abbey in 1935, and was put in charge of the new, experimental Peacock Theatre in 1937. Leaving the Abbey again in 1944, she directed the Gaiety School of Acting before becoming first female producer at the Abbey in January 1948. She directed plays in Paris and Los Angeles in 1955 and 1961, and did some teaching in US colleges. The Abbey Theatre did not experience its finest hours in Mooney's time as producer, but perhaps almost anyone would have had difficulty simultaneously satisfying Dublin audiences of the 1950s and the notoriously demanding managing director, Ernest Blyth (qv).
Even before she joined the Abbey Theatre, Mooney had acted (1922) in Wicklow gold, one of the first films made in the newly independent Ireland, and later appeared in a film version (1936) of Riders to the sea, by J. M. Synge (qv). She appeared in the film This other Eden (1959), and in 1957 directed a film of the play ‘Professor Tim’ by George Shiels (qv). When Ireland's first film studios at Ardmore were set up in 1957, a newspaper account stated that Ria Mooney was to be in charge of casting. Mooney was well known throughout the country as a supporter of the amateur dramatic movement which was so much a feature of Irish life in the 1950s; she adjudicated at drama festivals in many towns. Following a breakdown due to nervous exhaustion, when she was in London rehearsing for a production in October 1962, she retired from the Abbey in 1963. She died in Dublin 4 January 1973, unmarried.