Salkeld, Blanaid (1880–1959), poet and actress, was born Florence ffrench-Mullen on 10 August 1880 in India, daughter of Lt Colonel Jarlath ffrench-Mullen and Anna Maria (Mina) Byrne. Her father was in the Bengal medical service and brother to St Laurence ffrench-Mullen (father of Madeleine ffrench-Mullen (qv)), after his retirement and return to Ireland he was active in the Gaelic League.
Blanaid Salkeld spent her childhood in Dublin but met the Englishman Henry L. Salkeld, a member of the Indian civil service, in Bombay and married him there in 1902. He died in 1909 and she returned to Dublin in 1910, living the rest of her life on his British state pension. She started to act under the stage name ‘Nell Byrne’ and played in the Metropolitan Players' version of Ibsen's ‘Little Eyolf’ in 1912. A member of the Abbey Theatre's second company, she played Stella in G. Sidney Paternoster's dramatisation of Jonathan Swift's life, ‘The dean of St Patrick's’, staged at the Abbey on 24 January 1913. She was an Irish-language activist and played Mrs Finnessy in ‘Mac na mná déirce’, by Pádraic Ó Conaire (qv), for the Na Clucheoin company at the Abbey (2 May 1913). A nationalist, she was involved in the Irish Theatre at Hardwicke St., founded by Thomas MacDonagh (qv), Edward Martyn (qv), and Joseph Plunkett (qv) in 1914. She acted frequently for them, notably in Chekov's ‘Uncle Vanya’ (28 June 1915), but Joseph Holloway (qv) criticised her sometimes wooden performances, especially in the role of Fru Heyst in Strindberg's ‘Easter’, 3 March 1916.
There is some evidence that she was involved in Cumann na mBan but it is unclear how actively. She was in Howth during the Easter rising; her mother, fearing a police raid, burned her correspondence with MacDonagh. Taking rooms at 130 St Stephen's Green after the rebellion, she lived latterly at 43 Morehampton Road. She played in the chorus of Euripides' ‘The Trojan women’ for the Dublin Drama League at the Abbey (7 March 1920) but became more interested in the writing and translation of poetry, especially from the Russian of Anna Akhmatova. Publishing regularly in the Dublin Magazine, Irish Writing, and The Bell from the 1920s to the 1950s, she also wrote numerous prose pieces and reviews. She issued five volumes of her own poetry, most notably Hello eternity! (1933) and The engine is left running (1937), both experimental works with an independent female vision. Her play ‘Scarecrow over the corn’ (1941) was produced at the Gate Theatre from 18 to 20 December 1941. Living on her pension, she continued to write until her death in Dublin in 1959.
Her son Cecil Ffrench Salkeld (1904–69), painter, was born 9 July 1904 in Assam. Educated in Ireland and England, he attended Mount St Benedict's, Gorey, Co. Wexford, and the Dragon School, Oxford. He won a scholarship to Oundle but did not settle and returned to Dublin to study under Seán Keating (qv) and James Sleator (qv) at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in 1919. He worked in oil and tempura, and as an etcher and wood engraver; his maxim of art was ‘a minimum of form with a maximum of associations’. Attending the Kassell Kunstschule in Germany in 1921, he was taught by Ewald Dulberg. In May 1922 he attended the Union of Progressive International Artists in Düsseldorf and exhibited that year in its Internationale Kunstausstellung. He returned to Dublin in 1924 and held his first solo exhibition at the Dublin Painter's gallery, of which he was a member from 1927. He co-edited the controversial (because allegedly blasphemous) To-morrow with Francis Stuart (qv) for the first of two issues in 1924. Painting from a studio in a converted labourer's cottage at Glencree, Co. Wicklow, he won the RDS's Taylor scholarship in 1926. He made his first exhibit at the RHA in 1929 and moved to Berlin for a year from 1932. In 1935 he exhibited at Daniel Egan's Gallery in Dublin while continuing to entertain poets and writers, Samuel Beckett (qv) included, at his family home. A man of enormous talents (Flann O'Brien (qv) modelled the all-knowing Michael Byrne of At Swim-two-birds (1939) on him), he was debilitated by chronic alcoholism. Ironically, his most famous public work was a three-part mural in Davy Byrne's pub in 1942. A pianist, he co-founded the Irish National Ballet School in the 1940s; he was appointed associate member of the RHA in 1946; and his play ‘Berlin dusk’ was performed at the 37 Theatre Club, Dublin, in 1953. A broadcaster for Radio Éireann and director of cultural events for An Tóstal throughout the 1950s, he died in St Laurence's Hospital, Dublin, on 11 May 1969. He married (1922) Irma Taesler in Germany, and left two daughters, Celia and Beatrice (qv); the latter married Brendan Behan (qv) in 1954.