Troy, Una ('Elizabeth Connor') (1910–93), writer, was born on 21 May 1910 in Fermoy, Co. Cork, the eldest of three daughters of John (Seán) Troy (1881–1972), solicitor, and his wife Bridget Agnes (née Hayes). John Troy was an Irish Irelander, GAA member, republican activist, and son of a prominent Parnellite; a district justice from 1922, he was transferred to Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, in 1925. He often discussed the family's ancestry and his legal business (including local scandals) with his eldest daughter and encouraged her attempts at writing, which began at the age of 12. The middle sister, Gráinne (1913–70), was a pianist and occasional composer who taught music in Manchester; the youngest, Shevaun (1923–93), ran a ballet school in Clonmel and published poetry as 'Gabriel Vand'.
Una Troy's writings suggest that she experienced a period of youthful romantic nationalist enthusiasm, followed by shock and disillusionment at the brutality of the civil war; two of her novels compare the official nationalism of the post-independence Irish state to light reaching the earth from a distant star which has already died. The Troys spent summer holidays in Bunmahon, Co. Waterford, which acquired a central place in Una's emotional life; she returned regularly, acquiring a summer cottage as an adult and engaging in her favourite pastimes of swimming and rock climbing. After attending schools run by the Loreto order of nuns at Fermoy and Clonmel, she boarded at Loreto College, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin (1924–7), but left without sitting the leaving certificate examination. She later regretted that her intellectual formation had been dominated by the nineteenth-century literary models available in a provincial town (her debt to the Victorian sensation novel is considerable) and that she came late to metropolitan literary trends.
She married (8 January 1931) Joseph Walsh, a medical practitioner at Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford (near Bunmahon); although she would publish initially under a pen name and then under her maiden name, she used her married name in everyday life. Walsh was fourteen years her senior and had served as medical officer to the IRA West Waterford Brigade; he later became coroner for east Waterford. (His sister May (qv) married the painter Seán Keating (qv); she was a prominent left-wing activist and atheist, and mother of the Labour politician Justin Keating (qv).) By Una's own recollection, she had met Walsh at Bunmahon when she was 12 and fallen in love with him then; on adolescent holidays she regularly waited on the beach in her swimsuit in the hope of meeting and fascinating him. They had one daughter (b. 1932) and one son (b. 1937), the latter dying soon after birth; the recurrent theme of barrenness and lost children in her later novels may derive from this experience. Dr Walsh was sympathetic to his wife's literary activities (their friend the writer Patrick Boyle (qv) remarked that their professionalism made them a formidable team), and his popularity with his patients enabled him to survive professionally despite the couple's nonconformity; but he was also an alcoholic, who engaged in fistfights (though not domestic violence). There are hints in Troy's work that her husband's alcoholism originated in a deep misanthropy deriving from civil war experiences. Furthermore, some of her protagonists regret early marriage and confinement to provincial life.
Troy published her first two novels, Mount Prospect (1936) and Dead star's light (1938), under the pen name Elizabeth Connor (her grandmother's name). These are tremendously angry, if sometimes overwritten, dissections of Irish provincial society. Mount Prospect, a catholic grand bourgeois variant on the big house novel, significantly influenced by Kate O'Brien (qv), is dominated by the house of the title and its symbolic embodiment, Mrs Kenefick, a monstrous mother who stifles her son and stepchildren, while simultaneously engaging in sanctimonious and snobbish charity work and in stringent censorship of the local public library. Since the book contained direct references to abortion and contraception (a naïve idealist who boasts of Ireland's freedom from divorce and contraception is told that the Irish substitute poison and infanticide), it was promptly banned.
Dead star's light was based on a recent local scandal, the disappearance of the Kilmacthomas-based postman Larry Griffin on Christmas Day 1929. It was generally believed that Griffin was killed or seriously injured in a fracas at an illegally open pub in Stradbally, Co. Waterford, and that local notables disposed of his body in a mineshaft near Bunmahon to avoid scandal. The novel opens with a bank manager, a doctor and a solicitor (accompanied by the manager's young nephew) running over a tramp while drink-driving. The solicitor, Ignatius Ross, persuades his companions to throw the body into a mineshaft, then blackmails them to fund a successful career of bribery, embezzlement and sanctimonious fraud. Ross finally mounts a hysterical anti-communist campaign against the nephew, who, traumatised by the civil war, has become an atheist and socialist (and is involved with Ross's intellectual, swimsuited daughter). Readers closely but not intimately acquainted with the family's circumstances could have taken Mrs Kenefick and Ignatius Ross as portraits of Troy's parents.
Dead star's light sparked an angry correspondence between Troy and Dean William Byrne, parish priest of SS Peter and Paul in Clonmel (where Dr Walsh's practice was now located), after which the Walshes ceased to attend church (though their daughter was brought up nominally catholic, receiving first communion and confirmation in Dublin). Descriptions in several novels of losing religious belief suggest that Troy was agnostic.
A member of the Society of Authors, PEN and the Clonmel branch of the Soroptimists (an international association of business and professional women), in the 1960s she gave occasional literary talks in the town, but in general was seen as aloof from its life (whereas she mixed socially in Bunmahon). She joined the Women Writers' Club founded in Dublin in 1933 (and still active in 1958), but rarely attended meetings because she lived outside Dublin.
In 1940, her stage adaptation of Mount Prospect was performed at the Abbey and declared joint winner of the annual prize for a first play. Two stage comedies (1941, 1942) and 'The dark road' (1947), an adaptation of Dead star's light, were popular with audiences but did not receive the same critical acclaim. However, they establish Troy (who wrote all four plays under the Connor pen name) as the only significant post-revival Abbey woman playwright (except for Teresa Deevy (qv)) before the 1990s. Troy's best-known work, 'The apple', also dates from this period. This short story, about an ageing nun who achieves belated moral adulthood by disobeying her vow of obedience to revisit her childhood home, appeared in The Bell in October 1942, and by 2017 had been republished three times in anthologies (including the Field Day anthology of Irish writing, iv: Irish women's writing and traditions (2002)). Although generally seen as an unequivocal tale of triumph, a darker reading is possible emphasising nascent awareness that the protagonist has wasted her life on something she no longer believes.
After publishing nothing for eight years, mainly owing to family pressures as her daughter grew and her husband aged, from 1955 Troy (now writing under her maiden name) reinvented her literary career, as a prolific writer (fifteen published novels) of humorous regional fiction aimed at a British metropolitan market (she was regularly compared to Somerville (qv) and Ross (qv)). She also tapped the fondness of many continental readers for light romantic stories set in an idyllic rural and small-town Ireland; in this she anticipates Cecelia Ahern (b. 1981). Troy was widely read in German translation, and her novels were also translated into Danish, Norwegian, Dutch and Slovene. There was undoubtedly an element of professional calculation and deliberate escapism in these novels; Troy was a highly disciplined writer, putting in four to five hours every day after household chores, and in 1967 told an RTÉ interviewer that it was a relief to shut herself in a room and escape into another world.
Readers closer to home, however, could detect thinly disguised doses of acid in some of these novels. There are asides about such matters as the seriousness of embarking on marriage in a country without divorce; naïve provincial women unaware of the existence of homosexuality fall in love with flamboyant 'bachelors' (her insouciant attitude to sexual matters could shock reviewers); and fantasy elements coexist with, for example, the bleak descriptions of overcrowded conditions in a Dublin council flat in Out of the everywhere (1976). The workhouse Graces (1959) is based on a controversy in Kilmacthomas about the continued presence in the workhouse of a small group of nuns caring for elderly patients too frail to be moved when the institution closed (in the novel, devious local businessmen wish to evict the inmates to establish a factory making religious figurines, and try to improve their chances of a government grant by forcing employees to speak Irish). The other end of the bridge (1960) parodies a dispute between Cork and Waterford county councils about which should pay for a new bridge across the river Blackwater. The Larry Griffin case is reinvented in Maggie (1958), in which a missing local postman is rescued from a mineshaft where he fell while discarding inconvenient mail.
The most notorious example of this reinvention, however, is We are seven (1955), in which the various fathers of the seven children of an unmarried woman in an Irish village arrange for the removal elsewhere of this embarrassment. This comedy went through twenty reprints in America, and was filmed as She didn't say no! (1957; dir. Cyril Frankel); Troy co-wrote the script, but detested the new title. Some considered it a slander on Irish chastity. Outdoor filming was transferred from Connemara to Cornwall owing to clerical opposition, the film was banned in Ireland, and its submission to a film festival in Brussels led to calls for its withdrawal. (The latter campaign was incongruously entrusted by the government to Conor Cruise O'Brien (qv), with whom Troy conducted a furious correspondence.) The book was recognisable as a travesty of the story of Moll Carthy, murdered at Marlhill, Co. Tipperary, in November 1940. Troy's father had dismissed a 1926 application for Carthy's children to be sent to institutions (Una witnessed the proceedings, which are reproduced in the novel) and presided at the initial committal proceedings for Harry Gleeson (1903–41), convicted and hanged for the murder in what was later acknowledged to have been a miscarriage of justice. (Gleeson was formally pardoned by the Irish state in 2015.) The film was believed lost, but was rediscovered in 2002 and restored in 2005. It has since attracted considerable attention owing to its cast of prominent Irish actors, later revelations about the dark underbelly of post-independence Ireland, and renewed interest in the fates of Carthy and Gleeson. (HTV Wales adapted We are seven as a television serial (1989–91) set in 1930s Wales; Troy had no direct input.)
After her husband's death in 1969, Troy moved permanently to Bunmahon. She stepped up her writing rate (publishing nine novels from 1969 to 1981) and moved downmarket to the publisher Robert Hale. While this owed partly to financial necessity, her work of the late 1960s also suggests traces of despair over the long-term significance of literary achievement (The brimstone halo (1965) at least entertains the possibility that it is better to retain one's romantic illusions than to penetrate the true horror of the world as perceived by serious artists). She ceased to publish after the traumatic refusal of her 1981 application for membership of the artists' academy Aosdána. Her papers, however, contain two later novels, as yet unpublished in English. One of these, 'Fly by those nets', was published posthumously in German translation as Das Meer ist Musik (2001), and is regarded by Christine Nix as Troy's most autobiographical tale and summation of her work. The novel depicts two artistically talented sisters: the writer breaks with her family, marries a Jewish atheist and dies after a short life of hardship, leaving a body of work later recognised as equivalent in stature to that of James Joyce (qv), while the musician abandons her talent for a (reasonably happy) marriage and the stifling restrictions of provincial life. Troy seems to imply that her own achievement lies between the two, but that she had achieved less than she might have done. She died on 27 September 1993 in the regional hospital at Ardkeen, Co.Waterford, believing to the end that her work would one day achieve due recognition. She was cremated and buried with her parents in Kilcrumper cemetery near Fermoy. Her papers are held by the NLI (MSS 35,683–35,699).
Troy is a complex writer who should not be dismissed as a facile middlebrow or celebrated for unequivocal self-empowerment. Her work is notable for its witty, incisive and subversive social criticism and its struggle to use escapism to contain undercurrents of anger, frustration and despair.