Casey, William Francis (1884–1957), dramatist and journalist, was born 2 May 1884 in Cape Town, South Africa, son of Patrick Joseph Casey, theatre proprietor, native of Glenageary, Co. Dublin. After the family returned to Dublin in the 1890s, he was educated at Castleknock College (1901–2) before taking a place in medical school at TCD. Shifting, after two years, to law school at TCD, he eventually completed his studies at King's Inns, and was called to the Irish bar (1909). The discipline of law had, however, become a distraction from a passion for drama which had developed from his early days at TCD; he later humorously summed up his legal career as ‘one year, one brief, one guinea’. Engaged in amateur acting outside college from 1907, he was made stage manager at the Abbey theatre in January 1908. Innocent of business practice, he was instructed by W. B. Yeats (qv) on how to sign cheques. On 13 February 1908 his first play, ‘The man who missed the tide’, was produced at the Abbey. Over three acts, this followed the attempt of a young man in a provincial town to recover a creative sense of purpose in life after leaving a Roman Catholic seminary. The hero's failure and degeneration into alcoholism and gambling, and the seclusion in despair of his only female friend in a convent, were not gloomy enough to prevent popular success. With this encouragement, Casey directed his second play, ‘The suburban groove’, at the Abbey (October 1908). This gently satirised middle-class life in Rathmines in 1890. Regarded by most critics as less well crafted and more superficial than his earlier work, it was happily applauded by audiences, and proved another commercial success. These were the first plays at the Abbey to focus on urban life in Ireland. They were too conventional for Yeats, who irritated Casey with his professed disdain for journalism and entertainment. Though never published, they were staples of the Abbey repertoire until the 1920s.
While half-heartedly pursuing law in 1910, Casey wrote a romantic novel, Zoe, before moving to London, where he acted as drama critic (and staunch advocate of Irish theatre) on the Daily Chronicle until the summer of 1912. Part-time work reviewing for the Times Literary Supplement led to a full-time job in the sports department of The Times from 1914. An adventure novel, Haphazard, came out in 1917. By 1918 he had been taken on as a foreign sub-editor in the paper, being posted to Washington (1919) and Paris (1920). Between 1923 and 1928 he undertook the demanding position of chief sub-editor and was based in London. As a foreign leader-writer from 1928 he attended sessions of the League of Nations and later deplored the want of international resistance to the rise of militarism in Germany under Nazi power; he became friendly with Winston Churchill in the 1930s. His last imaginative work, The private life of a successful man, emerged in 1935. Made assistant editor (1935) and deputy editor (1941), he was a civil but determined antagonist in struggles between the editorial board and the printing unions. Wartime censorship put a strain on his native urge to expose factual reality, however uncongenial. Appointed editor in 1948, he managed the paper effectively, despite increasing ill-health, until he retired in 1952. Deceptive in that his cordiality and self-effacing wit concealed tenacity and penetration in argument, he could show great empathy with his staff. He died 20 April 1957 in London.
He married (1914) Amy Gertrude Pearson-Gee, a widow; they had no children.