Charlton, Maureen (1930–2007), playwright, poet and broadcaster, was born Mary Farrell in Dublin on 14 September 1930, one of three daughters of Edward and Bridget Farrell (or O'Farrell); her mother's maiden name was probably Farrell also. Mary, known as Maureen, was brought up in Mount Merrion, in south Dublin, and attended Loreto College, St Stephen's Green. She and her younger sister Nuala studied arts in UCD and were leading lights in the college Dramatic Society. In 1950 Maureen, calling herself Mairín O'Farrell, took the part of Pegeen Mike in a production of 'The playboy of the western world' by J. M. Synge (qv) in an inter-varsity drama festival in Cambridge and Oxford. Strikingly beautiful, with dark hair and blue eyes, she had great stage presence and made a strong impression.
As a playwright, her greatest success was in collaborating with her sister Nuala O'Farrell in writing a ballad opera called 'The heart's a wonder', a musical adaptation of Synge's 'Playboy'. Realising that only music in the Irish traditional idiom would be suitable in the play, they interpolated songs in ballad style to echo Synge's characteristic language. The show was put on in UCD's Aula Maxima in November 1957 (after both O'Farrell sisters had graduated). The following August there was a professional performance in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, with costumes and sets by Micheál MacLiammóir (qv), orchestral arrangements by Gerard Victory (qv), and with a cast including Joe Lynch (qv) and Milo O'Shea (qv). The show, in an era when musicals internationally were all the rage, was a great success. Although some purists groaned, it was undoubtedly more popular with audiences at the time than Synge's original. Many people went to see it on two or even three evenings, CIE put on a special train from Waterford, and a long-playing record of the music was planned. After a four-week run, the play was taken to the Westminster Theatre, London, and also had performances in New York in the early months of 1959. Mary O'Malley (qv) of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, put it on several times in different venues, in 1959, 1962 and 1971. Scenes from the show featured on BBC television in September 1958, and in 1971 it appeared on RTÉ as part of the Synge centenary. There were several revivals of 'The heart's a wonder' in professional productions (notably at the Abbey Theatre in 1978), and it was a popular choice for amateur dramatic societies.
O'Farrell married (18 April 1963) Hugh Charlton (1930–2012) in the church of San Clemente, in Rome, and was thereafter known mostly as Maureen Charlton. Hugh Charlton was a property developer and art dealer, whose Apollo Gallery on Dublin's Dawson Street was an innovative and successful outlet for many well-known artists who became the Charltons' friends, and for decades the couple were prominent in Dublin's cultural life. With her sister Nuala (who married the journalist and editor John D. Mulcahy) as musical director, Charlton wrote 'Smock Alley', a musical compilation about the eighteenth-century theatre in Dublin; it was produced to good reviews in 1967 and 1969. Charlton also wrote the plays 'Go where glory waits thee', about the life and work of Thomas Moore (qv) (later adapted as a film and shown on RTÉ); 'Servants and masters', first performed at the Tailors' Hall, Dublin, in 1971; 'Denis O'Shaughnessy goes to Maynooth', from a story by William Carleton (qv); and 'The people against Mary Sheridan', for television. A one-person show about the actress Peg Woffington (qv), produced in 1987, was not so well reviewed.
In later years Charlton continued to write, mainly short stories and poetry, but without achieving the success of her early work. In 1990 she published a book of poems, Lyrics from 'Nora Barnacle'. The poems had been part of the libretto of Charlton's musical about the life of Nora Barnacle (qv), wife of James Joyce (qv), which was performed in the Eblana Theatre in the Dublin Theatre Festival of 1980. Some audiences had enjoyed the show, but critics, especially David Nowlan of the Irish Times and Michael Sheridan of the Irish Press, published scathing reviews. Charlton's resentment of these and earlier reviews by Nowlan found expression in an extraordinary and long-remembered scene at the festival press conference in the Shelbourne Hotel on 2 October 1980. In the presence of the two critics, she challenged their assessment of her play in very robust language, accused them of being bullies, male chauvinists and worse, and finished by dousing them in yellow liquid from a pot (the liquid turned out to be beer).
From 1964 to 1966, Maureen Charlton worked with the Mulcahys on Hibernia magazine as assistant editor, and from 1982 to 1990 she published and edited six issues of Martello, a well-regarded literary and arts 'little magazine'. She also published the poetry collection Selected fables of La Fontaine (1990) and (with Warren O'Connell) the poetry and prose collection Duet for two Dubs (1997). A frequent contributor to the RTÉ radio programme Sunday miscellany, she was briefly theatre critic of the Evening Press, and a member of the boards of various cultural institutions, including the Wexford Drama Festival. An active member of the Irish Byron Society, she regularly hosted its annual midsummer garden party in Newtown House, her home in Blackrock. She supported the work of the Irish Georgian Society in trying to preserve Dublin's architectural heritage, and in 1970 she and some colleagues established the Bell Tower Trust which set out to rescue St Catherine's church on Thomas Street. The beautiful eighteenth-century Church-of-Ireland building was no longer used for worship and was falling into disrepair; volunteers worked to raise funds and on its renovation, and in the late 1970s ran an arts centre in the premises.
Charlton died in the Blackrock Clinic, Co. Dublin, on 10 August 2007, and was survived by her husband and two sons.