Ní Ghráda, Máiréad (1896–1971), playwright, author, and broadcaster, was born 23 December 1896 in Knockadangan, Kilmaley, Co. Clare, younger of two daughters of James O'Grady (1856–1942), farmer and sometime county councillor, and Bridget O'Grady (née Greene; 1854–1934), native of Kilnamona, Co. Clare. She entered Kilmaley national school in March 1901, and enrolled in the Convent of Mercy secondary school, Ennis, in 1913. She won a scholarship to study in UCD, where she took a BA in Irish, French, and English (1918) and completed an MA (supervised by Douglas Hyde (qv)) in 1919 on ‘An aoir sa Ghaeilge’ (satire in Irish), part of which was published by Hyde in Lia Fáil, i (1924). Although Kilmaley was then mainly English-speaking, Máiréad was bilingual from her youth. She was aware of Gaelic tradition as her father James, some of whose stories in Irish were written down for the archive of the Irish Folklore Commission, was able to recite material such as ‘Cúirt an mheán-oíche’ (‘The midnight court’, the eighteenth-century poem by Brian Merriman (qv)) from oral memory. She published articles and stories in Irish in literary reviews from 1919. A member of Cumann na mBan and of Conradh na Gaeilge during her student days, she won notoriety when briefly imprisoned in Mountjoy gaol in 1920 for collecting money for the Gaelic League on Grafton St. She taught in St Brendan's private school, Glenageary, Co. Dublin (1919–20), and then became timire (organiser) for Ernest Blythe (qv) when he was minister in the underground Irish government. She took the Free State side in the civil war and worked as personal secretary to Blythe, then minister for finance, until 1923. Her earliest known activity in theatre dates from spring 1923, as a member of the Irish-language theatre group An Comhar Drámaíochta, which performed in Dublin theatres. She married (1923) Richard Kissane, a civic guard from Moyvane, Co. Kerry, and had two sons (1924, 1926). She settled in Ranelagh, Dublin. In 1926 she applied for the position of woman organiser at the newly established state radio, 2RN. She was the first woman announcer in Ireland from 1927 onwards: her duties were women's and children's programmes, managing the gramophone library, and relief announcer. Her Children's Hour programme Uair I dTír na nÓg was successful, and in a staff reconfiguration Ní Ghráda became ‘regular announcer’ in 1929: this position also involved news writing and reading. She gained prominence as a broadcaster in both English and Irish at this time.
In 1931, while teaching Irish in Kilmacud domestic science college, she wrote a one-act comedy, ‘An uacht’ (‘The will’) for student production. An Comhar Drámaíochta staged the play, directed by Micheál MacLiammóir (qv), in the Gate Theatre in 1931, and it was published in 1935. MacLiammóir also produced her Irish version of an adaptation of a Tolstoy story, ‘Mícheál’, in the Gate (1933) and the Taibhdhearc theatre, Galway, in 1934. She resigned from 2RN on 1 May 1935 but continued broadcasting on a part-time basis into the 1950s, notably with Question time. She wrote school texts for the Educational Company and Browne & Nolan publishers in the 1930s, and went on to write a broad range of textbooks, some published posthumously: Irish grammar and readers, an Irish course Progress in Irish, used internationally, an English–Irish dictionary, history textbooks in both languages, English anthologies, and readers for junior classes. She was appointed chief editor in Browne & Nolan in the early 1940s and remained in that position until her death.
In the late 1930s she published literary works in Irish: the comedy An grádh agur an gárda (1937), an Irish version of Peter Pan entitled Tír na deó (1938), a collection of short stories set in civil war days (1939), a space-travel novel for teenagers (Manannán, 1940). Following the merger of An Comhar Drámaíochta with the Abbey Theatre in 1942, the Abbey staged her three-act play on a Faustian theme, ‘Giolla an tSolais’, in 1945. She continued to write one-act plays for the Abbey, then under Ernest Blythe's management, during the 1950s and early 1960s. These plays involved musical accompaniment, directed by Seán Ó Riada (qv), and were the beginning of a fruitful artistic collaboration with producer Tomás Mac Anna. Her short plays were frequently performed by amateur drama groups throughout Ireland and offered a choice of female roles, an aspect lacking in other Irish scripts of the time. In the 1950s Ní Ghráda was active as editor of the review Teacher's Work, in Cumann na Scríbhneoirí (Association of Writers in Irish), and on the committee set up to found an Irish-language theatre in Dublin, later the Damer. Stailc ocrais (‘Hunger strike’, first staged 1962, published 1966), is based on the hunger-strike diary Days of fear (1928) by Frank Gallagher (qv). Although probably written much earlier, the author may have withheld it because of its controversial subject. Its staging marks Ní Ghráda's move to a more political and social theatre which coincided with her transfer from the Abbey to Gael-Linn's Damer theatre. Freed of restrictions of length and presentation imposed by the Abbey, her two major 1960s works mark a considerable contribution to theatre in Irish and social debate in contemporary Ireland.
An triail (English version On trial, 1965; published 1966), was staged to critical acclaim in the 1964 Dublin Theatre Festival, featuring Caitlín Maude (qv) and Fionnuala Flanagan in the main role. The play follows the path of a country girl made pregnant by a local personality and her fate as a single mother in urban Dublin, culminating in suicide and infanticide. The play is highly critical of attitudes, piety, and social conditions, including women's labour. It crossed the rural/urban divide and used expressionistic technique and folk-song alike to deliver its message. Its impact was enhanced by the subsequent publication of articles on the issue of single mothers by Michael Viney in the Irish Times (September 1964). RTÉ entered a television version, directed by Michael Garvey, in the Berlin Television Festival, 1965. Breithiúnas (‘Judgment’) (Peacock Theatre, 1968) continues this trenchant critique of Irish society: through the rise to power of a bogus war-of-independence hero, the play focuses on the political process, corruption, jobbery, and the exploitation of women in politics. These two major plays were not published in Irish in her lifetime.
Ní Ghráda's output during these years also included Irish versions of Ladybird books and collaboration with James Carey and Augustine Martin (qv) on the ground-breaking secondary-school text series Exploring English. She became a national figure through her radio broadcasting and widely-used schoolbooks. Ní Ghráda was a career woman who cared little for domesticity and continued her professional and public work in a state that gave little encouragement to women to do so. Her activity spans the national revival period, independence, and the modernising 1960s. Her plays were produced in professional and amateur contexts, and were aimed at the theatrical conditions of her time. She was the first major woman playwright in the Irish language, and her many theatrical works move towards modernity and a critique of Irish society. In doing so she remained faithful to her linguistic heritage while renewing it by adopting a variety of techniques and subjects.
She worked on textbooks and children's stories until shortly before her death in Dublin on 13 June 1971. Portraits are in items listed below; the most extensive collection is in the 1997 commemorative booklet. Some scripts can be found in RTÉ Script Archive, and two interviews in RTÉ sound archives. A comprehensive bibliography is in S. Ní Bhrádaigh, Máiréad Ní Ghráda Ceannródaí Drámaíochta (Indreabhán, 1996), 77–103.