O'Neill, Máire (Molly) (1886–1952), actress, was born 12 January 1886 in Dublin as Mary Allgood, daughter of George Allgood , printing compositor and son of a protestant English army officer, and Margaret Allgood (née Harold), whose catholic parents owned a junk shop on the Dublin quays. She was known as ‘Molly’, and had four brothers and three sisters, one of whom was Sara (‘Sally’) Allgood (qv). Molly ran away from a protestant orphanage, was apprenticed to a dressmaker, and worked in a shop. In 1905 she followed her sister into acting for the Irish National Theatre Society, and took the stage name ‘Máire O'Neill’. She acted in many productions of what became the Abbey Theatre, both in Dublin and in London. The dramatist J. M. Synge (qv) fell in love with her, and despite differences of age, religion, and temperament they became engaged, at first in secret. With her in mind he wrote ‘The playboy of the western world’ and ‘Deirdre of the sorrows’, and she created the part of Pegeen Mike in the first, controversial production of the ‘Playboy’ (howled off the stage in 1907), and the title role in ‘Deirdre’ (1910). Her acting and stage presence at this point in her career were such that she was said to be unforgettable, and her abilities contributed greatly to the internationally high reputation of the Abbey.
Synge died in 1909. O'Neill married (June 1911) the English drama critic George Herbert Mair during a tour of the ‘Playboy’ in London and the USA. After this date she returned occasionally till 1917 to act in Abbey productions, but appeared more often with Liverpool repertory theatre and in London's West End and New York. She chiefly took part in Irish plays, and became especially associated with the drama of Sean O'Casey (qv); appearing, for instance, in a six-month run of ‘Juno and the paycock’ in Australia. She frequently appeared alongside her sister and Arthur Sinclair (Francis Quinton McDonnell), a colleague from early days in Dublin. Mair died 3 January 1926; O'Neill married Sinclair later that year. From 1930 on she appeared in over twenty Hollywood films in a variety of small roles, but her later years were made difficult by a drink problem and resulting money worries. After five years of marriage she was divorced from Sinclair; her son John Mair, author of a book on forgers of Shakespeare, was killed in a plane crash (1942) while training to become a Royal Air Force officer. She died 2 November 1952 in London of burns caused by falling into the fire (27 October 1952) at her home in Radcliffe Square. Her daughter Pegeen Mair, a songwriter who worked in public relations, survived her.