By Sheila O’Kelly
Molly Keane, author and playright, was born Mary Nesta Skrine on the 20th July, 1904, in Royston Cottage, Newbridge, Co. Kildare. Her father, Walter, was an Anglo-Irish gentleman who had a passion for horses and hunting. Her mother, Agnes, was a poet and wrote under the pseudonym Moira O’Neill.
Walter and Agnes had five children. In 1912, the family moved to Ballyrankin House in County Wexford. Molly refused to join her siblings in boarding school in England. She was educated by her mother and governesses and later attended a boarding school in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
Molly was at boarding school the night insurgents burned down her family home during the Irish Civil War (1919-1923). Walter and Agnes built a new home and Walter called it the ‘New Ballyrankin House’.
The relationship between Molly and her parents was strained. Molly stated “she had no fun in her childhood years.” To compensate for this lack of fun she developed a passion for horses and hunting.
At seventeen years of age Molly was confined to bed with suspected tuberculosis where she wrote her first novel, ‘The Knight of Cheerful Countenance’ (1921) that was published by Mills and Boon. Two years later her novel ‘Young Entry’ was published.
Molly wrote under the pseudonym of M.J. Farrell, a name she saw over a pub. She didn’t want to be recognised as a writer. She said: “For a woman to read a book, let alone write one, was viewed with alarm: I would have been banned from every respectable house in County Carlow.”