Éamon Ó Buadhacháin remembers Ireland’s first ever TV ‘soap opera’, which was first broadcast on Telifís Éireann sixty years ago this month.


Sixty years ago, in the black-and-white world of Ireland, viewers of the flickering box in the corner of the living room were introduced to their very own ‘soap opera’.

The world was introduced to the television ‘soap opera’ when major detergent companies sponsored half-hour recurring dramas on US television. On this side of the Atlantic the newly-opened ITV and their franchise Granada Television launched their own soap opera titled Coronation Street in 1960, still going strong today.

Two years later Telifís Éireann was launched and on Friday January 3rd 1964 they found some cobblestones of their own when for first time they aired Tolka Row. It had been sought out by the Executive Producer of Drama at RTÉ, Belfast-born Christopher Fitz-Simon. Later he would have the roles of Artistic Director of the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. He also wrote a number of books including The Boys, the story of the Hilton Edwards and Michael MacLiammóir collaboration at the Gate Theatre.

The serial was adapted by Maura Laverty (nee Kelly) from her own three-act play Tolka Row. Her play had been performed for the first time at the aforementioned Gate Theatre in October 1951, the show produced by Hilton Edwards and starred the theatre co-founder Michael MacLiammóir. When Telifís Eireann announced the entry into the soap opera market the Irish Times stated,

“The characters of Mrs. Laverty’s classic heart-throbbers will go on living their lives in a Dublin version of Coronation Street.”

The play Tolka Row was part of a trilogy of plays, the others titled Liffey Lane, the first part and finally A Tree in the Cresent. Maura was a radio broadcaster, hosting the ESB’s sponsored radio show from 1955 until her death; a writer, a cookery expert (in the 1960s her iconic cookbooks with their unique blend of recipes and stories were to be found in nearly every home in Ireland) and as an early agony aunt writing her advice in the Woman’s Way magazine.

Her work was often controversial and her novels were banned by the censors for their sexual frankness. Her first novel Never No More was published to widespread acclaim in 1942. It was based in County Kildare, drawing heavily on personal experiences during her time in Derrymore House. Laverty followed this with Alone We Embark (1943), published in the United States as Touched by the Thorn.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own


Photo ‘Tolka Row’ actors at Dublin Airport (1966) (c) RTÉ Archives