The 10 best Irish plays you need to see before you die

Discover Ireland through some of the nation’s most inspiring writers with these ten classic and best Irish plays you need to see before you die!

Us Irish are known the world over for our storytelling prowess and nowhere has that been more evident than on the stage. We’ve selected ten of the best Irish plays you need to see before you die which have captivated spectators around the globe for years.

10. Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa is truly one of the best Irish plays ever written.
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You might know Dancing at Lughnasa from the film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon, but it’s also one of the best Irish plays you need to see before you die.

The Olivier award-winning 1990 play is partially based on the lives of Friel’s own mother and aunts in 1930’s Donegal. Set during the traditional harvest festival of Lughnasa, the play is narrated by Michael who recalls a childhood summer spent in the cottage of his mother’s family.

A soundtrack is provided by the family’s dodgy radio which provokes frenzied dancing in the cottage whenever it decides to turn on.

9. She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith is another of the top best Irish plays.
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The oldest piece on our list, Trinity-College-graduate Oliver Goldsmith’s hit comedy has had audiences laughing since 1773!

In this classic farce, the aristocratic Kate “stoops to conquer” by disguising herself as a peasant to woo the shy Marlow.

8. By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr

By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr is another of the best Irish plays.
Credit: @ensembletheatrecle / Instagram

By the Bog of Cats premiered at the Abbey Theatre in 1996. Carr’s drama is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of the sorceress, Medea.

Its fantastical and poignant themes make this one of most awe-inspiring Irish plays you need to see before you die.

7. The Hostage by Brendan Behan

Brendan Behan's The Hostage is another of the best Irish plays.
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Initially written in Irish as An Giall, the English-language adaptation debuted in London in 1958.

The hostage of the title is a kidnapped British soldier in a house of ill-repute, where he falls for the Irish Teresa.

The play is best described as a wild ride with a raucous cast of kooky characters, including some of the first explicitly LGBT characters in Irish drama. A must-see by Brendan Behan.

6. Katie Roche by Teresa Deevy

Katie Roche is an amazing play by Teresa Deevy and one of the best Irish plays ever written.
Credit: @abbeytheatredublin / Instagram

For years, Deevy’s plays have been wrongfully neglected, after her career at the Abbey was cut short by censorship.

Deevy was a remarkable writer who became deaf as a teenager and found prestige on both stage and radio.

Katie Roche premiered in 1936 and tells the story of the excitable Katie Roche, a young woman who struggles to conform to the staunch mores of the era while being trapped in a loveless marriage with an older man.

5. An Triail by Mairéad Ní Ghráda

An Triail is another of the best Irish plays by Mairead Ni Ghrada.

While it might have a bad reputation for Leaving Cert. students, An Triail (The Trial) is possibly the greatest of all Irish plays you need to see before you die, written in the Irish language.

The experimental, revolutionary piece, which premiered at the Damer Theatre in 1964, follows the story of a single mother, Máire.

The play puts society itself on trial, throwing traditional morality on its head and unapologetically lampooning the hypocrisy of 20th-century Ireland

4. Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge

Playboy of the Western World is a must-see play written by J. M. Synge.
Credit: @lyricbelfast / Instagram

Synge’s black comedy tells the story of “playboy” Christy, who finds fame in a west-of-Ireland town after claiming to have murdered his father.

Perhaps the most well-known detail about the play is the riots it incited at its premiere at Ireland’s national theatre, the Abbey, in 1907. Many felt scandalised by its depiction of Irish people and its honest representation of taboo topics onstage.

Known the world over, the play’s been adapted many times, including versions set in the West Indies and Beijing, and an Afro-Irish adaptation by Bisi Adigun and Roddy Doyle.

3. Sive by John B. Keane

Sive is a play written by John B. Keane and one of the best plays ever written.

Sive, by the great Kerry writer, John B. Keane, is an exposé of traditional Irish match-making which was still ongoing when the play debuted in 1959. 

The captivating play shows the tragic consequences of greed, as the orphaned Sive falls victim to the scheming of her aunt, uncle, and the local matchmaker.

2. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot is another of the top plays written by Samuel Beckett.
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One of the most famous Irish plays you need to see before you die, Beckett’s 1953 Waiting for Godot helped earn him a Nobel Prize in Literature.

This strange spectacle, which forever changed theatre history, has left audiences all over the world wondering about the meaning behind the clown-like Estragon and Vladimir’s endless wait for the mysterious Godot.

1. The Plough and the Stars by Seán O’Casey

Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars is a great play about the 1916 Easter Rising.
Credit: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Part of O’Casey’s famous “Dublin Trilogy,” The Plough and the Stars centres around one of most colossal events in Irish history, the 1916 Easter Rising.

This anti-war drama tells the story of the rebellion from the perspective of everyday Dublin citizens as they navigate political turmoil and poverty in a cramped tenement block.

Both irreverently funny and shockingly tragic, the play was so controversial that its premiere in 1926 was met with riots in the Abbey Theatre (yes, again!).

About the incident, Abbey co-founder, W. B. Yeats said this famous line; “‘You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius? Synge first and then O’Casey.”

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Tadhg Carey is a writer, musician, and theatre-maker based in County Kildare. He is currently a student of Irish folklore and drama studies. Tadhg has had a passion for Irish heritage from a young age, and nothing makes him happier than discovering new parts of the country. Tadhg's poetry has been published in the Irish Times, and he has performed music and improv in numerous venues across Dublin. When not writing or singing, you can usually find him walking the most beautiful cocker spaniel in the world or nerdily researching silent movies, LGBTQ history, and obscure folk songs into the wee hours.