Val Vousden - Actor, Entertainer, Author and Playright

One of the most well-known Vousdens was not a Vousden at all. Val Vousden (1885-1951) was the stage name of William McNevin and we are indebted to Gloria Pattinson for most of this biography of her grandfather.

Early Years

Val Vousden (1885-1951): actor, entertainer, playwright and poet.

His real name was William Francis Maher MacNEVIN - in gaelic, Mac Cnaimhin - although in the majority of documents he spells it McNEVIN. His 'stage name' was Val VOUSDEN, after the famous Irish entertainer Valentine Vousden who lived and performed through much of the nineteenth century.

He was born in Carlow, opposite the gates of St Patrick's College. The Carlow Society have given him the honour of erecting a plaque on the wall marking his birthplace.

His mother Elizabeth (Eliza) MAHER taught at St Joseph's National School in Carlow before she married, and William attended there as a child, under the teaching of Mother Augustine of the Irish Sisters of Mercy.

McNevin was a devout Roman Catholic and often served mass in the Presentation Convent chapel, before going on to finish his education as a boarder at Mungret College, Limerick which was run by jesuit monks. In his autobiography "Val VOUSDEN's Caravan" he related how he and some other students petitioned the Prefect of Studies to have Irish be included in the curriculum and the subject continued to be part of the curriculum until the college closed its doors in the 1970s.

His Life as an Actor, Entertainer

At the age of six William McNevin undertook his first professional appearance in Carlow Town Hall with the Pepper's Ghost Company, playing part of Tiny Tim in 'A Christmas Carol'. Unfortunately he had neglected to tell his parents of this engagement and they had a 'hue and cry' going on, whilst he was treading the boards. Happily a neighbour happened to patronise the Town Hall that evening and recognised the youngster as he was gorging himself with Bob Crachit's Christmas pudding."

Clearly acting didn't provide a living on a regular basis, because he joined the army in 1904. On his service record he stated that he was "18 years and 6 months" old when he joined the East Lancashire Regiment (Service No. - Pte. 8209) on the 26th August 1904, in Dublin. However, he didn't last long in the army, being discharged on medical grounds on 9th August 1905, having served 349 days as a clerk in the pay corps. He returned to Carlow and the acting profession.

According to an article in an Irish magazine, "Carloviana", written in 1953, he also used the stage-name of "Bartley Hynes" during his very early years, when he was touring Ireland and England.

McNevin returned to Ireland in 1910 - probably becoming Val Vousden about this time - and appeared at the Penny Readings at the Deighton Hal, Carlow. On St Patrick's night that year he produced an 'entertainment called "Art and Laughter" at the Town Hall.

Val Vousden: the cover of his Recitations, Monologues, Character Sketches and Plays [Publisher: Walton's Piano & Musical Instrument Galleries (1945)]

Before the war Val Vousden as he was now known played with various stock companies and in his autobiography he mentions spending three years with 'The Royal Stock Company' who were resident at a bijou theatre 'The Theatre Royal in Warrington' where he played the prince in Hamlet. He said that he and his fellow actors would spend time between acts in the pub next door "Barny McClews" and the pub still stands on the corner of Scotland Road and Horsemarket Street.

After his 3 years at Warrington, Val joined the Carrickford Repertory Company and toured with them until after the start of WW1 in 1915. Whilst touring in Cardiff, he rejoined the army and rose to become a Regimental Sergeant Major (probably of the Welsh Regiment - but as yet this is not confirmed).

(The Medal Rolls held at the National Archives at Kew, show that there was indeed a Sgt. William MacNevin (A/W.O. Class 1 - Service No. 39679) who served in the Welsh Regiment 17th & 18th Divisions. McNevin's grand daughter had hoped to confirm this soldier as her grandfather, by checking his birth date and place of birth in the MOD "burnt documents" released in 2001 - but alas - the service record of this particular soldier had not survived the fire.)

His autobiography also states that in 1917, his battalion was near Bullecourt, France, when a new Adjutant was posted to the regiment, and Val recognised him as the actor who had played Laertes with him in Hamlet!

Post WW1 - His Return to Acting

When he was demobbed, Val returned to Dublin and started with Roberto Lena's Company in Newbridge. He then went to the Queen's Theatre, Dublin, where he stayed for a season, after which he joined James O'Brien in the O'Brien and Ireland Company. He stayed for three years with this company, going all over Ireland. He then returned to the Queens in Dublin, where he played with some of the leading actors and actresses of the day, including May Craig, the Abbey actress and P.J. Bourke, founder of Bourke's the leading Stage Costumiers, and Peadar Kearney, later author of the Irish National Anthem.

During one of his resting periods he met Pearl O'Donnell, a Belfast actress, in Derry, and they were later married. She did Scottish turns and they toured the country together, returning to the Queen's in Dublin for a few years when their family was young. Between engagements he would give elocution lessons to augment the family's finances.

Val Vousden

Val continued touring both in the UK and Ireland for many years, but never made it to the West End stage. In fact, he says in his autobiography, that the nearest he came to appearing in London's West End was a spell with the Elephant & Castle Repertory Company. Later in life he turned to radio and presented the very first light entertainment show on Radio Eireanne and continued to be a regular contributor to Irish radio until he died. The radio station featured a brief recording of him on its 75th anniversary web-site in 2001.

Irish Destiny: a historical drama produced in 1926 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Easter Rising, a love story set against the backdrop of the War of Independence. The film interweaves a romantic narrative with actual newsreel footage of British occupation, the Black and Tans, IRA resistance, the burning of Cork, and the burning of the Customs House in Dublin with dramatised scenes filmed in Enniskerry, Wicklow and Dublin.

He also appeared in at least two films, the first a silent movie to mark the 10th anniversary of the Easter Rising, set during the War of Independence, entitled Irish Destiny (1926) where he played the local priest. The other, The Odd Man Out (1947) was a black and white movie about the last eight hours in the life of a wounded Irish nationalist evading police following a failed robbery.

McNevin/Vousden died at the Clonskea Hospital, Dublin, on 6th June 1951 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetary, Dublin. His funeral was followed by a great host of theatrical and radio professionals who regarded him highly. Oddly enough, his was the only funeral at Glasnevin on that day, a thing that had not happened for over twenty years. So he certainly had the stage to himself! His head stone was erected by 'His friends in the Bohemian Musical Society'.

The Late Val Vousden
(The Nationalist and Leinster Times, Sat. June 9th 1951)

The death was announced in Dublin on Wednesday of Val Vousden, well-known actor, entertainer and author. William McNevin by name and a native of Carlow, he took to the stage in his early boyhood, and on becoming a professional actor he adopted the name of the famous nineteenth century entertainer, Valentine Vousden.

He had numerous friends in Carlow and in Laois generally, where he had appeared on many concert platforms. In his native town he appeared in many performance in the years gone by, and produced a number of most successful stage shows.

His first stage connection with Laois was at Stradbally where, about forty years ago, he trained a local dramatic class for the production of a play written by him and based on Canon Sheehan's novel "My New Curate".

Deceased was a cultured and educated gentleman. He was kind and quiet by nature and was held in high regard by members of the profession. He is survived by his wife and three daughters, and his sister, Mrs. Fleckney, ex-N.T., Ballylinan.

May his soul rest in peace.

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