The Great Yeats!: Remarkable Father of a Remarkable Family

Sam McCready

About the book…

John Butler Yeats (1839-1922) is remembered as the father of Ireland's premier poet, WB Yeats, and best-known painter, Jack Yeats. An outstanding painter in his own right, he was also a brilliant conversationalist, the best of his generation, according to GK Chesterton, and it was as a brilliant conversarionalist that he was remembered in the years immediately following his death. Today he is recognised as one of Ireland's major portrait painters.

Born in Tullylish, near Portadown, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, he was destined for a career in law, but to the dismay of his wife, he recklessly abandoned law to become a painter. Of undoubted artistic talent, he lacked the confidence and drive to have a profitable career and thus the Yeatses lived in near penury in London. In 1908, he moved to New York, where he lived the rest of his life, a celebrated after-dinner speaker and mentor to younger artists. 

In The Great Yeats!, Sam McCready explores with wit and pathos the life of the loveable, enigmatic painter, subtly revealing the complex relationships between him and his long-suffering family.

Photo of the author, Sam McCready

About the author…

Sam McCready is an internationally respected actor, theatre director, teacher, painter, adjudicator, published author and Hon Patron of the New Lyric Operatic Company. He is Joint-Artistic Director of Two-for-One Productions. Born in Belfast, he was a leading actor and founding member of the Lyric Players Theatre, and later a Trustee and Artistic Director of the company. He emigrated to the United States in 1984, when he was appointed Professor of Theatre at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

He has directed in New York City and appeared as an actor in regional theatres in the US and Europe. His publications include: Lucille Lortel: The Queen of Off-Broadway (1993), A William Butler Yeats Encyclopedia(1997); Coole Lady: The Extraordinary Story of Lady Gregory(2005); the memoir Baptism by Fire: My Life with Mary O’Malley and the Lyric Players (2008); and The Great Yeats! (2010).

His adaptation of Helen Lewis’s Holocaust memoir, A Time to Speak, played Off-Broadway and was presented at the private opening of the new Lyric Theatre, May 2011. His solo play, The Great Yeats! in which he performs the role of John Butler Yeats, father of the famous poet, premiered in Ireland, May 2011. In May 2012, he performed in the Lyric Theatre his critically acclaimed one-man show, Dickens in the Ulster Hall, a production designed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens.

Although much of his time has been spent teaching and working in the professional theatre with leading actors such as Kevin Spacey, Liam Neeson, Adrian Dunbar, and Conleth Hill, Sam’s major interest has been the training of younger actors to enable them to reach their full interpretative potential. 

Among his students have been Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Frances Barber (National Theatre and RSC), Peter Quigley and Dan Gordon, while another student, James Brown Orleans, is currently starring in The Lion King on Broadway.  

His most recent production was the premiere of his  adaptation Nicholas Nickleby at Dotheboys Hall, performed by the Fringe Benefits Theatre Group during the 2012 Ulster Bank Festival at Queen’s, Belfast.  

A selection of his latest paintings may be see at the Caldwell Gallery, Belfast (, while a detailed account of his productions and published books may be found at the website for his theatre company, Two for One Productions, which specializes in solo shows based on literary and historical subjects.  See: