Saturday 1 October 2016

'The stage is set, the lights grow dim' - fond farewell to 'Father Jack'

Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30

‘Father Ted’ star Frank Kelly. Photo: PA
‘Father Ted’ star Frank Kelly. Photo: PA
Gay Byrne. Photo: Damien Eagers
Actor Mary McEvoy. Photo: John Dardis
President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins. Photo: Damien Eagers
Actor Geraldine Plunkett. Photo: Damien Eagers
Actor Eamon Morrissey. Photo: Damien Eagers
‘Fr Dougal’, Ardal O’Hanlon and ‘Father Ted’ writer Graham Linehan. Photo: Damien Eagers

Walking the Camino Way?

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Which special bark of bamboozlement might Father Jack have emitted at this scheme?

But this spiritual goal was the final, moving ambition of his creator, Frank Kelly - who on the day before his death and despite eight years of illness, told his family of his desire to travel the pilgrim path in northern Spain.

His son Emmet revealed that the family had supported him, saying: "We'll be there for you. We'll take the time" - and would be there to catch him if he fell.

"Little did we know he'd fall the next day," he said in an emotional address to mourners in which he described his father as "irrepressible".

"If heaven permits Father Jack through the duty free of the pearly gates, it will be the first time anyone ever told Peter to 'feck off'," Emmet said.

As laughter rang out again and again in the church, it seemed there could hardly be a better tribute to one of the best-loved entertainers the nation has ever seen.

Chief celebrant, Father Bill Fortune, said Frank had a lot in common with classic comedy writer PG Wodehouse - both bringing "real joy, humour and laughter to literally millions of people".

Best known for his portrayal of Father Jack in the cult series 'Father Ted', Frank (77) passed away suddenly of a heart attack, having battled ill health for over eight years.

Emmet Kelly said he thought it was "cool" that his father was trending on Twitter after his death, ahead of Donald Trump.

Frank is survived by his beloved wife of 51 years, actress Bairbre Neldon, their seven children Aideen, Fíona, Jayne, Ruth, Emmet, Stephen and Rachel and 17 grandchildren, his brothers Aidan and David, and sister Pauline.

President Michael D Higgins attended the funeral and his wife Sabina warmly embraced Bairbre as she arrived at the funeral Mass at the Church of the Guardian Angels in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Mourners included 'Father Ted' writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, Frank's co-star Ardal O'Hanlon and two of Dermot Morgan's sons, Don and Rob. 'Game of Thrones' actor Barry McGovern, John McColgan of Riverdance fame and comedian Noel V Ginnity were there.

Theatre publicist Gerry Lundberg told the Irish Independent of Frank's last appearance in 'Moll' at the Gaiety, of his utter professionalism in learning his lines and how he would do rounds of publicity that many younger actors would shun.

Frank and Bairbre first met at the Gaiety Theatre while appearing in a Brecht play and married three years later in 1964.

A beautiful poem penned by Bairbre for her husband at the back of the Mass booklet ended: "There is another place where music plays. The stage is set, The light grows dim, The mighty wait to greet you with applause."

Gifts brought to the altar symbolising his life included a picture of the Forty Foot where he loved to swim, a picture of the family pet, Lucky, who was "missing him already", the crossword he loved to do every day and his recently-published autobiography 'The Next Gig'.

Emmet Kelly said his father had trained as a barrister but used to say: "I'd rather star on the stage than grow fat at the bar." Frank's son Stephen said his father had "no illusions of grandeur", loved mischief and adventure and would "shout wild abuse at you down the street to see if he could embarrass you".

Irish Independent

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