Dr Toibin has last laugh with college honour
Published 05/06/2010 | 05:00
AN honorary doctorate from University College Cork was no laughing matter, veteran comedian and actor Niall Toibin remarked yesterday.
The 80-year-old entertainer said that while he was deeply honoured by the award, he had never dreamed of getting a Doctorate of Arts.
"If you had asked me at any time in the last 70 or 80 years, or whatever I am, who would be the least likely candidate for a doctorate in UCC, I would have said 'me.' And if I had actually gone to college, I would have said 'I,' he laughed.
"But I am very, very pleased and very chuffed. There were certainly times in my career when this would have been impossible -- people would have been out with placards in the street saying: 'No, No, No.' But, now, apparently everybody is prepared to accept that I'm very, very tame and can't do anymore damage. So why not give him a doctorate," he said.
Toibin -- who delivered a few verses of the ballad 'Kevin Barry' in German to celebrate his award -- acknowledged that his stage role in Brendan Behan's 'Borstal Boy' changed his life forever.
"Sometimes, my straight acting was taken to be comic, which the author wouldn't have been too happy about. My comedy was probably easier. But some of the heavy stuff I did was very, very good. 'Borstal Boy' changed the whole course of my life -- especially after we went to Broadway with it," he added.
"After that I was involved in a totally different game. Out of that I became so well known that television became more likely to happen for me. I've been kept busy all the years -- I have very rarely had any anxiety about work. I have been very lucky -- but I also worked very, very hard," he said.
Toibin's portrayal of Behan is regarded as arguably the finest ever done on stage and earned him worldwide acclaim.
Toibin -- a former civil servant -- was a child singer in Cork's Cathedral Choir and in the Opera House. In 1953, he joined the Radio Eireann Repertory Company and later secured tenure at the Abbey Theatre.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, he appeared in some of the biggest films ever shot on location in Ireland and worked alongside top stars including Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Mitchum, John Mills and Pierce Brosnan.
"Some of the stories they tell about me and 'Ryan's Daughter' are actually true," he smiled.
While beloved in Ireland as a comedian, Toibin became internationally respected as an actor and secured a prestigious Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor on Broadway in New York.
He has won virtually every entertainment award in Ireland and has been an ardent supporter of the Irish language.
An honorary UCC degree was also bestowed on legendary musician, Robert 'Bobby' Lamb.
He toured with some of the titans of 20th Century music, including Frank Sinatra, Louis Amstrong, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jnr and Andy Williams.
Fittingly, the first public concert performed by Lamb was at the UCC campus on June 4 more than 60 years ago.
An honorary doctorate was also bestowed on Mr Justice Francis Murphy, a former Supreme Court judge and Chairman of the Bar Council.