Frank Kelly - 'Hero who gave so much to Irish comedy' dies aged 77
Tributes pour in for a great comedian, a gentleman and a friend
Published 29/02/2016 | 02:30
President Michael D Higgins has led the tributes to the actor Frank Kelly, who has died at the age of 77, saying he was privileged to have him as a friend.
Kelly, an icon of Irish television, radio and the stage, is best known for his comic role as the alcoholic, foul-mouthed priest Father Jack Hackett in 'Father Ted'.
He passed away yesterday and had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease last year.
President Higgins said it was with "great sadness" that he learnt of Kelly's death.
"He will forever be remembered for his roles in the theatre and will be recalled with great affection and fondness for his roles on television, including in 'Wanderly Wagon', 'Glenroe' and the much-loved 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly'."
Offering his sympathies to Kelly's wife Bairbre and family, he said "theirs is the greatest loss of such a great and loving person".
"Sabina and I were privileged to have him as a friend."
Comedian and actor Ardal O'Hanlon, who starred alongside Kelly as dopey Father Dougal in 'Father Ted', paid tribute to him as "a great comedy priest, a gentleman and a friend".
Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said: "I had dinner with him before Christmas and he was in his usual feisty form. He loved a good argument, though not in a Father Jack way."
O'Hanlon said he grew up watching Kelly on 'Hall's Pictorial Weekly', which ran from 1971 to 1980.
"He was a very determined and hard-working character, he was rightly proud of his long and varied career. Frank was an all-round talent, an institution in Irish entertainment ... and he'll be greatly missed by all who knew him."
Comedian and 'Father Ted' actor Joe Rooney described him as a "hero who contributed so much to Irish comedy".
"I worked with him a few times - we got on very well and I called over to his house recently to do an interview with him," he said.
"He was there with his wife and they were minding their grand-daughter with the crazy dog running around. I really feel for his wife Bairbre, as they were together since college and Frank was just a lovely man.
"As he was getting older he found it harder to do live gigs, but he still wanted to get out there - he had a love for performing," Rooney added.
Kelly spent 60 years on screen and stage but revealed last November that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and died exactly 18 years after his 'Father Ted' co-star, Dermot Morgan.
Morgan's son, Rob, described the loss of Kelly as a "sad day".
A well-known theatre actor, Kelly worked on a recent production of 'Moll' with former 'Glenroe' star Mary McEvoy.
"I was extremely sad to hear the news, but I'm glad we spent time together working on Moll," she told the Irish Independent.
"At that stage he was quite frail but he was determined to keep going, he wasn't defeated in any way. Frank was an astute man, very clever with a good sense of humour, He was philosophical and he didn't suffer fools gladly, he definitely shot from the hip."
A keen swimmer, McEvoy fondly remembered how Kelly was a regular at Dublin swimming spot, the Forty Foot. "Once I was hemming and hawing about going for a swim and he said, 'Will you just go and get in' and I'm glad he did because now I swim all year long," she added.
RTÉ director general Noel Curran described Kelly as a "versatile writer, satirist, performer and actor".
Kelly is survived by his wife Bairbre, his seven children and 17 grandchildren.