The house that Ray built
BAFTA award winning actor was also proficient in house design
Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30
For his final and most memorable close-up and curtain call - in his greatest ever role as British Prime Minister Harry Perkins in A Very British Coup - the actor Ray McAnally was asked by the director if he could possibly roll a tear down his cheek on cue. The great Irish thespian replied: "Sure. But from which eye?"
McAnally is today generally acknowledged to be one of Ireland's finest ever players of all time.
Whilst kept busy in Britain and abroad with substantial roles in the years following his joining of the Abbey Theatre in 1947, it was late in his days when, after planning a new life in a rural Wicklow retreat, his most pivotal roles came to him.
The four-time BAFTA winning actor saw a remarkable career resurgence in the late 80s which many assert played a part in his early death at just 63 in 1989. He had found himself alongside Robert De Niro as Cardinal Altamirano in the acclaimed The Mission (1986) and from then on was inundated with high level work.
In quick succession he made The Fourth Protocol (1987) with Michael Caine, Empire State (1987), BBC's Perfect Spy (1987) and his most memorable lead as the undermined but stoic Perkins in A Very British Coup (1988).
He played Christy Brown's father in My Left Foot (1989) to great acclaim and before his death was lined up to play The Bull McCabe in The Field, for which Richard Harris was later nominated for an Oscar.
After he broke up with his wife of many years, the actress Ronnie Masterson, McAnally moved to Wicklow with another noted actor, Britta Smith, with whom he had started a relationship.
In the mid 80s McAnally bought a site with a run-down period cottage some miles from Woodenbridge. He had first acquired a half acre at Ballinagore near Ballycooge and later added another acre to it.
Presumably, the move to rural parts meant he had finally expected to take things easy. He had undergone a bypass operation for his heart problems in his 50s, but instead flew in the face of warnings to slow down with a career that became even more intense.
It is reported that he had intended to restore the cottage but this proved unworkable given its condition. Eventually he received a planning permission to knock it down, rebuilt with the stipulation that the new home had to be in keeping with the original.
A memorial stone on the site suggests McAnally designed the house himself. Also in situ is the elaborate three-roomed outbuilding which he used for a studio.
According to estate agent Breda Bermingham, who sold the home to its current owners many years ago, it still has the same kitchen and living room - although the main bedroom today was formerly McAnally's study.
The house sits on its raised 1.5 acres of garden and paddock with mature trees, and looks down over the valley below Croghan Mountain, a 15 minute drive from Arklow.
The current owners have improved the property over the years with the planting of a variety of trees which have since matured.
Today the accommodation includes an entrance hall, a kitchen/breakfast room with oak units, a sitting room and dining room with a fireplace made of stones and local bricks (the area is famous for them), an integrated garage suitable for conversion, a master bedroom, and three upstairs rooms restricted to non bedroom use under planning.
It was here at Ballinagore that McAnally died suddenly in June 1989. It was sold soon after his death.
Smith, who was living in the house with McAnally at the time, moved back to Dublin. The property is now being sold by its current owners with a price tag of €269,000.
Ironically, Smith saw her own career take off in a big way following his passing. Having starred with McAnally in My Left Foot she would go on to take roles in a number of big Irish films, including The Magdelene Sisters, In The Name Of The Father and Breakfast On Pluto. Finally she took part in a celebrated and startling work, Black Tears, by Cecily Brennan just months before her own death in 2008, in which she filmed herself in isolation in a private room sobbing uncontrollably. The piece became an acclaimed sensation when it was unveiled in 2011.
The big carved memorial stone is still in place in the garden. It plainly reads: "Ray McAnally designed and built this house and was happy here with Britta - 1989."
Balllycooge, Co Wicklow
Asking price: €269,000
Agent: Sherry FitzGerald Myles Doyle (0402) 32367