Sunday 11 December 2016

Mourning Moira Hoey -- the mammy of a nation

Myles McWeeney

Published 20/11/2010 | 05:00

Moira Hoey, née Deady, the actress who played Mary Riordan in the hugely popular RTE rural soap The Riordans, died earlier this week after a short illness. She was 88, and the last of the older actors who brought rural Ireland so vividly to life in over 600 episodes of the iconic and groundbreaking series.

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In 1965, recognising that Ireland was still predominately rural in character, Ireland's then fledgling television service, Telefis Eireann, decided to commission a country-based soap.

Set on a family farm in the fictional village of Leestown in Co Kilkenny, The Riordans focused on two central characters, grumpy middle-aged farmer Tom Riordan, played by John Cowley, and his constantly worried wife Mary, played by Moira Deady.

Other important characters included their three children, Benjy, Michael and Jude, the farm's labourer Batty Brennan, his gossip wife Minnie and the local Catholic priest Fr Sheehy.

The Riordans, broadcast on Sunday nights, was an instant success with viewers. Brilliant story lines, which consistently mirrored the very real concerns of conservative rural Ireland in a rapidly changing, increasingly liberal-minded Irish society, had viewers hooked.

Another masterstroke was the casting, with every character being utterly believable because many of the actors themselves came from rural backgrounds.

John Cowley and Tom Hickey, who played his son Benjy, had been brought up on farms, while Moira Deady came from rural Cork.

Moira played the archetypal traditional Irish "mammy" with consummate skill, dispensing wisdom and traditional values over the inevitable pot of tea, the Irish panacea in a crisis.

The Riordans ran for 15 years before being controversially axed in 1979 while still vying each week for No 1 slot in the TAM ratings with The Late Late Show.

In 1978 a new character, farm labourer Pat Barry, played by an up-and-coming young actor called Gabriel Byrne, had been introduced. He went on to star in Bracken, a spin-off from The Riordans, which proved to be his launch pad for a Hollywood career.

Moira Deady also made the transfer to Bracken, and later she appeared in a supporting role in Glenroe, the drama series that sprang from Bracken.

Wesley Burrowes, the scriptwriter most associated with The Riordans, recalls Moira with great fondness, both as a person and as a fine actress.

"In person she was very warm, full of fun and laughter, and she'd talk the hind leg off a donkey," he said. "As an actress she was brilliant; there wasn't a person in Ireland who didn't believe in her, that she was if fact, in every word and action, the Mary Riordan.

"Even the people who were annoyed by aspects of the character she played were taken by the veracity of her portrayal of Mrs Riordan.

"She was meticulous in her work, and always knew every single line, unlike some who only had the vaguest notion of what they were supposed to say when it came to the recording.

"She was always conscious of how her dialogue should sound, and if she felt you hadn't hit the right note she had no hesitation it letting you know it and asking for it to be changed."

Tom Hickey, who played her son Benjy in the series, was equally fond of the actress, who he described as "a lively, strong Cork woman with a great heart and spirit".

He too recalled her great sense of humour. "I was among the younger echelon of the actors in the show, and we were big into practical jokes," he said. "Moira would always pretend to be shocked at our carry on, but couldn't keep a straight face and would collapse with laughter.

Hickey attributes Moira Deady's skill as an actor to her long apprenticeship in fit-up theatre. Fit ups were touring theatre companies that brought plays to towns and villages around Ireland in the 30s, 40s and 50s, playing a few days here, a few days there in theatres, halls and even tents.

Moira was a member of the actor and successful Abbey playwright Louis D'Alton's company, which brought edgy contemporary drama by writers like O'Casey to a wide audience.

In later life Moira Deady, who lived in Greystones, made a number of films, playing supporting roles in This is My Father (1998), Angela's Ashes (1999) and The Tiger's Tail (2006).

She also appeared on stage in the Repertory Theatre Company in the La Touche Hotel in Greystones.

In May 2009 she was given a Greystones People of the Year award in recognition of her major contribution to the arts in Ireland.

Moira Hoey, nee Deady, was born in Cork in 1932 and died in Greystones, Co Wicklow, on Monday, November 15th, 2010. She was predeceased by her husband Johnny Hoey (Francie Maher in The Riordans) and is survived by three daughters and a son.

Irish Independent

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