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Saturday 21 July 2018

Obituary: Michael Twomey

Versatile stage and screen actor and half of the Cha and Miah duo, writes Liam Collins

PARTNERS: Michael Twomey (right) with Frank Duggan
PARTNERS: Michael Twomey (right) with Frank Duggan

Michael Twomey, who died on Wednesday last at the age of 84, was a quintessential Cork actor who gained national prominence for a time in the 1970s as one half of a duo called Cha and Miah, who appeared regularly on the RTE television show Hall's Pictorial Weekly.

Presented by Frank Hall, it was a satirical look at the one-channel Ireland of the day with characters such as the Minister for Hardship (Liam Cosgrave) and his Finance Minister Richie Ruin (Richie Ryan) and is said to have contributed to the unpopularity of the first Cosgrave-led Fine Gael-Labour coalition, which was trounced in the 1977 Election, coincidentally by the Cork Fianna Fail leader Jack Lynch.

The show featured such well-known figures as Eamon Morrissey and Frank Kelly, who went on to find international fame in Father Ted, but Cha and Miah, in their flat caps and long working men's coats of that era, gained such popularity that they continued to be a feature of the show for much of its nine-year run.

In the Cha (Frank Duggan) and Miah (Michael Twomey) segment, Twomey played a pub philosopher enlightening his companion on issues of the day with half-believable but fairly ridiculous pronouncements which mirror some of today's contributors to phone-in radio programmes.

It became popular nationwide because of its Cork origins and accents, witty writing and delivery, and its quirky take on events of the day. The pair won a Jacob's Award for best television comedy act in 1973 and the show ran in various guises until 1980.

Although immersed in the theatrical life of Cork, the two men continued to hold down 'day jobs' in the insurance industry and Michael Twomey eventually became a director of the Cork firm Lordan & Magnier (Life & Pensions) Ltd.

Twomey and Duggan kept their double act going until 2012, playing mostly in theatres and productions around Cork. "We've been together for 43 years and we felt that our generation, our audience was fading away... and the face of comedy has changed drastically since we arrived on the scene," he said at the time.

Along with friend and companion Billa O'Connell, they were granted the Freedom of Cork in 2013 for their contribution to the theatrical life of the city. The two were so well-known around Cork that an Oisin Kelly sculpture outside City Hall, Two Working Men, was known locally as Cha and Miah. "We were just two old guys solving the world's problems. Cha was a bit of an eejit but Miah knew everything, even though half the time he was talking through his hat," Frank Duggan told the Irish Examiner following his acting partner's death. Twomey was an actor, producer, director, adjudicator and writer during his long career in the theatre.

Born in 1933, he was introduced to the theatre by his mother, an enthusiastic amateur actress. He made his first appeared on stage in the old Cork Opera House in 1944 at the age 11, in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! He played on and off in theatre, pantomime and revues in Cork for the next 70 years, giving his last stage performance in 2015, but later participating in a 1916 commemoration show that toured Co Cork last year while he was fighting cancer.

In the meantime he had a small part in John Huston's 1956 film Moby Dick, which was shot in Youghal, Co Cork, starring Gregory Peck, who returned to Ireland on many occasions afterwards. Frank Hall spotted him on a visit to Cork and asked him to do a 'turn' on a programme he was doing called Newsbeat, which developed into the double act on Hall's Pictorial Weekly.

He also formed a friendship with the Listowel, Co Kerry, playwright John B Keane and played in the early productions of many of his plays, including Many Young Men of Twenty, The Year of the Hiker and Sharon's Grave. He was a constant presence in theatre in Munster and was a versatile performer who could turn his hand to most stage parts.

Michael F Twomey, who was born on February 21, 1933, lived at Beaumont Crescent in Cork and was a director of the Everyman Theatre Company in the city. His funeral took place in St Michael's Church, Blackrock, Cork, on Friday last and his is survived by his wife Marie and their children, Sharon, Laura and Des.

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