Tributes to 'exceptional' Abbey and TV veteran McKenna
TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to stage and screen actor TP McKenna, who died in London after a long illness.
A prolific performer throughout his career which spanned more than five decades, he took more than 70 roles in the Abbey Theatre while also pursuing a successful career in television and film.
Born Thomas Patrick in Mullagh, Co Cavan, in 1929, he worked for Ulster Bank after leaving school. He became involved in amateur drama after being transferred to Dublin, and made his stage debut in 'Summer and Smoke' by Tennessee Williams at the Pike Theatre in Dublin in 1954. In 1955 he became a full-time actor.
He began appearing in popular British television programmes in the 1960s, including 'Dangerman', 'The Avengers', 'The Saint', 'The Sweeney', 'Doctor Who' and 'Minder'. He also played Citizen in a 1967 film adaptation of 'Ulysses', and appeared in 'Straw Dog's (1971), and 'A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man' (1977).
One of his last TV roles was as a priest in RTE's 'Fair City' in 2004.
"I was determined to become an actor, that's all I wanted to do," he said in 2008.
"I'm very lucky in the sense I have no regrets in the way some people do. I had no talent for anything else. It was the only thread of talent I had. I regard myself as having had a very lucky career."
McKenna also worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre Company in Britain. His directing credits included 'The Playboy of the Western World' and 'The Shadow Of A Gunman'.
Chairman of the Abbey Theatre, Bryan Mac Mahon, last night said: "We were saddened to hear of the passing of the great TP Mc Kenna.
"He graced the Abbey stage from 1953 into the 1980s, and starred in 73 Abbey productions. He started on the Queens stage, often playing the lead role in the traditional Irish panto. He will be remembered for his performances in the work of many of Ireland's playwrights including Sean O'Casey, Hugh Leonard and Brendan Behan.
"His towering performance in 'Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night' was cause for much celebration and after he left Ireland for London in the 1960s his considerable talents were fully recognised and celebrated there. He was one of Ireland's leading actors across the stage, radio, television and film -- an acclaimed career, to say the least."
Culture Minister Mary Hanafin said his ability to take ownership of the characters he portrayed was a credit to his skill as an actor.
McKenna died in his sleep on Sunday evening at the Royal Free Hospital in London following a long illness. He will be buried in Mullagh alongside his wife May, who died five years ago.
"As an actor he was unique, as a friend and colleague he was exceptional, as a father he was irreplaceable," his family said in a statement.
He is survived by his sons Ralph, Kilian, Breffni and Stephen and daughter Sally.