Wednesday 21 November 2018

Dowling was my father, his death saddens me

Actor Vincent Dowling at Dublin's Customs House. Photo: Tony Gavin
Actor Vincent Dowling at Dublin's Customs House. Photo: Tony Gavin
Richard Boyd Barrett with mother Sinead Cusack . Right: Vincent Dowling
Actor, director and producer, Vincent Dowling.
Sinead Cusack and Richard Boyd Barrett pictured in 2007
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Richard Boyd Barrett has revealed that renowned theatre director Vincent Dowling, who has died aged 83, was his biological father.

Richard Boyd Barrett has revealed that renowned theatre director Vincent Dowling, who has died aged 83, was his biological father.

Speaking from Germany where he is attending a conference organised by Die Linke (the Left party), the People Before Profit TD said: "I can confirm that Vincent Dowling was my biological father.

"We made contact a few years ago. He contacted me. It had gotten out there, hadn't it? And he put two and two together. He called me. I'm not exactly sure how long ago it was, my memory on this is a little vague. It was around three or four years ago.

"He lived in America but we had a relationship and I'm in touch with my sisters there. I was aware that he was ill. I'm very sad today and my sisters are very sad."

In 2007, Mr Boyd Barrett had a very emotional reunion with his biological mother, actress Sinead Cusack of the famous theatrical dynasty.

Yesterday, Cusack also confirmed that Vincent Dowling was Mr Boyd Barrett's biological father.

Emer O'Kelly page 15

She said: "I'm simply not going to talk about my relationship with Vincent except to say that we were in the Abbey together and I had a huge amount of admiration for him and a great deal of affection for him."

Dowling had a storied career as an actor and director and had a long association with the Abbey Theatre.

In one of his key early career moments, Dowling appeared in Frank McMahon's seminal adaptation of Brendan Behan's autobiographical novel The Borstal Boy in 1967.

He met Sinead Cusack, a rising star at the Abbey Theatre, around this time. There was a 19-year age gap between them.

Mr Boyd Barrett was born the same year but was adopted and raised in Dun Laoghaire by his adoptive parents Valerie and David Boyd Barrett, a noted architect.

Mr Boyd Barrett said yesterday that his relationship with Dowling was not as close as the one he forged with Cusack.

"He lived in America – in Massachusetts – so it wasn't possible to have that close a relationship. And also he was much older so travelling was difficult for him. But we got on very well."

According to Mr Boyd Barrett, Dowling did not maintain a friendship with Cusack.

"I don't think he would have wanted to go into that anyway," the Dun Laoghaire TD added. Asked if he is in touch with Dowling's wife, Olwen O'Herlihy, Mr Boyd Barrett replied: "We've met."

While Mr Boyd Barrett was curious to meet his birth mother, he said that he was "not sure" if he would have sought Dowling out.

"I wouldn't have wanted to have interfered in his life but I was saved that decision by him contacting me and that was fine," he said.

He added that he did not notice if there were similarities between him and his famous father.

"I'll leave that for other people to judge," he said.

Mr Boyd Barrett said that he was in family discussions about attending the funeral.

"All of those arrangements are being discussed and will be decided over the next few days," he added.

Cusack described Dowling as a "special man with special talents who contributed a huge amount to Irish theatre".

Over the years Dowling directed plays by Shaw, Synge and Oliver Goldsmith and was famously credited with discovering the film star Tom Hanks after giving the actor his first union job at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio. He also won a prestigious Emmy Award for his television adaptation of JM Synge's The Playboy Of The Western World.

Mr Boyd Barrett has described his 2007 reunion meeting with Cusack, saying they got on "very well... it worked out very positively for me".

He also established a good relationship with his half-siblings, Sam and Max Irons, who Cusack had with her husband, film star Jeremy Irons.

Cusack later campaigned for her biological son when he stood in the 2007 General Election. And in 2011, she joined him in the count centre as he was elected to Dail Eireann for the first time.

Describing his relationship with Cusack, Mr Boyd Barrett said at the time: "It was an emotional experience, I suppose. My friends always thought I was the sort of person, maybe it's because of the political thing, who didn't really have emotions about this sort of thing, (and that) things washed over me fairly easily.

"But I think of course you feel it, when you meet someone in that situation. You also have a huge amount of love for your family who brought you up, who are your family, so it's interesting in that way."

The Dun Laoghaire TD paid tribute to his biological father. "It is a sad day today. Vincent was a man of theatre and I think that's how he'd want to be remembered."

Irish Independent

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