Friday 17 November 2017

Obituaries: Ann Rowan

The talented, salty-tongued actress best known for her part in 'The Riordans' was under-used, recalls Emer O'Kelly

Ann Rowan and Tony Doyle in 'The Riordans' (1976)
Ann Rowan and Tony Doyle in 'The Riordans' (1976)

'Salty" is probably the best word to describe the actor Ann Rowan, who died last week. She 
was the salt of the earth, as testified by anyone who knew 
her, especially those who worked with her. And she had a tongue with an edge salty enough 
to corrode layers of skin from anyone who incurred her
wrath or (occasional) contempt.

She was 85, and died after only a short illness. She had not been seen on the stage or TV very much in recent years. Indeed, she was never an actor who enjoyed full employment. That was bewildering; she was talented and utterly professional in her approach.

She was best known, of course, to an older generation, those who remember RTE's early rural soap The Riordans, in which Ann played Julia Mac. Looking at stills and clips from that series, it's interesting to note how many good actors graced its screens, from the well-known to the obscure. One shows Ann with the late Tony Doyle, who went on to an eminent career in Britain, mainly in television, and specialising in fairly well-bred heavies; and Pamela Mant, a "ladylike" actor, 
again underemployed, who was cast in The Riordans - if memory serves me right, in the small part of the rector's wife. (Rectors, indeed Protestants of any colour, didn't often feature on Irish television screens in the early years, other than as rackrenting and uppity landlords.)

But the role I remember Ann Rowan for is the small but glowing performance she gave in the made-for-
television film of JG Farrell's monumental novel Troubles.

She played Mrs Devlin, mother of Sarah Devlin, the embittered young Irish
woman that the central character falls for (to his ultimate
tragedy) when he comes to Ireland in the aftermath of the Great War and during the escalating War of Independence here.

Mrs Devlin barely features in Farrell's novel, yet Ann made her into a fully dimensional creature, embattled but unyielding in the face of her doctor husband's selfishness and bullying.

That was in 1988, but Ann had an earlier foray into film, in Joe Strick's 1967 film of Ulysses - that often-quoted and almost entirely flawed work - which was still notable for some searingly good performances from then emerging Irish actors. Ann was one of them: she played Mrs. Bellingham.

And more recently, she could be seen revelling in the part of a be-turbanned and prurient housewife being kept short of "marital rations" in (what else?) an episode of Father Ted, during which the priests are ordered to keep the Craggy Island population away from the showing of a "dirty film."

I recall (with fondness) that salty tongue of hers describing being in the audience at a play in which the late Anna Manahan featured. 
Singularly unimpressed by her colleague's performance, Ann yet knew she had to "go back" to say hello, as is the theatrical tradition. "I didn't know what in Jaysus I was 
going to say; I'm not THAT good an actress," she said with relish. But then it came to
her: she crashed open the dressing room door with a flourish, bowled into the room and cried "Jaysus, Anna, you were only BRUTAL." 
Ms. Manahan fluttered her
eyelashes at her, and giggled girlishly: "Oh, Ann, you're AWFUL." It actually sums them both up.

Ann Rowan is survived by her sisters Ursula Hoey and Bertha O'Kane, her sister-in-law Yvonne Fogarty and her nieces and nephews. 

Sunday Independent

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