Monday 19 November 2018

Obituaries: Daphne Carroll

Mother of all the Brennans was tiny, but had the heart of a lion, says Emer O'Kelly

Daphne Carroll, Dennis Brennan and their children
Daphne Carroll, Dennis Brennan and their children

Daphne Carroll was an old-style trouper. Until very recently, she could be seen attending the theatre in Dublin, accompanied by one or other of her daughters, all of whom towered over her diminutive height.

Had Jane, Cathryn, Barbara and their brothers Stephen and Paul lined up beside their mother, it would have seemed almost impossible that these tall, lean people were all her children, and the universal inheritors of her talent and that of their long-dead father.

Daphne Carroll was 91 when she died last week after an illness. She had a long and distinguished career on RTE radio in what was known as "the rep" at a time when the weekly play, broadcast live, was a highlight of the arts scene in Ireland. She acted in Radio Eireann with her husband, the late Dennis Brennan, whose voice was legendary for its resonant beauty, while Daphne's own voice was light and pretty, leading her to be cast as children and ingenues well into middle age.

She also worked on numerous occasions at the Abbey, first appearing there in 1941 as Princess Buan in The King's Threshold. She was Mrs Heegan, the hero's grieving mother in O'Casey's The Silver Tassie in a memorable production in 1990, and made her own the role of stoic little Rebecca Nurse in Arthur Miller's The Crucible in 1995.

In television, she appeared as the refined but unaware Mrs Bradshaw in Strumpet City in 1980, and as Dolly in Hugh Leonard's A Life, as well as in Caught in a Free State in 1984. She also starred in a small, quirky TV play called Lottie Coyle Loves Buddy Holly.

But it will be for something more personal that Daphne Carroll will be chiefly remembered. She and Dennis had five children, and all of them are now eminent in Irish theatre, with in turn, several of their own children having followed onto the boards with fairly spectacular success. Only the Cusack family has such dynastic distinction in Ireland, while even in Britain only the legendary Redgraves can claim equal status.

Stephen spent many years playing romantic leads in the Gate Theatre before coming into his own as the fine serious actor he now is; Barbara, having begun as a juvenile actor/dancer in variety with Maureen Potter, is now a leading character actor on both the Gate and Abbey stages. Jane has a huge repertoire of strong serious roles behind her, including Sophocles's Electra in Frank McGuinness's adaptation, and most recently a financially aware nun in her husband Tom Murphy's Brigit, a prequel to Bailegangaire (for Druid Theatre). Paul works mainly in Waterford, while Cathryn has followed her mother into radio drama.

It's a huge family contribution to the artistic life of Ireland, but Daphne Carroll was always modest about it. She was not one to fuss: not even some years ago, when leaving Mass on a weekday morning, she was knocked down, mugged, and quite seriously injured. In her eighties, and less than five feet tall, she recovered, although slowly. It took more than vicious violence to defeat the tiny Amazon that was Daphne Carroll.

Sunday Independent

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