Tuesday 12 December 2017

Obituary: Ronnie Masterson

She was an actress and matriarch of one of Ireland's theatrical dynasties, writes Emer O'Kelly

DYNASTY: Ronnie Masterson
DYNASTY: Ronnie Masterson

Emer O'Kelly

THEATRICAL dynasties are not uncommon in Ireland, and Ronnie Masterson, who died last week at the age of 87, was the matriarch of one of them, albeit one of the lesser known.

As a girl, she trained at the Abbey school of Acting, and joined the company in 1944, where Irish language roles were her initial forte. But the most important impact of her Abbey days was her meeting with the then up-and-coming young actor Ray McAnally. Their marriage produced four children, Conor, Aonghus, Niamh and Maire.

Conor was to become a television director, initially in RTE. But he has been based in London for many years where he enjoys a successful career. (His mother played in his production of The Sea Captain, filmed in the US in 2005.)

Aonghus is a producer-director in RTE, where he has been responsible for programmes in both radio and television, from children's and young people's TV to documentaries covering aspects of the arts. (He made a radio tribute documentary shortly before her death on the late Phyllis Ryan, in whose company, Gemini, his father had been a leading player.)

And his son, Aonghus Og McAnally has become one of the more talented of the younger generation of Irish actors, his grandmother following his career with pride and avid interest. (I last met her at Bewley's lunchtime cafe theatre where Aonghus Og was delivering a bravura performance as a boxer in Gavin Kostick's monologue play Fight Night. She was making a brave effort at being cool about it all, but it wasn't her most convincing performance: she was visibly bursting with pride.)

Ronnie and Ray went on from the Abbey to found their own company, Old Quay Productions, and it may have been the exigencies of surviving as an actor-manager that helped Ronnie to maintain her lifetime commitment to the actors' union, Equity. She had been a founding member in the Forties of its predecessor, WAMA, the actors' and managers' joint union, and she was on the executive of Irish Actors' Equity for many years.

She and her husband separated many years ago, but Ronnie considered herself Ray's wife until his death in 1989.

She was a regular in productions staged by Chris O'Neill's company at the Oscar Theatre in Ballsbridge in Dublin in the Seventies.

In more recent years, Ronnie Masterson's appearances were confined to film, where she played Grandma Sheehan in Angela's Ashes in 1999, (while admitting to not having enjoyed the book!). She also played in Neil Jordan's highly successful Byzantium.

Sunday Independent

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