Tuesday 23 July 2019

O'Toole's claims of Irish roots are blarney

NIAMH HORAN 'IRISH' actor Peter O'Toole has spent years keeping the exact location of his birth under wraps - mainly because the one-time Hollywood hell-raiser has always been a true-blue Englishman.

The revelation comes as the 74-year-old star is seen as flying the flag for Ireland at this year's Oscars with the film Venus, in which he plays an ageing actor.

O'Toole, who has so far failed to secure the most sought-after award in the film industry, has always insisted he hails from Connemara, Co Galway.

However, the Irish Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages has no record of a Peter Seamus O'Toole, born in Ireland on August 2, 1932.

That is because the eight-times Oscar-nominated actor is actually from Leeds.

Records from the General Registry Office in Leeds, England confirm that Peter J (James) O'Toole was born in the north England town in 1932. His Scottish mother was a Ferguson and his father was a Galway-born bookmaker.

The actor himself has always shrouded his origins in mystery and once even hinted that he may not be a true Irishman. In the first volume of his memoirs, Loitering With Intent, he claimed that Connemara was his birthplace, but said that this was the "family version" of the story.

What is certain is that O'Toole had a great affinity with his father's birthplace. Two of his children - actress Kate O'Toole and her sister Patricia - were born in Dublin because the actor insisted that his wife Sian Phillips should have them in the city where he also claimed to have been born. His third child, Lorcan, was born after a short-lived affair with model Karen Browne. After an acrimonious break-up, the actor gained custody of his son.

He also built a beautiful dry-stone house on the Sky Road outside Clifden in Galway where he bred Connemara ponies. He was a great supporter of the annual Connemara Pony Show and played a significant role in helping to revive worldwide interest in the breed.

Peter O'Toole isn't the first English-born actor claiming to be more Irish than the Irish themselves. The famous founder of the Gate Theatre, Micheal MacLiammoir (Michael Williams) had no Irish ancestry whatsoever - so he simply invented his Gaelic past when he arrived in Dublin off the boat.

But his birthplace isn't the only thing that cricket-loving Fibber O'Toole, the star of Lawrence of Arabia and the stage hit Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, has embellished. Some of his more hilarious anecdotes have also been put under the spotlight.

One of his most famous tales involves getting a drink after-hours in a pub with his good friend, Peter Finch. When the owner wants to throw them out at two o'clock in the morning, they end up buying the pub.

The real kicker is that they tear up the cheque in the morning; years later, when the publican dies, they attend his funeral.

When he told the tale on David Letterman recently, it was a pub in Wicklow, but in an interview some years earlier it was a dingy Irish pub in New York.

But whatever about where he was born or the stories he tells, O'Toole is now a international icon and even if 'Irish-born' isn't strictly correct, he can at least claim to be the only Englishman that the English acknowledge as 'Irish'.

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