Theatre world in mourning as Eamonn Kelly, actor and storyteller, dies at 87

Frank Khan

IRISH theatre was last night mourning the passing of actor and storyteller Eamonn Kelly, who died in Dublin at the age of 87 after a short illness.

He is survived by his widow Maura, sons Eoin and Brian and daughter Sinead.

Born in Glenfesk, Co Kerry, in 1914, he joined the RTE players in 1952 but will be best remembered for bringing the art of storytelling to the masses through RTE radio and tv in the '50s and '60s.

He was nominated for a Tony award on Broadway for his starring role in the Brian Friel play, Philadelphia, Here I Come.

A former carpenter and vocational teacher, he was also a member of the Listowel Drama Group where he won widespread praise for playing Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World and Morgan Quill in the Magic Glasses.

In 1952 he joined the RTE Players and while there became known as the "Seanchai" for his regular appearances on Fleadh Cheoil an Radio and Rambling House.

Eamonn left the RTE Rep Co in 1964 and started a freelance writing career. He also began playing a variety of roles at The Gate Theatre and two years later played in the year-long Broadway run of Philadelphia Here I Come.

In 1967, he became a member of the Abbey Theatre, starting with Lady Gregory's Spreading the News. He toured on the Abbey's first visit to the Edinburgh Festival and it was the same period that the first "Seanchai" came to life on stage in PJ O'Connor's adaptation of Eric Cross's The Tailor and Ansty.

Last night his close friend and colleague ,the actor Peadar Lamb described the Kerry actor as "a very meticulous and extremely careful man who looked at acting as a craft".

Eamonn played in the Abbey Production of Waiting for Godot with Peter O'Toole and in London's Old Vic with the Abbey Production of Well of the Saints.

He was co-writer with Tomas Mac Anna of the story theatre in Irish called Sceal Scealai at the Peacock Theatre.

Later he toured Canada and the US, under the auspices of the Irish American Cultural Institute. He continued to work extensively in the theatre and television and wrote In My Father's Time a night of storytelling with Eamonn Kelly. The playwright John BKeane once said of him: "He can take a word or phrase and swing it in front of you like a hypnotist's pendulum so that he captivates you ... It's a magician's art."

He will be waked at his home at St Brendan's Drive, Coolock, tonight.

The removal takes place to St Brendan's Church, Coolock, at 5.30pm tomorrow and funeral to Fingal Cemetery, Balgriffin, after 10am Mass on Saturday.