Sunday 15 December 2019

Trailblazer was a familiar face to generations who adored his comic genius

Niall Tóibín having his handprints taken outside Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/PA
Niall Tóibín having his handprints taken outside Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. Photo: Cathal McNaughton/PA
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

Legendary actor and comedian Niall Tóibín has been remembered as a trailblazer who made a unique contribution to Irish theatre.

Tributes have poured in for the 89-year-old Cork native who was a veteran of stage and screen.

He appeared in a wide variety of roles, including those in 'Bracken', 'Ballykissangel', 'The Irish RM' and 'Ryan's Daughter' during his career which spanned decades.

"The depth of interpretation that he brought to a wide variety of characters showed a very deep intellectual understanding and, above all, sensitivity to the nuance of Irish life," said President Michael D Higgins.

"The range of his work was vast and included unforgettable performances in all of the Irish theatres and some of the most important theatres in London and New York.

"While a huge audience will have adored his comic genius, his work included all the genres - stage, television, film and radio.

"To the latter he brought a distinctive voice which made him a much-loved interpreter of Irish life and its challenges," he said.

President Higgins said that Tóibín's contribution to Irish theatre was "a unique one, in both Irish and English".

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described him as an "acclaimed actor and comedian who blazed a trail".

He said he was a proud Corkman, "loved across Ireland and farther afield" and said his performance as Brendan Behan in 'Borstal Boy', as well as his radio, TV and film appearances will long be remembered.

Also paying tribute was Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said: "Niall was an extremely talented performer with that rare ability to move seamlessly from comedy to theatre.

"He had a natural flair for the stage and screen, whether he was performing in one of his own stand-up shows or taking on a role in a Hollywood film, his authenticity shone through.

"Quick-witted and sharp tongued, he had audiences locally, nationally and internationally in the palm of his hand as he mixed confidence and humility with his own brand of humour.

"A proud Corkman, he was awarded the Freedom of Cork in 2015 for his work in film, television and on screen; an accolade that I know meant a lot to him."

Tóibín died in Dublin early yesterday after a long illness.

He was born in Cork city on November 21, 1929, and his career began in radio drama in the 1950s.

The actor was awarded an Irish Film and Television Academy Awards (Ifta) lifetime achievement award in 2011.

Among the highlights of his stage career was appearing in 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett at the National Theatre, London.

"Niall Tóibín started acting in the 1950s and spent 14 great years with the Radio Éireann Players," said Dee Forbes, director general of RTÉ.

"He became, ultimately, a familiar face on RTÉ to generations of Irish people. A proud Corkman, he was as at home in film as on the stage, and an especially entertaining guest on many 'Late Late Shows' over the years."

RTÉ previously announced a new documentary on Mr Tóibín, which is due to air as part of its forthcoming Christmas schedule.

It will feature interviews with family members, as well as Pierce Brosnan, Gabriel Byrne and Jim Sheridan.

RTÉ host Joe Duffy said he was "an extraordinarily gifted actor, comedian and writer".

He was predeceased by his wife, Judy, and is survived by his five children and grandchildren.

Irish Independent

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