Wednesday 22 May 2019

'Wanderly Wagon' wizard makes final journey

Laughter a fitting farewell to the genius of puppetry

A puppet beside the coffin
A puppet beside the coffin


THERE aren't many funerals where laughter is the loudest sound.

But the nature of puppeteer and ventriloquist Eugene Lambert's life meant it was a fitting way to say farewell yesterday.

He helped create 'Wanderly Wagon', 'Fortycoats' and 'Bosco' to name but a few, giving life to a succession of loveable puppets and television characters who for 30 years enchanted Ireland's children.

Before that he had been the voice of the wickedly funny 'Finnegan' -- a cheeky puppet who never had a good word to say about officialdom.

There's been nothing really like it since. More modern, brasher creations such as Podge and Rodge would have been anathema to Lambert whose famous puppets possessed a unique innocence.

That his coffin was borne from St Patrick's Church in Monkstown, Dublin to the strains of 'Wanderly Wagon' was among a host of deeply poignant moments yesterday.


Mr Lambert played 'O'Brien' in the iconic RTE programme which ran from 1967 until 1982. It started as a trial which had then "exploded into the minds of Irish children", said his friend Bill Golding.

"He really is on board Wanderly Wagon for the last time," laughed an onlooker as a family member clutched a mini- version of the famous vehicle and its slatted, sagging roof.

Mr Lambert died on Monday aged 82 and his funeral Mass heard tributes from family and friends including the poet Theo Dorgan, long-time collaborator Mr Golding and the writer Joseph O'Connor.

His wife of 60 years, Mai, led mourners and she was surrounded by their eight children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grand children, the youngest aged just seven months. Two of Mr Lambert's sons, Stephen and Jonathan, passed away some years ago

Referring to the RTE series which also starred Nora O'Mahoney as 'Godmother' and 'Judge' the dog, Mr Lambert's grand-daughter Emily Tully recalled: "All of us thought we had a normal old granddad who used to live in a flying caravan with its own sweet shop."

The breath of the gathering yesterday underlined Mr Lambert's impact on so many lives and the legacy he will leave behind. Music was provided by Sinead O'Connor and Hothouse Flowers singer Liam O Maonlai who sang 'Ag Criost an Siol'.

Mourners included actors Frank Kelly, who starred with Lambert, in 'Wanderly Wagon', Ardal O'Hanlon and former 'Glenroe' star Geraldine Plunket. Mr Lambert's former RTE colleagues included Liam O'Murchu and 'Bosco' presenters Marian Richardson and Jonathan Ryan.

Former politicians Nora Owen and Mary Banotti were also in attendance as well as Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, artist Brian Bourke and Fiach Mac Conghail, artistic director of the Abbey Theatre. President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen were represented by their official aides de camp.

Celebrant Fr Michael McGoldrick, a family friend based in Oxford, England, said Mr Lambert had been "a child at heart" and that his gift was that he understood children.

He had many friends including French mime artist Marcel Marceau and the late singer Michael Jackson, but he had never been star-struck."

"He was a very modest man who loved what he did even though it was financially precarious at times," Fr McGoldrick told mourners.

He followed his dream and that had taken great courage.

His wife Mai had been "a rock" during a 60-year marriage. Mr Lambert had been planning a lavish bash to mark the milestone. "It is sad he will not be able to have that celebration," said Fr McGoldrick.

At some stage, most of his children had taken part in the Lambert Puppet School, founded in 1972.

They had also helped him establish an International Puppet Festival and he was very proud of them.

In a reflection on his friend 'Lambert' -- Bill Golding, who played 'Rory' in 'Wanderly Wagon', spoke fondly of the puppeteer's love of humour and one story prompted laughter throughout the church.

Mr Lambert had met the German ambassador. "Do you have any children?" he asked. "Nine," replied Mr Lambert.

"Never mind," said the diplomat. "There is still time."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News