South Sligo native played big role in community
On the morning of the 26th of October 2021, Peter Davey, an icon of drama and theatre took his final bow when the curtains closed on a life well lived. The core of Peter’s existence was his family and his life in Chaffpool. Peter and Eileen married in 1980, and had 3 children, Daniel, Marianne and Douglas, who sadly died as an infant of just 12 weeks old, from a cot death. While Peter was proud of his children Marianne and Daniel it was of note that he spoke often of his son Douglas who had died at such a tender age.
During his cancer battle which he bore with the courage and dignity that one could only have expected of Peter Davey, he had the great comfort of the care and company of all his family including his three young granddaughters who had brought him so much joy since their respective arrivals.
Since his passing, Peter’s family continue to receive letters and messages from people. All are imparting that he was a gentleman, a man of substance who had touched their lives and left a lasting impression on them. He was seen as a mentor, and someone who was keenly interested in others, what was noted by so many was that he actively took the time to listen to and engage meaningfully with the people who crossed his path in life.
Peter was born in 1952 in Leitrim South, Chaffpool, Tubbercurry. The eldest of a family of 5, he often described some of his happiest childhood memories of haymaking in the meadow and on the bog with his father with their favourite horse Prince. He continued the family farming tradition and ran a small but successful farming enterprise in Chaffpool, a pursuit he took huge satisfaction from over his lifetime, he had a true love of nature and took genuine care and attention for the animals under his watch on the farm.
Indeed, even in the last months of his illness he climbed the hill of Dohern behind his house each day to check the sheep and relish the joys that the fields and sights would bring. Regardless of the weather. A truly remarkable aspect of Peter’s approach to life in general and to how he dealt with his cancer battle was how he cherished each day. He would say ‘today is a good day’ and he would make the most of every day, an outlook which had a profoundly positive impact on those around him!
Peter was educated in Moylough National School and then in the Vocational School in Tubbercurry. Peter appreciated and highly rated the education he received in the Vocational School and admired the ethos of the school at that time which he said prepared him for his working life and fostered his love of literature, including poetry and most importantly for his life, of theatre.
In 1971 Peter commenced work for the local Co-Op the Achonry Agricultural Co-Operative Dairy Society, subsequently to become NCF Co-Operative Society Limited. He principally worked in Achonry creamery which in the time Peter worked there, progressed from a very poorly equipped creamery premises to a state-of-the-art processing facility. His colleagues with whom he developed lifelong friendships with would no doubt confirm that Peter played an integral part of the transformation of that plant over the 35 years he worked there. He embraced the changes as they came in and providing indomitable energy to everything he turned his hand to from carrying out work in the lab to engineering or mastering the operation of new technologies through the years.
Gaelic football was a huge source of enjoyment to Peter throughout his life. He admired the GAA as a linchpin of the community and played football with Mullinabreena and in goals for the Sligo county team on a number of occasions, gaining a medal in 1973.
He derived enormous pleasure from his son Daniel’s involvement in sport, both as a player with the local club and Ballyboden/St Enda’s in Dublin and as Performance Nutritionist to the Leinster Rugby and Dublin football teams. Dublin won 6 All-Ireland consecutive finals and Peter was present at all of those finals, and loved being in Croke Park to see the games first hand. He also remarked that he never thought he would have a son involved in professional rugby and relished the opportunity to attend Leinster games with his family.
One insight to Peter’s commitment and enjoyment of Gaelic football was in the September before he died, he raised the energy to come home from a stay in hospital to watch the All-Ireland final with his family, including his grandchildren. The match of course was between Mayo and Tyrone and there was a feeling that this was Mayo’s year. At the final whistle there was a long silence in the room, as Mayo were defeated once more. Sandra, Peter’s daughter-in-law asked, “Well Peter, are you sorry for Mayo?” Peter responded, “No, not really, if you are good enough to win, you will win!”
That was always Peter’s mindset, he was a high performer himself and knew how hard it was to win anything in life. Peter had enjoyed the game immensely and of course would have been happy if Mayo had won, but, in that moment, the actor in him took the opportunity to bring great laughter to the room in Chaffpool.
You didn’t need to be Poirot or Inspector Clouseau to guess what answer Peter Davey gave when asked if he hadn’t been employed by the Co-Op what his preferred career would have been. Needless to say, the reply was very simple “an Actor”. Peter was known in dramatic circles throughout Ireland due to his involvement in theatre from a young age. Peter was a mesmerising actor.
He first dipped his toe into theatrical waters while he was in the Vocational School in a play written by his teacher Jarlath McDonagh. He made his debut for the Phoenix Players in a 1971 Production of “Anyone Can Rob a Bank”. His involvement in theatre for the next 50 years never stopped, playing memorable roles with the Beezneez Theatre Group, The Blue Raincoat Theatre Group, Silver Apple Theatre Productions, Splódar (Manorhamilton) and of course mostly with his beloved Phoenix Players.
With the Phoenix Players he won 2 All-Ireland Actor Awards, the first in the 1981 Production of “Philadelphia Here I Come” playing Gar Private and the second coming in the following year in the 1982 Production of the “King of Friday’s Men” playing Bartley Dowd. In 1989 he played the role of Jesus in the unforgettable Phoenix Production of the Word and The Flesh (The Passion Play) which has gone down in history as one of the greatest ever productions ever performed on the stage in St. Brigid’s Hall. Knowing Peter, when he meets Our Lord, he’s likely to ask him for a critical analysis of how he played the part!
It was a lifelong dream of Peter’s to act in professional theatre, and he realised this dream on retirement from NCF performing with Beezneez Theatre Company in two separate productions of “Lovely Leitrim” and “Callaghans Place” which toured Ireland and the UK.
In 2006 Peter began working with the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, his time with that Theatre Company was very special to him and becoming a vital member of the Blue Raincoat outfit.
He relished every moment he spent in that Factory Space, soaking up the creativity and seeping himself in the various activities required in advance of each major production, He toured with the Raincoats to Romania, Bulgaria and Scotland on a yearly basis. As an Actor, Peter toured nationally in 2016 and gave a marvellous characterisation of “Old Mahon” in their Production of The Playboy of the Western World. He also showed his versatility with the Blue Raincoats when playing Nag in Samuel Beckett’s “End Game”.
Through the years he enjoyed working under great directors including Niall Henry of The Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, Philip O’Gorman and Tom Walsh of the Phoenix Players, John Mc Dwyer of Beeznees and Prin Duignan from Splódar.
Peter was a marvellous director and in 2006 he directed the Vincent Woods Play “At the Black Pigs Dyke” which finished second in the All-Ireland Confined. Famously the story goes that the Phoenix would have won the All-Ireland had the gun in the final scene not failed to go off. In the 10 years prior to covid shutdown in 2020 Peter directed seven successful productions for the Phoenix Players.
In 2017 he really pushed the boat out with a stage adaptation by The Phoenix Players of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” which, while not meeting with unanimous critical acclaim, was a memorable production for all involved and showed Peter’s great versatility.
Peter’s greatest attribute as a director was really as a mentor, he consistently had a word of encouragement and kindness for his actors and stage crew.
He afforded countless actors and actresses the opportunity to express themselves on stage in whom he instilled a level of self-belief and confidence in a way that only a man of Peter’s intuition, character, charisma and intellect could.
Peter described the Phoenix Players as his second family. Peter loved The Phoenix and The Phoenix loved Peter.
Peter said that he was at his happiest when he was in a room with a bunch of creative people all working towards the same goal – “the process”.
He often spoke of the camaraderie that developed between people involved “in the process” all desperately searching for the same goal and which on occasion, and in Peter’s case, on many occasions produced those “moments of brilliance, and truth”.
Peter was happy he could share this interest in theatre with his family. Eileen, and he both acted together and were involved in productions throughout their life together. Drama always was an integral and truly special part of life for all in the Davey family and through it lasting friendships were made. Peter loved to jokingly quote the line from Tom Murphy’s “Conversations on a Homecoming” at 4 am in the morning “We didn’t have a chance to have a right chat”!
Peter being a social animal and a deep thinker, loved conversation, debate and philosophising with people.
Many enjoyable (and late!) nights were held in Festival Clubs after drama performances throughout the length and breadth of the land where Peter often performed his revered party pieces including Pam Ayres “The Battery Hen”, and the brilliant “Micheál Bocht”.
On the eve of Peter’s Funeral with himself and his family present in his beloved St. Brigid’s Hall the Phoenix Players hosted a celebration of Peter’s life. It was indeed a memorable and fitting tribute to a life well lived. His family wanted this evening to be a true representation of Peter and the types of creative pieces he enjoyed most.
This was a truly captivating evening. Time stood still as drama friends recounted stories, sang songs and performed party pieces exactly as would have happened at a Festival Club. The mood and atmosphere that was created by his drama friends was a credit to all who performed. They knew they were experiencing something unique and very special with each performance and Peter being there added to it.
They created something extraordinary that brought comfort to Peter’s family and friends. We will not see Peter Davey’s likes again but maybe shining light on a different way of celebrating those who go before us. Peter leaves behind a unique legacy, based on gratitude for each day, a true understanding of what it feels like to be listened to, love for others and freedom to write your own script while being supported when you miss a line!
His own family and the drama family are proud of him, will always miss him, but will smile most often when they remember him. We are all the better people for having known him.
On Wednesday, 11 March 2020, the last performance staged in St Brigid’s Hall before the country entered into lockdown over the following days was The Phoenix Players production of “The Communication Cord”. At the time there was a sense that it was very much unfinished business as it was a stellar show. The Phoenix are now reprising the play and it will tour on the Festival Circuit and hopefully, at the All-Ireland Finals in Ballyshannon a favourite venue of Peter’s over the years. Peter would be very happy that life, and the show, must go on!