Remembered as an actor, comedian, raconteur and mimic without parallel, Niall Tóibín died today after a long illness, a week shy of his 90th birthday.
A familiar face on stage and screen, Mr Tóibín’s film credits included Far and Away, Veronica Guerin and Ryan’s Daughter.
He further found fame for television roles such as Father Frank MacAnally in Ballykissangel, Slipper in The Irish RM, and Edward Daly in Bracken.
Born in Cork city on November 21, 1929, Mr Tóibín attended North Monastery CBS and showed an early interest in the arts, joining a drama society attached to the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League.
He moved to Dublin for a job in the civil service, which he quit after joining the Radio Eireann Repertory Company in 1953, where he performed for 14 years.
From there he established a tenure at the Abbey Theatre and by the 1970s he found himself cast in television and film roles. He was a frequent guest on the Late Late Show, a platform from which he displayed his comedic talent.
On stage he is best known for his performances as the adult Brendan Behan in numerous productions of The Borstal Boy, including a Tony Award-winning run of the play on Broadway.
Mr Tóibín’s other stage roles included performing opposite Peter O’Toole in Waiting for Godot, and playing King Claudius in Hamlet in the Abbey Theatre. In 1987 he assumed the role of the Bull McCabe in John B Keane’s The Field.
A multiple award-winner, Mr Tóibín received an honourary Doctor of Arts degree from University College Cork in 2010 and an Irish Film & Television Academy (IFTA) Life On Screen Lifetime Tribute Award the following year.
In 2015 Cork City Council bestowed its highest honour upon Mr Tóibín, who said he was “taken aback and overjoyed” to be granted the freedom of “Ireland’s greatest city”.
“The freedom of one's native city is a high and very special honour. When that city is Cork, it is difficult to retain one's humility,” he said.
“Cork, to me, is not just home. Cork to me, in many ways, is heaven. It's the best hurling team in the world, and I can think of many, many other virtues of which it is guilty.”
Mr Tóibín told his audience at City Hall that he was “blessed to have been born in Cork to a mother who was from Kerry”.
“Her attitude was not shared by all Cork people. 'Oh that langer? He's not a Corkman at all. Sure he not two weeks up in Dublin and he have a Dublin accent'. So I had to be very, very careful as to how I spoke because I was blessed with a thing for mimicry and I used that to mask the fact that I was doing was not really acting, I was just acting the eejit,” he said.
“‘Tis only natural that you should be proud of your city. If you come from anywhere else, if you’re proud of your own city, you’re only boasting,” he said.
Filmmaker Brian Reddin completed an RTÉ documentary on Mr Tóibín’s career just last week.
“I knew Niall for quite some time and was a fan for even longer,” Mr Reddin told the Irish Examiner.
“We had been making it throughout the year, and it will have an added poignancy now. It airs over Christmas and was an opportunity for his friends, family, and colleagues to pay tribute.
“We have plenty of archive footage. It has proven timely, and it will be nice we to have a proper tribute to Niall, not something cobbled together at the last minute, but a decent one-hour tribute,” he said.
Mr Reddin said Mr Tóibín was always helpful as a contributor to TG4 documentaries on his fellow actors.
“He was loyal and gave good time to our documentaries. There was no one he hadn’t worked with, from Richard Burton to Irish soap stars, he was a font of knowledge on the industry.”
The filmmaker said he believed that Mr Tóibín appreciated the recognition of his storied acting career.
“He enjoyed his stand-up, but I think it was important to him that he be recognised as an actor,” Mr Reddin said.
Mr Tóibín is predeceased by his wife, Judy, and is survived by his children Sean, Muireann, Aisling, Sighle and Fiana and his seven grandchildren.
“We have two elections coming up, which means we are in for an unprecedented outbreak of orthodontal mendacity with concomitant rectal verbosity - which means lying through your teeth while talking through your arse,” - appearing on Gay Byrne’s final Late Late Show in 1999.
“I stopped drinking about 25 years ago due to a combination of medical and domestic pressures, let’s put it that way. A man said to me ‘was the drink giving you problems? and I said ‘Oh no! It wasn’t giving me problems, it was giving everybody else problems.”
“The most interesting of them was Mr Charlie Haughey. We had Garret [Fitzgerald] first of all. The great thing about Garret was he was known as Garret the Good, because he couldn’t tell a lie. The we had Charlie Haughey, who couldn’t tell the truth. And now we have Bertie, who couldn’t tell the difference.”
On the recession in the 80s:
“One place that was hit very badly was Cork. Fords closed their factory there. One man who had been working for them for many years decided he didn’t want to leave without a few souvenirs of his association with the firm.
“So on his last day of work he began to help himself to little bits and pieces, from this little workbench into that pocket and from that toolbox into that pocket and from that conveyor belt into this pocket and down his trousers and up his geansai and into his inside pocket and into the socks.
“The result was at the end of the day he waddled out of the factory bulging like the Michelin Man. Two of his mates were walking out behind him and one said “Jesus, look at Jerry, he’s walking very funny isn’t he? He’s very rheumaticy looking, is he sick?”
“Ah no no, he’s alright. In fact I’d safely say now if you gave him a push he’d nearly start”.