Highest honour for three comedic masters

Three comedy legends shared a stage yesterday to be conferred with the Freedom of Cork in recognition of their remarkable contribution to Irish theatre over half a century.

There were some killer one-liners, humorous anecdotes, dozens of belly laughs and a fair share of tears as Frank Duggan and Michael Twomey — the duo behind the Cha and Miah characters — and entertainer Billa O’Connell, accepted the freedom of their native city at a special meeting of Cork City Council.

Lord Mayor John Buttimer said each man was a worthy recipient but they were being honoured now for their collective body of work.

“The Freedom of Cork dates from the 14th century — almost as old as Billa, Michael and Frank combined,” he said.

“Today we are honouring three people who have made a lasting and indelible mark on the city of Cork, on the theatrical and cultural institutions of the city, on the people of the city and they have left a legacy that is being followed by others today.

“They have performed, entertained, amused, annoyed; they have made us laugh, made us cry. Above all else they have remained true to themselves and to the city.”

He praised Mr Twomey and Mr Duggan for their pioneering political satire on the Frank Hall Pictorial Weekly series on RTÉ in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

And he praised Mr O’Connell for his remarkable contribution to comedy, pantomime, cabaret, satire and straight theatre over more than half a century, describing him as a “master” of the pantomime art-form.

Mr Duggan, who recalled sitting in City Hall almost 50 years ago to the day as US President John F Kennedy was made a freeman of Cork, said unlike other comedy acts who start locally, Cha and Miah did it differently.

“We started at the top, on national TV, in 1969,” he said. “And we’ve been working our way down ever since.”

Paying tribute to his comedy partner of some 43 years, he said: “We’ve been making people laugh for 50 years and it is truly an honour to be recognised for this. If laughter is the best medicine, then I hope that over the years, we’ve given ye a good prescription.”

Mr Twomey, who has been involved in theatre for over 70 years, said the honour was one of the highlights of his theatrical career. And dismissing recent controversy about the decision to confer three people with the freedom of the city, he said: “To confer the freedom on this trio, has not reduced by one whit the value of this great honour.”

All three men remembered their great friend, the late Paddy Comerford. “If Paddy was still alive today, the Lord Mayor would have had to confer the freedom on a quartet, not a trio,” said Mr Twomey.

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