“The freedom of one’s native city is a very special honour. But when that city is Cork City then it’s difficult to retain one’s humility.”
Those were the words of legendary actor and comedian Niall Tóibín seconds after he was bestowed with the Freedom of Cork, putting him in an elite group which includes former Irish and American presidents.
“I’m quite simply taken aback and overjoyed to be a freeman of Ireland’s greatest city,” the 85-year-old said, to a standing ovation in City Hall yesterday evening.
Hundreds packed the venue to show their appreciation of the man whose extraordinary abilities ran through radio, television, theatre and the big screen.
“Cork to me is not just home, it’s heaven. I was blessed to be born in Cork to a mother from Kerry... She always reminded me I was a Corkman and had a right to be proud of that,” Mr Tóibín added.
Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mary Shields, described him “as a great Cork son who had distinguished himself locally, nationally, and globally”. She said the freedom of the city was “in recognition of his unwavering lifetime contribution to film, stage, and television” and that he had been “an exemplary national and international ambassador for Cork”.
Mr Tóibín is no stranger to City Hall, having been afforded a civic reception there in 2010 on the same day he was conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree by UCC.
During the ceremony a big screen provided the audience with clips from Mr Tóibín’s varied career.
Although he always yearned to be an actor, it wasn’t until 1970 that his career really took off and he went on to become a staple of British and Irish television, with strong ties to RTÉ, ITN, and the BBC.
His TV appearances include classics such as the Irish RM (Slipper); Brideshead Revisited; Bracken; and Ballykissangel.
On the big screen he starred alongside Cate Blanchett in Veronica Guerin, and in Murphy’s Stroke with Pierce Brosnan. He also featured in the epic Ryan’s Daughter, Eat the Peach, and Shergar.
On stage he won international acclaim for his portrayal of Brendan Behan in Borstal Boy and his one-man stand-up comedy shows were hilariously funny but with a cutting-edge reflection on Irish life.
RTÉ veteran Brendan Balfe provided anecdotes of the time when both were working for the station nearly 50 years ago, and took the opportunity “to salute an old friend who was without parallel”.
Mr Balfe said when they worked for Radio Éireann, Mr Tóibín was asked “to do the cattle market reports and always tried to dramatise them in Shakespearian terms”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved