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Irish Screen legend Niall Tóibín passes away, aged 89
13 Nov 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Niall Tóibín receiving the Lifetime Award from President Michael D. Higgins
Irish stage and screen great Niall Tóibín has passed away aged 89, following a long illness.

His film career saw him portray an eclectic mix of characters including Judge Ballaugh in Veronica Guerin, the father of Tom Cruise in Far & Away, Seán in The Nephew alongside Pierce Brosnan, as well as Poitín, the first feature film to be made entirely in the Irish language.

Tóibín was the recipient of the IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, presented to him by President Michael D. Higgins at the Academy’s Life On Screen event in Dublin’s Irish Film Institute. The presentation also marked the then President-Elect’s first public appearance following his victory in the 2011 Irish Presidential Election.

The cream of the Irish acting and entertainment industry was on hand to see Tóibín accept his IFTA Lifetime Award, which was followed up by a career retrospective discussion conducted by none other than the late Gay Byrne who passed away last week.

Here IFTN looks back at that special night when the two friends were on stage together, and the great tributes that were paid to Niall on that evening in 2011.

On presenting Niall Tóibín with his award, President Higgins said; “The only reason I am here is to pay tribute to the lifelong contribution Niall Tóibín has given to the world of theatre and film and arts generally and to the necessary subversive humour that keeps us all alive.

“I was honoured to be asked to present him this Lifetime Award. I’m on a temporary silence just at the moment, but I’m very delighted to break it to honour Niall.

“What he has is presence, and to go with that presence is a great sophisticated brain, behind all of that is a great and wonderful heart that not only has compassion in it but aspires to the best things that all Irish people might aspire. He goes on, and will go on and on and on, and I wish him well health and happiness.”

On receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from IFTA, Niall Tóibín said; “I can say in all honesty, I never expected anybody would elevate me to that sort of level, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with their thinking, but thank you all.

“May I say it is the greatest honour that I could have to have Michael D on the platform here with me. I can call him Michael D because he is only President elect, once he becomes president I will have to say your highness or your Excellency!

“We have known each other for a long while, I am very flattered and indeed honoured that he came here this evening. If you have any problems up there, just give me a ring. I’ll do me best for you!”

Speaking about the event, IFTA Chief Executive Áine Moriarty said; “The Academy is delighted to honour and celebrate the unique and extraordinary talent of Niall Tóibín who is one of the finest actors and comedians of his generation.”

The 81 year old actor took part in an in-depth interview with Gay Byrne, with whom he shared the screen many times on The Late Late Show. In front of family, friends and former colleagues, Tóibín regaled the audience of how he spent only an hour on the set filming scenes Veronica Guerin, to director Joel Schumacher’s astonishment and admiration.

Speaking with Byrne, Tóibín showed his trademark self-deprecating humour, when asked why he got into acting, Tóibín responded “Because I knew I was great and because it made me rich, not really.”

Tóibín later thanked Gay Byrne for his encouragement and help during the 1970’s when “ladies with religious problems and banners and so on, hounded me on the streets of Dublin” after the controversial ‘Time Now, Mr. T’.

He rated his stage appearance as Brendan Behan in The Borstal Boy as the highlight of a long career on stage, screen and television. Tóibín knew the writer personally in the 1950s, describing him as an “absolute howl” when sober but a “pitiful drunk.”

Having acted alongside Tóibín on a couple of occasions, Frank Kelly said that Tóibín’s portrayal of Brendan Behan was “more like Behan than Behan himself,” and spoke of their time together on the ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ set; “we were all very young and we had never seen so much money or so much drink in our lives. We had great fun. I have the happiest memories of hilarious times in Tom Longs pub.”

During the event, the audience were treated to a video of some of Tóibín’s greatest work, including scenes from Irish classics Ryan’s Daughter and Bracken, and a clip of one of Tóibín’s stand up appearances on The Late Late Show.

IFTA winning actor Stephen Rea praised Tóibín calling him a “dream to work with;” adding “he is one of the great figures in our business, in our art, I have an immense fondness for him, he has a very sweet nature as well.”

British Actress Jan Francis, who starred alongside Tóibín in ITV comedy drama ‘Stay Lucky’ travelled from the UK for the event and described the IFTA Tribute to Niall as special “because he is a very special man.” She described Tóibín as “A consummate professional, but so knowledgeable and interesting and fun, I just loved every second with him.”

Having worked with Tóibín twice early in his career, actor Don Wycherley (Bachelors Walk) said Tóibín was a “wonderful connoisseur of the art of acting.” Working with Tóibín on stage in ‘Borstal Boy’ in the early 90’s, Wycherley spoke of the presence Tóibín had; “We were all young men, and my god he got respect when he came on stage.”

Wycherley spoke of how grateful he was to Tóibín during his time on the BBC drama ‘Ballykissangel’ saying; “I had a lot of scenes with him and I found him wonderfully welcoming, and he used to give loads of fantastic tips that a young actor, first time on a major role on television would absolutely appreciate, and I will be forever grateful to him for that.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Click here to view the image gallery from the event.




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