Sunday, November 27, 2016


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Fans of Conor Doyle, of which I am one, will be familiar with his wonderful talk on the Theatre Royal which eventually evolved into his Royal Concert. In the course of both these events Jimmy O'Dea had a significant role.

But today (23/11/2016) Conor was putting Jimmy centre stage, with a whole talk to himself.

The big surprise was that Jimmy started off life as an optician. He had wanted to go into theatre but his father wouldn't hear of it so he trained as an optician. His father had a shop in Capel St. which is how the O'Dea and Lemass families became friends. Jimmy and Seán Lemass were good friends during their lifetimes.

The great partnership was Jimmy and Harry O'Donovan, who both acted with him and wrote many of his scripts.

In showing clips from many of Jimmy's shows and appearances on film and television, Conor did not neglect the great Maureen Potter who partnered Jimmy on stage in many of his comedy shows and in the pantos. Maureen was a much talented and often underrated lady. A super trouper.

For those who were not around for Jimmy's theatre performances, he will best be remembered as the star of Walt Disney's film Darby O'Gill and the Little People in which he played Brian, King of the Leprechauns.

In retrospect it was a fairly atrocious piece of Irishry, but it was a big thing at the time with one of our own a star in a Hollywood Disney Film and Walt Disney himself welcomed to Dublin for the premier. Conor is displaying pieces of King Brian's crockery.

And this is one of his royal suits. The surprise is how small Jimmy was. His stage presence belied his height. He was all of 5'4".

Looking at a clip from the film during Conor's talk I was taken with the amount of time the fiddler lingered in the third position, though he thankfully skipped the harmonics.

Dannie O'Donnell, the Donegal fiddler, would have had kittens. He was a master of the discreet use of the third position and the occasional harmonic in his beautifully modulated Irish dance music, but that's another story.

And then there was Jimmy's last show, Finian's Rainbow. A sad occasion for all. Conor has his own copy of the programme.

Spitting Image
(ITA/131 Jimmy O’Dea Collection,
Dublin City Library and Archive)

You can read up on Jimmy here and here and listen to his evergreen Orange and Green monologue here.

Conor's talk was one of two at a seminar, in Dublin City Library and Archive (23/11/2016), on Popular Theatre in Dublin in the context of Explore Your Archives Week.

1 comment:

Stephen Brennan said...

This is wonderful and important work by Connor Doyle. I am glad someone is keeping alive the work of this golden period in Irish theatre, and of course the work of our own glorious King of Comedy, Jimmy O'Dea. I learned more about comedy from him than anyone else, as indeed did many others, and it is important for us to remember the heritage that was built on the shoulders of this little giant.