Accomplished and versatile stage actor

Ronnie Masterson: April 4th, 1926 - February 10th, 2014

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 00:01

Ronnie Masterson, who has died aged 87, was one of the best-known stage actor of her generation in Ireland from the 1940s to the 1970s, who then built a solid film and television career with RTÉ, and independent directors including Peter Kosminsky, Alan Parker and Neil Jordan.

Masterson and her husband, Ray McAnally, whom she married in 1951 when both were members of the Abbey Theatre’s company, took a considerable risk in the late 1960s in leaving the permanent and pensionable security of the national theatre to set up their own company, Old Quay Productions. The company brought contemporary American and British theatre to Irish audiences, including Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking , Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , Bill Naughton’s Alfie , and Robert Patrick’s Kennedy’s Children .

The latter nearly bankrupted the company, having to be pulled early in a 14-week run, when playgoers in Dublin mistook its title as an adverse comment on the children of assassinated – and revered – US president John F Kennedy, whereas the play is actually a series of monologues exploratory of US society in the Vietnam era.

They were rescued by two giants of Irish independent theatre, Phyllis Ryan of Gemini Productions – whose Eblana Theatre the couple had hired- and John B Keane, who had just published The Matchmaker , a novel written as a series of letters between a rural matchmaker and his clients.

Big success
Keane gave Old Quay the rights to his book at a greatly reduced fee, Ryan the theatre, and, in a frenetic weekend, The Matchmaker was adapted by McAnally, who enlisted Barry Cassin as director. The show opened the following week as Letters of a Matchmaker , and sold out to packed houses.

Masterson had earlier appeared in the title role in Ryan’s production of Keane’s Big Maggie , to enthusiastic reviews, at the Olympia Theatre in 1970.

Film and television work followed, including many episodes of RTÉ soap opera Glenroe , in which Masterson played Madge O’Regan, and in 1988 her first film, The Dawning , an adaptation of Jennifer Johnston’s story The Old Jest , which won first prize as best film at the Montreal Film Festival and where she acted opposite Anthony Hopkins, Trevor Howard and a young Hugh Grant.

Her best film work was probably as a memorable Grandma Sheehan in Alan Parker’s screen version of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes in 1999, where, in her own words in a recent interview with her grandson Aonghus Óg McAnally, available as a podcast from his production company, she said: “Without doubt I had the best script.”