Former Abbey actor also featured in many TV and film productions

Peadar Lamb obituary: Born December 24th, 1929 – Died September 1st, 2017

Peadar Lamb: his  association with the Abbey  continued right up to 2015, when he joined many of his former colleagues for a production of  Midsummer’s Night Dream. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Peadar Lamb: his association with the Abbey continued right up to 2015, when he joined many of his former colleagues for a production of Midsummer’s Night Dream. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Former Abbey actor Peadar Lamb, who has died at the age of 87, had a 61-year association with the national theatre. Famous for his roles in the work of Behan, Synge, Friel and Chekov among many, throughout a stellar career he also featured in a wide array of television and film productions.

Married to actor Geraldine Plunkett, star of RTÉ productions Glenroe and more recently Fair City, the versatile Lamb also dabbled in the world of television soaps with roles in Fair City and Ros na Rún.

His film credits included The Field, which also starred Richard Harris and John Hurt, and The Railway Station Man alongside Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.He also portrayed the bishop in Bob Quinn’s celebrated film Budawanny, and played a farmer in the much less celebrated film Far and Away which starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Lamb starred in many Irish language productions including Cré na Cille and In Ainm an Athar. He could do comedy as well as tragedy, and won a new fan base after his star turn in a 1998 episode of Father Ted entitled Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep.

Lamb was steeped in the arts. His father was Charles Lamb, a Portadown-born artist who, like contemporaries Paul Henry and Jack B Yeats, became synonymous with his interpretations of the west of Ireland landscape and of its people.

His mother was Katharine Hueffer, a qualified veterinary surgeon and daughter of English novelist Ford Maddox Ford (who had been born Ford Hermann Hueffer). Visitors to the Lambs’ family home recall being enthralled by portraits of Peadar as a child and as a teenager which were painted by his father.

Irish-speaking area

Raised in the Irish-speaking area of Carraroe in Connemara, Lamb was regarded by his Abbey theatre colleagues as a Gaeilgeoir , but in fact he was raised in a home where neither parent was a native speaker. His mother did pick up Irish, but English and German were her first languages.

Lamb was fluent in Irish as a child, and after winning a scholarship to Coláiste Einde in Galway, he proceeded to train as a primary school teacher in St Patrick’s college in Drumcondra, Dublin.He returned to Connemara, where he taught for four years before giving up the day job to pursue his love of acting.

In fact Micheál MacLiammoir, the legendary co-founder of the Gate theatre, deserves credit for giving him his first break, albeit a “blink and you’ll miss it” role in a production of Diarmuid and Gráinne in the Taidhbhearc theatre in Galway.

Lamb, regarded by friends as a great story-teller, later regaled colleagues with a hilarious account of how he brought MacLiammoir home to meet his parents and how as they cruised the borreens of Connemara on the young actor’s motorbike, the great man’s toupee flew off in the wind.

In 1954 Lamb joined the Abbey. It was an association which continued right up to 2015, when he joined many of his former colleagues for a production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, which was set in a nursing home and featured many veteran Abbey actors.

Ridiculous outfit

“He was amazing,” recalled longtime colleague Máire Ní Ghráinne. “He was a man in his 80s playing this little girl with long hair and a ridiculous outfit.”

She had shared the stage with Lamb many times over the years during tours to the Gaeltachta regions, and also to Europe and the US.

She remembered him as a talented sean-nos singer who loved travelling and meeting people, a family man devoted to his children, and an advocate for actors through his work for Irish Actors Equity and as the actors’ representative on the Abbey board of directors.

He was also a teacher, and among those he nurtured in the Abbey School of Acting were Colm Meaney, Garrett Keogh and Barry McGovern.

Former colleague Des Cave recalled an adventure involving a home-made currach when Lamb convinced him to fill his shoes in an Irish language production at the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street which was temporary home to the Abbey following a 1951 fire which destroyed the original building.

“Peadar had an apartment three floors up, overlooking Bullock harbour,” recalled Cave. “He decided to build a currach in the apartment. And he had to take out a big bay window in order to lower it out using ropes.”

The two men spent a happy afternoon in the currach fishing for mackerel while Lamb taught the younger man his lines, having been told by Ernest Blythe that he could have some time off but only if he found someone to fill his shoes, an impossible task as Cave conceded.

Brother and sister

Lamb and Geraldine Plunkett first met in 1961 when they played brother and sister in an Abbey production of They Got What They Wanted by Louis d’Alton.

Pushed by colleagues to nominate the plays which meant most to him, he eventually settled on Playboy of the Western World and Philadelphia Here I Come.

Asked once what words of advice he would give to younger actors, he said: “Be punctual and respect the other actors.” Courtesy as well as talent were his hallmarks, according to his friends.

Predeceased by his daughter Jenny, he is survived by wife Geraldine, children Peadar, Katharine, Breifne, Michael, Susie and Marcus, his sisters Mary and Laillí, grandchildren and extended family.