Gifted comic actress who savoured challenge of tragedy
Long association with Gate Theatre
FitzGerald’s association with the costume comedies of Wilde, Coward and Ayckbourn, or adaptations of Dickens and Austen, was firm but not indelible. For the Gate she found particular relish in the challenge of performing the work of Friel and Beckett. At the Abbey she worked on the plays of Pirandello (by way of Thomas Kilroy’s adaptation) and Ibsen.
A sign of her mettle as a performer came with the adventurous choices made later in her career, performing in new works and sharp revivals by new independent companies. Her performance in Shooting Gallery, a 1916 Rising satire by Arthur Riordan and Des Bishop in 2005, earned her a Best Actress nomination at the Irish Times Irish Theatre Awards.
She created the jagged comic role of the high-maintenance Foxrock mother, Fionnuala, in Paul Howard’s Ross O’Carroll Kelly plays, The Last Days of the Celtic Tiger and Between Foxrock and a Hard Place.
The last of these marked her final stage appearance, a difficult time that coincided with her divorce from Colgan in 2010, with whom she remained on good terms, and, it later emerged, complications from the cancer first diagnosed in 2005. She fought cancer with the same determination with which she attacked her roles and, when, towards the end of her battle, she insisted on being discharged from hospital, it was so that she could see John Hurt in Krapp’s Last Tape.
Her lengthy screen career began with an uncredited appearance in John Boorman’s cult movie, Zardoz, and includes roles in the films Angela’s Ashes, The Serpent’s Kiss and most recently Happy Ever Afters, together with television roles in The Irish RM, Rebel Heart, Bachelor’s Walk and Fair City.
Yet she found most pleasure in the theatre. “You’re not alone on stage,” she told The Irish Times. “You work in tandem. You feel the audience’s heartbeat, and you know they’re there, they’re laughing, and they’re shocked, and they’re doing all the different things that audiences do. You are so connected.”
On Monday evening, theatres across Ireland resounded with applause and standing ovations in honour of her passing. Renowned for her generosity both on and off the stage, she took most pride in her children. She is survived by her three children, Sarah, Sophie and Richard, and her five siblings.