Last of a famous Dublin theatrical costumier family

Peadar Bourke: September 14th, 1926 - April 10th, 2015

 

Peadar Bourke, christened Peter but always known by the Irish version of his name, who has died aged 88, was the last surviving member of Dublin’s famous Bourke theatrical family, whose costuming business dressed all of the major theatres in the city, many provincial ones, and amateur drama societies throughout the country.

Bourke was one of 10 children of PJ “Paddy” Bourke and his wife, Margaret, née Kearney, a sister of Peadar Kearney, composer of the words of The Soldier’s Song (Amhrán na bhFiann), and also of Kathleen Behan, mother of the playwright Brendan. Each of his nine siblings was, in one way or another, connected to professional entertainment.

After schooling at O’Connell Schools, Bourke had initially trained as a marine radio operator. But at 17 he was introduced to the family business by his eldest sister, Katherine, always known as “Kotchie”, when Laurence Olivier, in Ireland in 1943 to film scenes from his version of Shakespeare’s Henry V, asked her to provide chain mail for the battle scenes.

In wartime Dublin the necessary metal was in very short supply, so Kotchie sent her youngest brother around the city to a string of seamstresses with instructions to get them to knit heavy twine, or string, which she then painted silver to create the necessary effect.

Joining the well-established Bourke business in its original premises on North Frederick Street in Dublin’s north inner city, Peadar and his brother Lorcan, who had become the manager of the Queen’s Theatre on Pearse Street at the age of 20, along with brothers Rickard, Billy, Jimmy and Kevin, formed a limited company in 1947.

Dame Street

They moved the enterprise to premises on Dame Street, adjacent to the Olympia Theatre, where it became a “must-visit” establishment for a huge variety of stars of stage and screen until its closure 20 years ago on Bourke’s retirement.

In these early years, Bourke began to make a name for himself in Dublin theatre as an actor, notably in William Douglas-Home’s controversial (for its day) prison drama The New Barrabas, at the Gate Theatre in 1949, where he played Richards, known as “effeminate Richards”, a gay character.

His performance was described as “excellent” by the Irish Independent’s critic, and years later Bourke would recall with pride how he had overheard a conversation in a pub some days after the opening night in which one patron had remarked breathlessly to another that the Gate “had got a real homosexual to play the part of the young prisoner”.

The entirely heterosexual Bourke in 1954 married Vera Duffy, an operetta singer who won first prize for soprano singing at the 1949 Royal International Eisteddfod. They would have five children.

Other performances included parts in his uncle, Seamas de Burca’s, The Boys and Girls are Gone in 1950, and that writer’s adaptation of Charles Kickham’s novel of rural 19th-century Ireland, Knocknagow, in 1956, where he played “Wattletoes” Broderick in a performance the Dublin Evening Mail found “delightful”.

Costumier

Increasingly, however, Bourke concentrated on the costuming business, and developed an international client list. Among the films for which he provided costumes were the Sean O’Casey biopic Young Cassidy with Rod Taylor and The Flight of the Doves with Ron Moody; he also dressed Icelandic and German tours by the Abbey Theatre, and multiple shows at the Olympia and Gaeity theatres, including the annual pantomimes with Jack Cruise at the former and Maureen Potter at the latter, for whose Gaels of Laughter at the same venue he also provided, and often designed, the wardrobes.

Regular visitors to the premises on Dame Street included actors like David Niven and Michael Caine, comedian and presenter Harry Secombe, and Micheál Mac Liammoir of the Gate, with whom Peadar would conduct business in his fluent Irish.

Peadar Bourke is survived by his widow, and three of his children, Mary, Kyron and Bernadette. Another daughter, Veronica, died at birth and a second son, Brendan, the well-known film-maker whose work included an adaptation of novelist Colm McCann’s Fishing The Sloe Black River, predeceased him in 2013.