Talented 'Fair City' actress who dealt with motor neuron disease bravely

Sat, Jan 23, 2010, 00:00

Joan Brosnan Walsh:JOAN BROSNAN Walsh, who has died aged 71, was an actress best known for her role as Mags Kelly in Fair City. She played the character for 20 years, and announced her departure from the RTÉ soap after discovering she had contracted motor neuron disease, a degenerative condition that affects speech, breathing, swallowing and mobility.

On January 23rd, 2009, she appeared with her husband Willie Walsh on The Late Late Showto discuss her condition, saying she first became aware of it while on holidays in southern France in October 2007. She was diagnosed early the following year.

“I loved the character of Mags, foil to Charlie’s shenanigans and I particularly enjoyed her strong relationship with, for example, Dolores, Rita, Dermot and Jo. I really enjoyed playing her,” she told The Late Late Showaudience.

She said the difficulty with speech was very frustrating, and that the inability to sing any more was the “hardest thing” for her.

Dave Duffy, who plays Leo Dowling in Fair City,said on the show: “Joan was terrific to work with. Some of the best scenes I ever did were with Joan.”

He described the “terrific send-off” accorded her by the cast and crew: “We had champagne and flowers for her and a bit of a party in McCoy’s pub.”

The audience gave her a standing ovation after she told her story.

Following her death last month a statement was issued on behalf of the Fair Citycast: “She was warm and lovely in person, a consummate professional and a delight to work with. A talented actress, singer and artist who bore her illness with incredible dignity, she will be very much missed around Carrigstown.”

Joan Brosnan Walsh was born in Greystones, Co Wicklow, in 1938. One of three children, from the age of six she was reared by an aunt in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, after her mother died. She was educated at the Dominican Convent, Eccles Street. After leaving school she worked with the market research firm AC Nielsen before joining Aer Lingus in 1956.

She began acting with an amateur drama group drawn from Aer Lingus staff, the Metro Players. She later joined the Strand Players, and was a member of the cast of The Caucasian Chalk Circle which won the Esso Trophy at the all-Ireland drama festival in Athlone in 1969.

The following year she won the best actress award at the one-act drama festival in Templetuohy, Co Tipperary.

She had a fine singing voice – her favourite role being Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.

She acted with a number of theatre companies in the 1970s and 1980s, including Mobile Theatre and Team Theatre Company.

Her stage appearances included roles in The Puppeteerfrom Lodz at Coláiste Mhuire (1986), The Year of the Hikerat the Gaiety (1990) and The Motherat the Dublin Writers’ Museum (1997).

Film credits include Gabrielle Beaumont’s Fatal Inheritance(1993) and Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer(1997).

Her costume designs for the Irish National Opera’s 1976 production of Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriagewere praised by Charles Acton in this newspaper.

A member of the Backlane Painters, she exhibited with the group and sold a number of works privately.

Last February she helped to launch Rare Diseases Week to highlight issues faced by patients with uncommon conditions and disorders.

She is survived by her husband Willie and daughters Helen, Ingrid and Ruth.

Joan Brosnan Walsh: born June 29th, 1938; died December 20th, 2009